Film review Mulan (12A)
- Credit: Jasin Boland
Disney’s live action remake jettisons the songs and humour in favour of a spectacular if message-heavy earnest martial arts film about a girl who dresses as a boy to join the army
The thing about Disney’s Mulan is that it’s not Disney’s Mulan. The studio’s previous run of live-action remakes of classic animations have offered quite close approximations of the originals. In the U rated 1998 animation, a young girl dresses as a boy to join the Chinese Imperial army. This live-action version strips away the songs, Eddie Murphy’s Dragon, and all the fun, replacing them with a humourless, wuxia, martial arts movie suitable for 12s and over.
Not quite sure what the thinking is there, but perhaps responsible 21st century parents should introduce their children to the delights of arrow catching, sword-swinging and whirling limbs as early as possible.
As child-friendly martial arts movies go, It has its merits. It’s colourful and spectacular. The fights and action sequences are well-staged. None are exciting, but that might be down to Mulan (Yifei Liu) being so effortlessly superior, like Rey in the Star Wars trilogy, there isn’t much tension. Liu is engaging as the heroine but, like everyone else in this movie, she’s so damn earnest it’s hard to care. The best wuxia martial arts films, the Crouching Tigers and Flying Daggers, have an overblown sense of melodrama that is both heartfelt and a send up. Their absurdity invites audiences in. Here, everything is so weighted down with messages about the importance of family, honour and duty that it’s all a joyless chore.
Disney may have wanted to honour Chinese culture, but the film has the effect of presenting China as a dreary, regimented land full of uptight people who never dare to to smile.
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Sometime over the two decades, the pronunciation of the title character seems to have become closer to muhlarrn, as in the Italian city Brits go to for fashion week, rather than moolan, as in Rouge. It was the first big blockbuster to be withdrawn in March and the posters for it stayed up for months. Back then Disney seemed to be pretty upbeat about it. Now they are restricting it to their Disney+ streaming service, which you will have to get a subscription to and then pay £19.99 to rent it.
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Directed by Niki Caro. Starring Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Tzi Ma, Gong Li, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An. Available to stream on Disney +. Running time: 115 mins