A deep dive into the forgotten men of Mulan.
The animated film of Mulan opens with a beautiful transition to a peaceful image of the Great Wall of China. This, however, doesn’t last long. The army of Hans has invaded China.
Being a woman
Simultaneously our heroine Mulan has spent the morning getting ready to get tested by the Matchmaker. She has to convince the Matchmaker she has qualities like being ‘quiet’, ‘delicate’ and ‘refined’. Either she proves she’s a suitable wife or she brings shame on her whole family, the latter ending up being the case.
After her traumatising morning, we realise Mulan doesn’t know who she is. She’s clearly not fit to be a traditionally good wife, but what else is there for a woman to do? Well, luckily for her, an opportunity rises.
Mulan understands that she can’t allow her old, limping father to go to war and meet certain death. Instead, she cuts her hair, steals her father’s old sword and uniform and reports for duty in the morning.
Being a woman means Mulan has never been trained for combat or anything physical whatsoever. Luckily and surprisingly, every single man in the troop is useless. Well, except for the newly instated captain Shang, of course.
It’s a nice change that the men come in all shapes and sizes; thin, tall, short, plus-size, you name it, they’ve got it. This, however, doesn’t really add much when you quickly discover they’re all totally incompetent and, apparently, unattractive.
I’ll make a man out of you?
I understand that the whole point about the I’ll make a man out of you song sequence is that these are regular, untrained men who need to be shaped up quickly to fight an enemy they were never prepared for. But is Disney really saying not a single one knows how to swim or how to use a bow and arrow? Come on!
The obvious love interest Shang is tall, broad-shouldered and very western looking compared to the rest. His distinctively straight nose compared to the more rounded one on everyone else’s face, is unarguably another western feature. How ironic that in one of the few Disney films portraying something other than a western society, the attractiveness is still determined by how ‘white’ you look.
Sticking with Shang, it’s not too much of a stretch to say he at least must have questioned if he was somewhere in-between on the sexuality spectrum. Sparks begin to fly between him and Mulan while he still thinks she’s a man. Sadly, Shang’s sexuality is never explored further, but he does, after all, discover that the man he (presumably) found attractive is a woman he finds attractive. Mulan, on the other hand, is heard saying she never wants to see a naked man ever again after accidentally seeing the whole troop in the nude, so perhaps they really do play for different teams.
The song I’ll make a man out of you might be catchy, but it’s also problematic. Some of us are too young to know whether calling someone a girl as an offence was outdated already in 1998, but it sure is now. The proclamation that you’re only a true man if you’re big, fast and strong is also getting old. We do not support toxic masculine attitudes around here, Shang.
Mulan in 2020
Thankfully Shang’s song won’t be a problem as reportedly, there will be no songs at all in the 2020 version. Disappointing right? Well, there’s more. In fact, we won’t even see Shang, as his character is replaced with someone named Chen. Not only that, but apparently Chen doesn’t show any interest in Mulan until after she’s revealed to be a woman, so no exploration of anyone’s sexuality either. What a shame.
Still, we’ve got our strong, female heroine whose main motivation is her family, not a man. She works hard and she shows us how a woman can be so much more than ‘quiet’, ‘delicate’ and ‘refined’.
Considering that one of the main criticisms of the live-action version of The Lion King received, was that it was the exact same film with little to no changes, Mulan would probably benefit from a light edit. The only question being, is exchanging the army of the Hans for an evil witch perhaps one change too far?