9 THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE FROM MULAN, THE LIVE ACTION REMAKE

As much as I love Disney, I have mixed feelings when it comes to the Live Action remakes. On the one hand,  The Jungle Book really benefitted from an update, while on the other, I thought Beauty And The Beast was too perfect to be updated, and the live action proved me right.

However, when I heard of Mulan’s live action update, I felt like it made perfect sense. It’s based on a story that is very maleable and rich for creating new and astonishing interpretations. Plus, while the origin has its charm, it’s far from a perfect movie and there are some updates that this film would really benefit. What updates you ask? Well, here are my top 7 things I would like to see from the Disney Live Action.

1) A DISNEY VILLAIN WORTH FIGHTING… UM, AGAINST

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Oh Shan Yu, what high hopes we had of thee. He SHOULD have been one of the greatest Disney Villains ever created, but he was so utterly forgettable. While Lady Tremaine had to make to do with turning a teenage girl into a domestic servant, and Shir Khan was defeated by a ten year old, this villain threatened all of China and I barely remember anything about him. He’s a general who’s slaughtered children, and yet the most memorable thing about him was his eyes. This needs to be fixed in the live action.

It’s time to give us the kind of Disney villain we crave, the kind we still haven’t had since Hades. Make him big, powerful, menacing, larger than life… a man who inspires fear the minute he enters the room. A man who’s built up even before he appears on screen. Disney, give the swishy villains a break and make Shan Yu a dark, macho badass: a warlord who’s always calm and calculating, never needing to raise his voice, even as he sharpens his sword while dropping implied threats to his minions if they should fail him.

2) REAL MARTIAL ARTS AND ADVENTURE

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This is the most perfect choice of films to make a live action. Unlike with BATB, the original was far from perfect and Disney has not told the definitive version. There’s plenty of scope for change and for the writers/ directors to bring something new to the table.

This film lends itself perfectly to a good old fashioned adventure. I would love to see Mulan do some real martial arts and engage in some blood pumping stunts. I mean, Mushuu killed the villain in the original while Mulan mainly flails around wildly. I want to see a big epic climax.

3) DON’T CAVE INTO THE PRESSURE TO MAKE IT INTO A MUSICAL FOR NO REASON

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Love the songs, but this film is no The Little Mermaid. Songs aren’t necessary to make this film work and could serve to destroy the tension.

As much as I enjoyed the songs, Mulan is a film that really doesn’t call for it. It is better suited as an action adventure.

Remember when back in the 90s, a live action version of 101 dalmations was made and there was a controversy because the dalmations didn’t talk? Well, in hindsight, it was a good choice. Talking dogs would have been more jarring because it didn’t have the animation to soften the surrealness of it all, and it gave us all we wanted from the original: cute puppies and a GLORIOUS performance from Cruella DeVille.

In this case we don’t really need them. It’s an epic martial arts, swashbuckling, sword fighting adventure filled with girl power! It has a more serious conflict, and the musical element could diminish that.

4) IF MUSHU DOESN’T WORK, DON’T FORCE HIM

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Forget Mushuu, I always wanted to see THIS dragon in the film.

Comic relief characters like Mushuu are often wildcards. Sometimes they work really, really well (Aladdin, Despicable Me), but sometimes they can turn into a complete nightmare (The Magic Sword, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). I enjoyed Muushu’s performance… most of the time. But he did jarr with the film’s tone and I doubt him translating well to a live action with a slightly less campy tone.

I can see him looking good, but none of the designs which would make him awesome would make him look funny. The last thing I want is another CGI monstrosity on our hands ala Beauty and The Beast. And I don’t want him completely breaking the tension or destroying the Chinese atmosphere.

Disney, if Li Shang is not essential, than neither is Mushu.

5) GIVE US AN ALL SOUTH EAST ASIAN CAST

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Gotta give them credit, Disney does seem to be sorting themselves out on this front.

To be fair, I think Disney has enough sense to do this with at LEAST the leading heroine and most of the cast. I mean, it really did everything right with Moana and Lilo and Stitch, and took a risk and cast an unknown Indian kid in The Jungle Book remake. Plus, criticise it all you will for its treatment of Tiana, Disney  sadly is more inclusive than Pixar or Dreamworks, and has made some of the most genuine efforts to self reflect on what it can do better. With their dependence on marketing Mulan as their one and only Asian Princess, I doubt they would cast a white person to play her.

But yeah, while I’ll doubt it’ll do an all Chinese cast, an all Asian cast would be terrific.

6) A STRONGER PERSONALITY FOR MULAN

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Yeah, Mulan was brave and all, but in terms of personality, she is the typical goofball missfit who sings to their own tune and saves the day. She is Flick, Hercules, Quasimodo in that respect and not too interesting in and of herself.

Even if she starts out unsure of herself (although the heroine from the Chinese poem was pretty damn confident), I wasnt to see some real steel in her performance. I want a complete ferocious badass, a true action hero. I’d also totally want her to full on defeat the badguy without Mushuu’s help, making her the second Disney Princess who full on killed their opponent! The first, of course, being our beloved Tiana.

7) A MAN WORTH FIGHTING FOR

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Pictured here the very beautiful Japanese actor, Jin Akanishi

I get Li Shang won’t be in the movie, and that’s fine as not all stories need a romance. But I think it would be good to include a handsome, macho male lead. Firstly, we all need more handsome Asian guys on our screen.

But more importantly, studies into sexual attractiveness and race have shown that South East Asian men are deemed the least desirable in part due to unfair perceptions that they are less manly than other races. You know, those delicate flowers whose various cultures spawned such feeble warriors such as the Gurkas, Samurai, and the Shaolin monks.

Having a strong, masculine and desirable Asian male lead shown to a wide audience won’t solve the problem, but it would help.

8) A MORE MEANINFUL INCLUSION OF CHINESE CULTURE

Disney have improved a lot since the Renaissance when it comes to writing race. They incorporated Polynesian culture pretty well into Lilo and Stitch and Moana. Hell, even the European films had a bit more of an identity than just ‘generic fairytale land’, with Brave feeling distinctly Scottish, and BATB at least incorportating more of the 1700s French aesthetic into their live action.

I’m hoping they will include the Chinese culture into Mulan in a more meaningful way, because while the original was good it felt like a Western film with pretty watercolor aesthetics. Maybe they could bring more Buddhist philosophy and martial arts teachings into it, as well as perhaps taking the ancestral spirits a little more seriously.

9) ANOTHER GAY DISNEY CHARACTER

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After the whole mess of an April’s fools joke from Pink News surrounding a Gay Simba, it proves that people are still. But LaFou did not stop Beauty and The Beast’s box office success.

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But the problem with LaFou is that he is a walking stereotype and camp joke. What message does it say to gay kids… hey kids, you’ll never be the hero, but you get to be the obsequious mincing side kick who servilely drools over the big manly straight man! Progress!

Mulan is a perfect film to include a proper gay character when you think about it. Mulan already subverts expectations of gender and masculinity by ending with our heroes in drag; I’ll Make A Man Out Of You is a camp classic; there’s some theories that Li Shang was having a big gay crisis thanks to Mulan’s cross dressing and most importantly, people have already seen a gay interpretation of the character of Mulan. The stage is set. And there’s so many possibilities.

If they were uncomfortable with having a gay romance, they could easily do a Persona 4 style ass pull and have a gay male soldier find himself attracted to Mulan, and after he learns the truth he realises that it’s definately only men he’s attracted to. There could be a sad and poignant talk under a cherry blossom tree in spring about how they both knew they were different, but perhaps in different ways and come on! This writes itself!

Representation matters, and after all the work gay staff, musicians and writers have put into making their films the classics they are, I think its time to show that gay men and women are people worth including in their works!

That’s what I want to see from a live action Mulan, and I’m interested to hear your thoughts

THE PACK- by Paul Louise Julie

I’ve read  a lot of vampire and werewolf fiction in my time, and the tropes and conventions sometimes get a little bit monotonous after a while. So when I heard of this- a werewolf story set in Ancient Africa, centring around the attempt of two brothers to escape Alavert and to get to Nubia, I was sold. How cool is that? Especially since in any book set in the ancient world, Nubias often little more than a kingdom that’s invaded by Egypt.

First and foremost, I absolutely have to mention the art work, and it is truly worth the price of admission. It has this really gorgeous way of rendering spaces, and its art style gives a feel for the time. I mean take a look at this:

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The watercolour, the bright colours, the reflections on the marble and the detail on the plant life really bring to life the opulence of the Egyptian palace. It’s not just this page- the entire book Is this well drawn and it’s an astounding experience. Clearly a lot of hard work and research has gone into creating an authentic looking ancient North Africa. As for the werewolves, they look a great. Take a look at the one below.

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The harsh black lines against the lush green forest really do lend it a primal, ancient nightmarish feel. The author said that because werewolves aren’t really part of ancient African mythology, he combined the wolf with some other creatures to make it more fitting, and it looks intimidating. Its build is strong like a lion, and its little mane and tail remind me a bit of a hyena- but either way, it’s all predator and  truly is the monster that frightened us as children.

So many different styles and colors have been experimented with in this issue, and it’s an artistic marvel. Because of this, I would strongly recommend it to absolutely anything, as this artwork you won’t see anywhere else.

As for the story telling, it’s okay, and Paul Louise Julie has the talent but is still coming into his own. The story of this issue is pretty simple- two brothers are part of a group of Nubian assassins who are slaves (albeit highly exulted ones who get to live in a beautiful palace and are given a lot of wine, women and privilege), and they want to escape. It’s a pretty decent start, and introduces us to the world and gives us a basic outline of the two brothers- ones more serious and wants to escape, the other’s more on the fence but gets thrown into things- but its downfall is it’s told in a needlessly convoluted way.

For some weird reason, we start off not at the beginning, but at events which take place near the end of the first issue, which is still close to the beginning of the saga. Worse still, we constantly cut between the two events. All it means is that what’s a pretty simple story becomes harder to follow and we’re constantly pulled out of the action of both events- the brother’s escape or Khenti’s capture- when things start to heat up, and it’s harder to get caught up in either of them.

There is no good reason for this. I mean, the whole point of this technique is usually as a way of giving it a feel of inevitability and tragic foreshadowing- like with Blood Brothers, where we’re shown that the story’s going to end in tragedy so that even during the happier scenes, an air of ominousness hangs around and we’re watching carefully to see how they build up to the tragedy. The same is true with Madoka Magica, and even Moulin Rouge, which used whiny one’s (I forget his name even though I’ve been forced to watch it so many times) retrospective narration to tell us that this is going to be a tragic love story.

Here, there’s absolutely no point of this- what is it meant to foreshadow? That there’s going to be conflict and werewolves in it? Well, it’s called The Pack and it tells us it’s about werewolves in the description on the site, so there’s no need to tell us that. Is it because the writer feels they need a way to hook us? It begins (chronologically) with an assassination attempt- that’s action enough.

Also, there’s the bizarre plot hole that although the older brother keeps on saying that he wants his younger brother, when they escape the palace he splits up with him for no reason and says ‘see you in three weeks’. Why do they split up to go to the port to take them to Nubia? I know, story wise, why it was necessary to have them separated (so the younger brother-Khenti- can meet the wolf) but there’s no good reason for them to. They were both together and were both going to the same place, and splitting up would just increase the risk of losing one another. It was contrived.

What really needed to happen, storywise ,  was for the older brother- Nekhet-to give his younger brother instructions on what to do if they got separated, and for them to be put under pressure by pursuing Egyptians and for them to lose each other in the chaos. This is an important plot beat that was skipped, and as a result that moment just left me scratching my head.

The other problem is the character designs; they work fine and the simplicity makes them more reminiscent of ancient art, but most of the time the characters are heavily obscured by dazzling light or dark shadows.

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Can you really tell any of them apart? I can’t. It could get really difficult  figuring out who was speaking, and I had to reread and reread certain parts to figure out who’s saying what. Also, I thought the person narrating at the beginning was the older brother when in fact it was the younger brother.

Honestly, the story’s there, the writing has promise, and the art and concept are both absolutely perfect, but it’s not quite there yet thanks to some shakey execution. However, one of the big problems- the needless and convoluted framing device- is going to be out of the window in the next issue, and from what I’ve seen with his later work on Yohance, his skill at the craft does improve, so I have hope for future issues and am definitely down for the ride.

VERDICT: This graphic novel is absolutely worth checking out. The concept of a werewolf story in Ancient North Africa is utterly original, the art work is one of a kind and worth the price of admission alone. The execution of the story so far is a little shakey, but it’s the first issue of the author’s debut series, so there’s plenty of potential for it to get better as the author settles into the writing.

For a look at The Pack Part 1, click here.