Entertainment, Film, Reviews

Mulan (2020) – Guest Film Review

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan 2020 was supposed to have been released in cinemas during March in the UK and star actress Yifei Liu, but due to the pandemic, it was constantly pushed back. September came and Disney decided it was time to use their new platform, Disney+, to stream the film rather than cinemas.

People had the option to spend £20 to watch the new release or wait until December to stream this new movie. Within hours of the september release, the film got mixed reviews. But why is that?

Mulan Animation vs Mulan life-action

Understandably, the audience will compare the life action and the animation films. It is the basis that many of the audience are going to go by to determine if the life-action was any good. But I personally think that the animation had something the life-action didn’t have.

No, it isn’t that the animation had some brilliant songs that were hard to beat, we already knew that, and I don’t believe adding the songs would have made the life action better. It isn’t even that Mushi is missing.

Part of the problem for me was that the story felt like a massive montage. I mean montages are great when used correctly. Any Disney fan will know of the Up montage. Montages are meant to bring emotion to the story that would either be dragged out or boring if done in any other way.

Up does this well because we see Carl and Ellie’s struggles and love for each, Ellie’s dreams shattered because they could not have a child, or have the money to move to their dream location. We see their life in a few minutes and we sympathise.

But a whole film is not meant to be a montage with bits of dialogue. I think Disney was much more concerned about the special effects than the story. Mulan doesn’t even get to the camp until over an hour into the film.

It was like Disney wanted to show the special effects and hide it behind Qi. “Lets add Spx here, ohhh and here…. and another one here.”

By the time she got to camp, the rest of the story was rushed. She was supposed to be there for seven years, if they are being true to the ballad that is, but it seemed more like 20 minutes.

Mulan’s abilities

The animated Mulan was very much about an independent woman. A woman that was an ordinary woman but trained herself to do something many thought she was incapable of doing. I mean, most of “I’ll make a man out of you” is a montage of Mulan’s struggles as an ordinary woman. For an animation, it brings this realism… the realism that training, whether a woman or a man, is brutal. Dedication is a way to success.

However, the live-action film brings in the chinese Qi (pronounced and sometimes spelt as chi). Now, most western audiences won’t know what Qi is. I have a chinese friend whose favourite subject is Qi. I lived with her for a year so I learned a little bit about Qi.

What is Qi

Qi is what the chinese call spiritual energy. They believe it gives them power to move objects and perform telekinesis. The power to heal. It is also a muse for artists, and meant to help warriors in battle. This is not explained in the film.

So Mulan comes in the new version of the film… and she has exceptional Qi. So exceptional that this makes her a witch. Apparently, in the new 2020 film, it is impossible to be a female warrior with strong qi and… just be female… but the men with strong Qi, do they have magic?

No. No they do not.

Mulan succeeds, not because she is a determined woman, but because her Qi turns her into a witch. The only other female warrior in the film also is a witch. To me, this tells me that a woman cannot learn to be physically strong. There must be a reason as to why she succeeds… and the writers choose witchcraft.

Yes, Qi, even now, is believed to have magic properties, but it is not linked solely to women. Men can perform the magic of Qi too. They should have had male witches, or they should have left the magic out but still incorporate Qi and show Mulan’s dedication and struggles. Qi is a massive thing in China so they were right to include it, I just think they should have done better. I think Disney did a dishonour China here.

The phoenix metaphors

Perhaps it is because I am a writer. I found the metaphors in Mulan heavily shown. I mean, I got what the phoenix metaphor was before the end of the film. Mulan is a phoenix. She’ll rise from the ashes.

Another Disney film did the same recently: Maleficent 2. Personally, that film used the metaphor correctly. It wasn’t heavily hinted at. However, Mulan 2020 is the opposite. Her father gives her a phoenix-related item. She breaks a phoenix gargoyle by accident, her father mends it. A phoenix is in the air when she travels to the camp. This, is all just the first act of the film and already I am sick of the phoenix.

By the end, Mulan jumps on some kind of dangerous-looking building, and the phoenix lines up perfectly behind her to give the illusion that she has phoenix wings.

ALRIGHT DISNEY, I GET IT FOR PETE SAKE.

I don’t know why, but just showing it like this angered me. Maybe because I know how important seed and plant are in a story, how subtle things can make a story better, and it angers me to see Disney get it so wrong. I know Disney is aimed at kids, but they managed it in Maleficent 2 and Mulan is aimed at older kids… 12+.

But what was Mulan’s rise from the ashes moment?

She didn’t lose her friends, they were actually really supportive. I don’t think she was totally destroyed, and I don’t recall a scene that can be labeled her rebirth… honestly, I liked the villian’s eagle metaphor more.

So the story needs improvement, what about the acting?

The acting was alright. I think young Mulan probably was the best out of them. The older Mulan was alright. The villains were superb. As was Mulan’s father. But to be honest, the movie was less about the acting and more about the special effects, especially the cgi of the phoenix and the eagle.

The interactions of the female villain, played by Gong Li, actually improved Liu’s performance of Mulan. I don’t think that Liu by herself was a stunning actress in this movie, but Gong Li and her master, played by Jason Scott Lee really helped strengthen the acting in the movie.

Were there any good parts?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t hate the film until that phoenix incident… I still will say I don’t hate it, but I probably won’t watch it again. Were there any good parts?

I liked the fact that all the warriors kept telling Mulan to bathe! She obviously feared being caught but the warriors were fed up of her smell. I liked the start of the film when she was on the roof, even though I knew she would be on the roof again by the end of the film, probably chasing a bird (which she was). This is just how close-ended films are told though, it’s called the final image.

I would have liked to have seen more parts of her family dynamic. Her sister is seen once or twice, which begs why was she there in the first place. The real Mulan had a sibling, but the gender was unknown (hence little brother in the animation). The animation added a dog to substitute because you don’t have to add character development to dogs. The grandmother had more character development in the animation than the sister does in this live action.

Does anything in particular stand out?

Other than the special effects, not really.

It’s not a film I hate, and it’s not one that I love. I don’t think including the musical songs or mushu (which is what some people who hate it would have loved) would have improved the film at all. They removed those elements to stay true to the original Mulan ballad. Mulan in china is classed with the same integrity as Robin Hood in Britain. Both believed to be real people, so I understand sticking to the real ballad, I just think it was poorly done.

I personally feel it missed the core of the message that made this film less than top marks. The message the original had: The determination of an average woman to save her father.

However, if you want to judge the film yourself, then I recommend you do so. Some people lived it.

Shannon Weston – Guest Film Review

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