In Mulan, actress Liu Yifei plays the titular heroine — a young woman who risks everything for her family and for her country.
For the new ‘Mulan,’ what does it mean to be loyal, brave and true?
MORE ADVENTUROUS - Fiel Estrella (The Philippine Star) - March 14, 2020 - 12:00am

My first dog was almost named Mulan, after the titular heroine of what I’m pretty sure was the first movie I ever saw in theaters. I was four years old and very much awed by what I saw on the big screen: Girls could have swords. Girls could beat boys. Girls could be warriors. Girls could do anything! This girl certainly could — and while she didn’t look exactly like me, she was definitely a Disney Princess from my side of the world, and that could mean everything when the princesses you’ve been watching and the dolls you’ve been playing with had mostly been blond and fair-skinned.

The dog ended up being named Sleepy, because she was lazy and prone to laying down on the floor. But the impact of Mulan on me remained.

All of this is to say that when Disney announced it would be developing Mulan into a live-action movie, I and many others met the news with some excitement and mostly trepidation. It was hard enough to capture the magic of, say, stories like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast beyond animation and their iconic songs. But Mulan particularly required special care and sensitivity, because of its historical and cultural significance. It wasn’t simply a fairy tale retelling, and this new project could do a lot in terms of representation and proving that maybe Hollywood and capitalism can make some honorable decisions somehow. (Yeah, right.)

I could understand removing the song numbers and Mushu, since a more true-to-life approach would work best for the tone I supposed they were going for — something with more urgency, something more epic. I didn’t quite get the need for Captain Li Shang to be replaced; not only does he learn to respect Mulan outside of presumptions of what women could and couldn’t contribute to a battle, but their love story retold in this day and age could’ve held so much meaning that spoke beyond ideas of heteronormativity and other mainstream portrayals of gender and masculinity.

When the first trailer dropped, I was glad to find that it did feel more epic and grounded than other live-action Disney adaptations so far, highlighting the gravity and precariousness of the coming journey for Mulan, as well as the weight of her inner battles regarding the identity being pushed upon her and who she really feels she’s meant to be. It seemed to be cast well, and it looked beautiful. You could hear strains of Reflection, its iconic theme song, in the background, ramping up dramatic effect. The battle scenes appeared to be full of tension, fury, and heart. It was an invigorating thought: had they actually done this right?

It might have been too early to hope, and in the months that have passed nearing the movie’s release, the hype was noticeably more subdued. Not long after the trailer dropped, lead actress Liu Yifei tweeted in support of the Hong Kong police and its crackdown on protesters. In the Philippines, calls for a boycott intensified when singer Moira Dela Torre was announced to have done a version of Reflection to promote the film — she, along with Lea Salonga who had provided Mulan’s singing voice in the original animated feature and had once indicated support for the “cultural growth” seen during the Marcos regime, was accused online of supporting fascists after once appearing in a youth rally for Bongbong Marcos’ vice presidential campaign.

In terms of the production that went into the movie itself, others noted that several crucial crew members for Mulan — including the director and the costume designer, who had to consult museums (holding Asian artifacts that were arguably pillaged by colonizers) for accuracy — were white, when these important roles could’ve gone to creators and artists of Chinese descent.

People have a lot to say about “your fave is problematic” and cancel culture, but I’m glad it’s taught us to be more discerning and critical of the people we put on pedestals and the media we consume. Ultimately, it’s always your choice if you want to continue supporting a creator or a piece of work — it’s all about staying informed and learning how to indulge in your interests while also continuing to stand for what you believe in.

With less than two weeks until its release, it’s an understatement to say it’s been quite a journey not only for the warrior Mulan, but also the movie that tells her story. A part of me remains excited and hopeful about the experience of seeing it being magical and entertaining, and it could still be a good movie. But it’s also hard for me to ignore the facts that people want to boycott it for, especially now when it’s more important to stand your ground and fight for what’s right than ever. Mulan, after all, has always been about being loyal, brave, and true — it’s still you who gets to define what this means to you, and in the end, maybe what’s best is just to follow what’s in your heart.

MULAN
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