The legend of warrior princess Mulan has captivated audiences for centuries.
While the newest Disney iterations of the story have incited various forms of outrage, one particularly raw and successful depiction of the tale — released in 1939 — has proven to have considerable staying power, influencing an age of wartime costume dramas.
Directed by Anhui-born Richard Poh (Bu Wancang), the film takes the classic story of Mulan (sans Mushu the dragon) and incorporates wartime themes, opera, comedy and tragedy.
12 Classic Chinese Films are Now Available for Free on YouTube with English Subtitles
You can now watch the classic film for free on YouTube as it has just been added to an ongoing series of Chinese classics in translation from the University of British Columbia’s Christopher Rea.
Rea accompanies it with some background of how Hua Mu Lan was received in China during the Japanese occupation. Released in 1939, two years after Japanese forces had entered the country, the film’s production company Hwa Cheng Studio was forced to submit to Japanese censors in order for it to be distributed in occupied cities such as Nanking.
Later the film was submitted to Chinese censors in the capital of Free China at the time, Chungking (Chongqing). While the film was approved by censors there, it caused an outcry when it was released in the southwest city, as residents of Chongqing felt that the studio had collaborated with Japanese forces. At one showing, audience members broke into the projection room of the cinema and burned the film in the street, but local authorities quelled the riot and allowed the film to continue screening.
The Forgotten (and Fiery) History of Mulan
The publication of Rea’s translated version of Hua Mu Lan comes a little over a month before the scheduled release of Disney’s live-action remake of the story in late July. That film, which stars Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen and Gong Li, was set to be released in the US in March, but was delayed because of the outbreak of Covid-19.
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