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Mulan II – Film Review

The flower that blooms in unity is the most honourable one of them all.

Overview

So I’ll be giving my thoughts on this movie from a pure story perspective: excluding Mushu being voiced by a white guy + the low budget animation (well, besides the grieving scene in the rain; but everywhere else, sheesh) + historical/cultural (in)accuracies.

“It’s just a cheap direct-to-video cashgrab,” UGH profits. But from a story POV, why should we lower the bar for sequels? (Especially when Kung Fu Panda 2 exists).

Of course, we must compare it with the first movie. There weren’t really any iconic plot beats. Reflection. Cutting her hair, slipping away in the rain. Climbing the pole. The decimated village. Ugh, Mulan I is so good. Not perfect, but great and iconic.

I think while it set some good groundwork, and was a fun ride, a lot was still lacking narrative-wise, especially in the intellectual thematic argument, which has so much to say.

Plot Summary

(since y’all probably never watched it, some never will, here it is)

Prose

Shang proposes to Mulan. Mushu would lose his status as family guardian, as well as Mulan, so decides to break them up. The Emperor summons the duo to escort his three princess daughters to form an alliance with Lord Qin to protect them from a coming Mongol invasion. They recruit the Gang of Three (Yao, Ling and Chien-Po) from the first movie.

En route, the three princesses fall in love with the Gang of Three. Mushu causes trouble for Mulan’s r’ship, accidentally destroying their carriage/supplies. The guards and princesses sneak out and enjoy a festival at a village, while Mushu orchestrates Mulan and Shang into a heated argument.

Shang puts his foot down, forbidding the three pairs to talk, then mutually breaks up with Mulan. They get attacked by bandits and Shang sacrifices himself for Mulan.

Mulan grieves, then offers herself as bride instead of the princesses. Shang returns to crash the marriage. Mushu masquerades as the Great Dragon to dissuade Lord Qin, and weds the duo on the spot.

Plot Structure

  • Hook: Mulan trains some girls, and Shang comes to propose to her.
  • Inciting Incident: The Emperor summons the Mulan and Shang to the palace for a secret mission. Mushu finds out he would lose his status as family guardian, as well as Mulan, should they get married.
  • Key Event: The duo decide to call off their wedding, and head to the palace. The Emperor quests them to escort his three princess daughters to form an alliance with Lord Qin to protect them from a coming Mongol invasion.
  • First Plot Point: They leave their kingdom with the three princesses and three guards.
  • First Pinch Point: Mushu sabotages the carriage, destroying it. They must stop and set up camp.
  • Midpoint: The oldest princess, Ting-Ting, asserts to her sisters that they must follow their duty over their heart. Nevertheless, they sneak out with the guards to attend a festival.
  • Second Pinch Point: Shang catches them in the village, puts his foot down, and forbids their blossoming relationships. Mulan is incredulous and they break their own relationship off.
  • Third Plot Point: They get ambushed by the Mongols, resulting in Shang falling to his death. They regroup and mourn. Mulan decides to offer herself in the princesses’ place.
  • Climactic Turning Point: Shang crashes the wedding, alive apparently. They don’t like him.
  • Climactic Buildup: Mushu masquerades as the Great Dragon to dissuade Lord Qin.
  • Climactic Moment: Lord Qin gives in, and weds the duo on the spot.
  • Resolution: China is saved, due to the alliance. Mushu is added onto Shang’s family guardians, which means he still gets to be with Mulan.

What to improve

1. White Mushu

Yea, discount Eddie Murphy was a hot mess. MulanII!Mushu was neither charismatic nor had his character explored enough to justify being conniving yet justify the audience’s sympathy, so he’s just a bad bad guy. He’s just a plot device, it seems.

AND THEN when Mushu confesses what he’s done, and Mulan exclaims that Shang and her aren’t that different (this goes against Lesson Number One’s main message that differences are good). She then says all those problems weren’t because of themselves, but only because of Mushu (rip representation of a realistic couple working out their own flaws and differences, nope, if not for external forces, internally they are perfect, bro).

Instead, we make Mushu's arc a subplot about learning that there are circumstances where you must put duty over heart. WHAT?! Yes. One is not enough, we need both together. Mulan I was able to juggle advocating for the opposing themes of femininity vs masculinity.

What if Mushu learns that if Mulan gets married, he won’t just lose guardianship; she’ll physically never see him again. He must wrestle to make the honourable choice to put his duty as guardian to Mulan’s happiness over his heart to be with her. He could be tempted to meddle with the couple once or twice, but it only causes some small trouble that by itself shouldn’t start a spark; but the couple escalates it on their own. And later, when Mushu confesses, Mulan recognises it’s their own fault.

We could also make a bigger deal of Mushu being the one to wed them, because he’s effectively done his duty but lost his friend. If you want a gut punch, Mushu is consequently invisible to Mulan forever. Mulan shows her gratitude for the best guardian ever.

2. Emperor’s Army

The Emperor doesn’t want to send his daughters, so why not just let his army fight instead? He was so wise in the first one… and looks like the fool now. “trust me, bro”. Apparently Mongols are not from this era irl, so let’s simply say the last remnants of the Huns are overrunning towns. Our kingdom’s males-of-age have been too diminished from Shan Yu’s campaign from the last movie, and the Emperor didn’t want the couple worrying after their great victory. But now he’s desperate, desperate enough to send his own daughters.

3. Mulan’s theme

Mulan also suddenly goes off about arranged marriages when Mulan was literally preparing to be match-made in the first 5 minutes of Mulan I. Even had a song about it. It’s also literally the culture. But she needs to oppose this tradition, because we need to explain it to the audience, and she has to mentor the princesses. The first song shows Mulan understands that you must balance both heart and duty — then why’s she so imbalanced towards heart?

Mulan doesn’t need to be so polar opposite to duty. The princesses can craft and imply their own ideas. Shang may be the argument for extreme duty,but since we already have so many arguments for extreme heart; let Mulan represent perfect balance but only seem to side with heart when arguing and contrasting against Shang’s extreme duty.

4. Deadline

We don’t feel the pressure of the Mongols and the deadline. They literally get mentioned once vaguely at the start, and never hear of them again. We don’t have that decimated village sucker-punch from Mulan I. We don’t see the consequences if they fail their mission, if they choose heart over duty. “Duty” doesn’t get to make a single case for itself, so it gets brutally walloped by Heart/Emotions. Past the Midpoint when Princess Ting-Ting swaps sides, Shang is singled out and antagonised for sticking to honouring one’s duty, when that going-above-one’s-duty is a virtue that is praised in Mulan I.

The antagonists should appear earlier. Instead, we could have Hun spies catch wind of the marriage alliance. They send assassins to attack the gang at pinch points just when things get too lovey-dovey: the guards are punished for following their heart.

This would also make up for the boring lack of action set-pieces. It’s so… political and interpersonal. Not that that’s bad, but how can you have a plot about delivering a royal escort, with only one coincidental attack by random bandits throughout the entire runtime?! We also don’t get to see Mulan’s iconic tactical ingenuity and thinking outside-of-the-box.

Let the Emperor send an entourage. Let the Huns attack, and they cause the carriage runaway sequence. The gang might, I don’t know, fly across a gorge, isolating them from the entourage for the rest of the journey. Next, Mulan and Shang could be arguing while doing some sparring practice, and someone gets accidentally hurt, physically and emotionally.

The surprise attack would be by a pack of elite soldiers, who know the legend Fa Mulan who downed Shan Yu and their entire army. We get moments of genius from Mulan, to the amazement of the princesses. Shang and Mulan awkwardly avoid each other because they just argued.

5. Clunky Dialogue

Clunky dialogue. It’s hit-or-miss. For every “It’s not about his heart, it’s about mine,” there’s twenty “I have another duty… to my heart!”

“In an ideal world, not everyone can marry for love! But the world isn’t perfect. I’m just glad my world is.” Wow Shang really just said “rip to them but we’re different” AGHH I don’t know, instead just have him say “Their case is different than ours; the entire kingdom depends on their marriages.”

While I liked that we got to see a couple resolving an everyday argument and saying sorry, I didn’t like how they’re suddenly both sexist?? “What is it with men and asking directions?” “What is it with women and maps?” At least make it sexist according to Chinese culture lol. And, if they apologise for that, that means they should affirm these toxic stereotypes.

SHANG
My father raised me as a soldier since I was a boy. You should trust my expert experience.

MULAN
The map is too ruined. You should consider your fiance’s advice.

Shang can even say something terrible, but cultural, like, “Did they even teach you anything in those rural schools?”, but later regrets and acknowledges that’s out of line.

6. Anticlimactic climax

The climax flopped. Mushu saves the day in a deus ex machina, the cardinal sin. Why did the princesses/guards even need to be there for, besides showing face? Mulan just kinda stood there. Shang throws a Japanese shuriken. Here’s a quick rewrite: (hah)

Quick cuts of Shang, the princesses/guards and Hun assassins sneaking into the palace, knocking out the local guards, so there’s no one else to the rescue. When Shang crashes the wedding, the Huns spring into action, scattering everyone. Mulan and her handmaidens are backed up into a corner, hopelessly outnumbered, when they reveal to be the soldier trio in makeup disguise! Shang and the princesses disguised as soldiers protect the princes, who show their true colours as spoiled brats in front of the princesses.

More fighting; Mushu wants to light a signal fire for help. He only puffs a small flame, then the soldier trio fan it so hard that it almost dies. The princesses step in and fan it gently, growing into a huge fire. Support arrives, rounding up the rest of the Huns. Emperor Qin honours the alliance without needing marriage.

7. The Clown Prince

Why is the foreign crown prince portrayed so dumb; I thought we decided with the soldier trio that we shouldn’t shame weird people. lol. Then the dad/Emperor just forgets about the whole alliance thing and plays with the chinese finger trap. bruh??? No thoughts, head empty.

8. Resolution

There was no plot resolution. What happened to the alliance/the invasion? Since the Huns would’ve wiped all China, Mulan saved the Northern Kingdom too, but they did not reciprocate dutifully. Mulan could give some speech about dishonour, and the other Emperor would be ashamed, and agree to the alliance without the marriages.

What are the consequences of the princesses getting with lowly guards? The guards could be sentenced to execution for treason (just like how in the first movie, Shang sentenced Mulan to death when he found out she was a woman), but the princesses step in gracefully, explaining their honour. They then offer to give up their royalty ties, and live as nobodies, but with their loves. yay

What I liked

1. Princesses as main characters

Giving the princesses some spotlight instead of Mulan. I like that it doesn’t try to force Mulan into a positive arc. Mulan works as a flat arc character, and it’s great to see her as a mentor to the princesses. We also see the flip side of the glamour of Disney princesses, and it ties well into Mulan’s themes: their responsibility to the kingdom. It’s not all glitter and princes: especially in Imperial China. It sets up a good conflict.

2. Songs

The two (2) songs bop.

Lesson Number One is Mulan teaching little girls that you can/should/must be strong AND gentle. It’s to the tune/style of honour to Us All with the training montage feel of Be A Man. All three songs have lyrics about who “You must be…”, and they all finally come to a climax in Lesson Number One. Would’ve been extra nice in the bridge, to see the girls trying to exaggerate being rough to imitate masculinity, but Mulan corrects them. There’s a strength in gentle femininity apart from physical strength in masculinity.

Like Other Girls isn’t a song about them just wanting to run away with the guards; they want to escape the walls of their palace, a la Jasmine in Aladdin. It’s super clear from the “It’s not about his heart, it’s about mine,” dialogue that this song goes deeper than just another romance song. They want a freedom that exists outside the romances with the soldier guards Trio, even though it’s more vivid within the context of that romance. Just as the guards actually really want a freedom from the cultural male expectations of a tough “alpha male” — while their vulnerable romances with the princesses tangibly express it.

3. The third act twist

The third act twist: Mulan takes the princess’ place in arranged marriage. It is a stark reflection of how Mulan took her father’s place in the conscription, but in reverse, not going to war as a man, but to marriage as a woman. Again, Mulan makes the heroic, honourable choice of sacrificing her life, but in a subversive way.

“This is Fa Mulan, the hero who saved China! She is worth more than three princesses!” No matter how much Mulan excelled at being the stereotypical heroic male war hero, she was still treated just as a trophy wife.

Seems like just three points, but they are three very strong points.


LOL so I watched a video where they talked about the cultural aspect of this movie. In the climax, Shang interrupts the wedding seal by throwing a shuriken. A Japanese shuriken. From a Chinese setting. hahahahahahahahha