By KERRY TINGA
REFLECTION Yifei Liu in Mulan (2020) Photo from IMDB
Like many young Asian girls of the 1990s, I always felt a close affinity to Fa Mulan. With the first teaser trailer of the live-action Mulan remake released online, I am buzzing with excitement.
She reflects the diversity of beauty, not just limited to Western-looking princesses of earlier Disney films, which is so important for young, impressionable girls to be exposed to. When I first saw the animated film, there, on the television, on the same level as Belle and Cinderella, was a princess who looked closer to me, my sister, and my friends.
Just as important, she shows cultural diversity as the film touches something that, while not exactly unique to East Asian cultures, is highly prevalent in our cultures: filial piety.
I genuinely consider filial piety a positive virtue, and one I am proud of my culture for prioritizing. And yet, there can often be a conflict between our desire to honor our family and our own individualism. While certain people may view one more important than the other, one that should be subservient to the other, I personally think there can be, and should be, a balance.
When she (begrudgingly) goes to the matchmaker, Mulan sings of fear that she might make a fool of herself because she does not want to embarrass her father and her family.
In the amazing voice of Lea Salonga, the lyrics of “Reflection” are about how Mulan is heartbroken that she cannot be herself lest she break her family’s heart. The reason for her character’s ruse is so she can protect her aging father from having to join the army. Out of necessity to fulfill her duty to protect her father, and out of necessity to fulfill her duty to her own country, she works hard in her training, even struggles in the beginning, to become the warrior princess we love.
There is a conflict between individualism and fulfilling a role as part of a family, something we still struggle to strike a balance with today. Still, if the 1998 Mulan taught me anything, by the end I realized that the conflict should not be an internal struggle that one goes about dealing alone.
To the end of the film, Mulan does not want to tread on any of her family’s toes, and I feel that was one of the most relatable moments of any Disney film I have ever seen, before and even after Mulan.
After literally saving all of China, Mulan just wants to return to her family. She comes bearing gifts that honor the Fa family and kneels in front of her father, as a sign of respect. Her father comes down to his own knees to meet Mulan and let her know that he accepts all of her, that the greatest honor is having her as a daughter.
While Mulan embodies female empowerment, her Disney story is intertwined with the story of family. In the telling of her story, we see the story of an entire family, a mix of different opinions and voices, of traditional and modern attitudes. From that eclectic mix, we see a father and his daughter try to meet in the middle.
That it sometimes comes in conflict with individualism is arguably an issue of the way we frame filial piety, of what we expect of a daughter or a son. That struggle between those two attitudes is something that should be explored by a group as a whole, not shouldered on one soul.
While live-action remakes like Aladdin had a modernized, more empowered Princess Jasmine, there is little I find can be improved with the touching tale of honor and family in Mulan. All I can hope for is that it retains that humor and respect that got me watching Mulan dozens of times growing up.