Mulan (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father. She ends up saving all of China.
Fans of the original animated feature ‘Mulan’ will likely find themselves missing various elements of the 1998 movie. There’s no Mushu (though there is a phoenix that appears at random) or Shang. He is now split into two characters due to the problematic relationship of him being Mulan’s commander. Also omitted are the songs (certain lyrics from them feature in the dialogue, and musical motifs recall the soundtrack), but this feels appropriate. This is a different tone of movie that wouldn’t be fitting to turn into a musical. ‘Mulan’ marks Disney’s first 12A-certified live-action remake because of the violence in it. You wouldn’t call it bloody, but there is moderate violence and threat which might be a lot for very young viewers.
Certain elements of the action are effective, the fight choreography, raid sequences and training montage look great, but the pacing is too fast. The movie packs in a lot of story, going as far back as Mulan’s childhood, which establishes she’s naturally skilled at fighting, flexible and strong. But one scene rushes into the next, it goes by in a flash. The emotional beats never land because you’re not given a chance to breathe and just sit with a moment. The editing by David Coulson is a total hack job. You can’t appreciate the fight choreography because he’s opted for a Michael Bay-inspired style of cutting the movie.
Regarding the performances, Yifei Liu is excellently cast as ‘Mulan’. Gong Li, known for such films as ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’, and ‘Miami Vice’, plays another fabulous villain, the witch Xianniang. The relationship between their characters as powerful women who evoke two sides of the same coins makes an interesting addition and change from the original. Elsewhere, martial arts legend Donnie Yen (‘Ip Man’, ‘Rogue One’) feels underused, as is Jet Li. Jason Scott Lee (‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’) is another great villain in Bori Khan.
There are some nice call backs to the animated movie, for example, there’s a scene with a chicken early on and the army guys are great fun, and additions like Mulan’s sister, but it generally lacks the charm of what came before. There’s a vibrant use of colour, although it can suffer from the same problem as the ‘Aladdin’ remake in that the sets look staged and unnatural. It’s a fine movie but one still isn’t convinced that these Disney live-action remakes are a good idea.
'Mulan' streams on Disney+ from September 4.