Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence
Yifei Liu as Mulan
Donnie Yen as Commander Tung
Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan
Yoson An as Chen Honghui
Gong Li as Xianniang
Jet Li as The Emperor of China
Tzi Ma as Hua Zhou
Director: Niki Caro
To save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army, a fearless young woman (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China.
I was very sceptical about the live action remake Mulan to say the least. I only saw the original Mulan for the first time within the last two years, so it’s not like I had a long running love for it, even though I did like it. However, these live action Disney remakes have mostly just been fine but generic. When I saw the new Mulan I liked it even if I didn’t think it was anything better than okay. But it does get worse the more I think about it.
One of my biggest complaints of Disney’s live action remakes is that they play things really safe, pretty much just replicating the animated movies in an uninspired way. Mulan did slightly interest me from the trailers as it actually looked like it had a vision beyond just copying the animated movie, it actually looked distinct. Overall, it’s roughly the same movie but there are some small yet significant changes. At first I thought about complementing the movie for at least trying to be something different. With that said, the movie itself didn’t turn out so well, and some of those differences are partly responsible for that. Despite some complaints from others about the filmmakers taking away the music, I don’t really have an issue with that. Most of my issues boil down to three main issues. The first issue I have is with regards some of the changes made. For every aspect they remove from the original animated movie, they don’t necessarily substitute it with something, and so it feels empty a lot of the time. Sometimes some things are also carried over from the animated movie and altered, and end up being rather pointless. An example is that the comedic relief from the original being a dragon played by Eddie Murphy isn’t in this movie. What bothers me isn’t that the character isn’t here in the live action movie, what annoys me is that he is seemingly substituted with a phoenix that only appears a few times of the movie, rather pointless really. I don’t mind the movie taking a serious perspective to make itself stand out from the original. However none of the moments made an impact, it just felt like it was going through the motions. As a result, it feels very bland from beginning to end.
My second main issue is with regard to the character of Mulan and the overall message. In this new version of Mulan, the lead character is powerful because she has high amounts of chi (which I’ll get back to in a bit). She is pretty much a superhero, which takes away all tension from the action scenes, not to mention takes away relatability from her as a character. Speaking of relatability, it seems like the movie is actively avoiding emotion as well. An important scene where Mulan makes the decision to replace her dad in the coming war was quite powerful in the original. In the remake, the filmmakers just can’t wait to get into that armour and out of there, with not a shred of emotion given. The messaging is also different. Mulan 2020 unlike its predecessor doesn’t work as an empowerment story, aside from the aforementioned lack of relatability of Mulan, it just doesn’t jell with the fact that essentially the story is (and uncomfortably so) rooted in imperial nationalism and devotion to monarchy. Now that’s certainly different from the animated movie, but it’s significantly worse. Then there’s my third issue, although the film looks like it’s being accurate to Chinese culture, from actually hearing from some experts talk about it, it doesn’t quite get it right. It is clear that for all their best attempts, the movie was clearly made by a white crew because it lacks authenticity. I previously mentioned about Mulan apparently being so powered because of her chi, in that she has a lot of it. However, it’s worth knowing that chi is actually energy, not midichlorians or some other power level. So understand that when characters mention that Mulan has a high level of chi, it’s like they are saying that she has a high level of blood or something. Hearing some different perspectives on some of the representation of the culture, in my mind the movie just gets much worse. The rest of the script is pretty bland and by the numbers, doesn’t do enough to keep you invested, characters are forgettable, and you don’t really feel anything throughout.
The acting is a bit mixed. Some actors like Donnie Yen and Jet Li work well and give reasonably commendable performances. Much of the rest of the cast however are just serviceable and nothing special. Even the lead actress who plays Mulan, Yifei Liu, is okay at best. To be fair most of the issue with her is the writing of the character as previously mentioned, she’s two dimensional and rather bland. The villains are completely forgettable and I don’t really have anything to say about them.
The direction from Niko Caro is a bit of a mixed bag. The visuals are good (if sometimes in a bland way), and the colours can sometimes be nice. The action scenes is also very flawed, and it’s mainly to do with the very messy editing, there are a lot of cuts during the action. The CGI can be hit or miss, it ranges from being decent to really bad.
I can’t tell if you’d like the 2020 version of Mulan. If you’re curious about the movie at the very least, then I’d say it’s worth checking out for yourself. If you love the original Mulan, you might take issues with some of the changes. I liked the movie alright when I saw it, but right now, I think it’s rather average at best.