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The wasted witch

October 9, 2020

In Chinese mythology, there are no evil witches with pointy hats and broomsticks who have magic and are ostracized because of it. While there are female shamans in Chinese mythology, women aren’t reviled because of their powers—if they are spurned, it would most likely be due to actual malignant acts, regardless of gender. 

Despite claiming that it was going to show a more realistic version of Mulan, the live action still featured a witch, Xianniang, working beside Bori Khan, the main antagonist of the film. Even though the Rourans treat her terribly and she could “tear [them] all to pieces before [they] even blink,” the witch works for them under the hope that she’ll have a place where she’s accepted. Xianniang is a skilled fighter who can shapeshift into a hawk, a person or even a flock of birds; there was no reason why she couldn’t take over the Rouran army or even China herself. 

The witch’s character was wasted potential. The movie clearly sets her up as a parallel to Mulan, with both characters facing discrimination because of their identities as powerful women. However, the script doesn’t develop the witch’s motives and mindset as an older, darker version of Mulan, instead utilizing the classic “we’re not so different, you and I” villain speech to force-feed the reader their commonality. 

The witch has one of the most frustrating character deaths that I have ever seen. After leading Mulan to the construction site where Bori Khan is holding the emperor, Xianniang turns into a hawk and intercepts the arrow Bori Khan shoots at Mulan, falling dramatically into her arms. 

Meanwhile, Bori Khan has conveniently lost his second arrow or decided that they’re having a moment that would be rude to interrupt.

Where is the powerful witch we were promised? A woman can shapeshift into whatever she wants, can kill the entire Rouran army before they even blink, and she was taken down by a measly arrow? The witch who has fought and killed for her freedom is willing to give her life for a girl she’s met thrice? Please. The writers just wanted a convenient redemption arc that seems like it should be moving, but really just cheapens the characters, the plot and the “feminist” message.

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