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Movie Review: “Mulan”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Mulan

Disney+ Premier Release: 9/4/2020

Disney+ Premier Release: 9/4/2020

Synopsis

Mulan (Yifei Liu) was always different. The duty of a daughter is to be respectful, to learn to take care of a household, and eventually be married to a reputable man. This is how a daughter is to bring honor to her family, but this is not who Mulan is. Mulan is a warrior at heart, and although her father entertained her passion all of her life, he always made it very clear that Mulan was expected to put all of that aside in order to fulfill her duty as a daughter. However, that all changes when their small village gets a surprise visit from members of the Imperial army.

Led by the vicious Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), and joined by a powerful witch named Xianniang (Li Gong), a group of Rouran warriors have been decimating various villages and strongholds across Imperial China, and they are making their way to the Emperor and his palace. Thus, the Emperor sends word that every family in China must send one man to join the Imperial army. Mulan's father (Tzi Ma) is the only man in her family. He was once a great warrior, but he is far too old to fight in another war. Thus, in order to save her father's life, Mulan steals her father's armor and sets out to join the army in her father's place. The only problem is that women are not allowed to fight in the army, so she must disguise herself as a man. The punishment for this lie would be severe, and it would bring great dishonor to her family, but Mulan knows that this is what she needs to do in order to save her father.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Mulan (+10pts)

Bori Khan (-5pts)

The Action & The Visuals (+6pts)

Xianniang (-3pts)

Supporting Characters (+4pts)

Super-Human Chi (-6pts)

movie-review-mulan

Pro: Mulan (+10pts)

This movie has received a lot of hate for not being similar enough to the animated movie from 1998. However, I liked this movie for that very reason. I do not understand the point in making a shot-for-shot live-action remake of a movie that already exists. I do not understand the point in doing that, and I do not understand the expectation that people had for this movie to be just that. This is not a musical, and this is not a live-action version of the cartoon. This was a live-action movie based on the same story that the animated movie was based on. They are two different things, and I appreciated that.

Nonetheless, the skeleton of Mulan's story was the same here. Mulan was a woman, and she disguised herself as a man to join the Imperial army in her father's place, since her father is too old to fight in a war. It was a story about a woman who was a warrior at heart, but had been told that she had to give up that part of herself in order to marry a reputable man and bring honor to her family. It was a story about a woman who was willing to risk everything to save her father. It was a story about a woman who was just as capable a warrior as the very best men in the Imperial army, if not more so. This was not the same exact same story as the animated movie from 1998. Instead, it was a live-action, martial arts, war movie with the same base story as the animated Disney classic, and I enjoyed seeing this new version of that familiar story.

movie-review-mulan

Con: Bori Khan (-5pts)

Bori Khan was supposed to be the big bad of this movie. He was the leader of the group of Rouran warriors that were invading China, and he was supposedly a great warrior himself. Unfortunately, the filmmakers did not really develop him at all. We learned nothing about him or why he wanted to invade China, and to make matters worse, we never even saw what he was capable of in battle.

The filmmakers showed him wiping out a bunch of nameless, faceless Chinese soldiers, but this did little to set him up as a real threat, as all of the other Rouran soldiers seemed just as effective in battle. Thus, when it came to the final showdown between Mulan and Bori Khan, I was never worried that Bori Khan would end up being victorious. He was wildly underdeveloped, which made him uninteresting, but the filmmakers also did not establish his capabilities as a warrior, which removed all of the stakes from the final fight. I think this movie could have been great if it had a great villain, but the filmmakers failed to deliver one with Bori Khan.

movie-review-mulan

Pro: The Action & The Visuals (+6pts)

There is not much to say here other than that this was a visually stunning movie. I watched this movie on my HD projector—yes, I have a projector—so I watched it on what ended up being a 150 inch screen, and the it was a great looking movie. That is not to say that one cannot appreciate the visuals on a smaller screen, but I was definitely able to take it all in on mine. The sets were stunning, and the filmmakers shot this movie in a really colorful way. Whether or not you like the story, or the fact that this movie was not similar enough to the animated movie, you cannot deny that this movie was looked great.

Then there was the action, which was pretty good. It was never "great", but it served its purpose of keeping me engaged in the story, and entertained with watching the movie. It felt like a martial arts movie while Mulan was training, and it felt like a war movie while she was in battle. There were some pretty cool and memorable action sequences in here, and they were all shot in a way that maintained the visual standards that the rest of the movie had established. It was a visually satisfying movie, and the action sequences were no exception.

movie-review-mulan

Con: Xianniang (-3pts)

While the filmmakers did not really develop Bori Khan at all, they kind of went all in with the development for Xianniang. Xianniang was the witch that was helping the Rouran warriors, and her story was all about being an outcast. Basically, society never accepted her due to her abilities, and she has held a grudge ever since. That is the setup to her story, and I do not want to get into detail on where the filmmakers went with that story to avoid spoilers. I liked her story enough, and I enjoyed the parallels between her and Mulan. That being said, she really did not feel like an antagonist.

In other words, the filmmakers established two antagonists right in the beginning. There was Bori Khan, the leader of the Rouran warriors, and there was Xianniang, the witch that was helping the Rouran warriors devastate everything in their path. With Bori Khan, the filmmakers did not develop him at all. With Xianniang, the filmmakers developed her story to the point that she really was no longer an antagonist. The result was a movie that seemed to have a void where an effective antagonist should have been. Then there was Xianniang's final scene in the movie, which seemed wildly unnecessary, other than to write Xianniang out of the way, so that Mulan and Bori Khan could have a one-on-one fight. I did not think this was a bad movie, but I thought the filmmakers did a poor job of handling their antagonists.

movie-review-mulan

Pro: Supporting Characters (+4pts)

The supporting characters were nothing special, but they were interesting enough to keep me entertained during their respective scenes. There were the characters that made up Mulan's fellow group of soldiers, with Cricket (Jun Yu) having a few effective comedic moments. There was also the commander (Donnie Yen) who was clearly a badass warrior in his own right, but added some level of suspense as he was the most likely character to find out Mulan’s secret. There was also Mulan's father, who was the emotional heart of this story, even with the relatively little screen-time that he got. Finally there was the Emperor, who did not really do a whole lot, but was really the entire mission of this movie. There were plenty of supporting characters, and while none of them were incredibly memorable, they each played their respective parts well and each contributed something different to my enjoyment of the movie.

movie-review-mulan

Con: Super-Human Chi (-6pts)

I thought the whole super-human Chi thing was a bit ridiculous. The filmmakers basically took the whole concept of Chi, and implied that some people could just naturally focus their Chi to the extent that it made them a superhero. While I liked that the filmmakers wanted to do something different with this movie, I did not like how they used Chi. To start, it made Mulan's story less inspiring. She was basically born with great Chi, and was a naturally gifted warrior as a result of that.

Mulan did not have to train hard and overcome the obstacle of being a woman fighting to survive in a world of men. Instead, she was basically just born great. Then there was the fact that the whole super-human Chi thing made the martial arts mastery by other characters—like Donnie Yen as the commander—feel pointless and unremarkable. The way the filmmakers handled Chi boosted Mulan. She just never really had to work for it, and I thought it made her story far less impactful than it should have been.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

movie-review-mulan

Grade: B- (81pts)

I have seen a lot of reviews for this movie that have hated on it for being too dissimilar from the animated Disney movie from 1998, and I think those reviews are completely unjustified. I do not understand the point in remaking a movie and making it a shot-for-shot remake of a movie that came before it. The filmmakers of this movie went in a different direction than the original. They took out all the songs and other aspects of the story that were aimed at kids. What they were left with was a story about Mulan that was more or less the same story, but it was more of a war and martial arts movie, and less of a kids movie.

That being said, I still found the movie to be entertaining. It had antagonists that were either underdeveloped or misused, and the way the filmmakers handled Chi made Mulan's story feel less inspiring and it made other characters capabilities as warriors feel less special. That being said, Mulan's story was still inspiring enough to carry the movie. The movie was looked really great, and the action was exciting enough to keep me engaged. Was this a great movie? No, but I think the hatred it has received has been wildly unjustified. It is not a kids movie, and viewers should not expect it to be exactly like the animated movie—if you want to watch the animated movie, then you should just watch the animated movie—but there was plenty to like about it and I had a decent time watching it, as did the five people I watched it with.

Comments

Bunty Thoidingjam from New Delhi on September 16, 2020:

(^^)b