Released: 4th September
Seen: 23rd December
I’ve made it no secret how I feel about Disney remakes, I hate them, I hate them on a fundamental “These have no reason to exist beyond capitalism gone amuck” level. Sure, in a very real sense every remake is kind of pointless in some way, but the recent batch of Disney remakes seem to be extra pointless since they’ve taken to remaking some of their absolute classics. They don’t bother remaking things like The Black Cauldron or Oliver and Company, films that didn’t exactly do well. No, instead let’s remake classics like Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King… you know, that trilogy of remakes was so awful that I gave them all a joint place on my worst of 2019 list. Well, this year we add another film to the list of remakes… Mulan.
The story of 2020s Mulan’s release is wild enough on its own, with problems with the main star praising Hong Kong police while they were abusing protestors (such a great look in 2020), the film shooting in actual re-education camps and general issues with its content being mockeries of Chinese spirituality (according to people who know what they’re talking about). Then, the film got released and things got even worse since it couldn’t release in cinemas it ended up being put on Disney+ with a $35 premium fee attached to it… unless you waited until December in order to see it (so that’s why this review waited till now. You think I was going to encourage that?)
So, what’s the film like? It’s fine, still pointless like almost all Disney remakes are but at least this one tried something kinda new, even if that new thing makes it blend in even more with its surroundings.
Mulan follows… well, Mulan (Yifei Liu), a young woman who is expected to marry well but actually wants to live a life of adventure. She ends up having a chance to get her wish when her hometown is threatened by Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) who has already destroyed another nearby town which has alerted the emperor who conscripts one male from every family. In Mulan’s family, the only male is her ailing father Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) so he signs up to defend his family. Mulan can’t stand the thought of her father going when he’s clearly not physically healthy enough to handle it so, because women aren’t allowed into the army, Mulan disguises herself as a boy and goes down to business to defeat the huns… sorry, had a flashback to the more fun version of this movie.
This version of Mulan is… fine? I mean, it lacks much of a personality and has just decided to look like a generic Asian martial arts film but that could work, indeed it fits in with the Disney remake habit of trying to correct their racial casting issues and make the film fit a style appropriate with its setting. It does do some impressive fight sequences, especially during the big battle at the end when they really lean into the wire work that looks great. They really lean into the visual element with every single fight being a glorious colourful battle between some incredible stunt workers… just don’t expect much more than that.
The script behind this is very basic, not allowing any of the characters to do anything more than just the bare minimum to tell the story. After a while, all the characters who aren’t named in the title just kind of blend together, lacking personalities that can be latched onto which is a shame because all the actors do a good job with what they have but they don’t have much. No real characters and constantly having to talk about chi in a way that feels reminiscent of Venus from that really bad late 90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series, in that it’s not what chi is at all and is just a fancy stand in name for “magic”. Like, even I noticed that this wasn’t what chi is meant to be and I’m Whitey McWhiterson whose total knowledge of Asian culture could probably just barely fill a thimble… so if you can’t fool me, you messed up.
Everything just feels like a bland version of what we’ve seen before, which is another recurring theme with these remakes. Sure, the “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” sequence from the original is iconic and fun but why not just have a more generic montage sequence with some fighting in it and minimal actual energy? Sure, the villain from the original was so evil he killed a small child and his freaking shadow would be enough to scare most people but… well, this one has a facial scar and an imposing voice, that’s close right? Everything just feels like it was more interesting before, it’s not as watered down as other remakes but it’s still not that good.
Mulan has enough problems before even watching it to make it not worth recommending, but the film itself is so basic that it’s just hard to even think about for that long. It’s pretty, has some good action scenes and has that generally positive element of an all Asian cast, a thing that’s so stunningly rare in films produced by western companies that it warrants being pointed out… but when it comes down to it if I have to pick between this and the fun musical version that tells the same story in almost the same way I’m going to take the fun musical version because it’s more fun. This is fine, congrats on not earning a spot on my worst list this year, you’re the best out of the last four Disney Remakes I’ve sat through… still has no reason to exist.
Oh well, maybe that Cruella movie will be a decent retread of old material… but I doubt it.