REVIEW: Mulan (2020)

Liu Yifei as the title character in ‘Mulan (2020),’ available on Disney+. — Photo: Disney / Disney+.

Directed by Niki Caro — Screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin.

Niki Caro’s Mulan is an adaptation of the late 1990s Disney animated film of the same name, which itself was based on the story of the folk heroine Hua Mulan. Caro’s film tells the story of a Chinese woman, Mulan (played by Liu Yifei), who disguised herself as a man and enlisted herself in the Imperial Army to protect her frail and injured father, Zhou (played by Tzi Ma), even though she knew it would bring dishonor to her family. In the film, while fighting alongside other brave soldiers, she must do all that she can to save China from an invading army that is fighting alongside a witch (played by Gong Li).

I remember watching the 1998 animated modern classic with my sister over and over again back in the day. But I hadn’t actually rewatched it in a number of years, so, the other day, I finally sat down and rewatched it. It was even better than I had remembered it to be, and it did make me think about my own very good relationship with the film. This also meant that I was suddenly worried about the 2020 remake, which I had intentionally held off on watching until I had found the time to also rewatch the animated film. Unfortunately, now that I have seen Niki Caro’s film, I can say that it might be my least favorite live-action Disney remake.

This film made me confused in its very first scenes, which indicated that Mulan’s relationship with her father was different, but also that Mulan, as a character, had changed fundamentally when compared to her animated counterpart. Although she was still getting into more trouble than her family would like, she now also exhibited super-human agility, and other similar abilities, when she had to catch a chicken in her hometown. As the film progressed, it became clear that the filmmakers had made a deliberate choice to make Mulan into a superhero, or even a Jedi. Mulan even has a Peter Parker-like catch-everything-with-ease moment in the first thirty minutes of the film.

I think it was really unwise that they decided to turn Mulan’s ‘chi’ into, basically, ‘the force.’ I think it is a huge mistake that Mulan has basically been turned into a ‘chosen one’ in this film, instead of letting her remain the everywoman who may be clumsy but who still gave it her all, challenged norms, and outsmarted those who may have doubted her. But it isn’t just her character and personality that has been changed for the worse. The soldiers that she befriends also do not live up to their animated counterparts.

While I appreciate that the filmmakers probably tried to imitate a visual style that is foreign to western audiences, I didn’t really enjoy the film’s action sequences at all. There are times when the action looks really silly, and, in the film’s first action scenes, the firing of an arrow towards the film’s villains looks really unimpressive. I also want to mention the baffling editing choices that made it seem like Mulan can literally bring people back to life and teleport herself.

If Disney really wanted to make an inspired and different version of the 1998 film, then perhaps they should’ve gone all the way and hired someone who knows the culture that they were trying to emulate and the type of action that they were going for with the film. Especially since they had already decided to change the film so much from the very popular 1998 animated modern classic (don’t get me started on the ill-judged decision not to include the popular songs in the 2020 remake). Ultimately, I think Niki Caro’s Mulan remake, or reimagining, feels half-hearted and ill-conceived. I think it is arguably Disney’s most disappointing live-action remake yet, precisely because I don’t think any of the changes made to the original film work as well as intended.

4.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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