‘Mulan’ (2020) and Chi: How The Filmmakers Sabotage The Morals of Their Own Story.
You heard it here first: If you want to be treated equal to a man, you need to be blessed with magic chi powers.
The new version of Mulan is bad: Lousy acting, culturally inaccurate, boring characters, distracting editing work, hilariously bad CGI effects (search up: “Phoenix in Mulan”), poorly executed story beats (as per the lack of songs, according to Sideways), controversy surrounding the lead actress, controversy about Disney’s credits that thank Chinese groups which are linked to the country’s detention camps, and it costs an additional $30 on Disney+.
But even after all of its external messes, it somehow manages to get worse.
Mulan sabotages its own messages.
In the 1998 Disney version of the film, the Matchmaker tells Mulan that she “will never bring her family honor” because she cannot fit into the hyper-feminine model of obedience and submissiveness. Out of public humiliation, shame, and concern over her father’s health, Mulan takes her father’s place in the military as a male soldier. Once again, Mulan struggles to fit into society’s mold, namely, the hyper-masculine soldier. At the end of the movie, Mulan uses both seemingly-masculine traits, like sword fighting, and feminine traits, like the cool fan trick that Mulan uses to disarm Shan Yu.
Mulan’s presence in the movie also drives the arcs of other characters in the movie. At first glance, the troupe of soldier characters that befriend Mulan are hyper-masculine. They even sing sexist songs like “Be A Man” and “The Girl Worth Fighting For.” As the movie goes on, their individual personality becomes more ambiguous, in terms of masculinity and femininity. At the end of the film, they dress in drag as “Be A Man” plays in the background because, at that moment, the so-called “manliest thing” they can do is to embrace their feminine qualities.
Now, back to the trainwreck that we call Mulan (2020).
In this version, Mulan is gifted with Qi or Ch’i. She has a sister named Xiu, who replaces the grandmother, Mushu, and the cricket. (Otherwise known as the funniest characters in the original, albeit somewhat culturally insensitive.) Xiu messes up Mulan’s chances of “bringing honor to her family” through the matchmaker. Like in its predecessor, Mulan takes her father’s place in the military as a male soldier.
First off, Xiu is very different from a cricket. While a mere cricket cannot be held accountable for Mulan’s woes, Xiu can be scolded by the matchmaker for not filling in the hyper-feminine role.
But the more pressing issue is Xiu’s role in the story. She isn’t just Chekhov’s Gun. She’s a character.
While Mulan will be able to do almost anything because of her talents, Xiu will be married. Xiu will be a housewife. Xiu will fit into the hyper-feminine role.
And if you look at it from a different perspective, things aren’t so great for Mulan, either.
The filmmakers decided that Mulan needs Qi just to keep up with the patriarchy. In fact, no woman in this movie can work just as hard as a man without magic abilities. (The Witch, for example)
Plus, none of male soldiers are affected fundamentally by Mulan. What do they learn? That Mulan is cool because she Qi powers? That women are only useful if they can cultivate Qi?
So, remember: If your daughters aren’t naturally gifted like Mulan, then they should start sewing their wedding dress.