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.
The original Disney’ Mulan wasn’t perfect, but you could tell that the people who worked on it poured their hearts into it through details. Yet films often reflect societal attitudes, and gone is the time when China was still a subject of wonder for many filmmakers in the West, when filmmakers were sometimes insensitive but at least interested in China. In the live-action Mulan, almost every aspect of the film seems to send the same message: China is the world’s second-biggest box office and we will use the minimum efforts it takes to give them what we think they want.
Disney’s Mulan is not a bad film, but it is a disappointing film. The basic story of Mulan is compelling, the scenery is beautiful if often obviously New Zealand, and its lead Liu Yifei is charming enough and did what she could with the role. Yet it’s very hard to watch the live-action Mulan and not judge it for what it could’ve been or see the lack of effort behind it. One expects a live-action to have the same humor and heart as the original, and it doesn’t. There isn’t a single change I can name that improved the story.
Mulan director Niki Caro recently released a clip of Liu Yifei’s audition and Liu Yifei is soooo cute in it. This was right after flying from China to the U.S., too. In the lines, you can tell they allude to the story of unable to separate between male and female rabbits from the original ballad of Mulan. Niki Caro also released a few audition tapes of other actresses, including Leah Dou, Lan Yingying, Zhang Yishang and Yang Caiyu.
The film’s been pushed back to July 24 as of now, but I assume it’s all up in the air.
According to Variety, Disney’s Mulan has been delayed indefinitely across the globe due to the coronavirus. I’m actually really sad about this, and I really hope we can see this film soon.
I went ahead and got the book of the live-action. The story feels more “Disney princess-y” in terms of her transformation, and Mulan’s decisions feel less subtle, but overall it follows the same plot as the original film and Mulan has the same heart. Some people were accusing Disney of removing Li Shang because he’s too queer, but that’s definitely not the case based on the book. There’s an exchange between Mulan and the new male lead that’s way more queerbait than anything in the original.
A new Mulan clip (spoilers) of the moment Mulan decides to go on her journey:
Liu Yifei covers the classic Mulan song Reflection. She sounds flawed but still beautiful and more importantly, it sounds like her. I’m really happy that they didn’t over-autotune her too much for this song like they did for the other princesses. My only complaint is that the erhu is a very minimum-effort addition, but I like how the rest of the music was re-arranged to fit her voice.
A round-up of Liu Yifei’s Mulan promos so far. The stunts look a lot better in the featurette than in the trailers, although I’m still iffy about all their decisions (one of the producers recently blamed cutting out Li Shang on the MeToo movement!)
Since tickets are now out in many places, here’s a mini round-up of some of the promotional stuff as well as a couple of merchandise. All the interviews are mostly just various people praising Liu Yifei and how hard-working and awesome she is. For example, co-star Jimmy Wong tweeted that the male soldiers couldn’t last 2/3 of the time in training as Liu Yifei.
Playlist of trailers, interviews, behind-the-scenes of Mulan:
Watching recent Disney movies’ attempts at showing fighting choreography (instead of just editing a bunch of fast takes together) have really made me realize that for all the surreal moves in Chinese wuxia, they’ve managed to extend physics in a way so that even the casual viewer can discern what looks “right” and what’s “impossible” even though it’s all impossible. Reason #1million why Disney shouldn’t have had an all-white crew.
I’ll still watch the movie for the nostalgia and Liu Yifei/Gong Li, but I just don’t understand why some of the visual choices are so hideous in Disney’s Mulan.
You would think the biggest film company in the world with such a big budget would be able to build on years of development in the Chinese entertainment industry, yet it’s uglier than TV series made decades ago. How do they get a German costume designer, a New Zealand production designer and make-up artist, an Australian cinematographer, a British stunt coordinator, but not a single person who’s worked on a few Chinese movies or dramas in the past decade to be in the production crew?
Here’s a scene-by-scene comparison of one of the most expensive films ever by the biggest film company in the world versus Chinese TV series.