Starring: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Gong Li
Director: Niki Caro
Running Time: 117 mins
Mulan is an American film about the story of a young woman who disguises herself as a boy to go and fight in the Emperor’s army to defend Imperial China from the threat of enemy invasion.
This film marks a very important point in Disney’s run of live-action remakes. On the plus side, Mulan manages to avoid falling into the trap of The Lion King in merely copying its animated predecessor, but on the downside, it completely loses the enjoyable, family appeal that made the story of Mulan so great.
I’ll start off by saying that I absolutely adore the original Mulan. It’s my favourite Disney movie by a long way, I’ve seen it hundreds of times and it never, ever tires. Does that mean I’m going to be a little attached to the vision of the original when watching this remake? Absolutely, but my love for the original shows that this story can make for an incredible watch.
The big difference between the live-action Mulan and the original is that there’s a whole lot less fun-loving, Disney appeal in this remake. I know that the animated film has a very middling reputation in China on account of its comic tendencies, and it’s clear that Disney have made a very, very clear shift towards satisfying Chinese audiences over Americans in this case.
Who Disney pander to is entirely up to them, but in the context of looking towards China, Mulan feels almost entirely unnecessary. In exchange for the fun-loving comedy, hit songs and goofy side characters we get dramatic martial arts action, lavish production values and some rather intense moments of war drama, all of which play really well at the Chinese box office.
The problem, however, is that there are so many better Chinese films doing the exact same thing, without the awkward use of English language dialogue that makes this film at times feel like a fairly superficial portrayal of China.
Instead of watching Mulan, I could enjoy the thrilling wuxia battles of House Of Flying Daggers, the gorgeous visuals of Hero, or the gripping war drama of The Eight Hundred. Mulan tries to unite all of these under one roof, but does so in a hugely mediocre way, proving an immensely disappointing watch in its attempts to distance itself from its predecessor.
The film does deserve credit for trying something different, and there are moments when its more intense, warlike style works well – particularly in the case of one gripping fight scene at the beginning of the third act.
However, completely ripping out the joyful, family-friendly soul of the original Mulan in exchange for this? That doesn’t seem like the right decision to me, because it alienates both audiences, those looking for a fun family adventure, and those looking for a great war movie.
We all know that Disney’s infinite money pot and immense creative talent means that they can deliver some of the most lavish and visually gorgeous productions in the world, and Mulan is no exception, with beautiful costume and set design, as well as colourful visuals that take away from the often drab nature of its story.
And that’s where I found the film so disappointing. It may look wonderful on the surface, but there’s no soul or life to this new version of Mulan. It’s not a particularly fun movie, it drags for the majority of the first two acts and finishes on a really bland note, and it’s far from the great family adventure that the original movie was.
I realise that purely silly comedy and Broadway-style songs aren’t the perfect encapsulation of Chinese culture, but I felt a lot more passion and energy for the story of Mulan when watching the original movie, because it was able to blend fun with genuine drama and a window into another culture.
This film, however, oversteps the mark in trying to mimic Chinese films, proving a middling entry into the plethora of modern Chinese blockbusters, and an even more disappointing edition of Disney’s copybook. Mulan deserves praise for trying something different, but it strays way too far from the core of Disney entertainment, proving a visually gorgeous but ultimately drab and lifeless affair. So, that’s why I’m giving Mulan a 6.7 overall.