You should absolutely see the live action Mulan. It’s gorgeous visually both in costuming, background mountains, and some fighting sequences that hearken to wuxia movies. Not to mention the weighty presence of Donnie Yen, Rosalind Chao and Tzi Ma (Jason Scott Lee makes the best bad guy faces I’ve seen in a long time). And the gravitas of Jet Li’s emperor! But let’s talk about the added character of Xianniang played by the amazing Gong Li.
Gong Li, if you are not aware, starred in three of the four Academy Award for Best International Feature Film-nominated Chinese-language films/ She is amazing. And definitely kudos to the Mulan team for getting her to be part of the project. But in my opinion, her role did no live up to the acress.
She was portrayed as the real foil to Mulan as another super powered female forced into an extraordinary role by a commander because she couldn’t be accepted as a powerful female. Her role made it clear how easily Mulan was accepted and barely had to sacrifice. Just because a Mulan was loyal to the emperor (but xianniang was loyal to bori khan?) Mulan was better? But Mulan accepted her punishment like a good little girl when she revealed her gender. She literally said “I would rather be executed” than exiled. It was Xianning who refused to accept this false choice and forged her own path as a witch TO CREATE A PLACE FOR HER TO BELONG. Not to just sustain the patriarchy like Mulan.
The movie did not give enough time to the development of this central, important relationship between Mulan’s youthful and naive loyalty and bravery and Xianniang’s more realist and world-weary life, and so the witch’s choice at the end fell flat. I am disappointed because of this and wished the movie— if it was going to introduce the dark path women of power are forced into as a part of Mulans story—they would give it the weight it deserved. Xianniang’s fate felt like punishment for daring to be powerful and challenging her male commander.
And Mulan was rewarded for being a good little girl.