BY COLIN CRAWFORD
Disney’s newest live-action adaptation, “Mulan,” is one of the company’s better attempts at reproducing a story on screen without regurgitating exactly what was in the first animated adaptation. The newly added elements to the story made the movie more interesting to watch because it was not always clear what would happen next. While this film soars above poorly executed projects like “Dumbo” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” it does not quite crack the code on the Disney magic exemplified in other films.
The gorgeous filming locations made this movie shine: the deserts, the mountains and the lush green valleys. Unfortunately, Disney filmed some of the movie in Xinjiang, a province in China infamous for containing internment camps that violate various human rights of the Uyghur ethnic group.
While it is understandable that a film that takes place in China would have a filming location in China, Disney didn’t have to choose the one with human rights violations. Disney was wrong for not taking the opportunity to condemn the atrocities against the Uyghurs. However, without the context of that, the scenery added a grounding element to the movie because the natural wonders made the film feel more realistic even with all the supernatural elements like qi and a therianthropic witch.
The shapeshifting witch, Xianniang (Gong Li), was a breath of fresh air that reinvigorated the storyline and gave the film a little more complexity. The anti-Mulan proved to be the most interesting part of the retelling because the character was a perfect blend between using a character from the 1998 version, Shan Yu’s hawk, and adding a new element to the story.
However, Xianniang wasn’t given nearly as much screen time as she deserved. She should have had more character development, and been the main antagonist of the movie instead of Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), the new version of Shan Yu. Xianniang would have been a phenomenal anti-Mulan, and her self-awareness of how women are treated at the time would have made for more interesting conflicts with Mulan than the two in the movie.
The lack of several supporting characters from the 1998 version made the spotlight completely on Mulan. While this allowed for less comedic relief, it was to the benefit of the film because it was supposed to be more serious as the live-adaptation is not a replica of the animated action-comedy. Instead, it is a dramatic action-odyssey where the focus is truly on the main character. While more interaction between Mulan (Liu Yifei) and her fellow troops would have been entertaining, the film is more about her personal growth as a warrior and not about the friendships she forms along the way.
Liu Yifei shines as Mulan and her chemistry with Yoson An (Honghui), Mulan’s love interest in the film, is quite palpable. Her portrayal of Mulan is underrated because the supporting cast members, like the Emperor (Jet Li), were wooden and poorly executed, but that could be due to the poor script. Most of the lines in the movie lack true substance, and the dialogue is often too literal when instead everyday figurative language could have been used to express what the character was feeling.
While the script is atrocious, it is almost not noticeable when absorbed in tandem with the incredible wuxia action sequences and the glorious mise en scene. The costumes in this film were just so gorgeous, and there was so much purpose to each piece of jewelry and each fabric color and it showed.
Overall, the adaptation is unapologetically distinct from the 1998 version, and “Mulan” is an action adventure movie worth watching. Fans of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” may be able to appreciate the fighting choreography, whose complexity alone is enough reason to watch the film.
The main purpose of the film is to show the character development of Mulan and Mulan alone, and it accomplishes that task fairly well. New elements like Gong Li’s Xianniang add surprise and shock to a story that has already been told before. “Mulan” is not a perfect movie, but the special effects, costume design and Liu Yifei’s portrayal of Mulan must be praised. These facets of the film help it stand out among Disney’s latest live-action adaptations.