The APAHM Project Day 11: Mulan
Updated: May 13, 2020
Film: Revenge of the Green Dragons
Directors: Andrew Lau and Andrew Loo
Where to watch it: Netflix
Why it SHOULDN’T be on the list:
This film deals with a lot of subject matters and themes that I do not wish to promote on my platform. I knew going into watching this it was a gang movie, but there are scenes in this film that I do not support or wish to perpetuate. Therefore, I am choosing to not write a blog post for “Revenge of the Green Dragons” and will instead be writing about an old classic, Disney’s ”Mulan.” I can’t stop you from watching “Green Dragons” but if you do, I feel like it is my moral responsibility to warn you that there are triggering scenes and a lot of gruesome violence.
So let’s start from the beginning:
Directors: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook
Where to watch it: Disney +
Why it made the list:
I feel like this is pretty self-explanatory, but “Mulan” is one of the best Disney movies. This is fact, not my opinion :) Based on the Chinese poem, “The Song of Fa Mu Lan,” this story got Disnified in such a great way, so much so that it went on to win several Annie Awards and even inspired its own live-action film.
(Let us begin with a preface: I am a HUGE Disney nerd. Mix that in with my love for 2D animation, this post can easily become more about the process than the product. So I will try my best to restrain my love for this movie.)
”Mulan” shouldn’t need any introduction, so I’m gonna cut out the summary. “Mulan” is praised for being a pro-feminist and pro-Asian film. True, its titular character kicks butt, follows her heart, is smart and strong. And yes, the cast is about half Asian and half not (some notable actors being June Foray, Pat Morita, and George Takei). But more than that, “Mulan” is inspiring for people everywhere.
How many young women characters do we see taking the place of her family member, trains and lives with a bunch of men, defeats the bad guys, saves her country, and brings honor to her family? Maybe Katniss Everdeen...maybe. It’s things like this that make Mulan such a great role model for not just girls, but everyone of any age or gender. Mulan teaches us to persevere, defy standards, and make people proud. So why is it that anytime someone asked me if my favorite princess was Mulan or if I was dressed as Mulan for Halloween, it bothered me?
Besides the obvious fact that Mulan isn’t a princess (did they even watch the movie?), it bothered me because it was a stereotype. Those questions, to me, were on the same level as asking me if I was good at math. Additionally, I couldn’t relate to Mulan. I liked Mulan as a kid, I had toys from the movie. But I couldn’t relate to the selfless, strong, clever, and honorable Fa Mulan. Who realistically can? I didn’t even have a favorite Disney princess until 2010’s Rapunzel, because even though Rapunzel is white, I still identified with her. I think that there is a power with seeing a character who looks like us but there’s a stronger sense of self when you see a character reflect (yes, that’s a reference) who we are. Mulan is someone I wish to be, I haven’t earned the right to feel represented by Mulan. I don’t have to save China to do it, but I think as a normal human being, I have not learned what it truly means to be selfless and honorable.
These questions also prove to me that we need more Asian characters in Western media. Ones just as popular as Mulan. As we have learned from this project, there are plenty of movies with Asians attached to them, but none of them are quite as well-known as the Hero of China.
I applaud Disney for their dedication to cultural accuracy. The filmmakers took trips to China to soak in culture and draw and photograph references. According to my good friend Wikipedia, they also made noble attempts with casting calls, looking for Asian talent. I read that it was because of Ming Na Wen’s narration in “The Joy Luck Club” that she landed the role, which is funny, because when I watched TJLC the other day, I could only hear Mulan’s voice. Furthermore, Disney seemed to really put their best foot forward with Mulan in terms of their crew. They had faith in Mulan that it would be as successful as “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The Wiki article makes no mention that they felt the film wouldn’t be successful (like “Hercules” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” which is crazy to me) because it was Asian-influenced. They did make some marketing budget cuts though since Mulan did follow the less lucrative ”Hercules” and “THBOTD.” But honestly, I am just relieved to read that they didn’t pull a “The Lion King” vs. “Pocahontas” situation on ”Mulan.” Or did they...we may never know.
Lastly, I can’t write this blog post without mentioning the new live-action “remake.” I put remake in quotes because it seems from both the trailers and those who got to see it before the world shut down, this film is more true to the original poem and therefore, maybe it shouldn’t even be called a remake. Doing so can hurt or help the new film. It’s good for those who love the remakes for nostalgia reasons, it’s not so great for those who compare the remakes to the originals. And then there are people like me who really don’t like the fact that everything is a remake now, that original storytelling is fading away, and why would you want to mess with the animated classic anyway (BTW, I’m not the only one who feels this way). Curiosity always gets the best of me and I end up watching them anyway (except “The Lion King,” I absolutely refuse). But I am optimistic for “Mulan.” I plan on watching it as its own rendition of the poem, separate from the 1998 film. Plus it has Ming Na Wen‘s seal of approval as well as Tony Bancroft’s and it features a Memphis-native as “Yao.”
Does it deserve to stay on the list?
Is water wet? Absolutely, “Mulan” deserves to stay on this list. If Mulan as a character isn’t convincing on her own, the songs, score, animal sidekicks, and humor should help. “Mulan” was also probably a great reference to show studios that future Asian-centric stories were lucrative, thus potentially giving us a lot of films we see today. Perhaps she doesn’t get as much recognition or merchandise as other Disney Renaissance films, but Mulan definitely brings honor to the Disney franchise, Asians in film, well-rounded female characters, I could go on and on. I will continue to aspire to be more like Mulan and end this post in the same way they ended the movie: advice to be true to your heart. Cues 90’s boy band music.