New Things in the New Mulan

Over the weekend I sat down to watch the new live action Mulan on Disney+.

There were two things I liked about the remake. One was referencing qi, and the other was additional character of Xianniang, the shape shifting witch.

What interested me most about the film was how it incorporated qi (ch’i), a principal used in many Asian belief systems that is described as a vital force forming part of any living entity.

As someone who’s interested in spirituality and exploring similarities and differences between belief systems of other cultures, I was excited that a mainstream film used it as part of the story to explain what makes Mulan, Mulan.

However, I think they could have gone deeper into explaining it, or how Mulan connects to it spiritually, instead of just physically with her fighting moves.

It felt like they were too busy trying to make sure they hit all the same plot points as the animated film, rather than exploring this new aspect to Mulan’s character they added in and what it means to her.

As an example of what I’m looking for, in Avatar: the Last Airbender, there’s an episode that shows Aang learning how to connect to the Avatar state by unblocking his chakras. Chakras are another spiritual principal that is used to help someone connect to their energy force. The episode does well in explaining what chakras are and what Aang has to do for each one in order to unblock it.

I understand that a film can’t spend thirty minutes on explaining a whole new belief system, but there could have been a way from them to explain it better, and have us get to know Mulan in a way we’ve never seen before.

The second new thing I liked about the movie was Xianniang. If you remember in the animated film, Shan Yu had a pet falcon that acted like his eyes and ears. In the live-action, Xianniang replaces the falcon as a witch who can shape shift and works along side with Khan.

I love that Xianniang was meant to be Mulan’s dark counterpart. They both have powers that they’ve developed by remaining true to themselves, but have been judged and shunned by others when they use them.

This is why I wished they showed Mulan connecting to her qi in a more spiritual way, so that we can see how it compares and contrasts to Xianniang.

Obviously Xianniang has accepted who she is already, while Mulan is just learning how and what that means. But what choices did she make to get her to where she’s at? And how do those differ to Mulan’s choices?

Again, I felt like the issue was the pressure of hitting those same plot points as the animated film. It didn’t feel like there was room to explore this new character and what qi means to her.

At it’s core, the story of Mulan is about a young woman being true to herself in order to fight for what she believes in. I think adding the concept of qi and the character of Xianniang would have deepened the theme and made the live action more satisfying, if they were given more time to breath.

And I’m going to say it, I don’t think we need Mushu and the songs to fully enjoy the retelling of this story.

What did you think of the new Mulan? Are you looking forward to any more of the live action films? The Little Mermaid is the next one for me!

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