Originally released for an extra free on Disney+, the 2020 remake directed by Niki Caro is finally available for free
Starring Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, and Jet Li
Continuing Disney’s ongoing trend of producing remakes, Mulan was originally slated for a theatrical release in late March 2020, before the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic rendered this impossible. Ultimately, the cinematic release was overturned in favour of a VOD release through Disney+ that ultimately didn’t prove to be tremendously popular with subscribers.
Just like the 1998 version, Mulan is based upon the Chinese folklore story, “The Ballad of Mulan”, in which Hua Mulan pretends to be a man in order to take her father Hua Zhou’s place in the Imperial Army to fight the vicious oncoming hoard of the Rourans.
Mulan’s 2020 version mainly succeeds in eliminating all of the brilliant things about the animated original. Wisecracking guardian Mushu (Eddie Murphy) is replaced by a visually impressive but narratively boring phoenix, while the high energy, diverting musical numbers are excised entirely. Without these pleasurable, amusing, light moments, Mulan really runs the risk of taking itself too seriously, and ultimately just comes across as criminally dull.
Mulan (Yifei Liu) herself suffers a lot from some of the production changes. Firstly, she is shown to be special from birth, not due to her mettle or her courage, but rather from the ineffable “Qi”, which allows her to perform amazing physical feats, such as running along buildings and taking on the Rourans, without seemingly any effort. This eliminates a lot of Mulan’s struggle in the animated film, which was that, though she was courageous, she had to work a lot harder to match the physical strength of her peers when she was training in the army. In this version, Mulan has also been stripped of a lot of the warmth and humour from the animated film, and without Mushu as her foil who knows her true identity, the audience is often left on the outside of her steeliness, which makes it significantly harder to root for her.
While the enemy in question has been modified from the Huns to the Rourans, led by Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), this is actually more accurate to the original story of Mulan. The conflict in general is portrayed very successfully, with beautifully choreographed fight sequences which manage to be highly engaging throughout. Visually, in fact, the entire movie is a treat, with gorgeous settings and cinematography a key strength.
A valuable new addition for the 2020 remake is the delightfully complex Xianniang (Gong Li), a ferocious sorceress who has an allegiance of necessity with Khan. While being a formidable warrior herself, Xianniang is also the perfect antithesis of heroine Mulan, and plays a vital role in Mulan’s development and evolution as the film unfolds.
Ultimately, the strong visuals on offer here are not enough to elevate what is essentially a fairly boring and serious update of a beloved tale. Attempts to give the story of Mulan more depth and relevancy to a modern audience were not overwhelmingly successful, and the cuts made to make it more realistic sacrificed a lot of the heart from the tale.
Mulan is streaming now on Disney+