2020 Film Review: Mulan
Plot Synopsis: After a botched meeting with a matchmaker, Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei) steps forward and takes her father's place to fit in a war for the security of China. Mulan risks her life not only in battle, with the secret of her being a woman in the all-male army being punishable by death. She needs to quickly become a fierce warrior to save the country from a rising, dark threat.
The Disney remakes have garnered a lot of flack in recent years despite the financial successes they have been. The whole idea of remaking their animated greats has been influenced solely by monetary reasons as each year, more of our favourite classic Disney films are being reproduced in 'live-action'. Some have been more bearable than others but most have had very little changes made to make them stand out from the original, merely coming across as fairly lazy cash grabs due to this. However, 'Mulan' (2020) does look to change some things up from its predecessor, possibly in hopes to answer some of these critiques. Sadly, though, in doing so the film has made a vastly inferior film and quite possibly their worst remake to date.
Reports broke early that a number of details that made the original Mulan film so beloved would not be making an appearance in this new version. The likes of Captain Li Shang and villainous Hun leader Shan-Yu were announced to be absent alongside animal favourites Crikee and the legendary Mushu in what looked like a step to creating a different story for this film, Characters were not the only thing to be culled as Mulan became the first live-action remake to punt its songs, meaning 'Reflection', 'I'll Make A Man Out Of You' and 'A Girl Worth Fighting For' would not be making a grand return in 2020. Unfairly, this already had a lot of people complaining but this offered an opportunity for Disney to go a new direction with the story. These people would, unfortunately, be proven right that this would be a bad thing as a large part of the film's soul and greatness is ripped out with nothing to replace it.
It may be harsh to constantly compare but with what Disney are doing with these remakes, it is impossible not to and the holes left by the previous' content is glaring in this film. A whole lot of depth into these characters is missing straightaway from the departure of the songs, with the new versions of the fellow soldiers being incredibly shallow with no redeeming qualities. There's no progression of the comradery or skill level - this point goes to the titular character too but more on that later - as these characters are left with very little, making them painfully unmemorable. Even worse is the treatment to Mulan's early struggles that are highlighted perfectly by musical and visual cues that are incredibly striking in the original, here they are treated merely as transitions with no emotional impact whatsoever. The missing songs and characters also suck this film dry of any humour and thus, loses an abundance of entertainment in the process. The argument can be made that this film is supposed to be more serious but in the end, it's just much more boring as nothing notable replaces these key aspects of the original film.
There's a host of new characters added, especially in the villain department with Shan Yu and the Huns replaced by a magical woman Xianniang (Gong Li) and Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), the leader of a group of tribes who look to take over from the Emperor. Xianniang brings some intrigue as a magic welder but the writing for her character is quite poor, not giving the correct detail or depth to make most of the character. As for Khan and the host of bandits, they simply don't come across as a good enough threat for our heroes. With generic designs and no depth, the villains are not intimidating at all, if anything they come across as quite stupid. The reimagining of the avalanche scene is truly laughable that makes this 'threat' lose a lot of credibility very quickly. The film lost a lot of its light-hearted moments with its changes but strangely seems to have ridded the darker elements at the same time, making this a truly hollow and dismal display of events.
One of the more exciting prospects of this film was the opportunity to see its battles and montages in real life, moments that should truly flourish in the live-action setting. Sadly, it is another disappointment as it is full of overly choreographed stunts that look incredibly staged that pulls you out of the film. There's a complete lack of intensity within these scenes - perhaps not wanting to go full throttle in a family movie - which makes a lot of this films more spectacular moments seem very passive. Add in an abundance of slow-mo and bizarre feats, there's a lot of this that comes across as cheesy or silly rather than something that will get your blood pumping. For a $200 million budgeted film, the action scenes, for the most part, don't look believable bar Donnie Yen's work who, unsurprisingly, does shine in his brief moments.
The story of Mulan is clearly a very female-centred, empowering movie as a young woman goes against all obstacles to become a true warrior on her own accord. For what seems like reasons to do with 'political correctness', a lot of the key aspects regarding sexism are completely watered down. The whole point of the story is that regardless of what Mulan does, she is held back unfairly because she is a woman. For some odd reason, this seems to be completely discredited after the first battle, with her instantly gaining the respect of everyone, making this lose a whole lot of drama and impact on its main meaning. There are also moments of unnecessary pep talks from male characters that seem to give Mulan the belief she needs to get through certain challenges which take even more away from the character. This aspect didn't need to be touched but by messing with it, the creators have truly lessened the impact of the story and the journey of Mulan. This feels like they've removed a couple of obstacles for Mulan, which makes her eventual success not seem nearly as much of a big deal. The main theme of this film is to do with sexism, so why does the film suddenly decide to disregard this at a certain point?
In every way imaginable, this is a really poor remake that devalues every single aspect of the original film. Bar okay performances and that the film is decent enough looking, it is hard to think of many other positives to take from what looks like another aimless exercise other than making a quick buck. Imagine the 1998 version but without the heart, character, humour, spectacle and a watered-down version of its themes, then you get this truly bland and unexceptional venture. This film is void of any joy and truly may be the worst of these shoddy reimaginings as it takes away from the original whilst adding nothing of note. It's the same story yet again with these remakes as you wish you'd just stuck the old one on instead, I'm just glad I wasn't a fool and paid the extra price when this was first released.