Mulan is a beloved tale of resilience and defying social norms to become something more. While Chinese audiences were always familiar with her myth, the world knew about her in 1988 when Disney animated her story.
Over time, it became one of the popular animated Disney films, and its heroine became a Disney princess. As such, when a live-action film was declared, everyone was ecstatic.
But when Mulan got released in 2020, it wasn’t loved by global audiences. It grossed only $70 million globally with a budget of $200 million. However, since it got released at the height of the pandemic, many were willing to overlook the box office numbers to focus squarely only on the critical and audience reception. But even that was poor. The film was marred by controversies and a subpar plot.
Three major controversies hounded Mulan. The first one was the inaccurate depiction of makeup, costumes, and buildings. Viewers complained that the makers mixed up various dynasties and periods.
The second issue was lead actress Liu Yifei, supporting the Hong Kong police during the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
The third one was Disney thanking Chinese institutions, the Xinjiang government’s publicity department, and the Turpan Public Security and Tourism bureaus in the film’s credits. The US classified the latter as an organization that had participated in human rights violations.
Why Was Mulan Controversial in China? Why Didn’t China Like Mulan?
Even though Disney made Mulan to cater to the Chinese market, Chinese audiences rejected it wholeheartedly. From the time posters and trailers of the film were getting released, there was negative publicity around the movie. Sadly, that didn’t abate even when the film got released.
The main reason controversy was that it didn’t understand Chinese culture, and the makers ended up stereotyping the costumes, makeup, and more. Several viewers also felt that Disney wanted to keep the color scheme of the animated movie but also wanted the film to look real.
As a result, there was a clash of ideas, and the movie looked like something from an uncanny valley, especially the makeup that looked garish. To make matters worse, the creators confused various eras and dynasties of Chinese history. One commentator noted that in the scene where Mulan puts her makeup, the style is of the Tang dynasty.
However, the story of Mulan took place during the Northern Wei dynasty. So the two dynasties existed in completely different historical periods. The creators made a grave mistake. The same issue existed with the costumes and set pieces.
The building structures were inspired by the architecture of the Song dynasty, which wasn’t of Mulan’s period. Overall, Disney violated the cultural and historical authenticity of the country they wanted to impress.
What also irked Chinese audiences was that the makers failed to maintain the authenticity of the myth. Adding the Chi or inner power element that Mulan used to fight the magical witch made the core message of the story void. It added a fantastic element that wasn’t even present in the original story or animated film. Also, this made the film feel unrealistic.
Mulan’s story is of a girl who has to overcome social stigma and rules to become a hero. The legend can be interpreted from a feminist lens, but originally, she went to fight in the army to fulfill her filial piety.
As such, Disney failed to show the latter and only looked at the story from a Western viewpoint of feminism. Due to all these reasons, the Chinese market rejected the film.
Which Character Was Removed from Mulan?
In the 1998 animated Disney movie Mulan, there’s a little red and yellow dragon called Mishu. He’s the titular character’s companion and is known for the iconic dialogue, “Dishonor On You! Dishonor On Your Cow…” However, he was removed from the live-action remake probably because his wisecracking nature wouldn’t fit in with the film’s serious tone.
It’s also assumed that the dragon got deleted because, in Chinese mythology and culture, dragons aren’t small. They are powerful and grand creatures. As such, Mushu was also probably left out of the story to honor Chinese culture.
Why Were People Boycotting Mulan?
Before the live-action remake of Mulan even hit theaters, people were calling for boycotts. It was due to the comments made by lead actress Liu Yifei, who plays Mulan. The Chinese-born actress posted on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, in 2019:
“I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.”
Many Hong Kong activists called for boycotts because she had supported the police in the then pro-democracy protests that were going on in Hong Kong. What made matters worse was that the legendary heroine, Mulan, had been adopted by the pro-democracy fighters as a symbol of resistance in Hong Kong. As a result, Yifei’s comments hurt the protestors.
Did Disney Apologize for Mulan?
In the credits of Mulan, Disney thanked the Xinjiang government’s publicity department along with the Turpan Public Security and Tourism bureaus. It’s a city of about 600,000 people located outside Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. The US had listed The Turpan Public Security Bureau as an agency involved in human rights abuse and violation.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Mulan thanking the Xinjiang government was a regular practice. However, criticism for this move by Disney didn’t stop. Christine McCarthy, the Chief Financial Officer of Disney, remarked that the uproar caused issues in the company.
But she or Disney didn’t apologize. Instead, she explained that (via USA Today):
“Mulan was primarily shot in almost the entirety of New Zealand. And in an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscapes and geography of the country of China for this historical period piece drama, we filmed scenery in 20 different locations in China. So in our credits, that was recognized, in both China as well as locations in New Zealand. And I would just leave it at that. But that’s generated a lot of issues for us… I’m not a box office predictor [or] prognosticator. But I will say that it has generated a lot of publicity.”
McCarthy didn’t say what these issues were, and neither did Disney elaborate on the controversy further.
Mulan is streaming on Disney+.
So what do you think of all the controversies faced by the live-action remake of Mulan?
Which of them affected the box office collection of the film the most? Also, could the film have made money in China if Disney had made a non-stereotypical film?
Let us know in the comments below.
Source: USA Today