Another Disney live-action remake has arrived, this time, the 1998 hit Mulan is re-imagined. She arrives with no show tunes, but with all the live-action Disney glamour audiences have become familiar with. It’s an entertaining film that will offer escapism to a large majority of spectators, however for some, Mulan may prove to be a little too simplistic.
As Disney continues to ramp up its productions from its repertoire of classic animated films, fans naturally look towards the most well-known properties. Those are certainly the ones to come first and have proven to be vastly amazing. Take last year’s endlessly wondrous Aladdin or 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. Among those films remade, Mulan is an interesting step. They haven’t gone backward, but not really forward either.
Upon the invasion of countless villages, the Emperor of China issues a decree forcing every family to contribute one man to fight in the battle against the Northern invaders. The film follows Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu), the eldest daughter of Hua Zhau (Tzi Ma). Mulan defiantly steps in and takes her fathers place as the man sent to war. She must hide her truth, the fact that she is not a man, but a female warrior. Mulan is tested every step along her training and likewise with the battles that ensue.
At the core of the film, Mulan is all about virtue and honor. What does it mean to be honorable and to serve for your country, but more importantly your family? Naturally, these ideals are a little outdated, however the viewer is dealing with a period-set film, so these notions are valid here. 2020’s Mulan doesn’t have much else to add, its simplistic tale is effective, but lacks authenticity. Upon inspection, it’s not surprising to find out that the primary filmmakers behind the film are all white: the director, writers, editor, costume designer, cinematographer, production designer, and composer. Not a single Chinese person seemingly touched any of these major elements and it can be felt. The realness and truth of Chinese life isn’t there. If one wants a fantastic portrayal of Chinese culture, look to Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. Considering the virtues and culture of China are such pivotal parts of the tale, it feels irresponsible and wrong to exclude such a collaboration.
While saying that, 2020’s Mulan does successfully update itself into a rather different and more mature film than the original. That’s not to imply that less maturity is bad. It achieves a fare amount in regards to the uplifting of Mulan’s womanhood, one can feel a certain sense of sovereignty over the male antagonists, Northern invaders, or even just any doubters. That side of the film is to be applauded, as is Yifei Liu, who clearly is the reason why Mulan works. Liu’s performance is the driving force behind every moment. She adds heart and passion to the grandest of beats, such as Mulan’s big reveal, which is quite riveting.
The martial arts aspect to the film is impressive when it comes to star Donnie Yen. But beyond that, it’s over-edited and sometimes a little sloppy. The over-editing is to presumably hide flaws within its choreography. Sometimes it acts as a distraction to one’s experience. Yet, the fights do capture the essence of battle and Liu’s Hua Mulan does have some truly great moments to shine.
Strangely, the film looks all too pristine. It’s almost as if the visuals were a dollhouse, metaphorically of course. Every scene is lit and filled with the most vibrant of colors. While it certainly is an achievement, it remains rather distracting throughout. It’s rather glossy and overly-polished, it’s overdone to the point at which there is little awe. Additionally, some cinematographic choices like the use of slow motion and long lens shots are likewise overdone. This along with the combination of its oddly silky CGI forms an interesting look that is perhaps nice to look at, but offers little in terms of wonderment.
Mulan is a simple tale that is effective in what it tries to achieve, but never attempts to bring much else beyond the basics. It’ll serve as a pleasurable experience for audiences seeking entertainment over nuance.