Mulan: How Introducing Chi Into the Live-Action Movie Undercuts Its Message
Disney's newest movie, Mulan, is the latest offering in the company's live-action remakes built to cash in on childhood nostalgia. From the jump, the film was dogged by negativity and bad press was further compounded by the removal of Li Shang, Mushu and the animated version's iconic musical numbers. Disney assured fans this was to make the film more historically accurate. Mulan was released on Disney+ Sept. 4, but members had to pay an additional $30 to access the movie. The reaction was immediate: Negative reviews came pouring in and the film flopped in the United States and China. To add insult to injury, the filmmakers added in the concept of chi, a cornerstone of Chinese beliefs, as a cheap way to power Mulan up. While Disney may have intended to create a positive role model for female empowerment, the use of chi ultimately undercuts the film's message.
Mulan presents chi as a mystical energy that males are pre-dispositioned to possess. Chi can be used by warriors to augment their physical abilities. For whatever reason, Mulan possesses an extraordinary amount of chi. This is demonstrated by Mulan's rooftop-flipping, gutter sliding and parkour mastery as a young girl when she chases a chicken. It's an inaccurate use of chi, demonstrating Disney's lack of cultural knowledge. In Chinese culture, chi is the vital energy possessed by all living things. Saying only men have chi is as accurate as saying only men have blood. While Disney claims to want Mulan to be a historically accurate Chinese drama, it has turned chi into an East Asian version of the Force from Star Wars.
Chi wasn't part of the 1998 Mulan and it didn't need to be. The animated Mulan worked her way to the top by putting in extra hours and using her intelligence to think of creative solutions to problems. She didn't excel because she had a mystical force to rely on; in the beginning, she frequently failed. This is what made Mulan relatable and why her character was so appealing. She wasn't a born heroine. Mulan was an average woman who became an incredible warrior through a brilliant underdog journey.
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