REEL Review – Mulan (2020)

Director: Niki Caro | 1h 55mins | Action, Adventure

When a new threat invades the kingdom, the Emperor (Jet Li) asks each family to nominate one man to fight for their country. In order to protect her Father from battle, Mulan (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a man and takes his place.

Out of all the live-action remakes Disney have been churning out since Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella back in 2015, Mulan was probably the one to get the most excited about. A female-led action movie set in Imperialist China could have allowed Disney’s monumental audience to experience a new kind of film-culture, and a fresher outlook on female roles in film. But much like every live-action remake they’ve done Mulan pales in comparison to it’s original, barely managing to scrape any redeemable qualities from the over-edited and bland final product.

The original, while not pushing boundaries, is able to earn the ‘Disney Classic’ because in it’s short runtime it’s able to exercise it’s themes efficiently while bringing joy through catchy songs and a sense of wonder. This version, while rightly not using songs, struggles to have any of that wonder attached, rehashing old themes that don’t challenge anything new. This pretty much sums up Disney as a whole, using new faces and technology to convince you of this new pseudo-originality, while never justifying their existence with anything worthwhile.

It’s cut to pieces like the confetti at the film’s ending parade, one fight consisting of a thousands shards pieced together incoherently.

For those who don’t know much about Mulan, it’s set in China during the Imperial rule. A setting that has been exposed cinematically with bold and rich colour and a subtle beauty. Imagine a Disney film that had the vibrancy of a Yimou Zhang set, or even the kinetic energy of Woo-Ping Yuen-like choreography. Come to find your disappoint when Mulan’s sets fade into a CGI background, as well as choreography that’s impossible to appreciate through the choppiest editing you’ll see. The only thing you might find oddly beautiful is a snow-kissed fog as Mulan reveals her true self, or even the Mushu’s (Eddie Murphy’s character) replacement of a gorgeous phoenix.

The transition from charming little animation to live-action epic could have worked though, the film’s strive for big and bold spectacles is almost reminiscent of John Woo’s Red Cliff (2008) but, as already stated, the film is over-edited. It’s cut to pieces like the confetti at the film’s ending parade, one fight consisting of a thousands shards pieced together incoherently. Not to mention the audacity the production has to cast Jet Li and Donnie Yen, two of the best martial arts movie stars on earth, and barely utilise them. Leaving them in overly talky roles with a script that blandly plays out it’s dialogue.

I feel like a broken record saying that Disney have once again given absolutely no relevance to their new remakes, but the truth is that’s their biggest problem. But, what’s even more frustrating is the fact that Mulan could have been the film to change my mind. A film that could have used it’s played out themes for the 21st Century, as well as opening the eyes of an international audience to the beauty of the Wuxia and Martial Arts films. Instead it opts for a crowd pleasing script and ridiculously over-edited scenes of action.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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