I’ve been looking forward to the big screen debut of Mulan ever since it was announced by Disney. The trailer looked very promising, albeit lacking in the music and humor of the animated film, but it had the potential to deliver something extraordinary. After finally watching it, I could safely say that Disney did a pretty good job translating the animated film into a live action remake. But I would shy away from excessive platitudes just yet.
Synopsis: As the Northern invaders threaten the Chinese empire, all families are ordered to supply one male member of the family to serve in the Imperial Army. Fa Mulan, the eldest daughter of the Fa family disguises herself as a man to take her ailing father’s place in the Emperor’s army.
Mulan Live Action easily delivered on aesthetics and accurately captured scenes from China’s ancient times. The scenes were breathtaking to say the least and they served as the perfect backdrop to the major battle scenes in the movie.
The animated version was quite straightforward. Mulan took her father’s place in the army and earned her spot among the soldiers. She saved them from the Huns and saved the emperor’s life as well.
The live action pretty much followed the general idea but it took its sweet time with the detours to add drama to the piece. For this, I’m not sure I could count myself as a fan.
The live action version added the character of the witch (Gong Li), which in every sense was a parallel version of Mulan on the side of the invaders. Her longing to be accepted in the same way Mulan was later accepted by her comarades was quite obvious from the beginning. It was a given what would happen to her in the end.
I didn’t like the fact that there was a lot of drama. From entrances and exits, to individual battle scenes. I mean, sure, it was established that Mulan was the best warrior in their battalion but did they really have to leave everything to her when the life of the emperor was at stake? And what about heading for battle dirty and grimy and emerging from her first encounter with the witch in full make up? Did it even make sense for her to remove her entire armor and her topknot to ride off to battle? The discovery of her true gender made more sense in the animated version. It was too flashy in the live action on all counts.
The fight scenes were good but I felt they were a bit slow. They were visually engaging but the slo mo approach for the martial arts scenes took away from the impact of lightning speed fight scenes that took place in the air, which Chinese movies have mastered over the years.
There were also no flashy stunts and Mulan pretty much stuck to her go to specialty move the whole time — kicking a spear to the heart of her enemies. They could have benefitted from a consultation with Jackie Chan to liven things up, or they could have just given the stunt coordinating gig to a Chinese coordinator.
Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Jason Scott Lee came to the party prepared. They really leveled up the playing field with their amazing skills as heroes and villains of the piece. The emperor may have been old but he could hold his own in a fair fight. I wish there had been more fight scenes with Donnie Yen and Jet Li.
The aesthetic of the training arc was great. The formations were awesome the rapport was also good, even though they were short. However, one of the things that I felt was lacking in the live action, as compared to the animated version — in the animated series, the battalion improved together but it seemed that for the live action, it was all about Mulan and her chi. Nobody really stood out because the rest of her comrades were just written for comic relief. I did appreciate the equivalent scenes and characters in both the animated and live action versions though.
Liu Yifeng did a pretty good job in her first Hollywood role. She really embraced the part and worked really hard on it. It was obvious to let’s give credit where its due. I think she had good chemistry with Chen Hong (An Yoson) who was supposed to be her love interest, but the way the character was written made it really hard for Mulan to express any other sentiment except for bringing honor and pride to her family.
With both versions, my favorite scene was still Mulan’s reunion with her father. The live action made sure that the goosebumps inducing scene retained its impact.
All in all, Mulan Live Action was, like the Imperial Army’s motto: It was loyal (to the original tale of Fa Mulan), brave (to take on such a big project and continue its release amid a global pandemic) and true (to fans of the original animated tale). There were parts where I felt more could have been done but it was worth the wait. Kudos to all the people who worked on this epic production.