Mulan in Mandarin - A Review

I got my copy of Mulan in Mandarin Chinese back in January from, but it took me this long to actually get my hands on a VCR and watch it. Finally! Here are my impressions.

First off, the packaging. The cover design is the same as for the American version, except the title is "Hua Mu-Lan" written in Chinese. The inside of the box contains some advertisements for A Bug's Life and Lady and the Tramp, also in Chinese. The videocassette itself is pretty look at--it's a regular VHS cassette, but instead of black it's purple. Neat!

Before I get to the movie itself, I have to confess: my Mandarin isn't all that great. When I was little I spoke Taiwanese but after about age three I started speaking English and my Taiwanese, sadly, disappeared. Later on I learned some Mandarin and my guess is that I can read and write about kindergarten level in Chinese. I can understand some everyday conversation, maybe not word for word but at least the general idea of things. Just so you know where this reviewer is coming from...

The first things shown on the tape are some advertisements for Tarzan and A Bug's Life, which are in English but have Chinese subtitles. Now the good stuff: Mulan. It's been a while since I got to watch this movie, but the opening sequence still takes my breath away. Then my first surprise: the movie is both dubbed AND subtitled in Chinese. (This makes sense since there are a number of dialects but only one written language.) Of course, the subtitles sometimes cover up the artwork at the bottom of the screen, but since I can read a little I was able to recognize some Chinese characters and figure out what was being said (and compare it to the original English dialogue).

Since the film was originally animated to English dialogue and lyrics, there are a few spots where the lip-synching is a bit off, but in my opinion this is a very minor problem and won't bother most people (certainly not most children). In fact overall the lip-synching was quite good. The Chinese voice actors generally match their English-speaking counterparts: Yao is still gravely-voiced, Ling still has a high-pitched voice, Chi Fu still has an annoying voice. The Chinese Mushu's voice is the most different from the original. It's a very funny voice, but different than Eddie Murphy's jive talk. (For people who found Murphy's dialogue to be distractingly different from the rest of the cast, this might be an improvement.) Pop singer Li Wen (a.k.a. CoCo Lee) speaks and sings for Mulan and action film star Jackie Chan is the voice for Shang (yes, he sings too!). Everyone does a fine job voicing the characters.

How well did the film translate? Again, I'm handicapped by my limited vocabulary in Mandarin, but even I could tell many lines were translated perfectly while other lines were adapted and adjusted somewhat. Most of these changes, when they occurred, were pretty minor and done mainly to help the dialogue and lip-synching run more smoothly. Little Brother (the dog) is now called "Xiao Bai" ("Little White") and Cri-Kee is referred to as "Xi shuai" ("cricket"). I had trouble translating "Honor to Us All" and "Reflection," but "I'll Make a Man Out of You" and "A Girl Worth Fighting For" both seemed pretty faithful to the original lyrics. I think Mushu's jokes undergo the most changes (although a huge percentage of his lines are translated perfectly--calling Khan a cow, telling Mulan to kick some butt, saying men don't rinse out their socks, etc.). The whole "Did I hear someone ask for a miracle!?" scene isn't quite the same without Eddie Murphy's voice. On the other hand, a very funny joke was made in Mandarin that wouldn't be obvious in English. This is when Mulan introduces herself as "Hua Ping" to Shang. (The "Ah-Chu" joke is there as well.) "Ping" means "peace," but the pronunciation is also used to mean "vase." "Hua Ping" thus means "flower vase," a term that is also used to describe a girl who is only there as a decoration and has no substance--quite the opposite of Mulan's character.

As the movie comes to a close "True to Your Heart" starts up, and it's still in English! But the pop version of "Reflection" is sung in Chinese by Li Wen over the credits. The Chinese voice cast is credited (in Chinese) and the original voice cast is not listed at all; otherwise the credits are identical to the original film's.

Overall this was an excellent Chinese dub and I was very impressed with how well the translations turned out (at least the parts I understood). And with the subtitles I can also eventually teach myself to read too. It was very cool to hear Mulan and her friends speak in their native language. (In that respect it was better than the English version!) Anyway, I highly recommend it.


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