Screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin, Lauren Hynek
Starring Liu Yifei, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Jet Li, Li Gong
Runtime: 1h 55 mins
This latest live-action Disney remake Mulan, taking from the 1998 animation, had a more controversial journey than most. Getting rid of the musical numbers and the comic relief of Mushu the Dragon upset a lot of dedicated fans. And then there’s #BoycottMulan, started after lead actor Liu Yifei voiced support for the Hong Kong police during the student protests last year.
And then there was the streaming bombshell: the announcement that the film won’t be released in cinemas, but only on Disney+. Adding injury to injury, the film costs an incredible £19.99… to rent. But there remains the $200m question: is this particular experience worth that premium access fee?
Liu Yifei as Mulan. Photo: Disney
Considering cinemas are slowly reopening in the UK, it’s a shame Mulan doesn’t have a theatrical release. The film's visual scale should’ve been appreciated on the biggest screen possible. Director Niki Caro (the first female filmmaker ever to undertake a $200 million movie) opens by plunging into a massive Chinese talou – a vast, circular building that houses an entire community – where the young Mulan attempts to catch a chicken.
Vivid colours burst from balconies and soldiers’ uniforms within a panoramic perspective. Mulan shows off her fantastic athletic and acrobatic skills, a glimpse of the breathtaking choreography (inspired by Chinese martial-arts movies) that becomes more entertaining and elaborate as the film continues.
Although she can run fast and jump off walls, she’s despised by her community, which is shackled with patriarchal ideas about what women should and shouldn’t do. Mulan has chi, a mystical energy belonging to warriors, but this is suppressed by her father Zhou (Tzi Ma) to promote his daughter's womanhood and eligibility for matchmaking.
A new threat to the Chinese empire rides through on black horses: the Rourans, led by a depthless leader-with-a-vengeance Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee). The Emperor (Jet Li) requires one man from every family to step up and join the army. Since the Hua family can only offer up Zhou, who’s ageing and physically impaired, Mulan secretly goes in his place – masquerading as a man.
This remake offers a lot for representation. Watching an all-Asian cast – the first in Disney-branded history – feels like a pulsing moment in the global zeitgeist, like what Black Panther did for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The feminism, also, seems stronger than the original animation. The violence of the patriarchal messages demanding women to be ‘silent’, ‘invisible’, ‘elegant’ and ‘poised’ cuts much deeper. You only wish the story had more to say.
Mulan travels to train with the lads in the army, moving up the ranks and becoming the best warrior, all while struggling to hide her identity. She keeps avoiding the key warrior virtue of Truth. Although these training scenes, gorgeously shot by Mandy Walker, excite with picturesque wide-angles and spindly sword-fighting sequences, they’re drained of fun. Caro energetically punctuates her action sequences with some brilliant martial-arts madness, but they charge with underwhelming and sometimes illogical results.
This comes at the detriment of some new character relationships – particularly that between Mulan and her newly written adversary Xianniang (Li Gong), another warrior woman ostracised by her society. They aren’t given the emotional rivalry they deserve, and you sense they had a deeper story that was sliced to pieces.
Although it’s enormously satisfying to see a woman better the misogyny around her, and in a Hollywood movie populated entirely with Asian actors, this remake only does what’s expected. And the runtime stretches to two superfluous hours. Mulan is worth watching to witness a moment in mainstream movie history, but 20 quid seems steep for a translucent story.
Mulan is available to watch now on Disney+
|What||Mulan, Disney+ review|
04 Sep 20 – 04 Sep 21, TIMES VARY
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
|Website||click here for more information|