ByTom Bacon, writer at
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Tom Bacon

The latest Disney trend is adapting old animated classics into live-action remakes. These movies have been tremendous successes - The Jungle Book was one of the highlights of 2016 - and promise to only get better. Let's face it, Emma Watson's Beauty and the Beast is one of the most eagerly-anticipated films of 2017!

But one of the most promising, and most intriguing, adaptations is Mulan. Now, a casting call for the main roles has revealed some of the most important changes Disney plan to make!

A Major Appeal to Chinese Audiences

Based on a Chinese legend, you'd have expected the original Mulan to be a critical success in China. The reality, though, was far from the case; the Chinese government only allowed the film to have a limited release, and Chinese audiences were frustrated at what they saw as the 'Westernization' of their adaptation.

As a result, Disney faces a difficult balancing act when it comes to Mulan. On the one hand, the House of Mouse has to ensure the film still appeals to Western audiences who are only familiar with the animated classic; on the other, they want the movie to be a major hit in the increasingly important Chinese box office. The global dimensions of the challenge make this perhaps the most intriguing live-action adaptation to date.

We already knew that Disney was working to address this by seeking Chinese leads; significantly, the casting call adds that these leads must be fluent both in English and in Mandarin. What's more, it also reveals that the studio actually plans to film Mulan in China, and will shoot from April through to October 2017. This follows in the footsteps of The Great Wall, which sets a precedent of films set in China actually heading out to the country in order to more accurately represent it.

Check out the Key Characters

The legend of Mulan is very different to the version we saw in the animated movie; in fact, as with many examples of folklore worldwide, there are actually several different versions of the legend! So Disney has chosen to heavily adapt the tale, and - with rewrites on the script completed by October - the casting call is likely to accurately represent the characters we'll see in the film.

So be warned - potential spoilers follow!


'Mulan'. [Credit: Disney]
'Mulan'. [Credit: Disney]

Here's the description in the casting call:

Female, 18-20 years old to play 18; must be able to speak fluent English and Mandarin Chinese; lithe, athletic, quick, tougher than she looks. Mulan lives in rural China in 630 AD, and her country is besieged, under attack by the Gokturk invaders. When her aging father volunteers to join the Army, Mulan sneaks out by night and takes his place, strapping down her breasts so she can pass for a man. There is a mysterious power inside Mulan, a power of speed and coordination and sheer force that places her at the peak of her unit — where no one suspects her secret.

The basics of the plot are the same, but you'll notice a subtle difference; there's no indication in this that Mulan will demonstrate the initial incompetence that features in the song "Make a Man Out Of You." In the animated version, Mulan shines through as much because of her intelligence; the live-action remake seems to demonstrate her as a physical capable, highly gifted warrior who's "at the peak of her unit."

Chen Honghui

Chen in 'Mulan'. [Credit: Disney]
Chen in 'Mulan'. [Credit: Disney]

The male lead, Chen, is even more radically different to the animated version:

Male, in his 20s, must be able to speak fluent English and Mandarin Chinese; strapping, cocky, and handsome. Honghui is another recruit who joins Commander Tung’s unit, and he’s determined to be the best soldier in human history. Full of himself, with a mean, bullying streak to him, he quickly realizes that Mulan is his chief rival, but he does not realize that she is a woman. Grittily determined to be simply the best at everything, Honghui is increasingly peeved by Mulan’s ability to match or out-maneuver him. But after learning that his rival is a woman, his intense feelings of rivalry turn into something very different, something like love.

As fans of the animated classic will know, Disney's previous version of Chen was actually Mulan's trainer. A skilled and honorable warrior, he came close to sending Mulan away before she earned his respect with her refusal to give up. In contrast, the live-action Chen is essentially one of Mulan's fellow cadets, and her chief rival! He doesn't sound to be so 'whiter-than-white' a character (the casting call mentions a "mean, bullying streak"), and it's implied that as a fellow recruit he is the one who discovers Mulan is a woman. The dynamic sounds absolutely fascinating!

Mulan and Chen in 'Mulan' [Credit: Disney]
Mulan and Chen in 'Mulan' [Credit: Disney]

See also:

Mulan looks set to be the most intriguing live-action adaptation to date. It faces a challenge like no other Disney movie; it has to transcend culture, and appeal both to the Western audiences who are familiar only with Disney's previous movie, and to the Chinese audiences who weren't so struck with the original. This casting call has just given us some tantalizing hints as to how that adaptation is going to play out!


Are you looking forward to Disney's remake of 'Mulan'?

(Source: Movie Casting Call, Poll Image Credit: Disney)


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