2020 brought us ‘Mulan,’ a live-action remake of the beloved 1998 animated Disney feature. It is directed by Niki Caro and briefly released into theaters by Walt Disney Pictures before sliding onto Disney Plus.
Mulan (Yifei Liu) is a woman with incredible “chi” powers, making her a highly skilled warrior. Her father Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) and mother Hua Li (Rosalind Chao) insist she keeps this a secret as women who have this skill are considered witches. Rogue warrior Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and his witch companion Xianniang (Gong Li) led an invasion of rebels to overthrow the Emperor (Jet Li), who institutes conscription notices, one man from every family. Mulan steals her father’s armor to protect him, joining the unit commanded by Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) and Sergeant Qiang (Ron Yuan). There she befriends Chen Honghui (Yoson An) and other recruits as they prepare for the upcoming battle with Khan’s forces.
Right off the bat, I would like to say that I liked two things about this movie. The first is the score by Harry Gregson-Williams. Since Disney decided not to make it a musical, it would rely a bit more on the background music and I think this was done well. The second is the fight choreography. It definitely had some pretty cool fight scenes that tried to copy sort of the mystical Kung Fu fighting we have seen from Hong Kong flicks and I thought this was neat.
As for being a reboot, it is everything people hate about these Disney live-action remakes. I have been less harsh than most on the reboots as I actually enjoyed The Lady and The Tramp for what it was, but with bringing Mulan to life, it fails. They stuff similar scenes in between original sequences, making it feel like, “yeah Disney made me do it” and you could feel the insincerity. As an example, the big “I am a woman” scene and the scene where she is accepted feel watered down. For some reason, they felt like they had to remove the dragon and replace it with a phoenix. I was scratching my head with this. If you are removing Mushu because you want to make it less comedic, why throw in another fantasy creature? Also, the removal of Shang was completely unnecessary. Disney felt the backlash on this one and quite frankly, it was well-deserved. The story was missing something without him.
The movie’s greatest weakness is its main character. Do not get me wrong, this has nothing to do with acting skills. Most of the cast performed well. It has everything to do with the framing of Mulan. In the original, she is an ordinary woman who makes a sacrifice to save a loved one and earns the respect of her brothers in arms by utilizing the training she is given.
Because they decided to give her these superpowers, you almost ask why she would not go in her father’s stead. This was a massive disservice. Since she is so freaking good at everything, you sometimes wonder why she does not use her powers all of the time. Since we are not told the limitations, why not assume she could just defeat enemies single-handedly? This removed any stakes from the plot. It is the same as the witch antagonist. Why does she stick with Khan? She could clearly beat him and his men into submission with her powers, but instead, she just meanders along with them satisfied to be a slave. It made no sense. This made the climax incredibly forced, predictable, and overall boring.
Instead of the movie being about her developing natural skills and earning her colleague’s respect, it is about her hiding these supernatural skills out of fear of discovery. However, she is disguised so holding back made no sense. Why hold back if you are pretending to be a man? Her commander addresses this, but no subtext is given other than “oops.” There is no subtly and no true self-sacrifice.
Bottom line, the 2020 version of Mulan is a predictable movie that does not live up to a single moment of its original. It reeks of mediocrity and brings dishonor to the animated film it sought to copy.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence, Thematic elements
FAVORITE QUOTE: We’re going to make men out of every single one of you.
Check out the trailer below:
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