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Disney’s Mulan: The remake we need, but not the remake we (had) wanted

Forget hand sanitizer and toilet paper. The one thing that we all desperately need right now is Disney’s remake of Mulan.

Sure, it might not meet the requirements of essential goods and services. But without Mulan, we are left without a positive representation of Chinese people at the forefront of pop culture—something sorely needed when Chinese are being targetted for their ethnicity in cities around the world.

Mulan lies in limbo after having its March 27 release date cancelled earlier last month. It could be over half a year before audiences get to witness the spectacle that is equal parts history, myth, romance, and fantasy.

Additionally, a digital home release seems very unlikely. The Disney+ streaming platform is not able to generate revenue on par with other recent remakes. To make a billion dollars like Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, Mulan will need to attract 140 million new subscribers on Disney+, a number four times its current subscriber base.

No, Mulan won’t be coming any time soon. And yet, the need for a feel-good Chinese blockbuster movie also reveals a poignant irony. That’s because over the course of its tortured development, no shortage of the population suggested they won’t be seeing Mulan.

The objections began when director Niki Caro revealed the new Mulan would not be a musical way back in 2017. More objections followed when fans discovered the remake would remove wise-cracking Mushu the dragon in favour of a gritty, more sombre tone. Deemed “unsuitable” for the #metoo era, the character Li Shang was also removed, upsetting fans who hailed the character as a bisexual icon.

Disney avoided all accusations of whitewashing with the casting of Liu Yifei in the titular role. And yet, expectations still failed to be fulfilled.

While some fans were overjoyed at “the first Chinese Disney princess,” fans in China found Liu’s casting to be disagreeable. Some were perplexed that Disney would choose an actor with a less-than-stellar track record. Others saw the decision as a miscast, citing Liu’s previous performances in The Four and The Forbidden Kingdom as stony-faced and sub-par.

Liu would go on to court controversy of her own. Liu took to social media to support the Hong Kong police during the democracy protest of December 2019. Her retweet of “I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now,” endeared her to mainland fans and drew condemnation from those from Hong Kong, inspiring the hashtag #boycottMulan.

Amid all these objections, this will be the Mulan‘s second major postponement. As we currently wait with no end in sight, its sobering to think that Mulan was originally planned to be released on November 2, 2018.

It could very well be that Mulan exceeds its heavy expectations and performs brilliantly at the box office. And yet, if that ever happens, it will take place far off in an uncertain future.

During these unprecedented times, the new Mulan would be a welcome distraction. Now, more than ever, it would do honour to us all.

EDIT Apr 6, 2020

Mulan has been tentatively scheduled for a July 24 release.

Images: Movieweb

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