‘Mulan’ (2020) Film Review

Grade: C+

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The latest in Disney’s slate of live-action remakes, Mulan, is now available to watch, free, on Disney+, after months of waiting for a release. Niki Caro’s feature was supposed to be premiere in March of this year, but as we all know, circumstances beyond our control got in the way, which is a shame, because this remake seemed destined for the big screen, especially with all the effort and money put into it. Yet, there is not much we can do but accept the gift that has been bestowed upon us by the “House of Mouse”

It was clear during production that Disney had planned to take a different direction with Mulan by leaning more into Chinese culture and removing certain aspects of the original. We don’t get to see a wisecracking dragon with the voice of a fast-talking comedian (with all due respect to Eddie Murphy), nor do we hear songs that we find ourselves singing wherever the opportunity arises. Instead, this Mulan seems to be made like a Zhang Yimou film. In it, we get sweeping spectacles and stylistic choreography mixed with martial-arts action.

I can respect everything that 2020 Mulan has to offer, though being that it is still a Disney remake, it is quite hard not to draw comparisons to a film that was quite beloved by many. As with all remakes, some changes improve the movie, while others could fail. Mulan falls into the category of a remake that works well enough on its own, yet some aspects worked better in its original counterpart.

The story is more of the same; a young Chinese woman named Mulan (Yifei Liu), burdened by the traditions of her family – including attending a matchmaking session gone wrong by an insect – finds herself taking the place of her father (Tzi Ma), who is too old and weak to join the ranks of the war he has been called to duty for against an evil empire. Though, he believes it is his duty to serve, and his daughter should “know her place”, she secretly sets out in the guise of a man in order to bring honor to her family while trying to conceal her identity, lest she face punishment.

In keeping with Chinese culture and folklore however, a lot is different in this version. Instead of the Huns, the Imperial army is faced with taking down Rouran warriors and a shape-shifting witch (Gong Li), while Mulan has a hidden ability that proves to be more powerful than imagined.

On its own merits, Mulan stands apart from the rest of the live-action remakes Disney has been churning out. Though, with the way the original film handles certain elements, it manages to fall short. What were once brutal, harsh, in-depth moments ultimately ended up being toned down for some reason, making these nitpicks hard to overlook. To its credit, Mulan has managed to achieve something that most of the remakes failed to do; make something new. Maybe, not in the greatest way, but still unique and fresh.

9 thoughts on “‘Mulan’ (2020) Film Review

  1. Good review. I think I’ll just stick to the Chinese Mulan: Rise of a Warrior movie when it comes to that story in a live action context. Disney just really needs to stop with all these constant remakes. I found out the other day that they’re going to do a “live action” (I use that term loosely) version of Robin Hood which is just so stupid.

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  2. IMHO, you are being very generous with your grade. Disney went overboard (even farther than they did in the animated feature) making changes to please Beijing, ultimately missing most of the original myth which did not put the emperor in a good light. Governments do not make good movies.

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  3. I haven’t seen it yet, but since the beginning, I thought that this Mulan would probably be a decent if not good movie — just not a good Disney movie. It’s too bad they went with down the Cinderella/Maleficent route versus the more direct versions like Aladdin/Beauty and the Beast, which I prefer to keep the spirit of their original. Like if they wanted more female empowerment, “I’ll Make a Woman Out of You” or something when sneaking into the castle would have been a fun reprise for “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”.

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      1. Yeah, and that kind of film is fine. But I think Disney’s strength overall is to have comedy and lightheartedness, not focus so much on promoting it as like an action/war epic. Plus after all their catering to China, it didn’t do well there anyway.

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