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Mulan: Chinese story with universal appeal

Zhang Zhouxiang

China Daily/ANN

 /  Thu, July 11, 2019  /  03:32 pm
Mulan: Chinese story with universal appeal

Liu Yifei in 'Mulan.' (Disney/File)

The trailer for "Mulan", a Disney movie based on its previous animation about the ancient Chinese legend, has been released and Chinese viewers have been quick to criticize it.

There are two main points that Chinese audiences are unhappy with. First, in the trailer there are shots of Fujian, which is about 3,000 kilometers away from historical home of Mulan in history. Second, the heroine Mulan, starring Crystal Liu, wears heavy makeup that is appealing to Westerners' eyes, not Chinese eyes.

Perhaps the criticism is unfair as Disney has designed the movie to please Western audiences, who care more about the story than the historical facts. That's why Chinese audiences should not expect the film to have accurate Chinese elements even though the story is Chinese and almost all the leading actors are Chinese or at least ethnic Chinese. It shows Chinese elements through the eyes of Westerners.

Yet the differences cannot hide the points where the Chinese and Western elements and values can find common ground. A good example being the part in the trailer where the matchmaker describes the qualities that make for a good wife, namely a woman being "quiet, composed, graceful, disciplined". This is said with Mulan appearing in two images. One has her dressing as a woman, the other with her practicing sword. Obviously Disney described Mulan as a warrior, an independent female who can save herself instead of waiting for someone to save her.

Read also: The new live-action ‘Mulan’ trailer brings honor to us all

That's a good point where Chinese and Western values are similar because gender equality and female independence are now valued in both cultures. It will strike a chord with both Chinese and Western audiences.

But whatever styles her clothes and makeup follow, Mulan is a Chinese legendary heroine and she embodies the virtues of Chinese women. Disney's Mulan should also prompt the Chinese movie industry to make better use of Chinese stories. Chinese scriptwriters and directors can well tell stories about Chinese ancient heroes to the world, instead of waiting for Disney or Hollywood to tell them. Good stories move audiences of the whole world because their hearts are interconnected.

This article appeared on the China Daily newspaper website, which is a member of Asia News Network and a media partner of The Jakarta Post