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Mulan is a story that is centuries old, but the version that most of us in the west are familiar with is the animated one from Disney released in 1998. It had a strong female protagonist, funny comic relief sidekicks, and memorable music. The new live-action remake set to debut in just about a month, will be lacking several of those things.
From the first moment that we saw the new Mulan in the first trailer it was clear this story would be different, if only because, when we saw Mulan on the battlefield, we saw that she had long flowing hair. In the previous Disney version, in a brief but iconic moment, Mulan uses her family sword to chop off her hair before attempting to impersonate a man.
Back in October of 2018 I had the opportunity to visit the set of Mulan in New Zealand, and the scene being filmed when I was there was the same one everybody else saw when the first trailer went live. Mulan, with sword, fighting off dozens of soldiers, with her hair blowing in the wind. All the journalists on site had the same thought at the same time, and so one of the first questions we asked was why Mulan still had her hair in this scene that was clearly from later in the movie.
As Producer Jason Reed explained, the cutting of the hair in the original Mulan, while it made sense at the time to modern western audiences, would not have made sense in the time in which the story is set, and as such, the decision was made to go with a version of Mulan that was more culturally accurate for the China being depicted. According to Reed...
In the Disney film, the famous scene of her cutting her hair is actually a western [addition]. It’s actually an anachronism. Chinese warriors, male warriors, wore their hair long. Chinese men in the 5th Century wore their hair long. So for her to cut her hair off would make her look more like a woman than less like a woman in reality. Since we’re doing the live-action version because we’re looking at a worldwide market we thought that we had to bring that level of cultural accuracy to it.
Mulan cutting her hair in the animated movie is the "point of no return" moment for her. It's when she's clearly decided to go through with her plan to replace her father in the military conscription in order to save his life. It's probably one of the most memorable scenes in the film.
And while Disney may have done a great job with the scene in order to make it so memorable, the fact is that what it's not is accurate. If this had been a true story, Mulan would not cut her hair, and while the story is fictional, and will certainly contain some fantastical elements, the decision was made to try and give the new remake a bit more of a realistic feel because of the transition from animation to live-action. Which is not to say the film hasn't received some criticism for some potential historical inaccuracies.
It remains to be seen how decisions like this will play out. For the most part, the Disney remakes that have done the best at the box office have been the ones that stayed closest to the original. People seem to want to see the movie they know, simply done in live action. Mulan certainly will not be that. There will be quite a few changes between the movie people know and this one. Though the filmmakers certainly hope these changes are for the better.
Mulan tickets are now available for pre-sale. The film hits theaters March 27.