Disney's 1998 Mulan is among the most well-written and thematically integrated movies ever made in animation. Addictive singalong songs, adorable comic relief, a menacingly evil villain, and arguably, one of the sexiest Asian male leads ever to have graced Western cinema - Captain Li Shang. Too bad he's getting cancelled.
With so many positive elements going in its favor, it should be impossible for Disney to ruin something that was already so well-made, right? Hold their beers, because it looks like that's precisely what the moviemakers are trying to accomplish with the live-action Mulan remake. Just remove everything which made the original movie great to begin with, and voilà, there goes the Disney magic dissipating away from the 2020 Mulan movie.
First, Discard Li Shang
I feel really bad for my Asian brothers. If there's one group of people who gets ignored in the media and is largely forgotten, it would be the Asian male. In fact, if you'll notice, while just about every group of people has voiced their strong opinion about the canceling of Li Shang, there happens to be one group of people who are predictably silent, and that group, my friends, is the Asian males.
It's predictable because Asian men (especially those from Chinese culture) were raised never to voice their opinions publicly. It’s ingrained in them to be quiet about their grievances, but many suffer in silence nonetheless. Therefore, allow me to convey my thoughts on their behalf.
Oh, Captain Li Shang! He's everything a girl would fantasize about in a man.
As we’re well aware, there aren’t many depictions of sexy Asian men in Western cinema or in pop-culture in general. Come to think about it, the most prominent Asian man I can recollect depicted in the media today would be Andrew Yang. However, all Andrew Yang reminds me of is that sweet but meek uncle who tries to bribe you with money in order to get you to be well-behaved and to excel in school.
Cute and quaint? Yes. Sexy? Definitely not.
But Li Shang? Oh, Captain Li Shang! He's everything a girl would fantasize about in a man. Is he manly? Check. Respectful? Check. Strong? Check. In charge? Check.
Sexiest Asian Male with Universal Appeal Cancelled
Li Shang was the kind of man who would fight and die in order to protect what was important to him. He began fighting the Huns because it was important to him that these merciless barbarians were kept from terrorizing China. And by the end of the movie, Mulan had become important to him, so we know Shang was someone who would fight and die for her if she ever needed protecting.
That is sexy. That is the kind of man women want and fantasize about.
And this man was also an Asian male. Captain Li Shang’s character does more for the Asian male image than any "representation of diversity" ever will. Li Shang is universally sexy to women of all races and nationalities. We wanted Mulan not only to save China but end up with the man who, when she was accused of shaming her country and family, stood up for her and called her a hero. So imagine our collective disappointment when we heard the news that he's been canned.
Li Shang Cancelled for Being Toxic?
In explaining the reasons for getting rid of Li Shang, producer Jason Reed said, "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."
Uhh, what? When exactly had Li Shang ever acted inappropriately in the movie? Besides the fact that there wasn’t any indication of him being toxic, anyone who knows anything about Chinese culture knows how sexually restrained the men are.
Chinese culture has always viewed overt sexuality as undesirable. Because of that, we were discouraged from being too forward about any sexual attraction to the point of almost comical repression and baffling unawareness regarding sex. Remember the scene at the end where Mulan wanted Shang to make a move, and he replied with “You fight good.”?
No More Strictly Platonic Friendships between the Sexes
Something else which occurred to me about the rewriting of Mulan’s love interest as her co-conscript (instead of her captain) was how it ruptures the idea of platonic friendships between the sexes. The original Mulan showed me how male-female friendship was possible when the question of sexual attractiveness was removed from the equation.
Mulan was not sexually attracted to her battle buddies Yao, Ling, and Chien Po. But with the new love interest being made "just one of the guys", I'm curious to see how they differentiate her relationship with her love interest from those of her other male friends. At least with Shang, she saw herself as being sexually interested in him because he inspired her. With the other three guys, however, she feels no sexual interest since she views them as her equal, and therefore is able to maintain a friendship with them.
It’s good and natural to be attracted to people who possess qualities you admire and aspire to obtain yourself.
I'm in the camp where you're supposed to be attracted to those who are better than you. It’s good and natural to be attracted to people who possess qualities you admire and aspire to obtain yourself. It's the whole reason why the term "my better half" was coined to describe the person we love.
I can safely say, if there is one thing my Asian sisters would like, it’s to have more depictions of Asian men like Li Shang in Western cinema. So it was honestly heartbreaking to hear how he's been cancelled. There goes our dream of seeing that strong, confident, and heroic captain in the flesh.
But it’s too late now to change anything about the Mulan live-action remake because the movie is hitting cinemas at the end of March. I still wish the best for the movie. I enjoyed the trailer – it does look like an adequately made kung-fu movie you can find everywhere else in Asian cinema. I’m just sad that it won’t have the same Disney magic that the original movie had.