Review: ‘Mulan’ may be the most disappointing yet beautiful film of the year


Courtesy of WDW News Today

TRL’s Ryan Wang said that when comparing Disney’s live action remake of “Mulan” to the original movie, the Disney remake “pales in comparison to the original cartoon version, where audiences fell in love with catchy songs, witty characters, and the undeniable heart of it all.”

It’s always disheartening to see a film that was touted to be a blockbuster milestone, end up being worse than any skeptic could have imagined. While harsh, this narrative is simply true in the case of Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan,” based on the original film released in 1998. However, despite the massive budget, talented cast and crew and international interest, it pales in comparison to the original cartoon version, where audiences fell in love with catchy songs, witty characters, and the undeniable heart of it all. Director Niki Caro’s “Mulan” however, lacks all three of these vital components.

The story of “Mulan” is based off of the Ballad of Mulan, about a young girl who takes her father’s place in the army when he falls in, to fight off the Huns invading from the North. However, it is believed that the story of Mulan originated during the fourth century Northern Wei era in China, nearly a thousand years before when the live action “Mulan” took place. This can be seen by the familiar tulou structures that were constructed in the Yuan dynasty, which were first built in the 13th century. While “Mulan” at its core had and should include aspects of fantasy and fiction, the historical components are equally, if not more, important. The complete disregard of which millennium this movie should’ve taken place in, is just unfortunately another example of the increased westernization of film when depicting foreign cultures, just to fit a certain narrative or style. For a movie that was hyped up to be less westernized than the cartoon version because of it’s all Asian-American and East-Asian cast, such a drastic historical disparity is just beyond disappointing. 

However, the historical inaccuracy of this film isn’t really what bothered me for a while after watching it. It’s the fact that I grew up with a “Mulan” film that had songs that got stuck in your head, comedic characters like Mushu and Yao, and overall just a classic Disney film that managed to capture the amazing heart behind this story. The live action film doesn’t just strip away these components, it also adds some grossly unneeded aspects as well. Mulan (Liu YiFei), isn’t just an ordinary girl who’s bravery and strength carries her to victory anymore, she now has superpowers. Born with the incredible ability to tap into her own chi, she was born to become a warrior. Forget the nostalgic scenes of her working hard to overcome challenges, learning to become a skilled fighter, and shattering gender stereotypes. Giving Mulan superhuman abilities undermines the entire message of what the movie was meant to be in the first place. And no songs? That was arguably the best part about the original version.

It’s genuinely sad to see the writers and directors mishandle Chinese culture so poorly. “Mulan” was supposed to be a milestone in Asian representation in film, but the influences of westernization are so blatantly obvious it ultimately defeats the reason why Disney wanted to create the live-action version. The characters themselves seem limited in the roles as well. Yifei’s portrayal of Mulan falls flat, her emotions seem forced instead of genuine, and there is a general awkwardness of it all. Taking away comedic characters from the original and replacing them with more serious ones (who also have superpowers) may have seemed like the right choice for improving the storyline, but does more bad than what it’s worth. We don’t want a “Mulan” film with superstrength, shapeshifting, and chi-bending; we want a “Mulan” film where characters struggle with challenges, but then overcome them because of their persistence and will. 

There are still some positives however, and the film itself in terms of visuals, is still quite beautiful in nature. Each scene is a flurry of vivid colors, and the saving grace of this film might literally be the set and costume designers. Each scene’s setting seems unique and detailed, and fight scenes are extremely well-coordinated, setting aside Mulan’s superhuman fighting abilities. Any film that casts Donnie Yen, who plays Commander Tung, should expect impressive fight scenes that are just beautiful to watch, and in itself a form of art. “Mulan” may just be the most disappointing yet beautiful film of the year. 

Despite this film’s obvious pitfalls, which are hard to overlook, “Mulan” is still a watchable film that somewhat captures the core values of the original film. Even though the visuals are good, and the fight-scenes are impressive, the historical inaccuracy and cultural mismanagement of a film that was supposed to embrace culture and history, ultimately creates a blatantly westernized film, that has no real identity to it at all.

Rating: C-