The new rendition of Mulan is just one more live action adaptation of a beloved Disney classic animation. And it came full of promises of more realism and respect to chinese culture. But did it really deliver?
The movie has some nice visuals and good performances, such as Donnie Yen as Commander Tung, Jet Li as the Emperor of China and Rosalind Chao and Tzi Ma as Mulan’s parents. The action sequences aren’t as exciting as you might expect and the battle scenes aren’t very epic, sometimes because the size of the armies doesn’t look right, sometimes because of the CGI.
But the movie’s biggest fault is perhaps its lack of feelings and emotions. It tries to cause an emotional reaction from the audience at key points, like the scene where Mulan (Yifei Liu) is being prepared to see the matchmaker and the soundtrack we hear is an instrumental version of Bring Honor to Us All. Or the little (bad, really bad) jokes meant to reference A Girl Worth Fighting For. And the scene of Mulan shedding off her armor to the sound of Reflection. It’s meant to be epic and beautiful, but it’s just soulless.
That might be a direct consequence of removing key scenes from the final cut that hinders the audience’s ability to actually care for the story, or the characters. Mulan’s decision to go to war in the place of her father happens so fast we never actually see her putting on her father’s armor, the scene just cuts to her riding away on her horse. We don’t get to feel the gravity of her choice or how hard it is to leave your family behind.
There’s no depth either when Mulan’s secret is uncovered because it’s just so damn fast. She gets exiled for impersonating a man and deceiving her commanding officers and fellow soldiers, but two minutes later she’s already back and leading the army to save the emperor.
Remember in the animation when Mulan was intelligent and resourceful and that’s what made her such a good warrior? In this movie, she’s almost like a superhero. Her abilities are well established from when she is a child. It is mentioned several times that her chi is very strong, which is what makes her such a good warrior. But chi is not meant for daughters, so she must hide it, otherwise she’ll never be considered a good match.
The closest analogy I can think of is that chi, the way it’s portrayed in the movie, is almost like the Force in Star Wars. Giving it a mystical, supernatural quality invalidates the whole training sequence and leaves no room for character development because Mulan already is a great warrior. The obstacle she must overcome in this movie is realizing she doesn’t need to hide who she is to be accepted. And while that isn’t wrong, it’s not what the character of Mulan represents, a normal girl who wants to save her father and, therefore, trains to become a great warrior.
Xiran Jay Zhao, chinese-canadian fantasy and sci-fi author, made a video listing all the movie’s inaccuracies when it comes to chinese culture. Besides getting chi wrong, she also points out that, for example, witches and dark magic don’t exist in China. As someone who lived half of her life in China, she saw the movie as shallowly representing chinese culture.
And yeah, the director, Niki Caro is white. The screenwriters are white. Even the costume designer is white. I know a missed opportunity when I see one. So to answer the question I made in the beginning: no, it didn’t deliver on either point.
The article above was edited by Laura Okida.
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