mulan chinese audiences

I’ll admit I didn’t know much of the original Ballad of Mulan when I set foot on the set of Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan two years ago. Like many others, I had grown up watching Disney’s animated Mulan thinking of the heroine as a feminist icon (though one typical of the ’90s version of the concept): she was a tomboy, she was an outsider, she was too rambunctious, too independent. But most importantly, Mulan was the lone Disney princess who looked a little like me. Though I didn’t share her cultural identity, it meant something to a 6-year-old Asian American — and thousands of other Asian-Americans — who had never seen herself represented on the big screen.

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There are many elements that seem to set Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan apart from other Disney remakes, but two of them stand out the most: it’s not a musical, and it doesn’t feature any of the wacky sidekicks that made the 1998 animated film so beloved.

While the live-action remake directed by Niki Caro seems to take the serious war epic approach to the story of Fa Mulan, the Chinese folk hero and Disney heroine, producer Jason Reed teased to /Film during a visit to the set of Mulan that some of the elements of the beloved 1998 animated film will make their way into the film. You might just have to go on the hunt for them.

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How ‘Mulan’ Approaches Its LGBTQ Romance [Set Visit]

mulan lgbt

Disney has been championing more progressive diversity representation in their films in recent years, but have tread lightly when it comes to LGBTQ elements making their way into international releases. So that makes the live-action remake of Mulan a bit of a conundrum.

In the original 1998 animated film, the central romance was between Mulan, disguising herself as a man, and her commanding officer Li Shang, who was implied to be attracted to Mulan despite thinking her to be a man. That dynamic turned Shang into “sort of an LGBTQ icon,” producer Jason Reed acknowledged to /Film on the set of Niki Caro‘s Mulan. But while Disney has withheld LGBTQ elements from releases in China before, Reed assures that the romance will “play the same way as it does in the animated [film].”

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mulan love interest

It was a question heard around the world when the casting for Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan came out: Where is Shang? The commanding officer and romantic interest of the 1998 Mulan provided an unexpected LGBTQ element to the film (as well as many a sexual awakening for a young moviegoer). But the hunky character’s name was nowhere to be seen in the cast list. Would Disney be doing away with the pseudo-homoerotic romance that made the animated Mulan feel so groundbreaking? Not quite.

Worry not: the live-action Mulan will still have a strong central romance, but Liu Yifei‘s Mulan will instead be flirting with a fellow conscript instead of her commanding officer. In the live-action remake, Li Shang has been split into two characters: Donnie Yen‘s Commander Tung and Yoson An‘s soldier Chen Honghui. The change stems from the Me Too movement currently overtaking Hollwood.

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mulan hair

It was an iconic scene in Walt Disney Animation’s 1998 film Mulan: in despair that her injured father was going to be sent off to likely die in war, Mulan weeps underneath a giant stone dragon statue, uncaring that she’s caught in a downpour. Suddenly, as Jerry Goldsmith‘s intense score swells to a crescendo, Mulan looks up with a steely resolve. The montage is epic and frightful, Mulan heading first to her ancestral shrine to light an incense stick then to her sleeping parents’ room to leave her comb. Then she descends on her father’s armory, unsheathing his sword and — flinching for a second — using it to cut her long hair.

It’s a strong, impactful scene that is still remembered today as a formative feminist moment for audiences who grew up watching it. But it’s nowhere to be seen in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Mulan. Read More »

mulan set visit report

Resplendently armored Chinese army generals sit atop horses in a valley nestled in the middle of a mighty mountainscape, fluttering yellow and red flags surrounding them and dust billowing in from a wind machine. Not that they need one — the natural wind of the New Zealand countryside acting as the Chinese battlefield on the set of the live-action remake of Mulan is strong enough. It’s the kind of wind that blows through your hair until the separate strands cut into your face, and pierces through your coat to settle into your bones.

But Mulan star Liu Yifei is paying no mind to the wind, even as it whips her long hair around her face in such a wild frenzy that her eyes can barely be seen on the monitors. She’s poised, stony-faced, her simple robe the one bright flash of red among the weather-beaten, dirt-covered soldiers who ready themselves to charge against the invading Rouran army, a battlefield strewn with dead horses and soldiers stretching out between them. Yifei is running through the climactic battle scene of Mulan: the zenith of the film in which the mythic Chinese warrior has now revealed her identity to the world.

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VFW trailer

VFW stands for Veterans of Foreign Wars. It is a non-profit veterans service organization comprised of eligible veterans and military service members from the active, guard and reserve forces. Part of their mission is ”to foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts”. Writers Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle along with Director Joe Begos (The Mind’s Eye, Bliss) take a blood-spattering approach to brotherhood and camaraderie in their latest feature VFW

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Onward

During /Film’s visit to Pixar Animation’s campus, we learned all about the unique story process that was utilized for the studio’s upcoming modern fantasy adventure Onward. While we learned how the story was written and drawn before heading into animation, we also heard from director Dan Scanlon about the personal nature of this narrative and how it informed both the story of the nervous and introverted 16-year old elf (Tom Holland) and the creation of the fantasy world that has lost the magic it once had. Read More »

Making of Onward

This Spring brings the release of Pixar Animation’s Onward, a modern fantasy adventure about Ian and Barley (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) two teenage elf brothers who magically get the opportunity to spend just 24 hours with their late father, thanks to a magic spell, a wizard’s staff, and a special stone. But when the spell to bring their father back for a day goes slightly wrong, they’re quickly thrust into a race against time to find a bit more of the magic that used to make their world so special, all so they can get just a little more time with their dad.

Last Fall, /Film visited the campus of Pixar Animation of Emeryville, California to learn more about Onward, starting with how the story for this fantasy adventure first came together. As with all animated movies, the journey began years before, but this one stretched even further back, all the way to the Fall of 2013. And as with all stories, it started with a completely blank slate before becoming something touching, personal and magical. Read More »

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Brahms: The Boy II Set Visit

Brahms: The Boy II brings back the uncomfortably innocent-looking doll who wreaked havoc on the life of a nanny named Greta (Lauren Cohan) in The Boy in 2016. At least that’s what it seemed like until the third act of the film pulled the rug out from under audiences and revealed something much more twisted at play. And when it comes to the sequel arriving in theaters in February, it looks like Brahms may be tied to something even more sinister than the first movie revealed.

/Film visited the set of Brahms: The Boy II when production was underway in Victoria, British Colombia, the western Canadian province northwest of Washington. While on set, we learned how Brahms begins a new tale of horror with a new family who is is just trying to forget a traumatic event that has left them shaken to their core. And things are only going to get worse for them after they meet Brahms. Read More »