Mulan, Shang, Mushu– what will happen to the precious characters of one of Disney’s classic, kickass-female-centric films? Disney’s next live action remake looms overhead. The production of the beloved “Mulan” has reportedly begun, with a set release date on Dec. 20, 2019.
Disney’s classic take on the Chinese legend of the heroic Mulan has seen recent controversy due to the comments director Niki Caro has made in interviews on her earliest creative process for the upcoming film. Followers of the animated film have begun an uproar since Caro has confirmed to Moviefone that the new version would not feature music, such as “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” and “Reflection.”
However, later that same month in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Caro clarified on the musical update, “We’re still exploring the role that music’s going to play in it, but for sure there will be music.”
So does this confirm the exclusion of musical ballads from “Mulan,” or will all the music we will be hearing from the film be the instrumentals during the somber and action moments of the film? Or more so, how does singing ballads on identity and strength take away from Caro’s supposed creative direction for the live action reimagining, “big, girly martial arts epic?”
Not only has the so far exclusion of musical numbers raised concerned brows for Caro’s “Mulan,” but that the casting call Disney released for the film as well. Surprisingly enough, Li Shang, can not be found as one of the characters being casted; it is simply “Mulan” and “Chen Honghui”:
MULAN – Female, 18-20 years old to play 18; must be able to speak fluent English and Mandarin Chinese; lithe, athletic, quick, tougher than she looks. Mulan lives in rural China in 630 AD, and her country is besieged, under attack by the Gokturk invaders. When her aging father volunteers to join the Army, Mulan sneaks out by night and takes his place, strapping down her breasts so she can pass for a man. 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 — where no one suspects her secret.
CHEN HONGHUI – Male, in his 20s, must be able to speak fluent English and Mandarin Chinese; strapping, cocky, and handsome. Honghui is another recruit who joins Commander Tung’s unit, and he’s determined to be the best soldier in human history. Full of himself, with a mean, bullying streak to him, he quickly realizes that Mulan is his chief rival, but he does not realize that she is a woman. Grittily determined to be simply the best at everything, Honghui is increasingly peeved by Mulan’s ability to match or out-maneuver him. But after learning that his rival is a woman, his intense feelings of rivalry turn into something very different, something like love.
If the detail in the casting call has not raised more concern, let it be brought to light that there is an issue in erasing Mulan’s skill, determination and stubbornness for a growing, “mysterious power.” It is now not skills that makes Mulan shine (not to mention her being a woman), but the fact that what she now embodies is a power.
Why does she need an inhuman capability to enable her to be and become better than the men she is training with? Donya Abramo, staff writer at Hypable, perpetuates the concern perfectly: “It perpetuates an idea that in order to operate on the same level as men within the same field, Mulan needs supernatural intervention, she needs to be ‘special’ — which opposes and undermines the entire message that the Legend of Hua Mulan, as well as the animated ‘Mulan,’ has already set out.”
“I feel like the original reason why Mulan is so remarkable is because she didn’t need mystical powers to prove herself as susceptible to fight alongside men. I don’t like the idea of mystical powers and I can see what they’re doing–I just don’t like how Disney is doing it,” said Charter Oak senior Clarisse Guevarra.
Furthermore, the stark differences between Li Shang and his new replacement “Chen Honghui” is that Shang was not a bully and did not develop feelings for Mulan after finding out that she was in fact not a man. In this new adaptation of Mulan, Chen will become her rival, erasing the familiar relationship we had seen in the original Disney movie that Shang and Mulan developed before Mulan was found to be in fact a woman.
Abramo also brings to light that “Chen Honghui,” “erases the queer subtext present [. . .] Shang has, in the ensuing years between the release of the animated Mulan and now, become something of a queer icon. His fledgling attraction to Mulan came when she was still Ping and, to his knowledge, a man.”
“I like the dynamic between Li Shang and Mulan in the original. I don’t want him to be a bully,” said Guevarra.
Clearly, this is all in early development. Caro has also mentioned in interviews that she has not seen any actors or actresses for the parts. Maybe somewhere between the two to three months since the last interview she had, development and plot details have changed back to the original. Losing the elements of the original Disney animated film would be a complete loss for this live-action adaptation. The change I’m seeing now is not at all enlightening.
However, as of recent, it was confirmed by Disney that acclaimed Chinese actress, model and singer, Liu Yifei, also known as Crystal Liu, would be portraying the titular role of Mulan. At the Heroes and Villains Festival in San Jose, Ming-Na Wen reacted to the casting of Liu and appeared to be in full support of Disney and the decision. Reading this over gives me some relief as Liu has approval from the original portrayer of Mulan.
In addition to the announcement of Liu as Mulan, CNN had reported Disney stating, “more casting announcements regarding ‘Mulan’ will be made in the coming weeks.”
Although the casting decision relieves some stresses, the character descriptions continue to trouble me. When more casting comes about, only then will the beloved fans of Mulan be reassured of Li-Shang and his canon-bisexuality casting or become further troubled by his unusual and unnecessary replacement, “Chen Honghui.”