Summary: A young woman rejects societal and cultural norms. Also, she has magical powers. Or she doesn’t. Because you know. Grounded!
Disclaimer, this is not a “Mulan is terrible because it’s not like the original” or “Mulan is bad because there’s no music”- nay! I watched Mulan with almost no expectations and no desire to compare it to the original and I have decided- Mulan is just not good. But it’s free now!
I’ve been hit or miss with Disney’s live actions (Aladdin was ok! Cinderella, good! Beauty and the Beast, nooooooo!), and for the most part, I’ve tried my darndest not to compare them to their animated counterparts- especially those with music by Alan Menken. With the exception of Cinderella, they’ve been mostly fail. And by that, I mean that even with the costumes and big budget numbers, I just don’t find them engaging. Maybe it’s because I’m an adult now, maybe it’s because I have prior knowledge? My mind often wanders to, “Wait, this decision doesn’t really make a lot of sense,” “Ok, I guess I’ll just go with it,” or “Was there really no one else to play this part?”
In this case it was, “Why can’t I see Donnie Yen’s feet when he kicks?” I have a lot of questions in directing and editing decisions. I like the work I have seen from Niki Caro, although I’m not overly familiar. Whalerider is a wonderful coming-of-age movie but I wouldn’t say, “Hey, let’s get the director from The Zookeeper’s Wife to do a large budget Chinese action movie!” Both action and nonaction scenes have editing that cuts away way too soon, before I was able to really absorb what’s going on. From the very first scene! We’re traveling over a beautiful landscape, over a grassy field, which turns into a farm, and then we see a large housing structure, we float over the rooftop, and it’s open on top, and-
CUT. To a ground level shot. Of dirt. Which. Why. All that build up. Wasted! I thought, you know, with Disney trying to be a little more worldly these days, that they would really embrace some of the Chinese action forms and wirework and present it as the majestic art form it is… I was wrong. Remember when I went through the John Wick series, followed by Kung Fu Hustle and Police Story? THAT WAS A MISTAKE. It reminded me of what great action was, where I can see the motions and the punches landing. There are a lot of close ups and slow motion used in any action sequence not featuring Yen, and especially those featuring lead Yifei Lui. Slow motion run up the hill! Slow motion run across a roof! Slow motion kicks! It indicates to me that she couldn’t do the choreography fast enough or hard enough for them to really want to show it off; and it also beats you over the head with, “ShE’s sO sPeCiAL!!!11”
As we’ve come to expect from Disney’s live actions, there are plot contrivances abound that either don’t make sense or don’t go anywhere. Like I’m not sure what the point of the Witch character was. I’m all for adding or removing some elements, if that decision serves the overall story, but she didn’t serve a purpose. Nor did Mulan’s “chi,” or her inner powers that could only be activated with self-acceptance. I’m not sure how this added value to the character, other than detract from her determination- her most important trait. And what is it with Disney and their supernaturally gifted female leads? Why can’t they just be young women who have the abilities or determination to overcome? You know- naturally gifted? Going back to the Witch (yup, I forgot her name), I think there could be a more in-depth reading on the differences in women’s expected roles and how Mulan overcame those obstacles, but the movie chooses not to delve into those too heavily and so it makes it a non-topic.
And that’s pretty much it- Disney half-asses this movie and so the result is this pretty but artificial, “It’s a Small World” take on a classic that had so much heart and so much spunk. Nothing here feels authentic, not even the costumes and weapons fabricated by Weta. WETA. This is me turning down something that WETA worked on. 2020 really is a year of twists.