Mulan

 

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A fractured reflection of big-screen potential.

   

Mulan
 

The success of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella instigated a horde of live-action remakes of classic animated Disney films. With strong performances, a divergence from the source material and screen magic not (entirely) beholden to CGI, Cinderella was a fresh take on a tale as old as time. The majority of Disney’s subsequent remakes have been largely forgettable affairs, overwrought CGI spectacles that promise much, but rarely deliver. Yet the king’s ransom that each film rakes in at the box office has spurred Disney to continue the regurgitation trend, with over fifteen live-action adaptations currently in development. The latest is a new take on the ancient legend of Mulan, the female warrior of the Northern Wei dynasty in 4th to 6th century China. Although the 1998 animated film seemed perfectly poised for a modern slant, the long-troubled live-action production beset by script rewrites, reshoots and a pandemic, ultimately fails to impress.  

 

After an edict from the Emperor demands that each family in China produce one male to fight the rise of invading Rouran warriors, elderly Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) is forced to answer the Imperial army’s call. With her father’s fate sealed, Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei) assumes the role of Hua Jun, posing as a son and joining the army in her father’s place. Meanwhile Rouran leader Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) plots to avenge his father’s death, with the assistance of witchy companion Xianniang (Gong Li).

 

Director Niki Caro is no stranger to strong, female-led stories, as in her exceptional Whale Rider and the noteworthy North Country. Still, she seems a strange choice for a film with such heavy cultural connotations, not to mention the importance of capturing China’s lucrative box-office. With four Caucasian writers credited to the clunky screenplay, the resulting film feels like an outsider’s attempt to capture Chinese culture through a Western experience of ‘Chinese’ food and old martial art films. Although the new Mulan takes a more serious tone, eliminating the catchy songs and changing guardian ‘dragon’ Mushu into a mute CGI phoenix, the story falls flat and somehow manages less character development than its animated predecessor. It is a thoroughly botched job complemented by lazy CGI and choppy editing choices. Ming-Na Wen, the original voice of Mulan, appears in a brief, but welcome cameo. Interestingly, Wen is the only actress to have achieved the Disney triple crown, as the voice of a Disney princess and as characters in both the Marvel and Star Wars universes. Now there’s a girl worth fighting for...

 

CHAD KENNERK

 

Cast: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, Jet Li, Rosalind Chao, Jimmy Wong, Ming-Na Wen.

 

Dir Niki Caro, Pro Chris Bender, Jake Weiner and Jason T. Reed, Screenplay Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, Ph Mandy Walker, Pro Des Grant Major, Ed David Coulson, Music Harry Gregson-Williams, Costumes Bina Daigeler.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/Jason T. Reed Productions/Good Fear Productions-Walt Disney.

115 mins. USA/Hong Kong/Canada. 2020. Rel: 4 September 2020 on Disney+. Available on Amazon, Fandango, Vudu and other platforms from 6 October 2020. Cert. 12A.