The butchering of side characters
October 9, 2020
The live action “Mulan” destroyed its side characters. Gone were Mulan’s beloved friends Yao, Ling and Chien-Po; only the shrivelled flesh of their characters, unmemorable and unremarkable, were left.
In the animated “Mulan,” each character had their own story and vibrant personality, making their mark on the minds and hearts of the audience. The animated film followed the growth of their friendship and eventual strong rapport with Mulan.
In the live action, Yao, Ling and Chien-Po were recognizable only by name, their screen time cut in favor of showing Mulan’s “greatness.” The live action barely showed any meaningful interactions between them and Mulan, and when it did, it left me cringing at the awkward tension. The writers clearly want to show their strong friendship in scenes such as their meal together or their talk before the big battle; however, because we don’t see them develop those bonds or help each other through training, the jokes and attempts at friendly banter come off as uncomfortable and misplaced.
You don’t have to butcher the male characters to write a feminist story. Quite the opposite, really. The reason why the 1998 Mulan was so powerful was because it showed a human side to everyone. Mulan, a naive and inexperienced girl, struggled in the military camp, but so did everyone else. Yao, Ling and Chien-Po, along with the other amateur soldiers, learn to fight beside her and eventually grow to respect her as a fellow soldier who has the wit and determination to rise to the challenges of war. Mulan is not limited by her gender—she keeps up with and even excels amongst men because of her own hard work.
The 1998 “Mulan” takes this even further by showing Yao, Ling and Chien-Po’s personal growth from hyperfixating on masculinity to valuing feminine traits, even cross-dressing as women in order to save the emperor. By having the male characters learn from Mulan and put aside their hypermasculinity, the 1998 Mulan highlights the importance of femininity and brings the story full circle.