There’s always been one singular problem with the idea of remaking films, the audience. On one side of the auditorium, there are the cinephiles that don’t have any interest in seeing a remake of a film they already own. On the other side of the auditorium, there are the hardcore fans of the original that will take your film as an insult, never see it, and do everything they can to bash it. And in the center of that auditorium is that general audience that while questioning why there needs to be a remake is open to something to get them out of the house Friday night.
So you can imagine how divided that auditorium was when Disney announced the next in their series of live-action remakes of their animated movies was going to be Mulan.
To Disney’s credit, the live-action Mulan is in every way True Grit by way of the Cohen Brothers. Award-winning feature director, Niki Caro and the writing team of Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin, and Lauren Hynek have crafted a remake that adapts from the 1998 animated film but takes more from Chinese adaptations of the original ballad of Mulan.
The result of all of this is that the live-action Mulan has a genuinely touching heart to the sweeping epic battle scenes.
Mulan, as if you didn’t know this, tells the story of a young Chinese maiden who disguises herself as a male warrior to save her crippled father from being drafted in the army to stop a warlord and Caro focuses strongly on the idea of family but keeps the focus entirely on Mulan throughout this story. Caro handles the theme of family well through the tone as she evolves Mulan from maiden to warrior and strikes a great balance between “Disney’d” characters and gives these characters a 3rd dimension (no pun intended).
The action was epic and fluid thanks to Caro’s use of the frame. Favoring an immersive world from the start of the film, Caro’s battles were both wide and deep, creating a love letter to those who enjoy the artistry of Chinese martial arts films. At times, the movie feels downright risky for a Disney film as they show the aftermath of battle, broken armor, and bodies.
Chinese film icon Yifei Liu embodies Mulan in presence while standing alone against the army of a warlord but more so when she’s a sister and a daughter. She brings a heart and spirit to her performance that helps to create an authentic performance. When she’s staring down warlord Böri Khan, you believe in her. When she’s watching her proud father struggle to walk, you can feel her hurt. Jason Scott Lee throws himself into the role of the Böri Khan with an energy and drive that will genuinely leave you wanting more of him.
What better roles are there in a movie like this for film legends Donnie Yen and Jet Li play the general of Mulan’s battalion and the emperor of China. Donnie Yen radiates a presence that gives his character, Commander Tung, a genuine heart. And Jet Li, while more of a cameo than anything else, still has the intensity in him that playing the ruler of China almost feels natural for him.
This movie is beautiful in every sense of the word. Caro’s eye for detail truly shines from the vibrant colour pallet, intricate designs of the wardrobe, to the depth of field in her frame. It’s a true shame this film didn’t get its opportunity to be shown in theatres as it was well and truly made for the silver screen.
There’s a whole lot to like in this movie. That being, there’s a lot wrong with this film. Mulan feels as long as it is. Despite the well-executed moments, entertaining performances, telling a Disney story by way of a Chinese martial arts epic forces the story to stretch itself, denies character development when it needs it, and it’s difficult not to notice at times.
But that doesn’t negate the fact that the live-action Mulan is a lot of fun. While not winning over all the sides of that auditorium, the film has action, excitement, magic, martial arts, but above all, heart. Well worth, three and a half stars out of five, Mulan will leave you with a smile on your face and some laughs with your family.