Over a year ago, in October 2018, I was fortunate the attend the set visit to the live-action version of Disney’s Mulan. Many fans, including myself, have waited over 22 years for the animated version to come to life. It was really surreal to see it play out in person on the set in New Zealand.
When plans of the live-action film were announced in 2015, fans immediately were excited with the idea of seeing their favorite characters come to life — from the Hua family guardian, Mushu, to Mulan’s good luck charm, Cri-Kee, and the bisexual icon, Li Shang.
Unfortunately, many fans were outraged when it was announced there would be no musical, Mushu, or even Li Shang. These were the first things to come up when we sat down with producer Jason Reed on set who explained the production wanted to pay respect to Chinese culture and that the live-action film will also be based on the original Ballad of Mulan.
For the musical aspect, the production wanted the film to be rooted in realism with only a little bit of fantasy (witchcraft). Reed wanted to avoid a break into song and dance to take away from the seriousness of the story.
Although there won’t be any musical numbers, fans will be able to hear different renditions of the original film’s music in the live-action movie.
“There are a number of songs that are iconic for the movie and tell a great version of the story and they are very helpful to us in how we’re putting the movie together,” says Reed. “And it gets a little easier in animation to keep the tension and the reality in place and still have people break into song and sing to camera. We made the decision that we wanted to keep the world — even though it’s a fantasy — more grounded more realistic so those emotions really played and the threat is very real so we are using music in a slightly different way.”
As for Mushu, Reed reveals, “Obviously, Mushu is a beloved character and one of the most memorable elements of the animated film. It turns out that the traditional Chinese audience did not particularly think that that was the best interpretation of the dragon in their culture, that the dragon is a sign of respect and it’s a sign of strength and power, and that sort of using it as a silly sidekick didn’t play very well with the traditional Chinese audience.”
There will be elements of ancestral dragons in the movie, but in the most subtle of ways — such as on clothing or weaponry.
As for Cri-Kee, the beloved good luck charm, is going to still play a big part in saving Mulan (Yifei Liu). The weapons assistant, Dean Blackwell, accidentally revealed Cricket’s, another name for Cri-Kee, bow and arrow. Jun Yu plays Cricket and is said to help Mulan out when she needs it most.
As for the major change that caused the most outrage, fans wanted to know what happened to Li Shang. The production team wants to be clear that there still is a Li Shang in the movie, but just split into two characters to avoid the power dynamics between the love interests.
“I think particularly in the time of the #MeToo movement, having a commanding officer that is also the sexual love interest was very uncomfortable and we didn’t think it was appropriate,” said Reed.
As for the bisexual aspect to Li Shang now Hongwei (Yoson An), the cast and crew were well aware of the importance of keeping that in the movie. Reed reveals, “Well, Hongwei — it’ll play the same way as it does in the animated.”
When asked if An would be ready to be that bisexual icon, he said enthusiastically, “Yes, I am.”
An said he planned to approach the character and his relationship with Mulan the same way he does with every scene.
“One thing that Niki has come up to me during every take or a lot of takes is just to remind me that Mulan, to me, is a guy,” said An, “So, I have to make sure I don’t play it in a way where I treat this character, Hua Jun, as a woman. So, it’s kind of like a buddy relationship where I don’t know he’s a girl, really. The audience knows and I think from an audience perspective that’s how it is going to play out.”
Disney’s Mulan is set to release on March 27. Tickets are on sale NOW.