Film: “Mulan,” rated PG-13 for sequences of violence.
Streaming only on: Disney+.
Director: Niki Caro.
Cast: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Li Gong, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Pei-Pei Cheng, Xana Tang, Ron Yuan, Jun Yu and Chen Tang.
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek, suggested by the narrative poem “The Ballad of Mulan” (uncredited).
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams.
Cinematography: Mandy Walker.
Film editing: David Coulson.
Production design: Grant Major.
Costume design: Bina Daigeler.
Set decoration: Anne Kuljian and Amber Richards.
Bill’s rating: Two of five stars
Disney’s long-awaited, live-action adaptation of 1998’s enjoyable animated “Mulan” – with even a longer wait if fans did not want to shell out a penny shy of $30 to catch it streaming on Disney+ – could hardly be more disappointing.
The studio clicked each box on its checklist, including emphasis on a female action hero (Yifei Liu as Mulan) and use of a female director (Niki Caro).
The entire cast is Chinese, as well. One problem is there’s only the barest resemblance to the original “Mulan.”
Four Caucasian screenwriters turn out a clunky script which allows Caro to capture the beauty of the New Zealand mountainside – only 78 seconds of the movie were filmed in China – but too little of the original “Mulan” story.
Supporting character Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, is not represented at all; nor is there any other comic relief. Original songs have disappeared, although screenwriters at times slip song lyrics in as dialogue.
Rather, there is an emphasis on the importance of Qi (pronounced chi), a force manipulated by the Chinese at varied levels since childhood. Mulan’s misuse of her own Qi is pointed out countless times – and just to show what might become of a female’s misuse of her Qi, China’s invaders are allied with a shape-shifting female warrior referred to by all as a “witch” named Xianniang (Li Gong).
This witch obviously knows Mulan’s deepest secrets and also recognizes her excessive use and mastery of her Qi.
Xianniang even suggests at one point they might rule the entire empire together with their combined Qi.
True, this bears little resemblance to the original story in the animated “Mulan,” in which an army of Huns (now Rourans) invade the Chinese empire from the North.
The emperor issued a decree dictating one male from each family must enlist in the Imperial Army to fight invading forces. Mulan risks her family’s honor by stealing the sword and armor of her invalid father and presents herself as a nonexistent brother at a conscription camp.
There, she is left with the other volunteers to be trained for battle.
She works hard, while keeping her identity a secret. Mulan later battles the Rourans and becomes a hero by burying opposing troops in an avalanche, seemingly saving the Chinese empire and emperor in the process.
However, an invading leader (Jason Scott Lee as the evil Bori Khan) and a few of his soldiers survive the avalanche.
Mulan, already having been stripped of her honor after her gender is discovered, uncovers Khan’s plan to assassinate the emperor.
Mulan vows to stop Khan — and the remaining plot is by the numbers, offering more predictability than excitement.
Disney has attempted to cash in by making live-action renditions of many animated successes, from as far back as Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and as recently as “Aladdin,” “Dumbo,” “The Lion King” and now “Mulan.”
The vast majority do not work, lacking the all important ingredient of originality.
Sadly, stressing the Chinese force of Qi and adding a shape-shifting witch do not stand a chance of making this live action adaptation of “Mulan” any more satisfying or watchable.
Gage’s rating: One of five stars
When I learned a live-action “Mulan” remake was being planned, I groaned.
There was just no way it could be as good. “Mulan” is one of my favorite Disney movies – and learning this remake would not be faithful to the original, leaving out all of the fun and memorable songs people loved, not to mention all of its great characters, hurt even more.
True, this new project may be more faithful to the original Chinese legend of Mulan. Yet, with the possible exception of the “Pet Sematary” remake, this is one of the worst movies I have sat through in years and quite definitely the worst Disney remake in recent memory.
The characters are poorly written and boring to watch. Even title character Mulan, played by Liu Yifei, comes across as lifeless, lacking emotion.
Henchman Bori Khan, played by Jason Scott Lee, is little more than a walking cliche. Even worse is a new character named Xianniang, portrayed by Li Gong. This “witch,” as even fellow villains call her, adds nothing to the story, other than more cliched storytelling.
Taking her completely out of the movie would not have hurt the story at all.
Instead, a quartet of screenwriters attempt to use the subject of Chi, which comes across as a parallel to The Force in the “Star Wars” sagas, to try to explain everything. (It is sort of like saying, “The Chi is strong in this character.”) Indeed, Chi is used as an explanatory force.
But I kind of doubt Chi will be understood by American audiences. After all, just how is it that Chi works?
From what I understand, Chi can help you either run up walls or jump 10 feet into the air to kick a sword. Not only is this a lazy way to explain the film’s action, but it fails to define what made Mulan stand out as a character.
Mulan never was a warrior gifted with superhuman Chi. Rather, she became a tough and determined character, driven by her love of family to stand out as a great warrior despite her gender.
But in this live-action remake, it’s her super Chi that conquers her conflicts.
Audiences simply wait for her to show off her building Chi. It is her Chi that defines her character.
After being thrilled by the action and battle sequences promised by the film’s trailer, I felt deceived. The director cuts away from too much of the action,
Mind you, the film includes enough “wire work” to be reminiscent of the many characters walking and sword-fighting on air via “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It’s too bad that was not a plot point.
This surely won’t be the last Disney live-action remake – think “Hercules” or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Yet I, for one, am hoping the studio takes a long, hard look at their failures.
What made Disney’s original animated films so great was they truly felt magical. Thus far, most of their remakes feel like a quick cash grab.
Will Disney ever learn its lesson? Probably not.
Is it about time it did? Absolutely.