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"But when two hares running side by side" "How can you tell the female from male"

It's nearly impossible for me to express

Just how important the character of Mulan is to me

And to every single Chinese person

The Ballad of Mulan is taught in elementary school

It's one of my favorite poem from China

And at one point in time

I could recite the entire poem by heart

There are opera plays

There are TV shows

Countless books for children and adults

I can't think of any other traditional characters

Who is this ubiquitous within a culture

It was the 90s

Mainland China started importing Disney animated films

Not long after I watched the Lion King

I heard stories of Disney making a Mulan film

Chinese animation was pretty much in the gutter back then

I was excited to see Mulan as a cartoon character

Spring of 1999

Our elementary school trip brought us to the local cinema

To see Mulan

I figured it's probably just a 1960s adaptation or something

To my surprise

A Disney logo appears on the big screen

Every kid in the theatre gasped

We were ecstatic

And it was every bit as beautiful as I have hoped

It's not a perfect film

It has some questionable racial depictions

Although I guess the Huns aren't around anymore?

And I heard people say it's a watered-down version of the story

Then again, Chinese people love to say that to everything

None of the matters

Because for the first time, I feel represented in a cartoon

My culture, my favorite story, on the big screen

And I'm just a dude

I can't imagine how powerful it must have felt to a young girl

Mulan is unlike any other Disney female lead at the time

Arguably, ever

She's not born royalty nor nobility

And does not marry into one either

She's a warrior

With a kill count of thousands

For a traditionally highly patriarchal country

Mulan is an important icon

Who not only gives girls in China an important representation

But a sense of empowerment

When Mulan defeats Shan Yu atop the palace

The entire theatre of children cheered

Clearly, the film did something special

Fast forward 20 years later

A new, live-action Disney Mulan came out

And it came at the perfect time

Feminism is, once again, a hot topic in China

News of domestic violence

And gender discrimination came into focus more and more

Preference for sons over daughters is still a big issue

Those were empowered by Mulan during their youth

Are currently fighting for their equality

It is the perfect time for a new generation of Mulan

To inspire people

And you Fxxked it up!

To understand how the live-action Mulan fails

We need to see where the 1998 Mulan succeeds

The story of Mulan is set in a nonspecific era in ancient China

A time when the greatest honor a woman can bring

Is to get married and bear children

Which Mulan is terrible at

"Put it out!

Put it out!

Put it out!!"

During this time, the Huns begin to attack China

To counter the offensive, China conscripts one son from each family

"The Fa family"


Having no sons in the house

Mulan's father is the only one who can go

Too wrapped up in the social order

Mulan's father refuses to consider otherwise

"I know my place!"

"It is time you learn yours"

And with his age, he will surely die on the battlefield

To save him, Mulan decides to dress up as a man

And join the army

Mulan's journey empowers women in two ways

First, by showing her capability in holding her own against men

Mulan starts off as a total amateur

But so does everyone else

We see this ragtag group of soldiers train

And in any and all relevant aspect

Mulan can keep up with men

As the other soldiers grow

So does she

Here, the film made a statement that

Women, in any practical situation

Can be just as capable as any other man

Mulan learns to be masculine

"And this... represents Strength"

She is capable of harnessing strength and power

Traits that, traditionally, are valued by men

But what's more interesting, is the second way the film empowers women

By empowering femininity

Now, this sounds strange because at first glance

Mulan isn't very feminine

she is a tomboy and a failed bride

"You may look like a bride"

"But you will never bring your family honor"

But she's also not good at masculinity

Being extremely awkward at pretending to be a man

That's because those are the extreme versions of gender expression

Femininity means submission

Masculinity means aggression

In a sense, Mulan's journey is to embrace her own gender expression

She succeeds in doing traditionally masculine tasks

By refusing to engage in hypermasculinity

Rejecting the values of brute strength

Instead, she's able to overcome her challenge by using clever solutions

On multiple occasions

And her friends learn from her, too

They start off as hyper angry hyper-masculine men

But by the end, are willing to be in drag

To save the emperor

We see both sides learn to embrace each other

Girls can be manly

And that men being girly, is not necessarily a bad thing

There is strength on both sides

And there is strength in not limiting one with either extreme

Finally, it's important to realize the climax is her trying to save the emperor

And not China

It has probably an unintentional moral

That Mulan's power, and by extension, a woman's power

Is best used to uphold the patriarchy

The storytellers at Disney probably took notice, too

And to avoid that connotation

The film cleverly suggests that

Mulan doesn't save the emperor out of loyalty

She merely sees the emperor as a fellow human in need of help

But more importantly

After the dust settles

The emperor offers Mulan a position in his counsel

"You can have his job"

Mulan declines

Rejecting the value in upholding the patriarchy

She returns home, to the only patriarch she recognizes

Her father

She presents him the sword and a medal

Bringing symbolic honors to her family

What does the father do

He tosses everything aside and embraces his daughter

"The greatest gift and hornor"

"Is having you for a daughter"

Breaking the final patriarchal relationship

Their love is a human one

Instead of a dragon

Mulan 2020 has a no name phoenix that does nothing

And the CGI looks like utter crap

Maybe it wouldn't be a problem

If the animators joined Skillshare

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Anyway, Mulan 2020 follows largely the same basic plot

Mulan fails to be a bride

China summons its troops

Father too old to fight

Mulan leaves in her father's place

But with a few critical differences

Difference number one

Mulan is now a naturally gifted fighter

That is such an awful decision

Instead of seeing Mulan growing alongside her friends

Letting us know that women are as capable as men

Now, only the select few who are blessed by the gods

Have the privilege of catching up with men

Those who aren't so gifted?

Like Mulan's unnecessary sister character?

Well, she gets married at the end of the film

"I'm matched"

Imagine you are a young girl

With confidence issues

You watched Mulan 2020

Then you go back to school

And see other girls who are prettier than you

Who are better at sports than you

Instead of saying you are just as capable with enough perseverance

No, they are Mulan

And you are just the sister now

Sorry, not everyone is special

Difference number two

In the animation, Mulan is a problem solver

Mulan finds her way to the top using her wit

Instead brute strength

And, I have to emphasize this

She's the ONLY ONE to make it

Mulan is able to solve this problem

Because she can think outside the box

Without indulging in hypermasculinity

Where strength and brute force are valued

In context, the hypermasculine ideal of strength

Is and will always be only achievable by the few

Not everyone will make it

Mulan's success is a statement

That there is value outside of the hypermasculine way of thinking

The live-action version of this scene

Has Mulan climbing the mountain with two buckets of water

How does she solve this problem?

Mulan simply does the manly thing better than men

Through sheer strength and will power

To hammer this home further

Mulan kills the villain by using his weapon

A weapon traditionally associated with men

On the surface, it appears progressive

That man and woman are not so different

But when carefully examined

It is indulging in the traditional masculine value of strength

And that a woman is good

Only if she can man up

Mulan's experience and perspective as a woman is not valued

If anything, her gender is a hindrance

So instead of her teaching her friends to break free from hypermasculinity

She... just doesn't

The only lesson she learns in the film

Is to not hide her true identity

And her naturally gifted power

"Then, you'll die pretending to be something you are not"

Bitch! she has to hide her gender to save her family

The two themes don't go well together!

But what angers me the most

Is the third critical difference

The reason Mulan wants to save the Emperor

"I know my place"

"And it is my duty"

"To fight for the kingdom"

"And protect the emperor"

"I know my place"

"It is time you learn yours"

Look at her submissiveness standing next to the emperor

Her fight is literally to uphold the conservative hierarchy

Because in her story

She's treated fine as a woman

Or at least so she thinks

"You'd believe Hua Jun"

"Why do you not believe Hua Mulan"

This conservative value of "loyalty" and "honor"

Is something that the people of China have abandoned and detest

Ever since the collapse of the feudal system

We have a word for that!

"What is this fourth virtue I see?"

"Read it aloud, Mulan"

"Devotion to family"

It's called yū fǔ!

Mulan doesn't challenge the status quo

"You can still take the noble path"

She IS the status quo

Perpetuating the notion that

Just because one supernaturally gifted woman is respected

Then all women are respected

Gender equality achieved

Like the animated film

Mulan returns home to meet her father

And that emotional moment

Where the father abandons his symbol of honor, is gone

Instead, their reunion is short and bland

That's because their reunion is not the final ending

Next, the emperor sends a gift to Mulan

A sword, symbolic of her bringing honor to her family

This reward is played up much bigger

Than her lesson about being who she is

Or loving who she loves

And once again, she's invited to work for the emperor

"To join our greatest decorated warriors"

"As an officer and the emperor's guard"

Does she accept the job?

The film ends before she gives an answer

But with her smile

The answer is probably yes

What a load of bullsh*t

Now, the perceptive among you are probably already reading deep into this

And think there are all kinds of Chinese propaganda in this film

Which, I don't really want to get into

Because I don't think that's the case

That would be giving this movie too much credit

Mulan 2020 isn't malicious, it's just stupid

And it doesn't give a flying fxxk

It only wants to appear diverse and inclusive

It has four writers

Not one of them is Asian

Let alone Chinese

Its dialogue sounds like a white person's oriental fetish

"I told you you cannot eat, it'll ruin your make up!"

"The fiercest winter storm cannot destroy this make up"

It only wants to appear emotional

Mulan fails to be a bride?

No singing reflection

No contemplating her failure

No father-daughter bonding moment

The moment she steps out of the classroom

The minister is already there summoning the men to war

When Mulan leaves

This is how Mulan's father reacts in the animation

This is how Mulan's father reacts in live-action

It only wants to appear empowering

Through the laziest ways

Mulan is just naturally better than anyone

Only some girls are special

The not-so-special girls should be happy

Being fitted into traditional gender roles

Get married and bear a child

"I'm matched!"

And finally, it only wants to appear Chinese

It makes no attempt at understand or deconstruct Chinese culture

It mixes up the Chinese Phoenix myth with the Egyptian myth

"Some say the Phoenix is consumed by flame"

It sings praises to a western understanding of Chinese conservative value

Failing to realize many of these values

Have since been abandoned by Chinese people

It just wants to LOOK Chinese enough to fool the audience

And the sad thing is

It's probably going to work

As I said, China needs Mulan right now

Instead, all we got is a big-budget virtue signaling

Nothing signals that more than this moment

"Black wind and I rode along side two rabbits running side by side"

"I think one was a male, one was a female"

Mulan's dialogue here is a reference to the Ballad of Mulan

It takes one of the most iconic and powerful lines from the poem

And turns it into a throwaway fan service moment

In the Ballad

Mulan went to war for an astonishing ten years

And was promoted by twelve ranks

No one ever found out she was a woman

She was that much of a badass

In the poem, she also rejects a governing position

And chooses to return home

It was only when her fellow soldiers come to visit

And see her, in a dress, wearing make-up

Do they realize the truth

Confounded, they ask her why they never realized she's a girl

To which, Mulan replies

"The male hare's feet go hop and skip"

"The female hare's eyes are muddled and fuddled"

"But when two hares running side by side"

"How can you tell the female from male"

Mulan's answer was poignant

Men and women may look different

But when living amongst each other

When fighting beside each other

What difference do the differences make?