The trouble with Disney’s live-action adaptation of “Mulan”

Photo courtesy of Budiey, Unsplash

Despite only being released a few days ago, Disney’s live-action adaptation of its 1998 hit “Mulan” garnered a flood of press months before its scheduled release. This was due to various controversies that plagued the adaptation at all stages, ranging from creative choices to the lead actress's political views. 

The movie's earliest controversies were with how it would differ from its animated predecessor, which is a fan favorite among the Disney Princess franchise. The original “Mulan” had a cast of characters that included the likes of Li Shang, a soldier for the Chinese Army and Mulan’s love interest (voiced by BD Wong), and Mushu, Mulan’s sarcastic dragon sidekick (voiced by Eddie Murphy). These characters were removed from the live-action movie.

Later, the adaptation nixed the musical aspect of the original movie and made it a dramatic action film. These decisions evoked outrage from fans. Magic was also added to the live-action adaptation, with the addition of a witch character being added to help the Huns overthrow China. This choice was also heavily criticized.

The dramatic changes in the live-action “Mulan” were clarified by the films’ creative team as making the movie more authentic to Chinese culture and the original source material that inspired the animated movie 22 years ago. With that controversy settled, all was quiet for a while until another scandal broke, this time involving Mulan herself.

The actress playing the title character of Mulan is a Chinese actress named Liu Yifei. She came under fire for tweeting in support of the Chinese government in their internationally condemned actions against activists in Hong Kong, who are speaking out against China’s human rights abuses and suppression of free speech. Liu Yifei later attempted to walk back her comments in a Hollywood Reporter interview, saying she isn’t an expert on the matter and wishes for it to be resolved.

Nevertheless, activists and their supporters organized boycotts against the movie. 

The movie was continually delayed in movie theatres due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A few weeks ago, it was announced that “Mulan” would premiere on Disney+ with a fee of $29.90 to watch the movie up until Dec. 4, when it will be free to watch on the streaming service. This was met with widespread criticism for an additional charge on top of the paid subscription cost.

After it debuted, the controversies kept coming for “Mulan.” The movie was later under fire yet again after the credits at the end of the film revealed where it was shot. A large portion of “Mulan” was filmed in the Xinjiang region of China. This region has been the location of mass internment camps where Uyghur Muslims have been detained in horrifying conditions by the Chinese government.

Over 1 million Uyghur Muslims have been detained by China and placed into these camps for what the Chinese have described as "re-education" in an attempt to prevent extremism. State Department reports have uncovered instances of murder, torture and physical, mental and sexual abuse in these camps. On top of this, Muslims have been force-fed pork and alcohol against their will, according to reports, which is forbidden in their religion.

Despite all of the controversy that has plagued the film, “Mulan” debuted on Sept. 4 and received a 75% review from Rotten Tomatoes. The box office debut has been soft so far, making $7.5 million against a $200 million-dollar budget. “Mulan” debuts in Chinese theatres on Sept. 11, which will likely cause a large spike in profits.