As a fifth-generation ABC (American Born Chinese) and a long-time practitioner of Chinese martial arts, I am self-admittedly a hodgepodge of American and Chinese culture. Family traditions on Western holidays are sprinkled with Chinese elements (think Thanksgiving turkey stuffed with Chinese sticky rice) and the few remaining Chinese holidays that are celebrated have been modified to fit the Gregorian calendar. This fusing of cultures is simply what I know and helped to shape who I am. It is authentically me and, realistically, authentically what my son will be.
So when I heard that Disney was going to do a live-action remake of its animated classic, Mulan, I was both excited and anxious.
“Crystal (Yifei) Liu? Donnie Yen? JET LI?! In a wuxia (historical Chinese martial arts film genre) movie? Rated PG-13? Sign me up!” I thought to myself. But then apprehension set in – just how would Disney pull this off?
When will My Reflections Show…
My wife is unapologetically a “theme-park junkie” and has dragged me onto numerous thrill rides throughout our decade-plus together. Oftentimes, at the end of a particularly thrilling ride, I am left a bit confused. “What exactly just happened? Did I enjoy this ride?” I wondered. This is, for better or worse, the feeling I was left with after watching Mulan.
There is a saying frequently used by marketers, usually in reference to segmentation: “When you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to anyone.”
Mulan attempts to pay homage to the original animated Disney classic, while also being culturally and historically accurate. Ultimately, the movie ends up being neither authentic Disney nor authentic for Chinese audiences. This would not be entirely problematic if Disney embraced this reality from the get-go instead of trying to sell both of the aforementioned points.
…Who I am Inside? A Chinese American’s Verdict
At the end of the day, Mulan feels a bit like Americanized Chinese food. There are times when I really crave and enjoy it, but it’s not authentic Western or Chinese food, and I’m clear on this. Mulan didn’t quite meet my expectations, and I suspect this was also the case for those who know a bit more about Chinese culture. I enjoyed the performances of the main cast, but could not help but feel that the dialogue and the supernatural take on “qi” were reinforcing a Western perception of Chinese mysticism. At the end of the day, the film wasn’t bad, but would have been better if the film was more authentically Disney instead of trying to pass it off as a wuxia film. CGI Mushu, anyone?