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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather stream the live action Mulan from Disney+, and are shocked to find it does not ask when my reflection will show who I am in side. Instead it is a dreary and confused morality tale which has a hawk lady doing magic. Really makes you miss Eddie Murphy.
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So on the PRC’s attitude toward Chinese history, there’s a lot to unpack there. My understanding is that there’s a lot of veneration of history, but of course never a whiff of any suggestion that it’s a system to go back to. So the Qing (the last imperial dynasty) is important because it established the maximalist borders of “China” which the CCP takes to be integral to the state (ie the regime in Beijing has the inherent and indisputable right to overlordship of the Tibet and Xinjiang). Another important part of history veneration is the position that Qing as well a prior dynasties had as “the central sate” (zhong guo), situated at the top of a hierarchy that extends to “all under heaven,” (ie the “tributary system”) which is also seen as a mantle to which the modern Chinese state has an inherent right. There is also this idea that China has an older and therefore better continuous history of “civilization” (which includes romanticized images of imperial courts, in particular Tang imagery and going back all the way to the mythical Xia dynasty) than the rest of the world, again as evidence of China’s “rightful” privileged position.
There is much more to it and I don’t explain it very well. A really excellent and very readable book that came out recently does a great job of turning it into a fascinating story, which also is important for anyone who wants to understand China today – which in turn is anyone who wants to understand international politics or business. “The Invention of China” by Bill Hayton, https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0300234821
There is a very fine line between being culturally respectful and engaging in stereotypical Orientalism. The absence of Mushu (the name itself is cringe) was explained by saying that the Chinese found the trivializing of a dragon to be culturally insensitive. Whereas the West has a history of cuteifying dragons from Pete’s onward. There is a theme park in China dedicated to just the Tang Dynasty. It has a couple of giant gold dragon decorations which would appear stylistically similar to cartoon Mulan one. So who’s to say.
Disney is just exercising its long established precedent of twisting folktales and other public domain properties to be palatable to modern mores.
I mean, Eddie Murphy is also very good at playing other animal sidekicks.
I had a similar question about who the audience was supposed to be, while watching this. It doesn’t (as implied by the early production press releases) look more like the original Mulan legend. It’s not a punchier script, by any means. It lurches around between set pieces. It’s not less sexist. The acting is flat in a lot of cases for the first hour. The CGI is clunky, especially with the phoenix that might as well have been a kite. And there’s the horrible geopolitics. So…did they care if anyone was enjoying it or even watching it? They knew it was going to rake in cash, no matter what. Is it a commercial for the animated version? The music cues are certainly prominent enough to be jingles.
I’ll also go a step further than “it’s a Star Wars movie” and say that it’s half a remake of The Rise of Skywalker. It kind of did a better job of remaking those scenes than it does anything from Mulan, too, since I could actually believe that she-Kylo (“Madam Driver”?) wanted to atone but thought that she had gone too far.
Had they gone full-on wuxia in adapting Mulan, though, and replaced the “your father was a Jedi, too, but that’s for the prequel trilogy” bit with connecting the family to she-Kylo, that could’ve been amazing and most of the plot points and set pieces could’ve been kept. I feel like I’m going to pretend that’s the movie I watched to justify those two hours. Though I did crack up over the “we’re alike” line, too, because they may as well have literally telegraphed that with Morse code, so there’s that, at least…