I should probably be happy that Nomadland and Minari are getting so much recognization, but when I saw the Academy Awards nominations all I could think about was how ridiculous it was that Bina Daigeler got nominated for Best Costume for Mulan. Her costumes are so atrocious that most Chinese people can’t even tell if they were poorly made because she wants to offend Chinese people on purpose, or because she didn’t care enough to make something inoffensive (probably a mix of both). To make it worse, the live-action Mulan was nominated for awards by both the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards and the Costume Designers Guild Awards, so even the “professionals” think so poorly of Chinese traditional clothes that they think Mulan’s costume designer is good.
Due to both popularization of hanfu as an everyday garment and more types of dramas being made, costume designers of Chinese period pieces have gone through so many different trends, diversified the types, and improved the quality of their costumes in recent years. They’ve tried recreating artifacts, revitalizing traditional textile printing methods, built entire hand-embroidery departments, experimented with a variety of Western fabrics and silhouettes for fantasy and sci-fi costumes. Yet Disney’s live-action Mulan is here to remind that them that most in the West still thinks of them as rednecks with hand-me-down aesthetics leftover whose best costumes look like 1980’s TVB leftovers.
So, in honor of the Chinese designers who get so little recognization I can’t find their names for most of the dramas, I looked through the list of Chinese dramas that aired in 2020 to make a list of period dramas with better costumes than Mulan.
Here’s a list from Wikipedia of all 82 period dramas that aired in China in 2020. Congrats to all these dramas and their costume designers who designed costumes that are more than Academy Award-nominated worthy!
I honestly could not find one that is uglier and cheaper-looking. This includes dramas I’ve never even heard of before – mostly made-for-streaming series with budgets of less than one percent of Mulan’s reported $200 million and no recognizable names for the actors. To put it in perspective, The Empress of China cost less than a quarter of Mulan’s reported budget and includes 260 costumes for Fan Bingbing alone. The only one that I’m iffy about is a show called 天地苍茫 because I couldn’t find any stills or a site that streams the show for my area, but I’m going to assume it’s better.
The costumes in Longest Day in Changan were stunning, as was the lighting and camera work. The story got convoluted and confusing about halfway through, so this isn’t necessarily one of the best period dramas from that standpoint, but visually it was a stunner. But my favorite costuming still goes to The Rise of Phoenixes. The way costumes were used to support character and plot development was great, and the costumes and associated accoutrements were stunning. Add thrilling performances, forbidden doomed love, and dynastic struggles and you have a winner. (Oh, and did I mention Chen Kun.)
I completely agree with your sentiments and appreciated your related articles on Mulan – ‘A Visual Guide to What I hate about Mulan Aesthetics’ and your movie review. However, I also think about it from this angle: it’s these Hollywood people and judges who are the rednecks and ignorant. They made a complete mess of the movie because they didn’t grasp the cultural context nor had knowledge/expertise. The judges can’t distinguish a well-made hanfu vs an inferior one. So it’s a pitiful case of the blind leading the blind.