If the Hua Mulan characters in Disney's 1998 cartoon and those in Jingle Ma's (马楚成) new film could sit down and talk over a pot of tea, they might be surprised to learn how little they have in common.
True, they were born of the same legend. And yes they do share some biographical details: for instance, they both take their father's place on the battlefield, but that's where many of the similarities end. The characters in the two films swing their swords for very different reasons.
It would, of course, be unfair to expect the two Mulan characters to be identical twins. After all, we're comparing apples and oranges: a warm, American-made cartoon full of indestructible characters and a dreary live-action film full of bloody violence. If one watches the two films back-to-back, the two Mulan characters can appear surprisingly distinct from each other.
Disney's Mulan, it turns out, fights as much for herself as she does for her family name and her country. "Maybe I didn't go for my father," Mulan reflects on a snowy bank, late in the cartoon movie. "Maybe what I really wanted was to prove that I could do things right. So when I looked in the mirror I'd see someone worthwhile."
American films generally love to highlight individualism. This is most apparent near the end of the Disney feature, when the emperor presents Mulan with his seal in the middle of the royal palace. Everyone present, including the emperor, bows to Mulan.
While Mulan's individual journey may also be highlighted in Ma's film, the Chinese director still gives far more weight to her role as a leader and representative of her country.
"Your general, I, Hua Mulan, am afraid of war," this Mulan declares to her army, in shame, near the end of the movie. "Because of my fear and hiding, I've lost many people who mean so much to me, but hiding will not stop the war. Fear only brings us more defeat. I am Hua Mulan! And I will never betray my country!"
This scene is one of many in Ma's film that reveal a deep weakness in the heart and mind of Mulan. While the Disney Mulan prances around the screen with barely any inner turmoil, this Mulan carries not only heavy armor, but also a deeply fearful and lovesick heart.
In the end, both characters carry out their mission and achieve victory–but only one comes away looking like a god. Which is exactly how Ma the director planned it.
"The animated movie tells you [Mulan] is cheerful," Ma told the Associated Press. "She's a little godlike in that she can …use her wits to solve many of her problems. But [the cartoon] doesn't discuss her deepest emotions."
That's where Ma found his inspiration: "Most people think Hua Mulan is a god. I think Hua Mulan is a woman."
(Translator & Editor: Aaron & Grace)