Why Disney’s Live-Action ‘Mulan’ Trailer Is Getting Mixed Fan Reactions

We still believe she’ll bring honour to us all

Photos: Walt Disney Studios

We finally got our first look at Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan! For many Chinese around the world, the 1998 animated musical movie is very special to our hearts, giving us a sweet and vulnerable yet fierce Disney “princess” who looks like us. Mulan literally kicks butt. With such high expectations of representation on the line, Disney put together an international all-Asian cast for the remake, which includes Liu Yifei making her Hollywood debut as Hua Mulan.

Check out the first official teaser trailer:

Directed by Niki Caro, the live-action Mulan will be out in cinemas on 27 March 2020. While most of us cannot wait, we are also feeling more and more uncertain about what to expect from it, as more news gets released. Early announcements have revealed that several things that make the animated movie so beloved will be removed in the remake: there will be none of the classic songs – the remake is not a musical, even though Liu is actually a singer – and there will be no Mushu and Li Shang.

The teaser sure confirms that those removals are not only a big disappointment to many fans, but also change the whole mood of Mulan dramatically. Without the songs and Mushu, there is little comic relief to ease audiences into a story of war and its dangers. From the teaser, the remake looks a lot more serious than the animated movie, with much more swordplay involved. It reminds us of a war epic and period movie that is closer to the original Chinese legend of Hua Mulan.

But before you cry, “Dishonour on your cow!!!”, could a more faithful adaptation of the ancient original The Ballad of Mulan be something to celebrate, too? The Internet is divided over it. After all, a reboot should try to do something fresh and new rather than be a copy just in live-action, and diving deeper in Chinese culture is a great path to take. Plus, based on the teaser, the intense fighting scenes in the remake are going to really highlight how badass Mulan is.

Over on Weibo, many netizens in China have also expressed their appreciation for a more realistic Mulan. Indeed, we love that Liu has a natural, almost no-makeup look! When she does put on thick cakey make-up (reluctantly) for the match-making session, there’s something else that netizens have noticed… is that the Huawei logo on her forehead?!

We do have a more serious bone to pick about Mulan’s appearance, though. Why is her hair down and loose and flapping around her face during a big fight scene?

If the remake is going to stay more truthful to history, we might not get the iconic scene where Mulan cuts her hair with a sword in front of the mirror. During China’s Northern Wei dynasty, when Mulan’s story takes place, both men and women keep their hair long and consider cutting their hair a sign of being unfilial. Still, most of the Chinese then would have their hair up in a bun or braid, so it begs the question why Mulan would not do the same in the remake, especially in a battlefield. It’s distracting, it’s impractical, and it’s uncharacteristic for a strategic warrior like Mulan.

Rant done and over, we are, on the whole, excited by the trailer. For fans longing to rediscover their childhood again, a few moments from the animated movie seem to be recreated, such as the green flowered comb and the avalanche against the Huns, and that’s only what is hinted at in a teaser. Also, the movie score will feature instrumentals of the fan-favourite classic songs. Did you hear a short but recognisable instrumental version of “Reflection” during the family dinner, when Mulan says “I will bring honour to us all?” Got us in the nostalgic feels!

We got a peek at some of the supporting cast and characters – veteran actors Rosalind Chao and Tzi Ma playing Mulan’s parents, and martial arts legend Cheng Pei-pei as the matchmaker. They are not shown in this teaser, but the star-studded cast also includes Jet Li as the Emperor; Gong Li as Xian Lang, a new villain witch; and Donnie Yen as Mulan’s mentor, Commander Tung.

If it was on purpose, Disney was smart not to feature Gong Li’s witch as well as Mulan’s new love interest, Chen Honghui, in the first teaser. Both new characters have stirred up much controversy since they were announced, the witch for not just clearly deviating from both the legend and the animated movie, but also potentially perpetuating tired stereotypes about Asian culture. According to the casting call, Chen is a “bully” who only falls in love with Mulan after realising that she is a woman. They replaced Li Shang for him?

That said, we will reserve our judgments until we have actually seen the movie or at least a fuller trailer, because hopefully, Disney has made some changes after seeing the fan responses. For now, we will be admiring the awesome official poster and its Mandarin version: