"It is my duty to fight."
July 7, 2019 2:23 PM   Subscribe

I maintain still, to this day, she will always be the best Disney princess for me growing up.
posted by anem0ne at 2:24 PM on July 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

Thanks for this! I thought the trailer looked exciting because it was more serious and lacked Mushu. (Commenters were complaining about that, but, I mean, "Mushu.") Since I'm not Chinese, though, I couldn't say.

I'll miss "I'll Make a Man Out of You," but if the previous live remakes are anything to go by, it probably wouldn't have been as good anyway.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:32 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


posted by schroedinger at 2:56 PM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

This looks so amazing and so un-Disney-Princess. I can’t wait!
posted by sallybrown at 3:11 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

HMM! Cautiously looking forward to it.

I did love the movie growing up, but oof it still hurts to see the mishmash of design elements from multiple East Asian countries supposedly falling under the umbrella of "idk, looks Chinese-y?" back then. Still a charming movie despite its flaws! It continues to have an intensely singable soundtrack, and its heart was overall in the right place.

The casting for the live-action version looks pretty good! I like that more of the newer characters are female this time, so it's not just Mulan being this one exceptional woman amongst a mostly-male cast. Also, GONG LI AS A WITCH OC YES PLEASE.
posted by rather be jorting at 3:24 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'll kiiiinda miss Mushu (I'm a sucker for trickster-style characters who end up developing a soft spot for the noble underdog protag), but yeah, a comic-relief tiny dragon sidekick voiced by Eddie Murphy isn't really a crucial element to retain going forward here, ha.
posted by rather be jorting at 3:33 PM on July 7, 2019

"My little baby off to destroy people!"
posted by rather be jorting at 3:34 PM on July 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

I showed the trailer to my mom and she was stoked from the very first second cuz she recognized the Tulou immediately, and also recognized Liu Yifei from various shows she's seen. It'll be fun taking her to see the movie when it comes out!
posted by rather be jorting at 3:46 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ah, Mulan, the next poem after 床前明月光 and 清明时节雨纷纷.

(I never learned this one, to my mother's consternation.)

A (Chinese, currently working for Microsoft in London due to visa issues) friend posted the mulan poem while my boyfriend was looking over my shoulder, and I said it was a gender-bendy cincinnatus story. He thought that was an amusingly-western classical take, but, you know, arma virumque cano melius quam 唧唧复唧唧.

I can't quite tell what Jeannette Ng is saying about this remake having a 'more global eye'.

From my Chinese-American point of view / confusion, the biggest, most AI-assisted global eye is that of the PRC, and it's probably very happy that all these 华人 from all over the world are being coalesced into a Han-claimed story.
posted by batter_my_heart at 4:12 PM on July 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

(batter_my_heart, thanks for linking to 床前明月光 - takes me back to reciting it as a kid.)
posted by rather be jorting at 4:21 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love the tulou! And the camerawork looks good. But I miss her hair being cut off, that was such a great moment though unnecessary for this period. I hope they have some other significant physical moment - when she wipes off the make up and cuts her hair, it meant something big.

But on the other hand, maybe this Mulan will be something completely different.

I am really really curious with China's market and global politics, how Disney will play the Hun invaders.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:03 PM on July 7, 2019

a 'more global eye'

They cast more non-American-entertainment-industry people?

I'm glad that this seems more "global" because while I loved the original animated version as a kid, watching it as an adult, I realize how American it was. Mulan hugs the emperor! Of course, very Americanized Chinese people exist, but it felt kind of like an Asian skin over a typical American Broadway musical, you know?

A mashup setting could work - there's precedent for it. Wuxia is often set in a vague Ancient China, similar to how High Fantasy is often set in a vague Medieval Europe. I think the key to this is knowing what can be safely "genericized". Like, it's best not to draw on traditions from very specific cultural groups dating from today/in living memory. It's not just concerns about One China, it's that actual people in the audience will know what these things mean, and when they're just there for aesthetics, it feels pretty shallow*. So I hope Mulan in this is actually Hakka and they didn't make the houses look like this just to be cool.

*It's not like Wakanda was totally unproblematic; some Africans took issue with it as well.
posted by airmail at 5:33 PM on July 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

It doesn't seem likely that Disney can top the 2009 Chinese movie "Mulan". Among the best Chinese movies I've seen. Great theme song too.
posted by brambleboy at 5:42 PM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

(Speaking of this authenticity-in-the-diaspora issue, I think Always Be My Maybe did a good job by depicting two types of Asian families - Marcus's family is 3rd+ gen, while Sasha's is 1st gen. As with most representation questions, the answer is to show more than one. Not sure how they'd apply this to Mulan, but anyway...)
posted by airmail at 5:46 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

If Mulan is Hakka in this one, that would make this movie more Hakka than CRA where it would also actually make more sense than what it ended up with
posted by cendawanita at 6:04 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Is that actress that did the live action Ghost in the Shell to some controversy playing Mulan?
posted by sammyo at 6:08 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can't quite tell what Jeannette Ng is saying about this remake having a 'more global eye'.

An artist I follow, Joshua Luna, made a thread about it on Twitter. The 90s Mulan had Chinese-Americans on the creative team. But Chinese-Americans have different values from Chinese people. The remake's creative team is mostly white Americans and Chinese people

On one hand, Mulan is a Chinese poem. You could say, it deserves the respect that Chinese people want from it. On the other, a common problem in entertainment is that the industry ignores Asian-Americans,
and AsAms are often mentally lumped in with Asians from the homecountry (as if mixing various Asian countries wasn't bad enough already). If AsAms ever have a problem with American racism (eg whitewashing, stereotypes, etc) the mainland Asians are not as likely to care*. And people will go "well, AsAms are American so they can only lay claim on American culture." Which, is a complicated topic, but in doing so brushes off their issues and pushes assimilation into white "American" (European-American?) culture, whatever that is. Yet people continue to see AsAms as not truly American either, we're Eternal Foreigners and therefore in a cultural limbo.

*See: China not caring about that white girl who wore a Cheongsam to prom. Japan doesn't care when their anime is adapted and whitewashed. They are more likely to see cultural appropriation as a success of their culture, not aware of how their expats get treated overseas, nor even thinking about their existence in general. On the flip side, various Asian countries may care about things that AsAms don't (like various political squabbles), especially the further they get from being 1st gen.
posted by picklenickle at 6:08 PM on July 7, 2019 [21 favorites]

I can't quite tell what Jeannette Ng is saying about this remake having a 'more global eye'.

Jeannette Ng is not claiming that; that’s more my take on the the link, which Ng did not write. It’s important to note that instead of casting Chinese-Americans/Asian-Americans in the majority of the important roles like they did for the animated Mulan (1998), this time the majority of critical characters are distinctly non-Asian-American. With that comes different perspectives, and might make this version of the movie less, perhaps, seminal to Asian-American kids who were starved of any representation growing up.

picklenickle is saying what i was more hinting at with that line.

Is that actress that did the live action Ghost in the Shell to some controversy playing Mulan

I’m not sure what you’re asking?
posted by anem0ne at 6:40 PM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

> Is that actress that did the live action Ghost in the Shell to some controversy playing Mulan?

No, Scarlett Johansson is not playing Mulan. Why would you ask that...?

(Other than indicating that you're aware that there's been a lot of whitewashing for live-action remakes of Asian media, I guess? If you actually clicked on the linked trailer though, that would've answered your question as well...)
posted by rather be jorting at 6:49 PM on July 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

I recalled reading somewhere that Mulan from the poem was probably not ethically Han Chinese, but of Xianbei origin. Given that the poem stated clearly that they lived about one day's ride from the Yellow River in Northern China, it's doubly unlikely that she was Hakka (who are from the south.)

My instinct tells me that the white-face makeup shown in the trailer is from the Tang dynasty. The Mulan poem was written in the Nanbei (South-North) dynasty about 200 years earlier...

Liu Yifei looks really good though and I looking forward to taking my six-year-old daughter to see it. She and her dad has a bedtime ritual of singing "I'll Make A Man Out of You" to each other during teeth-brushing.
posted by em at 7:06 PM on July 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

My auntie instantly said the white makeup is Tang dynasty but also that they overdid it. I feel like they dialed up the colors and white vs skintone contrast. This style of makeup is more understated in the Asian films and tv I've seen.
posted by polymodus at 7:30 PM on July 7, 2019

The poem itself doesn't say anything about Mùlán's background, but it's interesting that the ruler (whose army she fights in) is called a 可汗 kèhán— that is, a khan. (The Táng reconstructed pronunciation is even clearer— kʰâɣân, cf. khagan 'great khan'. That suggests a foreign dynasty, which was fairly common in the north before the Suí reunified the country.

It's also worth remembering that the story has been retold and expanded many times in China— there's a Míng play by Xú Wèi in which she acquires a surname (花 Huā), and a Míng novel by Chǔ Rénhuò with a tragic ending.
posted by zompist at 8:04 PM on July 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm just glad the one earlier, insultingly stupid idea didn't come to pass.

There was a time, just two years ago, that Disney was trying to shoehorn a white male savior into this movie and as a romantic counterpart to Mulan.
posted by Borborygmus at 8:04 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dayum, what a trailer: I'll take my daughters and sons to that. It just looks like A Good Movie, period.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:21 PM on July 7, 2019

Love metafilter bringing in the historical and cultural perspectives.

I have nothing of that nature to add. Only here to say that I loved the cartoon version as a child to finally see an Asian Disney “princess”. Although at the time I resented that she wasn’t a typical princess! But now I love it! And this new version gave me goosebumps. Can’t wait for it!
posted by like_neon at 1:31 AM on July 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

As a very assimilated (growing up) Asian-American, who has more recently become more aware of and more radical about racism in America, having the creative team be Asians and whites is a mixed bag for me.

Problematic as Milan from the 90s was, parts of it were very affirming and felt very right. Non-Diaspora Chinese from China are often absolutely ignorant of and unsympathetic to racism/anti-racism struggles Asian Americans have so I worry a lot of that affirmingness will be gone from this new production.

That said, in the years between thinking I was or could assume whiteness somehow and becoming who I am now, I've learned and integrates and depend on more Chinese culture and legacy. So maybe it will turn out okay?

It's just that there is sometimes pretty hard clashing between Diaspora Chinese and those who never emigrated, and it seems like that'll never be resolved. And sometimes I personally feel like that's okay. But it's hard to trust that it'll all turn out okay (ironically in the Disney fashion).
posted by kalessin at 3:35 AM on July 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

Also I feel like I should clarify my place in this world a little better. My Chinese heritage is Taishanese/Toisanese, like about 75% of Chinese immigrants to the US (though I understand with the more contemporary waves of immigration, that proportion is changing). When I was growing up, the proportion was higher. My grandfather was the one who immigrated, twice. Once to get a foothold, again to bring his wife and his youngest son (my oldest US uncle Leon). Because of the immigration/emigration shenanigans, we don't have a lot of records of older family, but we think that several brothers older than Leon may have stayed in China. This was around 1910-1920. Again, records, if any, are lost.

We do know that Leon's two younger brothers (my Uncle Wing, and my Dad) were born in the US. Also because of how fucked up the laws and regulations were at the time, Pop (grandfather), Leon, Wing, and Dad were super pro-assimilationist. They wanted their children to have every advantage in the US possible, so they lightly to severely discouraged their kids and their kids' kids from learning Chinese language or Chinese culture. Our ancestral dialect is lost to us, and for most of us, the Chinese culture we do know beyond the few rituals our parents allowed us to cultivate as kids, are a bit syncretic, and based on writing and literature and history and other sources we could get together in the US (much of it created in English, by English-language authors, folks privileged enough to be able to be sinophiles, and write about it).

Anyway, this is all to say that most of my heritage is lost to me from China, but I know enough to know that Mulan's villages show that she and her family are meant to be Hakka, not the Chinese that make up roughly 75% of the Chinese immigrants to the US. Hakka cuisine is very different (but I still quite like it) as is the architecture of the villages, from Taishanese/Toisanese culture.

Another thing that is super difficult for many Chinese is the original unification of China, by an ancient Duke (Qin), it's said, or Emperor. For better or for worse, willingly, or unwillingly, in China, which was prior to that a bunch of different states and regions, unified. Thousands of years ago. And we were not all one people, and we did not then all consider the lands of China "one land", but somehow it all happened, despite great personal, regional, and cultural tragedy. But China is/was still made up of many different cultures and regions, and not everyone forgets that, all of the time. So it's notable that the map of Hakka people in Wikipedia sort of surrounds the map of Taishanese/Toisanese people in the Southern province, Guandong, near Hong Kong. And of course it's not like the separation is total. There is trade, and other kinds of interaction between different peoples in all areas of China. And the national infrastructure makes that easier.

I'm okay with Mulan not being about my people any more (or this time), but it's always fraught, change. And I guess we won't know until we see it, how different this new Mulan will be or how comforting it will or will not be for my people (diaspora or not).
posted by kalessin at 6:27 AM on July 8, 2019 [9 favorites]

Still boycotting Disney for all the usual good reasons as well as my own, but this looks like it would be worth seeing in a way they don't profit from me having seen it. Really loved the original Mulan, despite all it's problems and lead me to become later interested in Chinese contemporary art and artists when I was in school.

I would not expect Eddie Murphy style Mushu, but I really do hope they invoke Mushu on some level. Will say, wasn't a fan of the cricket so it's fine that insect is gone.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:19 AM on July 8, 2019

Just read about the rest of the cast -- the khan/emperor is played by Jet Li, the matchmaker by 郑佩佩 Zheng Peipei, and the general by 甄子丹 Zeng Zidan. All are veterans of martial arts movies. The joke is that with such a lineup, they shouldn't need Mulan's help.
posted by em at 8:45 AM on July 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

It's been a banner week for nostalgic white women behaving badly about Disney princesses, but I really hope that big cultural properties keep making movies featuring girls and women and people who don't look like me or act like me or believe like me. And this looks badass.
Did the book have any adventures for people who had brown eyes and brown hair? No, no, no . . . it was the blond people with blue eyes and the redheads with green eyes who got the stories. If you had brown hair you were probably just a servant or a woodcutter or something. Or a dairymaid. Well, that was not going to happen, even if she was good at cheese. She couldn’t be the prince, and she’d never be a princess, and she didn’t want to be a woodcutter, so she’d be the witch and know things
posted by ChuraChura at 10:01 AM on July 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm apprehensive, but the trailer looks well done, like an American version of a Hong Kong martial arts film
posted by numaner at 1:44 PM on July 8, 2019

I have never seen Mulan, despite having been a young Chinese-American girl of the right age to do so. My family didn't really do movies, so it wasn't really on purpose at first.

But then I was a young teenager and away at band camp and some girls in the elevator I didn't know laughed at me and called me "Mulan" and I cried. I think they apologized and didn't seem to realize that I'd be so upset. I'm not even sure they meant to laugh or even did laugh--maybe my rabidly self-conscious teenage brain added that sound in later. I hadn't seen the movie anyway so it wasn't that I was reacting to disliking or knowing anything about the character. It was just another reminder, among all the others I got every day, that I was not like the others and I didn't belong and people could tell, just by looking at me, that I was different. That there was nobody in my small southern town who was like me and I certainly wasn't seeing people like me on TV, at least not ones I wanted to be like. (I don't think that happened until last summer with Crazy Rich Asians; it was such an unusual pleasure to feel like I was the audience of a story once, though it took until my early thirties.) It was wearing weird clothes and having weird food and parents who talked funny and worked weird jobs. It wasn't cool yet to be from a different culture and it didn't make you worldly and sophisticated, just low-class, possibly illegal, probably ate cats-and-dogs (always said like that, "do Chinese people eat cats and dogs?"), ching-chong, pull your eyes into slits, are you Chinese or Japanese?, hey say something in Chinese!, people bowing for no reason, y'all should wear kimonos, do you do nails, hey your English is real good. I'm sure they didn't mean to bring up all those memories. I assume those girls weren't familiar with people like me, so they called me after a cartoon character who, I guess, was their only experience with people with my face and my skin.

It seems like some people see Mulan as a strong character and someone to look up to. I could probably use a bit of that, even though I see myself as a stronger character and others look up to me now. A high school teacher called me the same thing years later and I didn't cry, just acted confused. If someone called me Mulan now, I would probably try to take it as a compliment; should I? I guess I should try to see the movie and find out. But when I even hear the name I just think of that elevator and those girls and it's like I'm thirteen again.
posted by spelunkingplato at 3:42 PM on July 8, 2019 [8 favorites]

spelunkingplato - wtf. That is so not okay, not from the teenagers and especially not from teachers. (I wish I could offer your younger self a hug.) If you do ever decide to watch the movie (either the original animated film or, I suppose, this new movie), I hope you can do so without being invaded by those horrible memories.

(I'm fortunate to have only positive feelings associated with the Disney Mulan - I remember being thrilled when the movie came out, seeing a badass female Asian Disney character onscreen. It was validating, for me, but I was also lucky to attend a middle school and high school where being Asian American was unremarkable. Later, I read Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior and was introduced to her take on the Fa Mu Lan story.)
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 4:35 PM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jesus, that's some shit. I'm sorry that happened to you, spelunkingplato, and I think it's seriously fucked up that those girls made you associate one of the coolest badass legendary warriors in Chinese cultural history with a derogatory insult. (On preview, I also wish I could offer your younger self a hug! Your current self, too. Seriously, that's a painful past to grow up with and that sucks!)

From one Chinese American girl-of-the-right-age-to-have-seen-it to another, I'd still recommend giving the Disney movie a shot if you feel up for it. Awareness of its design flaws aside, I also have positive feelings associated with the movie. It does help that I also went to a middle school and high school where being Asian American was unremarkable - I went with fellow Chinese American friends to watch it in the theaters, even. So from my perspective, not that I would call anyone Mulan, but I'd hope the name would be associated with a compliment.

I've been personally avoiding The Joy Luck Club for various reasons (tl/dr I'll probably cry a LOT!) and no amount of external persuasion is going to make me watch it before I'm ready. So I don't want to try persuading you to watch it if you don't feel ready. But having seen the Disney Mulan, I think it'd help if you did see it someday. At the very least, it could give you a newer mental association of an awesome warrior voiced by Ming-Na Wen with the name.

posted by rather be jorting at 5:11 PM on July 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm a little bummed about losing the internet-crowned bisexual icon Li Shang. Other than that it seems interesting.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 9:13 PM on July 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Let a Thousand Mulans Bloom
posted by anem0ne at 9:01 AM on July 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

anem0ne, thanks for linking the above Foreign Policy piece by Jeannette Ng - it's a good read with food for thought. My cautiously-optimistic caution is increased by Ng's thoughts on what a lack of Chinese diaspora participation would mean for the movie:
An American production (implicitly white) is trying to create art that will appeal to a (implicitly conservative) mainland Chinese audience—and censors. Chinese diaspora (or wider Asian American) artists and audience vanish in this dichotomy. But smaller stories are being told by the diaspora, such as Sherry Thomas’s upcoming novel The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan or even Elizabeth Lim’s Reflection: A Twisted Tale, published by Disney Press, which offers an alternate tale in which Mulan has to journey to the underworld to save the life of her love interest Li Shang. There’s also Lionkiller, an ongoing interactive fiction series.

There was never just one Mulan. Even the Collected Works of the Music Bureau offered the emperor two lyrics for the same song. Nor should there ever be. But when we combine the intense cultural influence of Disney with an idea of Chineseness that places the mainland over the diaspora, I fear what might be lost if the world defines the 2020 movie as the new, authentic version of Mulan’s story.
The optimistic side of my cautious optimism still remains due to Niki Caro's previous work on Whale Rider, which gives me some hope regarding the production, as Caro has already demonstrated a respectful approach to telling stories by cultures she's not a part of, whereas I would be less optimistic with, say, a white American director who hasn't had Caro's experience. The scales are much different - first seeking approval from a specific Maori community (of Whangara) where the Whale Rider book was set & being able to continually work collaboratively with the specific community on adapting the book, vs a massive undertaking that isn't based on any one work or one community, with inherently far more possible issues due to the lack of specificity or attempts to narrow things down too much.

So it's a mixed bag... we'll see how it goes...
posted by rather be jorting at 10:43 AM on July 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

And on that note, this Malaysian parody has that old diaspora blues as the core of its joke (I think even if it's mostly Manglish with some Malay, it's fairly clear without much translation)
posted by cendawanita at 11:06 PM on July 12, 2019

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