In 1998, Disney unleashed a dragon and saved all of China. At least, that is what happens in Mulan, the animated retelling of Hua Mulan‘s journey in The Ballad of Mulan (read the entire ballad, courtesy of Shen Yun, here). In the animated film, Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) steals her father’s armor to take his place in the draft, faces the Huns, and saves her country, all with the help of a little dragon (Eddie Murphy) called forth by her ancestors and a little lucky cricket.
When Disney announced in 2015 that Mulan would be the next live-action remake, fans were thrilled. But then the concerns started rolling in, from a “white savior” plotline to worries that non-Asian actors would take the roles. Disney even floated the idea of removing all of the beloved songs from the movie! There have been plenty of ups and downs and there is no way the film could meet its original release date (this upcoming November!), but at least some of the details are finally starting to come together.
The People Behind Mulan
Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) will take the reins on the script written by Lauren Hynek, Rick Jaffa (Jurassic World), Elizabeth Martin, and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Producers Chris Bender (The Hangover), William Kong (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Barrie M. Osborne (Lord of the Rings, The Matrix), Jason Reed (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and Jake Weiner (Just Friends) currently stand behind the movie.
The titular role will be played by Chinese actress Yifei Liu, also known as Crystal Liu, who has spent her life modeling, dancing, singing, and acting in China. The new target release date is now March 27, 2020, but with how slow casting is going, it may be pushed out yet again.
Newly Announced Cast
Speaking of casting, according to Deadline, Mulan has gained Star Wars fan favorite Donnie Yen (Rogue One), to play a new character. Yen will become Commander Tung, “a mentor and teacher to Mulan”. Tung is new to the Disney Mulan universe, but he may be taking the place of a familiar and beloved man – more on that in a bit.
Also announced, by The Hollywood Reporter, is the addition of Xana Tang, Gong Li, and Jet Li. Xana Tang will be making a return from television to the big screen as Mulan’s sister, a newly created character for the movie to align it more with the source Ballad. Her debut role was in Matariki, a New Zealand based film that was first shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010.
Gong Li, also credited as Li Gong, has a long repertoire that includes Memoirs of a Geisha and Hannibal Rising. Her role on Mulan will be as a “powerful witch”, the villain. It is yet unknown whether she outright replaces Shan Yu, the leader of the Huns and big bad in the animated movie, or if he will also make an appearance under Li’s direction. There is no mention of a witch in the original Ballad of Mulan.
One character that is in the animated movie that will be transitioning to the live-action, whether by necessity or just outright by the odds, is the Emperor of China. Enter Jet Li, the star of the kung fu martial arts movies of my youth! Li previously played an emperor in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the third and final installment of the Brendan Fraser Mummy franchise.
The Character Upsets
As noted above, the main villain is not Shan Yu, which makes me a little sad. I rather enjoyed the Hun army leader and his falcon. But, what else is different? Well, there is no more Li Shang, the commander, voiced by BD Wong with musical vocals provided by Donny Osmond, that feels betrayed upon learning that his best recruit is a woman with whom he ultimately falls in love. Fans are calling foul at Disney removing the low-key bisexual character (his fondness for Ping, Mulan’s male pseudonym, is viewed as more than just friends by many people) and demanding better representation in the live-action film than they appear to be getting.
In Li Shang’s place appears to be new character, one of Mulan’s fellow soldiers and her ultimate rival. Disney is literally going with the competitor-turned-lover trope. Casting for this Chen Honghui guy has not been announced, but once it is, we’ll definitely let you know.
saddened to report it’s basically been confirmed that li shang will not be in the live-action mulan.
the mulan casting call has been confirmed to be accurate. donnie yen was cast as “commander tung,” who is in the description for “chen honghui.”
rest in peace bisexual icon. pic.twitter.com/7El8TDhJg5
— nerdy (@nerdyasians) April 16, 2018
As a side note: the loss of the gorgeous Shang breaks my heart. He knows how to push Mulan/Ping and his men to get the results he needs and he inspires them when they need it. His own struggle with Ping, a guy, being Mulan, a woman, and his ultimate arrival at the Fa family estate had me joining Grandmother Fa in asking “Would you like to stay forever?” How could Disney give that up??
In addition to the loss of Shang, there is still no word on Mushu. Will the ancestral guardian make an appearance as an actual moving and speaking character? Will Cri-Kee, the lucky cricket, get screen time? What is the fate of Yao, Ling and Chien-Po,
Mulan’s Ping’s trio of friends? These are the important questions!
Bigger Budget, Better Film?
Disney has reportedly given Niki Caro more money for Mulan than any other Disney live-action remake to date. The budget, unconfirmed, is said to be just shy of $300 million, making this the most expensive film directed by a woman. And that budget isn’t being wasted – the same set designers that worked on the Asgard sets in Thor: Ragnarok are hard at work designing everything to begin filming in New Zealand later this year (technically just a few months – the filming is reported to begin in August!). With the beauty that was Thor: Ragnarok and with the rumored budget Caro has to work with, this may end up being a gorgeous film. The question still remains, however, of when it will all come together. Pre-production is on-going, but not many of the cast have been announced and August is quickly approaching….
Time Out For A Little Fan Fun
One of the most iconic songs from the animated Mulan is the sequence when Li Shang is beginning the training with his conscripted recruits, “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You”. A group of teens from Hawai’i set about created a 38-second shot-for-shot recreation of part of the film, titling their clip “Micronesian Mulan”. See their video below followed by the sing-along version released by Disney. We’d love to see the bloopers on this, but they appear to have been taken down. With the uncertainty of how music and song will tie into the live-action remake, let this be a reminder as to the importance of Disney’s iconic musical style in their animated films.
Until More News Breaks…
That is everything we know about the upcoming live-action remake for Disney’s Mulan. For a film that is to be released in just under two years, the limited information available suggests the movie may actually release in 2020, however there is worry that it may be pushed back again since filming is due to start in just over two months and the full cast hasn’t been announced. The title character and her villain are already decided, but we still have no idea who will portray her rival recruit or the fate of other beloved characters from the animated movie. What are your thoughts on Niki Caro’s upcoming film? Is time running out on a 2020 release? Is the loss of Li Shang too much for you to bear? Do you need the live-action to contain the original songs or are you open to having a less musical feel to the film?