TL;DR – A film that is desperately trying to differentiate itself from the past while still hitting all the same story points.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Mulan Review –
When I was growing up, I was at the perfect age for the original animated Mulan. It was this joyous riot of humour with music that I can still repeat verbatim today. However, it is also one of those films that as you grow up and the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia start to fade you begin to see it is not a film without its issues. With that in mind, this was one of the only Disney remakes that I was interested to see remade in live-action, but I am not sure it got to where it wanted to go.
So to set the scene, along the Northern Silk Road, a witch Xianniang (Gong Li) is helping a Rouran warlord Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) attack garrisons of the Imperial Chinese Empire. To respond to this threat, the Emperor (Jet Li) signs an edict that one man from each household must be conscripted into the army to fight the menace. This is a dilemma for one family because the only man is Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) who badly injured his leg in the last war and has only daughters. Being called up to the army would be a death sentence for him, something his wife Hua Li (Rosalind Chao) sees. Seeing the inevitable outcome, Zhou’s daughter Mulan (Yifei Liu) takes his place even though it would mean her death if she is found out.
I ended up having several issues with this film, but before I delve into them, I want to take a moment to talk about the things that did work. The first is the cast which I think did an outstanding job in what can’t have been comfortable filming conditions. Yifei Liu was compelling as Mulan, which is necessary for the story to work on any level. Donnie Yen nailed the role as the camp commander, he had the authority to pull that role off, and you know that there were not any stunt doubles needed for his fighting demonstration scenes. The supporting cast were all there, with everyone getting a small moment to shine.
You notice right from the start that the action style they have gone with is the floaty wire fight style popularized in the west at least by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. You first see it when many Rouran soldiers jump off their horses and run up the side of a wall. As if they were going for a morning job. The issue is that the film wants to feel grounded, so these moments, instead of feeling epic instead feels discordant. This then gets repeated throughout the movie in a number of frustrating ways.
Overall, the story felt like it was both desperately trying to differentiate itself from the animated film but also had to hit all those critical points from the first film. This led it to be a disjointed mess at times as it never found its own voice. So the forced aspects of the story like the addition of the Witch feel like missed opportunities. Issues with the story have been one of my big complaints of many Disney live-action films like The Lion King and Aladdin, and it is frustrating that it is also the case here.
In the end, do we recommend Mulan? Look yes in the fact that it is just on Disney+, so it will not cost you anything more than the subscription. But if I was recommending it to you as a purchase, I am not sure I would. If you liked Mulan, I would also recommend Tigertail to you.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Mulan
Directed by – Niki Caro
Screenplay by – Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek & Elizabeth Martin
Based on – Ballad of Mulan & Disney’s Mulan by Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook
Music by – Harry Gregson-Williams
Cinematography by – Mandy Walker
Edited by – David Coulson
Production/Distribution Companies – Disney
Starring – Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Xana Tang, Ron Yuan, Jun Yu, Jimmy Wong, Chen Tang, Doua Moua, Nelson Lee, Cheng Pei-pei, Arka Das, Crystal Rao, Elena Askin & Ming-Na Wen
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: 12a; United States: PG-13