by Staff Writer Sabrina Cai
When the trailer of the live-action adaptation of Mulan was first released, the film seemed destined for success with a built-in audience, hype around the cast’s Asian representation, and a timeless Chinese folklore story to follow. Despite all this, Mulan ends up with a mediocre script filled with lukewarm characters and an anticlimactic plot that’s at best forgettable.
The film came with a built-in audience from the 1998 original animated movie.
Mulan entered a world in an entirely new political landscape than what it originally was. Now, the film is under fire for a laundry list of controversies. For one, Mulan’s star, Yifei Liu, has garnered criticism for her support of the Hong Kong police as they have been criticized for alleged misconduct in the midst of pro-democracy protests. More recently, Disney gave “special thanks” to authorities in the Chinese Communist Party after filming in Xinjiang, a location where local authorities have allegedly been committing human rights abuses to millions of detained Uighur Muslims.
The leading actress, Yifei Liu, has received criticism for her support of the Hong Kong police.
Outside of its controversies, the movie itself also falls short in its scripting decisions. Instead of taking the opportunity to engage in important aspects of Chinese history and identity, the film buys into preexisting Jackie Chan stereotypes of Chinese culture. One of the most prominent examples of this is the screenwriters’, who are all notably white, decision to change Mulan’s hard working attitude into a mystical Chi force. Unlike the original, Mulan no longer has to train and build her skills to match her peers as she is now naturally born with them. That fierce determination that young girls looked up to is severely lacking. And while Chi is traditionally described as a naturally existing energy in all beings, in the film, Chi is characterized as superhuman abilities like being able to turn into birds or take over people’s bodies. An important aspect of Chinese philosophy and medicine has once again been misrepresented in Hollywood depictions.
The film, admittedly, does create visually-stunning scenes. The movie is filled with colorful landscapes like Imperial City, where choreographed, kinetic fights take place. The cast does an incredible job of creating powerful fight scenes with skillful sword-handling while still maintaining the PG-13 rating of the movie. Despite the brutality of war, the hand-to-hand combat is more graceful and purposeful than chaotic, preserving the ancient Chinese’s attitude to war as a dance. This type of cinematography coupled with the serene set design is something that would’ve shined on the big screen, if not for COVID-19.
The film’s visually stunning cinematography and choreographed fight scenes are a highlight of the movie.
However, since the movie is more action-packed, it ends up prioritizing cinema over plot, resulting in underdeveloped characters. Having traded in iconic characters from the original like Li Shang, the film develops some new unique ones, like Xianniang (Li Gong), a witch who was shunned from her own community, and Honghui (Yoson An), a fellow soldier and Mulan’s new love interest. These characters have so much wasted potential, especially Xinniang, who could have wonderfully represented women misunderstood by a sexist society. However, with such few lines and conversations in the film, she ends up a bland and forgettable character. Similarly, Honghui and Mulan, despite being love interests, develop little to no chemistry besides sparring with one another. With only two scenes alone together, the actors fail to portray a meaningful relationship on the screen.
Mulan shares little chemistry with her love interest, Honghui, featured in this image.
Outside of the disappointing characters, Mulan was plagued with Hollywood stereotypes and a boring plot. Overall, the Mulan franchise is a Pandora’s box that would have been better off leaving the beloved original animated film alone.
*Disclaimer Oct. 7* All names are spelled as indicated on Mulan’s cast list on IMDB.