by Kassidy Hart–Like most college students my age, I grew up watching and re-watching the Disney films I cherished most. Of these films, Mulan was never one that I gravitated towards. Yet, I did indeed spend countless nights stuffing my face with popcorn and M&Ms listening to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” because it was (and still is) my brother’s favorite movie.
When my best friend told me her family bought the premier access on Disney+ to the 2020 live remake, I was pumped. And though I quickly realized it was not exactly the film I remembered, it wasn’t a disaster that would disappoint Walt either.
The film begins with Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei), a young Chinese woman, living with her family in a rural village and preparing to be matched up with the man she will marry. This is traditional and one of the most important ways to “bring honor to your famil.”
At the time, a group of Rouran raiders, led by Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), continues to slaughter Imperial troops. Because of this, the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that one man from every family in China must volunteer to join the army. Because Mulan is the only heir of her parents, this would mean her elderly and fragile father (Tzi Ma) must go.
To avoid her father’s certain death in war, Mulan disguises herself and goes to the army training camp where she pretends to be a man. The film then continues to follow her adventure as she tries to hide her real identity while trying to gain “chi”.
One of the biggest differences, aside from the lack of classic Disney songs and supportive talking animals, was the added character of Xianniang (Gong Li). Li’s character was an outcast and called a witch by the village because she used her chi to resemble dark magic. And even though she was villainous, by the end of the movie she contributed to Mulan’s own self-discovery of chi.
The power of Li’s character lies not within her physical powers but stems from the influence she has on Mulan and, quite frankly, the audience. She captures female empowerment in the most extreme way.
The whole film centers around this ancient ideal that women are nothing more than caregivers and should not step outside of their traditional roles. Mulan wants nothing more than to protect her family, but “warrior” status is reserved for men. It is only through the revelation Li’s character helps Mulan experience her true potential as a woman.
The actors did a marvelous job and Liu Yifei did a wonderful job at living up to the Mulan name. She portrayed the seriousness required for a warrior but did not lack her own individual emotion that makes her Mulan. As a martial artist, she was able to bring in her own stunt-work and emphasize her character’s strength and independence. She was the perfect choice to bring the role to life, hopefully being a break-through role for her as an actor.
I, like any of my other Disney-loving peers, obviously expected the movie to be closer to resembling the 1998 Mulan. And even though Mushu wasn’t a mentioned role, and the songs were more background music, I thought the movie was charming in a whole new way. It empowered Mulan in a whole new light and strengthens the core values of the beloved film – family, duty, and honor. I can honestly say it was one of the best live-action films Disney has made.