6
Oct 10

The Curse Of The Cross-Dressing Heroine

Do You See2 comments • 607 views

It may be a hackneyed old plot which is rarely dragged out today (bar tomboyish starring teen movies*), but cross dressing women trying to pass as men has been around for a while. And the difficulty with this age old plot is that when it was all the rage, the only thing to dress up as, as a woman, would be some sort of soldier. Hence Mulan. Spot question, one of these people is not, as you might think in first view, a man. Look closely, see if you can guess which one is actually, and I know its hard to believe, a woman dressed up as a bloke. Answer below the cut.


This 2009 version of Mulan (Hua Mulan, or if you will the thoroughly inaccurately titled Mulan: Warrior Princess**) stars the robust but delicate looking Wei Zhao as the peasant girl who becomes the highest general in the Wei empire. It is, as is the way of long distant fables, thoroughly implausible, but made even more so by Wei Zhao not being able to pass in any way as a man. The first half an hour where she dresses up and giggles like a girl and keeps almost getting caught naked is pretty painful to behold. But the film has a particular story it wants to tell, and that’s a story which compresses her going from green recruit to five star general in about five minutes, without even a proper montage sequence. And Wei Zhao has done enough martial arts (well Shaolin Soccer) in her time to be convincing in battle, even if she has no heft. But this Chinese version wants to be patriotic, political and at its heart a romance. Because in the end, it is about a woman. It would be hard to think of a film more in message than Mulan politically: the state comes first, equality is there to be fought for, honouring parents is at the key of everything. And rattling around in armour five sizes too large for you will convince everyone you are a man.

I have never seen the Disney version of Mulan, and what little I know involves an Eddie Murphy voiced dragon which does not turn up here. I assume it also uses the tale for its own ends of girlish empowerment, and ushering Disneyland Shanghai. I assume it doesn’t feature a sequence where she cuts someone’s head off in cold blood. But that really is the extent of graphic violence in a film where Mulan is responsible for the deaths of thousands. In effect the parts of the Ballad Of Mulan which have to remain (the cross-dressing to protect her father) necessitate the other big problem with cross-dressing films. Everyone in them must be blind or stupid. Or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was really sophisticated back then.

*I’m looking at you She’s The Man.

**Mulan is apparently the only Disney Princess who is not related to royalty in any way. HEIN!!! The point of Mulan is she is a peasant. How can she be a Disney Princess? Mind you I think Pocahontas is a Disney Princess too, and is being the daughter of a chief really royalty?

Comments

  1. 1
    Pete Baran on 6 Oct 2010 #

    See also the tremendously entertaining but thoroughly unconvincing manning up of Katherine Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett

  2. 2
    wichita lineman on 8 Oct 2010 #

    I love an excuse to mention Vesta Tilley who was an equally unconvincing soldier but cut a Wodehouse-ish dash with her monocle.

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