“Mulan” encourages to break societal expectations

We all know the story of Mulan. Some know her as a role model to women, others know her as a Disney princess. However, Mulan is more than just another role model for others; in fact, she portrays a brave and strong female warrior in an army of men which creates an inspirational message toward young women. 

Based on “Ballad of Mulan,” an ancient chinese folklore, “Mulan” (2020) tells the story of a brave woman who sacrifices her life for her father in a war against Bori Kahn and his army. This captivating real-life action film brings the animated versions of Mulan to life through the expert performance of real people. 

The plot of the story begins when a young girl, Mulan, grows up with a passion for combat which was not common for women in her society. Because of her uncommon passion, Mulan inspires women to be free to express and enjoy their interests despite societal expectations. Although Mulan’s village disapproves of her interest in martial arts, she does not mind what others think and continues to live with this passion. Although Mulan is forced to be more lady-like, she always finds a way to incorporate the skills she has learned from combat in her daily life like when she used these skills to save the dishes at her matchmaking meeting. Regardless of the standards placed on women, Mulan continues her journey of fighting when the Emperor of China sends out a decree, demanding every family to give up one man to join the Imperial Army in a war against Bori Kahn. Mulan dresses as a man so that she will be able to successfully take her father’s place, since he is both injured and the only man in the household. Mulan’s actions against societal barriers influences younger viewers, especially young women, to start being true to themselves and ignore what others think they should be. She also shows audiences that with bravery and courage, they can overcome any obstacle they may encounter. 

Actress Liu Yifei depicts Mulan’s change from village girl to warrior superbly through her expressions, like her sadness when she is burdened with news that her father must go to war or when she returns home begging for her family’s forgiveness after she has defeated Bori Kahn. Mulan is a character who is adventurous and stays determined whether it is from capturing a loose chicken, taking her father’s armour and sword or if she is trying to save the emperor from death. Yifei is consistent when it comes to portraying Mulan’s courage and sense of curiosity throughout the story. 

One of the main reasons why Mulan is so popular to audiences is because she is an inspiration and bends the norms of society by joining the Imperial Army. Not only did she join, but Mulan was the strongest, smartest and fiercest warrior the army had. This allows women to realize that they have the power to not only do things that men can, but also excel in areas that they are not expected to. Additionally, Mulan helped lead the army to prevent Bori Kahn from killing the Emperor of China. Mulan’s actions and leadership motivates young women to do the same. Mulan is a great influence on younger women in school, setting an example for them to prove that they have the ability to be a leader. 

In addition to the inspiration that Mulan casts on viewers, the filmmakers also incorporate recurring themes throughout the movie. For example, the phoenix symbolizes courage and wisdom. After Mulan’s father discovers her disappearance to take his place in war, he takes his phoenix antique and asks it to protect Mulan throughout her journey in war. 

In addition to the phoenix, the three virtues loyalty, bravery and truth are repeatedly mentioned throughout the film. These three pillars of virtues are not only engraved in Mulan’s family sword (忠, 勇, 真) but are also present in the soldier’s oath before going into battle. Later on in the story after Mulan has saved the Emperor, he gifts her a sword with a fourth virtue on the other side of the blade devotion to family (孝). By adding these virtues in the movie, young audiences can learn that these are some key traits to acquire. Staying loyal and true to yourself and being brave while having a strong devotion to family are key elements in the real world. The inclusion of the additional fourth virtue also helps viewers understand the close relationship Mulan has with her family. 

The repeating of the three pillars is a good addition to the movie because it truly emphasizes the moral traits that played a huge role in Mulan’s Chinese society. By constantly mentioning the symbols, such as the sword and its virtues along with the phoenix, viewers better understand the meaning behind Mulan. We are able to see what the movie producer is trying to achieve and the point that they want to get across because of the symbolized objects for bravery and courage. 

This film is exhilarating and delivers a powerful message of family and bravery. Mulan’s actions also inspire others to be true to themselves and their values. This live action film of “Mulan” brings her story to life in actions and visuals portrayed by real actors. I personally enjoyed watching this movie because it portrayed Mulan’s dynamic characteristics throughout the story very well. It emphasizes the importance of the pillars of virtues which I think are a necessity to one’s life. 

By Freda Lei, In-depth editor
Photo courtesy of IMDb

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