Does the Remake Bring Honor?
Mulan has arguably been one of the Disney live action remakes that we were both most excited for and most apathetic for. Given the nature of how Disney was more or less completely remaking the original concept, fans figured it could go one of two ways: Be entirely unique enough that it becomes a new classic, or crash and burn at the finish line. Truth is, it’s neither of those.
Disney’s Mulan remake falls somewhere between being just different enough to warrant a viewing, but sometimes falls apart under the weight of its own ambitions. And therein lies the strangest problems with Mulan, considering that the original was pretty ambitious for its time.
A New Origin, Strange Storylines
In the original film by Disney, Mulan is actively trying to be the stereotypical daughter to help out her family. She doesn’t pursue what she really wants to pursue, but instead is willing to marry herself off if it means helping her family. Considering that she wants to help her ailing father who is struggling through his last years on this earth, it’s a dramatically compelling arc.
After all of her plans fall through, and she’s called a ‘disgrace’ by those around her, Mulan goes through a crisis of faith. What does she really want and who is she really? Unable to properly find her way through life, she just tries her best to make sense of the world around her. Then, the Hun army attacks China and her father is conscripted into the army to protect the country. Realizing that her father would never survive a ride to war, Mulan disguises herself as a man and rides to war in her father’s place.
Along that journey, Mulan discovers her true potential and finds inventive ways to circumnavigate a prejudiced world that holds women in particular roles. Women are not to be seen in battle and are considered a setback to the fight at hand. It’s an inspiring tale about embracing what makes you different and breaking social norms in order to be yourself. The remake doesn’t play out as groundbreaking as it feels like it wants to be.
Mulan is Basically a Superhero
So in the remake, Mulan’s origin plays out relatively the same fashion in the very beginning, at least for the most part. Going through similar paces to keep her family happy and trying to be the daughter that they need. Similarly she also disguises herself as a man in order to persuade the army to not conscript her father.
Here’s the kicker though, Mulan doesn’t find new and creative ways to prove the naysayers wrong in this movie. No, she can tap into some mystical force called the Ch’i which traditionally can only be used by men. This ability allows her to have heightened reflexes, supernatural physical prowess and greater situational awareness. See where this is going yet?
Inside of Disney’s remake, Mulan doesn’t really feel or play out like she earns her place or overcomes obstacles through sheer determination and skill. Instead it comes off as Mulan has this supernatural crutch that just makes her uniquely qualified because she can use it better than anyone else. Otherwise known as a superhero.
Honestly this inclusion in the movie really broke the storytelling for me, it cheapens Mulan’s arc and makes her feel less useful and compelling than before. Granted this is a remake, but it’s hard to not make comparisons here.
New Villains, Old Tropes
One of Mulan’s biggest drawing strengths, at least for us, was the villain of Shan Yu. While he wasn’t super fleshed out or as immediately compelling, he was really one of the first villains that had a ton of charisma. Pulling off the feeling of an angry and coldly methodical villain who knew warfare.
Now in the remake, Shan Yu is nowhere to be found. Being replaced instead by Bori Khan and his sorcerer friend Xianniang. Bori Khan is fine as a substitute for Shan Yu, but he feels far less cold and much more just a standard ‘menacing’ villain. Just your standard A plot villain to drive events forward.
Xianniang is definitely acted to much better standards by Li Gong , but she also brings nothing special to the table. What makes her different from Bori Khan is that she can shapeshift and use Ch’i just like Mulan can. Superhero, meet supervillain. Inside of a story about feudal Chinese characters who had a historical basis and whose original origins were vastly more compelling.
Badassery and Choreography
One thing that can be said for Mulan is that the fight choreography and editing is freaking phenomenal and pure art to watch. Ben Cooke is the stunt coordinator here, as well as the choreography editor, and the skill on display here is some truly epic stuff. Although to be fair, Ben Cooke has a pretty rock solid history of amazing stunts. Skyfall, 1917, The Bourne Ultimatum and Thor Ragnarok to name a few. He really knows his stuff when it comes to creating a compelling fight scene. He’s also helped by the extremely talented Heidi Moneymaker who helped coordinate the fights. She also has a pretty rock solid portfolio with films like Captain America: Civil War, Avengers Endgame, Black Widow, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum.
With lots of long cuts, tons of aerial displays and a consistent use of color saturation and cues to keep your eyes engaged. Imagine Mulan but if it had the feel of both Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon mixed with The Last Samurai. Not only is it effective but it is truly engaging and really elevates the movie when action is happening.
Just sucks for Caro and crew that this movie serves as much more of a showcase for why Caro should get her own Marvel movie. Or even just give her a budget and let her figure out her own story/script.
Verdict and Summary
Overall, Mulan is just a weird amalgamation of differences and ideas that can both serve to Mulan’s credit and Mulan’s deficit. Between a rock solid origin setup, potentially intriguing villains but marred by a reliance on the crutch of Ch’i and superpowers. You can make an argument that at least Mulan is different, but we’d make the argument that different does not equal good.
Mulan is available for $30 on Disney Plus right now, up to you whether that $30 is worth it.