Almost everyone I know despised The Lion King for being a 100% replica of the animated original. No love was shown for its transcending photorealism. The general audience, however, enjoyed the film as it went on grossing $1.6 billion, the highest for any Disney live-action adaptation. Mulan is the studio’s newest cash grab. Or maybe not. It’s the only Disney classic that I haven’t seen. Hence, my opinion will differ on yours if you have seen the original.
As a refreshment, this one is set in China. It’s distant from famous non-Asiatic faces and tells the story of a girl (not a boy) who grows up to be a superhero.
Mulan is a born warrior, a gifted soul, who is shadowed by her father. Her father fears her expulsion from the community, or perhaps death if her powers are exposed. The women of their kingdom are far limited, or should I say shackled than the present, under strict patriarchal norms. They serve one purpose only – to be a kind, courteous wife.
Men, on the other hand, are prepared to be loyal, brave, and true. Its what Mulan strives to be.
Managing to guard her identity through her adolescence, her father fails to keep her restrained when their kingdom’s arch-rivals wage war. The story is flat out engaging and provides enough room for a character-driven spectacle that can highlight the film’s primary motive: girl power. But it fails so spectacularly that you wish an expert director helmed the film.
It is a shame that Niki Caro, a female Neozealandic filmmaker, should have understood the nuts and bolts of a female superhero story – which is both imminent and scarce. Not having seen the original, I cannot comment on how much the story is unchanged. But if this was the actual script, a lot of effort should have been put in writing.
The film is a huge mess. It feels perpetually confused in deciding the tone, whether it should be aimed for kids or the adult audience. One scene after the other, the tone shifts from playful to serious. It heavily impacts the first and the last 20 minutes, as I marked. Both the times, I felt a strong urge to discontinue watching the film.
Despite the sumptuous visual aesthetic (kudos to the art direction team), the film tests your patience through dated dialogues and a sheer, unoriginal storytelling. The world has seen just about enough children’s stories. Hence, it is elementary to predict where the narrative is going. Mulan bores the crap out of you. It attempts to camouflage its lapses with jaw-dropping scenery but considering almost every film nowadays relies on CGI, it doesn’t work.
What hampers your mood further is the selection of lead actors. Yifei Liu, as the grown-up version of Mulan, gives a lousy performance. She looks beautiful, undoubtedly, and does well in the action department, but her face remains one-note all the time. Besides dropping the tears or smiling, she doesn’t emote any expression. There were at least four emotionally charged scenes that all fell flat due to her wooden acting. Its a significant opportunity she has missed, knowing she could become as popular as the other Marvel celebrities.
As the bad guy Rouran, Jason Scott Lee is simply a cheap replica of a Hassansin from Prince of Persia. He tries so hard to be frightening that you eventually laugh at him when his evil plan comes to an end. And such a turd of a plan it is. It reminded me of The Dark Knight Rises for the wrong reason.
The supporting cast is better employed, and they do pretty well. Tzi Ma, as Mulan‘s father, is excellent. He is the first face you see in the film, and he manages to hold your interest and somewhat clutch your emotions to a certain extent. Donnie Yen, as Commander Tung, is fitting. He gets to be in the film’s finest moments, which is the pre-war preparations, and he walks and talks like a genuine, robust leader.
The warriors accompanying Mulan are also appropriately cast. I rooted for the four men who stood with her, thanks to some groundwork. The romantic angle is also earnest, as the guy playing Mulan‘s love interest acts very well. But it is frustrating to praise the supporting actors when the protagonist fails to live up to such a great character.
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It is a significant failure, from a writing perspective, as this film could have matched the level of The Lion, the Witch, the Wardrobe, or even Wonder Woman. Similar to the No Man’s Land scene, there is a moment where Mulan undergoes a spiritual awakening and heads in an ongoing battle, in her natural, feminine avatar. It is an extremely rushed sequence, and truthfully, too early placed that doesn’t give you the chills of epicity it could have given.
The whole angle of a girl training among men, disguising her identity, is intriguing. But it is played so broadly that you can only nitpick about the what-ifs. All said & done, Mulan is a disappointment. A very crushing one. It misses the great opportunity and $200 million budget that could have given Disney its first inclusive superhero.
Rating: 2 / 5
Mulan is available to rent on Disney+ for $30. It can only be rented by those already subscribed to the streaming platform and will remain available until November 2nd.
For the Indian audience, Mulan will begin streaming on Disney+ Hotstar from December 4.