The next instalment of Disney’s live-action remakes of its classic animated films is here in the form of Mulan, a (slightly) more grounded interpretation of the events that see a young women disguise herself as a man to protect her father and her country from northern invaders.
Right off the bat, Mulan wastes no time showing us why it deserved to be seen on the big screen. It is a visual spectacle with impeccable style that is felt through each and every scene. The locations, backdrops and surrounding scenery make mimic beautiful paintings you can’t help but admire. Even when the film jumps into the action, the cinematography is tied into what’s happening in the scene really well and the way it works with the fight choreography makes it a lot more dynamic and exciting. This is undoubtedly the film’s claim to fame and director Niki Caro has done a great job at unifying every visual aspect to work in unison.
The next strongest element of the film has to be the way it covers for the fact that the musical elements have been dropped. I, for one, didn’t miss the thrilling musical sequences at all thanks to how the songs are reflected in the score. The iconic tunes of ‘Reflection‘ and ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You‘ can be heard in the score, playing over the relevant scenes, and they evoke the same tonal impacts of the actual songs without having characters actually break out into song. Some of the lyrics are subtly woven into the dialogue, which is also a nice touch.
When it comes to the story and how it makes it work with a more dramatic tone, that’s where the film’s faults lie. For the most part, the plot is pretty decent and it tries to make the most of utilising more dramatic storytelling than what was in the animated counterpart. There are sections of the story that are quite engaging and really work in keeping you locked in. However, it does feel somewhat more like style over substance. It hits the main beats, that I’m sure it wanted to hit, but it fails to capture the magic of the story its telling and there’s no real impact to anything going on. The main things that happen may be entertaining in the sense that it’s a spectacle but once it’s over it all just gets forgotten, which is a shame.
On top of this, for all the supporting characters, there’s only one who is actually utilised well enough to make them an interesting character. Donnie Yen’s Commander Tung is the only other character, besides Mulan, who is given enough scenes to have a presence in the film. Every other supporting character is underdeveloped and under-utilised to where they don’t have a noticeable impact on the story. This is especially the case for Mulan’s fellow soldiers who, honestly, may as well have not been in the film considering how little they contribute. Then there’s the addition of a witch in the story, played by Li Gong, whose presence I don’t understand in the slightest. The character adds nothing whatsoever to the story and has a handful of entirely forgettable scenes that only makes me question the necessity of her presence. It’s a puzzling addition I will never understand.
That being said, the film features a great lead performance from Yifei Liu who plays the titular character. Where this remake maybe doesn’t capture the spirit of its animated counterpart, Yifei definitely captures the strength, determination and all the qualities of the character of Mulan. She’s great across every one of her scenes, really enhancing the story where it would otherwise have felt quite dull.
In the end, Mulan is a slightly disappointing live-action remake, resulting in what i’d say is a good film that could have been much, much more. It’s visually stunning, beautifully shot and well directed but the story feels lacking in substance and depth, with even the key moments being forgettable. I still feel it’s a worthwhile watch if you’re a fan of the story.