Disney’s fateful live-action remake of the animated classic ‘Mulan’ has run into several controversies. Here is a definitive breakdown of all of them.

Disney's Mulan live-action remake has been involved in several controversies involving star Liu Yifei, director Niki Caro, and character Li Shang. Source: Commons.Wikimedia
Disney’s Mulan live-action remake has been involved in several controversies involving star Liu Yifei, director Niki Caro, and character Li Shang. Source: Commons.Wikimedia

One after another, Disney’s live-action remake of the classic 1998 flick ‘Mulan‘ has been overrun by several controversies during its filming and marketing. Walt Disney Studios had ambitiously endeavoured to diversify its offerings by rolling out a movie with a Chinese backdrop. And a live-action remake of Mulan, a long-time fan-favorite, appeared to be a perfect shot.

The pricey live-action Mulan remake intended to allure a global audience, while also collecting an enduring fortune. Rather, it slipped between its own swaggering, yielding public and critic dismay.

Star Liu Yifei, director Niki Caro, and even a missing character Li Shang have all contributed to Mulan‘s predicaments. Here is a run-down of all the controversies the Mulan live-action remake has been through.

#1. Liu Yifei Lands Mulan Live-Action In Hot Water

Liu Yifei landed the Mulan live-action remake in trouble with her political comments. Source: Wikipedia
Liu Yifei landed the Mulan live-action remake in trouble with her political comments. Source: Wikipedia

Lead star Liu Yifei first set the Mulan-related squabbles in motion. No one expected the Hong Kong protests to extend into Disney production, even a Mulan live-action remake. But Yifei’s political comments propagated a backlash against the movie.

Last March, Hong Kong Chief-Executive Carrie Lam introduced a bill that allowed for criminal extraditions to China. Pro-democracy activists deemed the move authoritarian and called for a nation-wide protest against the bill. Since then, anti-government protests have roiled Hong Kong, and demonstrators are clashing head-to-head with the police in a bid to restore Hong Kong’s autonomy.

HKSAR’s police forces responded to the protests with tyranny, making use of batons, pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the protesters. This move by the Hong Kong police was criticized internationally, with the UN discouraging the HK police’s use of force.

In August, the Mulan live-action remake lead, Liu Yifei extended her support to the Hong Kong Police, as she wrote in a post, “I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now.” While there was an outpouring encouragement to Yifei’s post by the Chinese government and its supporters, the international community wasn’t very happy with her sentiment.

Hong-Kongers berated Liu Yifei for supporting brutality. They made a rallying cry to boycott the release of her Mulan live-action remake in Hong Kong. Liu Yifei led Hong Kong to believe that the Mulan live-action remake was a Chinese propaganda to sow political discord in the territory- a deliberate attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the protest movement.

#2. Mulan Live-Action Drops Character Li Shang in Response to the Me Too Movement

The Mulan live-action remake has come a long way from its animated counterpart. It’s not a musical, it does not have Mushu, but more importantly, it does not have Captain Li Shang.

Liu Yifei had unforeseeably contributed to Mulan’s misfortune, but the absence of Li Shang was a deliberate decision of the Studio. Disney argues that it removed Li Shang from the Mulan live-action remake on the grounds of #MeeToo appropriation.

In a statement he gave to Collider, producer Jason Reed stated, “I think particularly in the time of the #MeToo movement, having a commanding officer that is also the sexual love interest was very uncomfortable and we didn’t think it was appropriate.”

Fans have criticized the Mulan live-action remake for a fundamental misunderstanding of the #MeToo movement. They argue that Mulan and Shang’s romance was a miniature post-climactic subplot in the film’s animated version. They also add that the context of Shang’s commander status is irrelevant as Shang wasn’t Mulan’s commander during the movie’s conclusion.

Opponents adduce Disney’s LGBTQ censorship as they question the legitimacy of the #MeToo cover-up. They argue Li Shang fell for Mulan while she was masquerading as a male soldier. This gave rise to speculations surrounding Li Shang’s bisexuality. So when Disney decided to drop the character out of the Mulan live-action remake, it led to severe backlash.

Disney reportedly split Li Shang into two characters – Commander Tung (Donnie Yen, who becomes a mentor to Mulan, and Honghui (Yoson An), Mulan’s fellow soldier and love interest.

#3. Non-Asian Director Helms The Mulan Live-Action Remake

New-Zealand director Niki Caro helmed the Mulan live-action remake. Source: Wikipedia
New-Zealand director Niki Caro helmed the Mulan live-action remake. Source: Wikipedia

Disney’s problem of whitewashing stretched into Mulan when it enlisted the New Zealand director Niki Caro to helm the big-budget live-action remake.

When Disney announced its plans to re-create Mulan into a live-action, there were hopes that the studio would turn to an Asian or Asian-American storyteller for the gig. There were even rounds that the studio approached Ang Lee for the directorial duties.

While the promising trailers won Niki Caro praise for aptly re-fashioning the animated classic, the comments the director offered when inquired about Disney’s decision to cast her over an Asian-American director flared up the controversy again.

While discussing her appointment as the director for the Mulan live-action remake Caro stated, “Although it’s a critically important Chinese story and it’s set in Chinese culture and history, there is another culture at play here, which is the culture of Disney, and that the director, whoever they were, needed to be able to handle both — and here I am”.

Caro’s statement about her selection was disappointing. While it is true that Disney imposes several content restrictions around their expensive tentpoles, Caro made it clear that the studios did not prioritize finding an Asian-American director for the job.

Caro mentioned that Disney was looking for a director that could handle the culture depicted in the film and the, “culture at Disney.” Her comments raised eyebrows when people concluded that Disney did not find an Asian-American befitting to “handle both criteria.” Furthermore, Caro’s description of the “culture at Disney” metaphorically suggested a “white” culture.

Disney’s bold PG-13 rated Mulan live-action remake was set for a March release. However, the studios pushed the release to July 24th due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The film is based on the Chinese folklore “The Ballad of Mulan” and is a not-so-direct, live-action remake of the 1998 animated piece of the same name.