REVIEW | Why Disney’s Mulan Left Me Feeling Empty…

Mulan 2020

Disney’s Mulan (2020) remake is probably the most anticipated movie of the year. Our expectations were high and we all waited patiently as the release of the film kept getting delayed.

Then, the news came out that it was going to be finally released – only on Disney+. I was stoked.

…Until I was flooded with negative reviews on my Facebook feed and the fact that a normal Disney+ subscription was not enough, you needed to pay for more for ‘premium access’. It’s fine. I still wanted to experience the live-action adaption of Disney’s Mulan (1998) myself.

Directed by New Zealand film director, Niki Caro (yay Kiwi pride), coupled with my own Chinese heritage, I wanted to like this film. I really did. However, this latest film failed to meet my expectations and sadly does not live up to the 1998 animated film.

Right from the beginning, young Mulan (Crystal Yao) is portrayed as a strong girl by demonstrating the power of ‘Chi’. However, her father (Tzi Ma), tells Mulan that she should hide her ‘powers’ because ‘Chi’ is a male-only ‘power’. Females are expected to bring honour to the family by the way of marriage only.

The representation of ‘Chi’ is flawed. In Chinese culture, ‘Chi’ can be thought of as ‘life energy’, something that everyone can practice. ‘Chi’ is not just some superpower that makes someone strong physically.

The dramatisation of ‘Chi’ no longer makes Mulan (Liu Yifei) as relatable as the 1998 Mulan. Mulan from the original 1998 film is not portrayed as someone with ‘superpowers’, but rather a strong, relatable woman who conquers adversity through perseverance and wit.

Whilst, this does set up Mulan as a very different character from the animated version. Mulan’s journey to becoming a warrior for the fifth battalion relies on our knowledge of the 1998 animated film. For example, Mulan’s comrades – Yao (Chen Tang), Ling (Jimmy Wong), and Chien Po (Doua Moua), pays homage to the 1998 characters. However, these characters are not well developed nor likeable. Especially Mulan’s ‘closest’ comrade, Honghui (Yoson An). It was not until the latter half of the movie when I finally got to know him as the iconic Honghui. Moreover, the villains were also lacking in a developed backstory, making us question the motive behind the Witch’s actions.

Apart from all the comparisons and expectations aside, the film still feels empty. The depiction of Chinese culture were firstly not portrayed as accurately as it could, as well as the fact that they just didn’t even choose to capitalise on the different facets of Chinese culture overall. Don’t get me started on the battle sequences – they needed to be bigger, better and more immersive, is that too much to ask?

The only thing that was impressive about this film was Gong Li’s (The Witch) performance. Her death stares and cold-ness coupled with Caro’s stunning wide angle shots (that were not merely just a product of CGI) is Mulan 2020’s saving grace – if there’s any saving at all that is.

The underlying moral of this chilling story about family and honour is that you should always be truthful. Mulan is only able to be the female hero we want to see, because she is truthful.

Perhaps, this film, needs to take a note or two about being ‘true’ to a variety of things. True to the original story and true in terms of the representation of Chinese culture – it’s not something you can just slap into a film, if it is to be immersed in Chinese culture, at least get the facts straight.

Is this film trying to be a unique standalone tale about Mulan? Because that’s what it feels like. A tale that relates loosely to the original, it’s ‘unique-ness’ is holding back, what could have been, a great film.