Mulan (2020): What Does Its Reflection Show?/by Bryan Matthews

I love the original Mulan. It was and still is why I love movies. The magic, the power, the fun. What’s not to like?

Well, the Mouse House has recently released a live-action version with an all-Asian cast that focuses on realism separate from songs and supernatural elements, presenting it as a female-led war film. Should be good, right? Well, I’m here to save you $30. It’s not.

The positives: the film is trying to achieve a different tone than the original, attempting a grittier approach with its PG-13 rating. While the execution is not great, the film is trying, which is something that can be admired. Next, the performances of Jet Li and Donnie Yen as the emperor and the main general were incredible. Both of these martial arts legends are doing their best with what they have been given, and it shows.

One good sequence is when the soldiers are training in the camp, and they must yell a mantra in unison. When the commander tells them to say “true,” Mulan hesitates, knowing that she can’t say it. It’s a pretty cool character moment.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives for the film end for me. The negatives are as follows:

First, the film has no heart. One of the most enduring qualities of the original animation is that it had a lot of soul, ranging from the comedy to the characters to the songs. In this adaptation, all of that is taken out and replaced with content that has nothing else to replace it. The film takes out all of the fun, makes things a tad boring, and then slaps a big budget onto it. The fact that $200 million was spent on this project blows my mind. 

Second, the special effects are surprisingly not very good given the studio and the money behind them. Most landscapes look like a video game cutscene instead of the real world, and the fight scenes that require CGI are not rendered well. The fight scenes can be entertaining at times, but then again, they aren’t. They don’t really amount to much, and by my calculations, there are only three or four in the entire movie. The “war” in this war film does not get the attention that it deserves. 

Third, the attempt at realism is undercut by a host of reasons. There is a witch that uses “ribbons” as weapons (still a bit confused), and she can transform into a bird or a group of bats. Her hands can also be bird claws. This is all made possible by the presence of Chi, a magical force that resides in all living things. There is also a flying, mythical Phoenix that is Mulan’s GPS (yes, I said GPS). All of these things undermine the attempt at realism, and it gives us unnecessary supernatural elements that don’t do anything to improve the story. 

As a warning, this last point is a very minor spoiler. Fourth, the messages of the film are flawed. Mulan and the witch are the only two female characters of merit, and they are only more powerful than the men of the story because they both have a high concentration of Chi. The magic system is the only thing that makes them more skilled than the men instead of who they are as individuals. To me, the film failed to portray women because they had to be given a “head start” to be better than the men that surround them. In their attempt to “empower women,” they have shown that girls have to be born special instead of seeing their own self-worth in who they are.

Ultimately, the film fails to provide us with anything new, give us an entertaining or engaging story, or live up to its predecessor. I do encourage people to watch this movie to make their own personal opinions on it. That being said, do yourself a favor and wait until December when you won’t have to pay $30.

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