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].”

The romance between Mulan and Shang in the 1998 animated film was unlike anything seen in a Disney film up to that point, which mostly stuck to strictly heterosexual romances between a princess and her prince, or between two animals. But Mulan’s cross-dressing blurred the lines of sexuality in the animated Mulan, whether that was the intention or not, and the film became upheld in pop culture as an early beacon of LGBTQ representation. However, with the live-action Mulan remake catering heavily to Chinese audiences — with a majority Chinese mainland cast and a plot that more loyally adapts the ancient Chinese folksong — how will the filmmaking team navigate the Chinese movie market’s notoriously strict censorship of LGBTQ content? Reed assures that, though there may be concerns over the film’s central romance between Liu Yifei‘s Mulan and Yoson An‘s Chen Honghui (sharing the role that Shang served in the animated film with Donnie Yen‘s Commander Tung), “we used the animated movie as the model for that level of relationship.”

In /Film’s interview with Reed, he touched lightly on the possibility of censorship from the Chinese market, but said that he and the rest of the team behind Mulan “feel we’re secure in the censorship issue.” Reed said:

“Well we’ve worked very closely with SARF and with Chinese film incorporation as well as with our partners that have helped us set up the physical production in China. We feel we’re secure in the censorship issue, our permits were approved and I believe we’ll continue to have a good relationship with the releasing entities and our various partners in China. So I don’t think that that’s going to be an issue. In terms of the creative balance of the movie, it is a very difficult road to walk and we’ve had to make a lot of choices.”

Though one interesting thing to note is that cross-dressing romances aren’t uncommon in Chinese pop culture history. The 2009 Chinese feature film Mulan featured a similar romance between Mulan and her battalion’s sub-commander (though it mostly develops after her love interest accidentally discovers her secret), while multiple Chinese and Taiwanese dramas revolve around the wacky comedy of errors that is a woman disguising herself as a man. Mulan may hold importance for LGBTQ representation in the U.S., but in China, perhaps it’s not viewed the same way.

As for An, his approach for the character’s romance with Mulan is “like every other scene.” He explained, “One thing that Niki has come up to me during every take or a lot of takes is just to remind me that Mulan, to me, is a guy. So, I have to make sure I don’t play it in a way where I treat this character, Hua Jun, as a woman. So, it’s kind of like a buddy relationship where I don’t know he’s a girl, really. The audience knows and I think from an audience perspective that’s how it is going to play out.”

Mulan hits theaters on March 27, 2020. Tickets are on sale now.

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