Thoughts on the New Mulan Remake

Disney’s Mulan remake has yet to start filming, but people are already forming opinions based on the information that keeps trickling out.

People have expressed disappointment at the changes to the original animated movie that have been reported, namely the reported lack of musical numbers and the removing of lead character Li Shang. But there’s other concerning changes, like the introduction of Chen Honghui, the replacement of villain Shan Yu, and the proposed involvement of magic in Mulan’s rise through the ranks.

Reports of the strong possibility that the Disney remake may not include the iconic songs from the original have been circulating for months now, and while many expressed disappointment, it was hardly anything to raise concern over. However, the reported changes to the cast suggest changes to the plot that could demotivate some from watching. First and foremost among them is Li Shang’s replacement.

Rumors about Li Shang not being present in the remake’s script sparked a fair amount of criticism. Li Shang is an important character in the original movie, and well loved by many. One could argue, however, that Mulan’s story could still be told without him. What is truly concerning about Li Shang’s absence is the character created to take his place: Chen Honghui.

This casting call description is concerning on a few levels. The idea of Li Shang, who is impressed by and proud of Mulan’s growth within the army and admires her cleverness and bravery both as Ping and as Mulan, being replaced by a character described as “Full of himself, with a mean, bullying streak to him….increasingly peeved by Mulan’s ability to match or out-maneuver him,” is nothing short of distasteful. This is made worse by the indication that “after learning that his rival is a woman, his intense feelings of rivalry turn into something very different, something like love.” Does this mean that a romantic subplot will play a much larger role in the remake? And if so, with a character that will spend most of his initial interactions with Mulan being mean, bullying, and peeved at her?

There’s something else in this casting call that catches attention, in Mulan’s description. “There is a mysterious power inside Mulan, a power of speed and coordination and sheer force that places her at the peak of her unit.” The implication seems to be that Mulan’s success in the army comes from some kind of supernatural force. Contrast this with the original, where Mulan’s achievements stem from her cleverness and perseverance.

Another casting choice that has raised eyebrows is the remake’s villain. Instead of Shan Yu, leader of the invading Huns, the villain will be a witch played by actress Gong Li. The change is confusing and unnecessary. Shan Yu is an excellent villain that did not need replacing. That said, Gong Li will no doubt deliver an excellent performance, but this change may be signaling a much larger departure from the 1998 film.

While all these points have caused unrest among fans, the fact that the movie is still in its very early stages means that there is still room for change. There are also things to be excited about! The possibility is very strong that the remake will feature an all-Asian cast. Besides Gong Li, Jet Li was reported to be in final talks to play the Emperor, Donnie Yen will be playing Commander Tung, and Chinese-Vietnamese actress Xana Tang will be playing Mulan’s sister. The leading role of Mulan will be played by Liu Yifei, also known as Crystal Liu (pictured below). This comes as reassuring news after such prolonged whitewashing incidents in Hollywood, such as Ghost in the Shell, and the state of Asian representation (less than 4% of all speaking roles in 800 films are spoken by Asians).

While it’s easy to be upset by all the changes that are coming to light, we should remember that the film hasn’t even started filming. We’ll have to wait until 2020 to see just how much has changed, and whether it is for better or for worse.


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