Hurray! This week on Michelle’s Disney cheese and whine hour, we have Mulan (1998). Since I’m the slanty-eyed gook in the banner at the top of this blog, you’d be right to guess that this is a Disney film with which I have a particularly strong relationship. I watched this as an impressionable tween when it first came out, and I remember how excited my parents were about it – a mainstream Disney children’s movie with an all-Asian(ish) cast? Adapted from a Chinese folktale? Wonder of wonders!
I rewatched it for this post, expecting to be struck with sexist and racist observations that I didn’t pick up on as a kid, but… no. I actually really enjoyed this film, with very little cringe.
First off: an independent, expectation-flouting female protagonist, who’s intelligent and explicitly raises issues on societal expectations and desirable traits in women, with a motivation that’s not entirely man-hunting. Thanks to my parents, I grew up watching a lot of Chinese/Hong Kong cinema, which has a strong tradition of butt-kicking female characters – Mulan holds her own against them. She wants to prove herself/save her father/do something that suits her and, uncharacteristically for Disney, the romance with Li Shang is an afterthought (in fact, it’s kind of clumsily tacked on). There’s barely any mention of physical appearance in their attraction, but a fair bit on personality and mutual respect. Not to mention that they don’t actually get married or happily-ever-aftered at the end. Right on, Disney!
Another impressive achievement from Disney – it’s a buddy flick. Starring a woman. Paired with a male (albeit a mythical creature). Not another woman. Insanity.
|Also, black and Asian! It’s bloody Rush Hour in here!|
In terms of cultural sensitivity, Mulan really impressed me. Their representation of Chinese culture is surprisingly fair, despite the not-completely-unwarranted drenching of the soundtrack with the word “honour”, and the same dark-and-funny-looking-is-evil that was also apparent in Aladdin. (A female Asian name tops the writing credits, which could help explain why.) It’s not that different from Kung Fu Panda in this regard, which came a full 10 years later.
|Asians spout wise quotable quotes all the time. Fact.|
Even more surprising is their voice cast of Asian actors. As well as George Freaking Takei, there’s James Hong, who manages to appear in pretty much every good thing that needs an old Asian man (Kung Fu Panda, Balls of Fury, Archer, Diablo III). There’s also Eddie Murphy as the inexplicably sassy, wise-cracking black companion in the middle of Imperial China, but it wasn’t exactly easy to find a strong Asian comedic actor in 1998 (and still isn’t).
For my Mulan nails, I chose to do a bold design based on the outfit that Mulan is always in for the Princess marketing, but never seems to wear in the actual movie:
The shades I used were Hello Darling Butter Wouldn’t Melt, Orly Coachella Dweller, L’Oréal Santorini Lagoon, ulta3 Blue Marlin and China Glaze Purrfect Plum.
Check out what the other awesome Aussie ladies did: