Mulan will hardly be remembered as anything other than the film that premiered on Disney Plus amid the uncertainty of the film industry. At the same time, it will forever bear the label of succeeding one of the most beloved animated classics. However, at a time immersed in a constantly evolving social environment, what should highlight about the film is not its differences with a product of yesteryear, but the reflection it makes on universal and current themes.
That said, while overall the new Mulan is not an extremely memorable and outstanding film, it does contain several lucky pieces. The film builds a puzzle in which the important thing is a timeless feminist discourse, as the true age of this story proves. The story is treated with great elegance and solemnity by Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country), a filmmaker whose career has been characterized by portraying empathetic, strong and instructive female characters on the screen.
« There were many stories about the great warrior Mulan (Yifei Liu), but ancestors, this is mine », an initial dialogue resounds that is placed there by something more than chance. The director Niki Caro opens the film with a confession in which she warns the viewer that they should not expect to revisit what marked them twenty-two years ago with cartoons, but that they will seek to find their own essence in the making of cinema of our times.
Although the work pales in the shadow of the charm and humor of the 1998 original, it is to be recognized the effort that both screenwriters and director make to try to update a legend, which despite its natural progressivism, still falls short by today’s modern standards, when gender roles have taken on less and less importance in validating a person’s true worth.
The changes that it presents with respect to the Disney classic are due to a declaration of intent and a speech that must be understood by the new generations of girls who see the film. In this version, Mulan does not cut her hair with the intentions of looking like a man and going unnoticed in an army of testosterone. On the contrary, by not cutting it off and displaying it later, it reaffirms the character’s primary purpose of positioning herself as a woman who has to stand out in a group of men not for being able to look like them, but for being herself.
In the same vein, the narrative flirts with romance, but never consumes it. And that is a congruent point in assuming that the heroine does not necessarily have to find love to feel fulfilled and complete her learning journey. The film also does not close the possibility of love, but it does not highlight it, leaving it in the background between more important tributes.
Although it is an American production clearly focused on an Anglo-Saxon audience, Niki Caro allows himself to experiment with the aesthetics of Zhang Yimou’s epic wuxias such as The House of Flying Daggers, or others with more diffusion in our culture such as El tigre and Ang Lee’s dragon.
Conceived under these parameters, the new Mulan abandons (almost completely) childishness and silly humor, to embrace a cinematographic and narrative action. In this one, the settings are one more character, ready to help in hand-to-hand battles – narrow corridors where the characters can walk defying gravity. Or where they use artifacts that defy the laws of physics such as flying robes that deliver punches and spears as precise as they are fast.
For the same purpose, photography collaborates with camera movements that reinforce the physicality of the scene. These also give us several memorable paintings that accentuate the identity of this film as a big-budget blockbuster that must faithfully serve the eye candy.
However, all of the above is overshadowed by a script that fails to exploit each of the identities of those characters who are not Mulan. If anything, there is a certain attention to the character of « The Witch » (Li Gong). One that is a novelty for this new vision of the legend, but that has a specific purpose to serve the message of history.
Similarly, the music of Harry Gregson-Williams is directed directly to action and does not explore with determination the enormous possibilities that a story focused on Eastern culture had. It seems like the passion that John Williams showed in Memoirs of a Geisha or the homage to the action epic that Christopher Young composed at the time for The Monkey King.
Despite its flaws and a charm that does not fully consummate, the film Mulán by Niki Caro shines for its efforts. His efforts to consolidate an updated feminist discourse -not forced- for the new generations; that of paying homage to the Wuxia genre; and that of being in general a very entertaining film, with an impeccable aesthetic. The film avoids boring repetition entirely, as did other Disney live actions such as Jon Favreau’s recent The Lion King.
Original title: Mulan
Director: Niki Caro
Actors: Jet Li, Liu Yifei
Release date:December 04, 2020 (US)
Disney Plus live action film critic Mulan Mulán
Luis Angel H Mora My letter from Hogwarts never arrived, so I focused my life on the cinema. I like writing, Harry Potter, Doctor Who and the parties I get to be an astrologer. John Williams and The Killers musicalize the drama of my life.