Mulan (image credit: Disney)

Mulan was recently released in Malaysia. My friend asked whether I was going to watch it. I said yes. She said she was not going to watch it because:

(1) Mulan was filmed in Xinjiang, where genocide is taking place.
(2) Liu Yifei, the lead actress, voiced support for the Hong Kong police amidst protests against the Hong Kong extradition bill.
(3) The movie demonstrated a poor understanding of Chinese culture on the part of the filmmakers.

(1) and (2) are essentially part of the #BoycottMulan movement. The gist of the movement is this – because of (1) and (2), anyone watching Mulan is by extension, complicit in (1) and (2).

(3) is not part of the movement. I’ll talk about (3) in a minute but let’s start with (1) and (2).

(1)

Applying the logic, if a movie is filmed in Malaysia, where homosexuality is a criminal offence, does that make anyone watching the said movie homophobic?

Sure, genocide is not the same as homophobia, but if one accepts the human rights dimension in both, the fallacy in the logic of (1) is not too different from one to the other.

How do we then reconcile our disdain for the violation of human rights with watching Mulan?

If one could highlight the movie’s criticised credits to the Xinjiang government’s publicity department and the Public Security and Tourism bureaus for Turpan, one can certainly sit through the end credits of Mulan and learn how many people formed the filmmaking team. I do not know anyone specific in the said team but I dare say they are one of the best talents out there who have contributed to this movie.

Mulan was primarily, if not almost in entirety, shot in New Zealand. Sure, a better research team would have helped Disney make an informed decision in managing the sensitivity surrounding this issue when it decided to include what ended up being roughly a minute of background footage in a 1-hour-55-minute film, but to boycott Mulan notwithstanding the various objective and substantive qualities of the movie would have been an absolute injustice to the incredible cinematic work of the filmmaking team, from production departments to post production departments. And to accuse anyone watching Mulan as condoning genocide is taking a step too far.

(2)

Context is important.

Screenshot of Liu Yifei’s Weibo post

This was Liu’s original post on Weibo. Liu “retweeted” a post by the People’s Daily. The People’s Daily’s post translates to “I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.” Liu’s own hashtag translates to “I also support the Hong Kong police.

The post by the People’s Daily was a quote from Fu Guohao. Fu Guohao is a reporter of Global Times. He was assaulted and detained by protestors at the Hong Kong International Airport for having been mistaken as an undercover police officer. Liu’s post came the day after this incident.

Fu Guohao (image credit: SCMP)

As a news reader, instead of a participant, I make no comments as to the rights and wrongs of the various incidents of violence taking place amidst the protests in Hong Kong. I’ve seen videos of police officers attacking protestors. I’ve also seen videos of protestors attacking police officers. However, viewed in the above context, I do not believe a clear formula can be made to equate Liu’s post as endorsing police brutality. Neither do I find myself convinced that everyone who believes in human rights should boycott Mulan.

As I see it, Liu’s post is, at most, a political view. You may not agree with that view, but she is entitled to form that view. That’s freedom of expression, the very right that lies at the core of the protests in Hong Kong.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall

(3)

This part of the blog post contains spoilers so read with caution.

Critics of the movie mainly complained about the “tulou” house where Mulan and her family lives. “Tulou” is a traditional communal living structure of the Hakka people unique to coastal, southern Fujian province that only became widespread in the Ming dynasty – more than a thousand years after the Northern Wei Dynasty when Mulan was set.

The use of the Chinese idiom “four ounces can move a thousand pounds” also seemed inappropriate and out of context. In the 1998 original, Mulan outsmarted everyone by using two golden weights to her advantage in climbing up the pole, which is quite literally an instance of “four ounces can move a thousand pounds”. The live-action, however, took out the element of Mulan’s wit as the exercise was changed into walking up a mountain with two barrels of water, something that could only be accomplished with brute force.

I have nothing to say against (3) – I think these are valid criticisms. They too got me wonder what the final product would have looked like if an Asian director and writer, under Disney’s guidance, had been at the helm. However, I do not think other aspects of the movie should be overlooked.

Mulan should be judged based on its quality as a cinematic work. One can do more than boycotting a movie to support human rights.

Objectively, I think Mulan is a great movie. It is an epic-scale tribute to female empowerment and I’d recommend you to watch it.

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