The duties of ‘Mulan’ (2020): Upholding honor in the film industry

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This is the second piece in a series on the 2020 remake of “Mulan.” Read the first piece here.

As established in the previous article, the success of Disney’s “Mulan” remake is an important opportunity for cultural redemption following inadequacies in “Mulan” (1998). However, director Niki Caro appears frighteningly unaware of “Mulan”’s history, stating that “Mulan”’s source text, “The Ballad of Mulan,” was written in the seventh century when it was actually written in the fifth century. This was just one of many inconsistent answers during a red carpet interview

Disney hopes to restore a historically problematic relationship with the Chinese government and market with “Mulan” (2020), making Caro’s responses an especially upsetting precursor to China and “Mulan”’s viewership. 

With its release during the coronavirus pandemic, a successful performance for “Mulan” (2020) is especially important amid trying times for many companies. While Disney’s amusement parks and box offices are closed, a fruitful return of Disney’s $200 million budget for “Mulan” (2020) would serve as a financial pitstop for Disney through any particularly costly difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In hopes of ensuring this return, Disney has confirmed that when “Mulan” (2020) is finally released, it will be available for purchase to Disney Plus account holders, costing an additional $30.

Throughout these difficulties, the story of “Mulan” has thus far upheld its reputation of being a timely phenomenon for Disney since its use for damage control during the “Kundun” incident in 1997. However, the success of “Mulan” (2020) is uniquely pivotal.

While it’s likely that the rise in popularity of video on demand (VOD) streaming services during the pandemic will continue, “Mulan” (2020) is a sure indicator of how this will affect the film industry for years to come. “Mulan” (2020) is the only major blockbuster scheduled for release during the pandemic, and thus will be the film industry’s first major indicator of how studio-produced, highly-budgeted films like “Mulan” will be received by VOD and its surging amount of consumers when box offices are closed, generating even more attention for “Mulan” (2020).

Criticisms of “Mulan” (2020) 

“Mulan” has already shown an astounding number of cultural imprecisions from trailers alone. “Mulan”’s trailer begins by showcasing a round, communal and traditional living space called a Tulou house made by Hakka people, who used Tulou houses over a thousand years after Mulan’s story takes place. Additionally, a meme and trend of mocking Mulan’s overexaggerated betrothal makeup arose from the trailer involving the trailer’s viewers sharing pictures of themselves with white faces, bright red cheeks and yellow powdered foreheads.

With more and more inaccuracies like these being recognized from the trailer, “Mulan” (2020), like its predecessor, seems to be an eclectic grouping of China’s achievements throughout history and exaggerated Chinese traditions to make the film “more Chinese.” Even in an effort to minimize their own whitewashing of “Mulan”’s story, Disney is again faced with errors in their research. 

As “Mulan” (1998)’s main issues were historical inaccuracies and retrogressive innuendos, “Mulan” (2020) has succeeded in repossessing each of them. Further harming the film’s reputation, in light of Black Lives Matter protests and efforts to ameliorate police brutality, “Mulan”’s starring actress Liu Yifei has sparked controversy and upset “Mulan”’s viewership, potentially jeopardizing a successful release. 

To her 65 million followers on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, Yifei reshared a post from People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, which confidently supports the Hong Kong Police’s response to anti-government protests while inviting violent opposition. 

After Yifei’s staunch message, #BoycottMulan trended on Twitter worldwide, along with the popularization of another hashtag, #ShameonLiuYifei, calling for “Mulan” (2020) to not be supported. In a petition demanding Yifei’s removal from the film, the petitioner claimed that by supporting the Hong Kong Police’s actions, Yifei supports sexual violence, which was inflicted upon a female protester during a particular arrest.

“Disney, is this what you are allowing?” the creator of the petition wrote in its description. “Mulan is a character that symbolises feminism, fighting against oppression and equality in society, However Liu not only does not possess such virtues, [but] she spits in the face of democracy, freedom and human rights.” 

Release delays 

The only thing distracting attention from the issues in “Mulan” (2020) trailers and controversy over Liu Yifei is “Mulan”’s five postponed release dates: from March 9 to March 27 to July 24 to Aug. 21 and currently to Sept. 4. While the film’s faults might have been salvaged by its financial success like its predecessor, that salvation is likely no longer an option for Disney; much excitement for “Mulan” (2020), along with its advertisements, have dramatically subsided since its initial release date in March. 

Given that “Mulan”’s success is important to Disney, it is possible that these delays might be linked to Disney’s hopes of seeing “Mulan”’s release in box offices. However, since the pandemic shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, viewers can expect “Mulan”’s release on Disney Plus, where circumstances seem financially merciful. 

In order to recoup “Mulan”’s budget, only 10% of Disney Plus subscribers would need to purchase the film. However, if “Mulan” is finally released on Disney Plus, it’s likely that other Disney blockbusters, such as “Black Widow,” which has also been awaiting release amid the pandemic, will release on the platform at a similar time. 

If “Mulan”’s delays are due to the film’s financial difficulties or surfacing issues such as controversy over Liu Yifei, there may be more delays to come. When “Mulan” (2020) is released for public consumption, its viewership can only hope it will be worth the wait, and uphold its cultural honor.

Contact Imogene Tomicic at imogene.tomici ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Imogene is a high school student writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.