Friday, September 4, 2020

Mulan, a Most Adaptable Heroine: There’s a Version for Every Era

When rumors of a live-action, nonmusical version of “Mulan” began to trickle out a few years ago, many hard-core fans of the 1998 Disney original groused. No big musical numbers and soaring ballads? No Mushu, the wisecracking dragon, or Li Shang, the movie’s clearly conflicted love interest? No “Reflection”? Many felt that the filmmakers were being unfaithful to the Mulan legend — or at least to Disney’s own version of it.

But Mulan has always been the most adaptable of heroines. Long before fans criticized Disney for taking liberties with their beloved animated heroine, poets, writers, playwrights and filmmakers had been creating scores of wildly different versions of the legendary woman warrior. In some, she’s a hardened army general; in others, she has magical powers; in yet others, she’s a crack shot with a bow. In one animated version, she’s a bug.

After the original poem, subsequent versions of the Mulan story added plotlines and details to flesh out the tale. In the 16th-century play “The Heroine Mulan Goes to War in Her Father’s Place,” she has bound feet. “At the time, women in the upper classes would bind their feet, and the playwright wanted to make sure Mulan was seen as the ideal icon of femininity,” said Lan Dong, author of “Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the United States” and an English professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. “She had to be perfect.”

In the 1695 novel “The Romance of Sui and Tang Dynasties,” Mulan meets a fellow female warrior who becomes her sworn sister; in the end, Mulan takes her own life when the Khan summons her to be his concubine. “Many versions emphasize her virtue,” Professor Dong said. “Even after all those years and everything she’s put herself through, she kept herself untouched.”

This story appeared in The New York Times on September 3, 2020..

Read the entire article online.