After months of closures, film fans are excited to get back to the cinema and see some new films, including Disney’s Mulan. However, whether the live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1998 animated classic manages to reach the expectations of long-awaiting fans is questionable.
The film is based on a folklore heroine from the Northern and Southern dynasties of Chinese history. In the film, Mulan (played by Liu Yifei) is a daughter of the Hua family, born with a power of high chi (material energy). Her father Hua Zhou, once a war hero but now an elderly man struggling to walk, wants her to bring honour to the family through marriage, but Mulan’s tomboyish attitude makes it impossible to find her a match.
One day, the Rouran warrior Bori Khan (played by Jason Scott Lee), unites the Rouran tribes and attacks China ferociously, intent on avenging his father’s death by the Chinese Emperor’s hand, with the help of Xian Lang a powerful witch with shape-shifting abilities. The Emperor issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from the Rouran invaders. Zhou has no son and is willing to enroll despite his old age, but Mulan steps in to take his place by masquerading as a man and calling herself Hua Jun. Going to war, Mulan must harness her inner strength and embrace her true potential to become an honourable warrior.
Many other Disney live-action remakes of animated films, such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and The Jungle Book, have little difference in the plot compared to their originals. Mulan on the other hand, despite being based on the same legend, gives a story with satisfactory freshness, with martial art action and historical accuracy (in particular the costumes) exceeding expectations. The CGI provides the viewers with the realism that once only existed in their imagination.
However, the fresh new plot is not without its drawbacks. Replacing Mushu, everyone’s favourite character from the animated film, with a phoenix that is rarely on screen, is one of the biggest mistake ever made by Walt Disney Studios. The film was also excessively serious and there was a distinct lack of humour.
With Mulan depicting a feminist struggle, choosing Niki Caro, the second female director to be hired by Disney, to direct the film sounds like a perfect idea. Unfortunately, feminist values were not well presented. Mulan was born with a super-power in the 2020 film, a sort of crossover between Captain America and Hawkeye. She uses her power to reach the top, instead of training hard to work her way up from the bottom like in the animated version. Additionally, the female villain Xian Lang (played by Gong Li) was created to be Mulan’s rival instead of her confronting the male villain Bori Khan as in the original.
Liu Yifei, who plays Mulan, has done quite a good job in spite of the controversy and politicalisation of her role in the film. Her performance of the courageous and acrobatic Mulan is very natural, but at the same time, she has gone a bit too far with being a serious heroine. Meanwhile, two legendary actors in the films: Donnie Yen and Jet Li, should have been given more appearances and interaction with Mulan to build her up as a heroine. However, they are more like cameos in the film.
So does Mulan reach the fans’ expectations? It depends on whom you ask.
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