It’s that time of year again, yes that’s right another Disney remake! Which one this time? Why it’s the much adored and critically acclaimed Mulan that’s receiving the live-action treatment. And how does it turn out? About as well as you’d expect of every Disney live-action remake.
The film follows the same basic premises of the original Mulan. A young daughter tries to save her father from death by risking her own life and joining the army in his stead. Pretending to be a man Mulan (Liu Yifei) joins the ranks of the Chinese army against an invading force of barbarians. In doing so she becomes a legend. This iteration makes many, many departures from the original and none of them are welcome.
First off Mushu, the comedy relief from the original is completely absent replaced by a phoenix who acts more like a mystical GPS then anything resembling a character.
Next, we have the introduction of a secondary antagonist, the witch Xian Lang (Gong Li) whose sorcery is helping new baddie Bori Khan(Jason Scott Lee) destroy China to enact revenge for his dead father.
The biggest and most depressing departure from the original film is the lack of songs. You don’t notice how important they are until they are gone. They helped convey so much information and emotion to the audience. And in their place is nothing but exposition and recycled material from the original.
Mulan has no sense of personality or charisma to it (much like its titular character but more on that later). The action is hollow and uninspired. The film feels like a defanged Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The lack of anything resembling a compelling and emotive score as well means that the film relies heavily on the characters and acting and the film also fails there.
The characters in this film are pale shadows of what came before. Liu Yifei tries her best to fill the role Ming Na Wen made famous in 1998 but sadly she stumbles at every attempt. Partially this is due to unimpressive acting but mainly the issue is how Mulan is written in this iteration.
As opposed to the original film where Mulan has to work harder than all the men to become an even greater warrior than any of them this version of her is automatically perfect. Why? Well, she has tremendous levels of chi. That’s right she has magical powers that give her an edge in battle. It’s as annoyingly convoluted as you’re thiking.
Then there is Bori Khan. He replaces Shaun Yu from the original film and he is terrible. Jason Scott Lee plays him as an immature thug. In the original film Shaun Yu was a terrifying presence who commanded a legion of warriors and cinematically it was spectacular.
Bori Khan has an army of maybe 50 soldiers with an “elite” guard of twelve ring wraith wannabes that were given to him by the witch Xian Lang. On the subject of Xian Lang, Gong Li tries to deliver some level of menace as she flitters around each scene with her mystical powers but all she offers is a massive plot hole.
She wants to be accepted as a productive member of society, not as the abomination she has been treated as her whole life. This not so subtle message puts her at odds with Mulan because obviously Mulan is dealing with the same issues but deals with them in a more positive fashion.
My main issue with Xian Lang was that she had incredible powers yet did nothing meaningful with them. She clearly proves she can kill dozens of highly trained soldiers, can infiltrate any situation with ease and yet she never takes full advantage of it. Hell, the film would have ended in the first act if she simply impersonated the Emperor.
Between all these serious issues and a far too dower tone, Mulan feels more like a cheap cash grab for the Chinese box office in the vein of films like The Great Wall rather than a new take on a Disney classic. If you want something to watch and are looking for a film that is genuinely emotional and engaging and is on Disney+, just watch the original Mulan.
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