Mulan (2020)

Director: Niki Caro
Writer: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, Elizabeth Martin
Based on: the legend of Hua Mulan
Remake of: Mulan (1998)
Cast: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Gong Li, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Pei-Pei Cheng, Xana Tang, Ron Yuan, Jun Yu, Chen Tang, Doua Moua, Jimmy Wong, Ming-Na Wen
Seen on: 3.2.2023

Mulan (Liu Yifei) lives with her family and is supposed to bring honor to her family with a good marriage, although she would rather use the gift of qi for fighting. After a catastrophic meeting with the matchmaker (Pei-Pei Cheng), Mulan is dejected. Things turn even worse when it is announced that the emperor (Jet Li) requires one man from every family to join his army to fight against Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee). The only man in Mulan’s family is her father (Tzi Ma) who is old and a disabled veteran. Mulan decides to save him from his fate by posing as a man and joining the army in his stead. But pretending isn’t easy, especially when you need to focus on the battle at hand.

Mulan has, so far, been the Disney-adaptation-of-a-Disney-film that has strayed the most from the animated original. I have to admit that I missed some of the stuff they left behind (especially Mushu) but I can also appreciate the vision they were going for here, even when it fails sometimes.

The film poster showing Mulan (Liu Yifei) in a fighting pose, sword raised, hair flying free.

It took me a while to get to the film, mostly because I was still debating with myself whether I actually wanted to watch it at all. There’s the fact that nobody in a key position behind the scenes was actually Chinese, which seems so egregious an oversight that it feels intentional. There’s the fact that the film was shot in the region where the Uighur genocide is taking place. And there is the fact that Liu Yifei made pro Hong Kong police statements during the protests there. All a bit icky, to say the least. But Niki Caro’s involvement and a bit of nostalgia drew me in anyway.

If you overlook this context, the film is not bad at all. A tad too serious, maybe – I really did miss Mushu, although I can see that he wouldn’t have fit this version of the film at all -, and strangely de-queered: in the animated film it’s pretty obvious that Mulan’s love interest Shang quite obviously is already falling in love before he knows that Mulan is a girl. There’s no trace of this anymore with Mulan’s love interest here, Honghui (Yoson An).

Mulan (Liu Yifei) getting ready to fight.

The film has some beautiful wirework, fight scenes and special effects. But the best part, for me, was that it introduced Xianniang (Gong Li, in the most wonderful costumes) and draws oarallels between her and Mulan – two very powerful women who know magic (or at least magical qi), but who are nevertheless bound by the patriarchal rules that subdue them. Where Xianniang has grown bitter and resentful over it, Mulan still sees ways to find her own freedom. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t spend enough time on them, I thought. But I can appreciate the feminist message, that’s for sure.

The film has some lengths, and I found myself drifting away from it around the middle. But it managed to hook me again. Even if I was never completely excited about it, it was not a bad watch.

Mulan (Liu Yifei) all done up for the matchmaker.

Summarizing: fine.

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