Cinematography Essay: Women and Men in “Mulan” The Movie

is a fictional film produced by Walt Disney and directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook in 1998. This film won several awards and got great ratings on any movie review platforms.

Mulan has settings in the fourth century and takes place during Han dynasty in China, where Fa Mulan, a girl who pretended to be a man so she could replace her father to go to war. She did such thing because in that era women could not join the army. In this film, Mulan was different than any other girls since she was shown as a tomboy, rebel, and not graceful girl.

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However, in Mulan’s community, women are expected to behave like to have feminine traits such as focusing on finding a husband, take care of the children, and not to be allowed to talk to men. These traits are found in many scenes of this film.

The first scene is when Mulan, her mother, and the beauty assistants were in a dressing room. Mulan was being prepared by her mother and the beauty assistants to go to Matchmaker house which was a place to find a husband. In this scene, her mother, and beauty assistants were also singing a song that contains much advice for a girl that was shown in the lyrics. 

One of them is “You’ll bring honour to us all” [06:56] which means that the only way for a daughter to honour her family or even her country is by getting married. The camera uses medium long that displays Mulan was kneeling surrounded by her mother and the beauty assistants that were standing. It shows Mulan position is powerless since she is young and unmarried.

The second scene takes place in the matchmaker house where Mulan’s body was measured by the Matchmaker. When the Matchmaker made a note of Mulan’s waist measurement and got the number, she commented “Too skinny.” [09:25] “Not good for bearing sons.” [09:28]. These lines present that in Mulan society, women are expected to be a mother of sons so their sons can serve the army for the country.

The word son here spoken plural, sons, which means men position is higher than women. The camera presents medium long shot to show the difference between Mulan and the Matchmaker physical appearances where the Matchmaker has a fat body while Mulan is the skinny one.

Unlike the other scenes that just show female characters, the third scene involves male to complement the expectation of women in that era. The situation takes place on the road around the neighbourhood when the Chi-Fu, Emperor’s council, and advisor came to command Mulan’s father to join the army but Mulan resisted it since her father has aged.

Unfortunately, the Chi-Fu gave the harsh response to Mulan’s resistance by saying “You would do well to teach your daughter” [15:28] “to hold her tongue in a man’s presence.” [15:30] to Mulan’s father. This response means, in that society, women have no right to express their opinions.

The camera uses the medium shot on Chi-Fu to keep him distant from Mulan and her father that uses over the shoulder shot. These shots show how Chi-Fu is the dominant one since he is the Emperor’s right-hand man whereas Mulan and her father are just the citizens that have no power.

Furthermore, the expectations are not only for women, it is also for men. In Mulan’s community, men are expected to behave like to have masculinity as serving army for the country and being strong no matter what happens to fight the enemy. These masculinities are found in several scenes of this film. The first is when Fa family was called out by Chi-Fu to serve the army.

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The camera uses the long shot when Mulan’s father, Fa Zhou, directly went out to get the papers then the other family stepped aside. It shows that the other family gave him respect and creates the image that Fa Zhou was a warrior. Then he said, “I am ready to serve the Emperor.” [15:18]. It implies meaning that men should be loyal and protect the country although their conditions are impossible to join the army as seen in this scene, Fa Zhou was aged.

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The second part takes place in the training camp where Mulan as a man, Ping, ran up to the hill while holding the burden on her shoulder. The camera displays long shot to show Ping was surrounded by the hills which portray society expectation on men that even there are obstacles, they should face those obstacles with their best strengths.

The song then was sung by the men in the training camp, one of the lyrics is “We must be swift as a coursing river” [40:45] that means men in that society should be strong to be fast. Therefore, it can be concluded that in Mulan’s community, the stereotype of both gender still existed and it made men and women in that society should follow those traits to show their loyalties to serve the country.


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