To save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army, a fearless young woman disguises herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China.
Available Now on Disney+ with Premier Access ($34.99). Available on Disney+ for all users 4th December 2020.
Cast: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, Jet Li
Directors: Niki Caro
Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, Elizabeth Martin
Based on: Disney’s Mulan by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, Ballad of Mulan by Guo Maoqian
After being delayed by Covid-19, after being on the brink of releasing in cinemas, Disney’s latest in their lineup of Live Action adaptations of their animated films is available to watch. While the debate around Mulan’s release with Disney+’s Premier Access taken up the most attention recently, this film has been cautiously viewed by fans and critics since it was first announced. Fears of whitewashing were raised and the news that none of the songs from original 1998 film would be included or that Mushu the Dragon would not feature was not well received. Even now there are calls to boycott the film for lead actress Liu Yifei’s support of Hong Kong police. Ultimately when it comes down to the film, it is a beautiful film with a hollow centre.
After northerner Invaders attack the silk road, the Emperor of China (Jet Li) decrees that one male from every family in the land will join the imperial army. For Mulan’s family, that means her elderly, injured father Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma). Mulan decides to pretend to be her father’s son, stealing his armour and sword and joining the imperial army in his stead.
As someone who is not overly familiar with the animated film, I am able to comment too much on the changes between the two films, beyond those mentioned before. A number of characters for the original have been condensed, changed or split. Mulan’s Grandmother is no longer needed, with her duties given to Hua Zhou while Li Shang has been replaced by the duo of Commander Tung (Donnie Yen), Mulan’s mentor and a leader in the imperial army, and Chen Honghui (Yoson An), a fellow recruit and Mulan’s love interest. Even the villains have been changed with Jason Scott Lee as Bori Khan, the leader of the invaders, instead of Shan Yu and powerful witch Xian Lang (Gong Li) replacing Shan Yu’s falcon, Hayabusa.
The plot hits most of the key moments from the original, adjusting a few pieces here and there. It does feel a bit oddly paced with certain elements feeling rushed. The movie does hit you over the head with its themes and lessons, hand-holding you throughout. For a Disney movie, it is very low of comedy relief or fun in general. There are a few laughs with the other recruits and with Mulan’s sister at the start of the film but this is, for the most part, a serious affair which raises the question “who is the target audience for this film?”
The film is not helped by an amazing lack of character. There are almost no three-dimensional characters to find here. Mulan is fine but we barely get to know her at all, due to her pretending to be a man for a large portion of the film. Not having someone to share her secret with, like Mushu in the animated film, means we never learn how she is feeling or what she is thinking. Liu Yifei is physically impressive in the role but isn’t given a chance to really show her range here. The villains are incredibly stereotypical from the little we get of them and the connection between Mulan and Xian Lang that they try to make feels really forced. The relationship between Mulan and Chen Honghui is one of the few they are subtle with but could have used some more investment.