Mulan (2020): A Slight Dishonor
“Mulan” is directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider, The Zookeeper’s Wife) and stars Yiefi Liu (The Forbidden Kingdom, Tong que tai), Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, xXx: Return of Xander Cage), Tzi Ma (The Man in the High Castle, 24), Jason Scott Lee (Hawaii Five-0, Lilo & Stitch), Yoson An (Mortal Engines, Dead Lucky), Ron Yuan (CSI: NY, Golden Boy), Gong Li (The Monkey King 2, Memoirs of a Geisha), and Jet Li (The Expendables, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor).
This film is another telling of the Mulan legend. This time around, Disney executes its live-action version of the tale. Their original attempt at creating a story on the character was in the studio’s 1998 animation, which has become a fan favorite.
For those who do not know the story, Mulan disguises herself as a boy and joins fellow warriors in battle.
Say what you want about this notion, but I have not dedicated much of my childhood to watching Disney films. Why is that? I’ve just had other priorities when it comes to media. Although prior to watching the 2020 version of “Mulan,” I popped in the 1998 edition to see if it is worth the hype. Having seen “Mulan,” it is a good movie, but I don’t find myself remembering as one of the most iconic animations of all time.
I skipped on most of the Disney live-action remakes because I have either not seen the original counterpart, they did not interest me, or in the case of 2019’s “The Lion King,” I could literally watch the same film at home, but in animated form. Unless you count parts of “Alice in Wonderland,” the only one of these films that I have watched is 2016’s “The Jungle Book.” At the time, it was a visual work of art. And I will defend it for that. But as one who wants original stories, I had no desire to watch any others. One of the few reasons why I am watching 2020’s “Mulan” is because it is one of the few big movies we’re actually getting this year. But another reason is that the trailers at least made it look cool. Plus, unlike “The Lion King” for example, this seemed like a completely different take on the story, it actually felt like Disney took some semblance of a risk with this project. This had no songs, no Mushu, and a PG-13 rating! I understand that some people are upset that on the surface, this film is vastly different from the 1998 version. But this felt like a take that could stand on its own. This looked like a legit, “Lord of the Rings” style epic, not to mention a flick that would definitely be worth seeing in the theater!
…Unnntil it hit Disney+. F*ck you and your $30 on top of a subscription. Not everyone is a family of four.
I skipped the Disney+ bulls*it, not only because I thought this was a greedy move, but because I didn’t have Disney+ to begin with. So I waited for physical media! Was it worth the wait?
I will say though, going back to the whole “epic movie” thing, there are several shots in “Mulan” that look breathtaking. The movie occasionally manages to become a display of Asian beauty. I still have that first shot of the film in my head because it is that beautiful! It is going to be tough to tell because we still have some time left in this year, I would not be surprised if “Mulan” is a Best Cinematography contender. Although it is no “Tenet,” which coincidentally released the same day in the United States. Just about every shot in this film matches with the vibe they were going for. A serious epic, with a little spark of badass fun sprinkled in.
Now, if only that fun actually existed.
I did not want to go into this review comparing one movie to the other, but I have no choice here. One of the advantages of “Mulan” from 1998 is that aside from being a big adventure kind of like this new vision, is that the animation provided some genuinely fun touches. I knew that going into this new interpretation that it was going to be more serious, but that also meant, to my lack of expectations, that it would be more boring.
If there were one word I would have to give to describe “Mulan” as a film it would be “soulless.” This movie lacks any of the luster that I have seen from the 1998 effort, and it really shows in its characters. Mulan, while technically badass, is already shown to be who she is for the rest of the film from a young age. We see less of a struggle from her. Yes, she struggles to be an honor to her family, but she’s already proven to be a warrior. In fact, her father already acknowledges Mulan’s skills. Now, I know that part of why Mulan cannot fight in battle is because she is a girl, and girls cannot fight. However, looking back at the first few minutes of the film, this transition of the father feels a tad forced and out of character.
Stylistically, this take on “Mulan” sounds like something that can work, but when it comes to getting from point A to point B, the writing and motivations sometimes feel out of place.
If anything, this new take on “Mulan” reminds of “The Great Wall,” starring Matt Damon. Why does that movie exist? It takes a historical moment from Chinese culture, visually makes it interesting, but writes it as the most boring event in history.
There were times where I just wondered when exactly this film was going to end. This film just felt longer than it needed to be. You have these sort of fast-paced battle sequences but there are various segments of the film where everything drags on. While it does allow some further taking in of the amazing visuals, it almost feels like a distraction from what must truly be an uninteresting story. Except that this isn’t an uninteresting story. It’s been done before, and done better!
One last thing, this film starts off in a stale manner. Again, I’ll reference the scene where Mulan shows off her badass skills. To reiterate, she is a badass. But if you watch this movie, specifically the first few minutes, pay attention to every time the father says “no,” it doesn’t feel natural. It feels like the director just wanted to finish the scene and move on. I know film is a visual medium, and visually, “Mulan” looks pretty. But looks should not be the defining factor of all movies. Movies are not supermodels. They have to do more than please the eyes.
In the end, “Mulan” is forgettable, dull, and dishonorable. Dishonor on Disney! Dishonor on your cash cow! And dishonor on 2020! While this is nowhere near as bad as say “Superintelligence,” this was not worth my time. I am curious as to what would have happened if I saw this in a theater. Would I have liked it better? Some might argue that it is the same movie either way, and they aren’t wrong. But they’re different experiences. Sometimes a bad movie can get a few points for the experiential factor. I did not like “Moana” but I will not deny that it is pleasing for my pupils. The animators did an excellent job with that film. I gave it a 5/10 after watching it at home, but who knows? Maybe I would have liked it better in a theatrical environment. Nevertheless, this vision of “Mulan” takes a classic tale and makes it boring. I didn’t even get into the controversies surrounding this film, that’s a subject I did not even have time for. But my head is already spinning enough that I cannot even touch upon that matter! Instead, I’m going to give “Mulan” a 4/10.
On another note, if you want a really good film that centers around Asian culture, which by the way, is animated. Go watch “Over the Moon!” It’s streaming right now on Netflix and I guarantee you, it is one of most magical experiences I had watching a film this year. In fact, while I was not of this mindset, I will say, if you are of the mindset that you want a film that is more reflective of what Disney is, what it stands for, and what they’ve done, this might be for you. Check that movie out, and skip the new “Mulan” adaptation! Your brain will thank you.
“Mulan” is now available physically on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. The film is also available on premium VOD services such as Prime Video, VUDU, and Xfinity On Demand. The film is still available on Disney+ with premier access at an extra charge of $29.99, but starting on Friday, December 4th, it will be available on Disney+ for free as long as you’re a subscriber.
Thanks for reading this review! I just want to remind everyone that December is just around the corner, and we are nearing the end of one of the most unprecedented years in history. In other years, December has occasionally been a month where I catch up on a lot of movies, and this month does not appear to be an exception. And if all goes according to plan, I will not be reviewing a lot of the movies I am “catching up” on. Although that depends on the release schedule panning out as expected and whether I am forced to go back into shutdown mode. Cases are going up in my area, but at the same time, we are also doing more testing. We’ll have to see what happens. I cannot promise anything this December, maybe except a review for “Wonder Woman 1984,” but other than that, my schedule is not to be disclosed. Only time will tell. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Mulan” 2020? What did you think about it? Or, what are your thoughts on the premier access deal on Disney+? Personally, I think it is ridiculous, and honestly, I could have gone to theater for a cheaper experience under some cases. Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!