I’ll start off by saying that Mulan is my favourite princess from the Disney princess franchise. She embodies everything I wanted to be when I grew up, and was in a sense a role model for me. Mulan the princess and Mulan the animated movie taught me about honour, about willpower, about friendship. Suffice is to say that I had high hopes for the live action remake and had been counting down the days till its release; that is until fate threw a wrench in my plans and I found out the movies wouldn’t have Mushu or Shang.
Many would say that the whole concept of Mulan being a strong, independent woman goes against having Shang as her love interest, but I would disagree, and I’ll explain why: Lee Shang was pivotal in making the audience realise that Mulan didn’t need a man to defeat Shan Yu and save the Emperor. He was a great leader, but the moment he found out that Mulan was a woman he discharged her from the army, only sparing her life because she had saved his.
He gave into society’s ideas of what a woman should be. Previously Mulan’s parents had tried to stop her from behaving as she did but that was out of love for their daughter. This time, Mulan saw the ugly side of society head on, from someone she deeply respected. It was at this point that Mushu supported her and encouraged her not to give up, and Mulan went on to warn Shang at the parade. When he didn’t listen she ventured on alone, and was joined by her friends who dressed in drag to act as a diversion.
Eventually Shang listened to her and followed her instructions to save the king. They used sashes to climb up the pillars. In the final battle Mulan used her fan to grab Shan Yu’s sword and her wits (with help from Mushu) to cause an explosion that would defeat him.
I’ve drawn upon these examples to show how Shang’s reaction to Mulan being a woman was what encouraged her to use “feminine” methods and play to her strengths to save the Emporor and all of China. Her honour didn’t lie in who she could marry, her honour lay in whomever she wanted to be, and if Shang weren’t there to act as the personification of society’s ideas of a woman, Mulan would have just been celebrated as a male hero, rather than the brave and smart woman that she was, who showed us that feminine qualities are not inferior to masculine ones.