This week’s recommendation is Mulan on Disney+Hotstar Premium that is available across languages beyond English. But let me start by telling you that Mulan should have been a much better film. I loved the 1998 animated original. The live action version doesn’t have songs or the sassy, talking dragon Mushu. The beats are predictable and it’s decidedly odd to see Chinese people speaking with American accents. But I’m a sucker for father-daughter stories. I wept copiously in Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl. And I’m a sucker for the iconic Chinese actor Gong Li. I’ll watch anything with her in it.
Here she plays Xianniang, a witch or so she has been labelled by people who are afraid of her power. In Imperial China, women are constricted in every way. When Mulan goes to see the matchmaker, she is bound by clothing, narrow shoes. Her true self is disguised under make-up and she is taught that the perfect wife must be poised, elegant and quiet. Xianniang and Mulan refuse to live within these narrow limits. Both rebel but Xianniang chooses the dark side.
Director Niki Caro tells this female empowerment story efficiently. She creates some affecting moments, especially between father and daughter. The action sequences, which will remind you of Ang Lee’s wuxia classic Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, are sufficiently dazzling. And the lead actor Yifei Liu, is quite lovely. But it’s a mystery to me that four writers – Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek – couldn’t find a way to inject more whimsy and joy into this ancient Chinese ballad.
Still Mulan is a tale that should be heard, especially by little girls. The emphasis on marriage and being a good wife makes it feel like it was plucked from India. I think we can’t get enough of stories that reiterate that there is much more to being a woman. Check it out on Disney + Hotstar Premium.