Trying to fall in love with film again.

Mulan(2020) is.... just fine.

Mulan (2020) - IMDb 

Story

Mulan is a retelling of the myth of Hua Mulan a young woman who takes her father's place in the conscription of the army by disguising herself a man. It also serves as a remake of the 1998 film of the same name.

The story in this movie while being very similar to the animated one differs in tone and historical accuracy. This one leans more into mysticism and historical elements that the animated movie lacked. The filmmakers used not only the animated movie as a reference, but they also used different Chinese adaptations of 'The Ballad of Hua Mulan.' which serves as the original basis for the adaptation. 

At its core, it's a story of a woman who defied the odds and showed that there was more to her than what society wanted of her. It's a good message and this movie manages to get the message across in a way that is easy for everyone to understand and digest.

Acting

The acting is good. Yifei Liu carries the movie with charisma and emotion. She may not be as funny as her animated counterpart but she makes up for it her performance and seeing that this movie isn't a comedy, I am okay with it. You can tell she has a softer and more playful side but it doesn't jeopardise the intensity of the movie. I also found out that she did 90% of her own stunts which is really impressive given how complex some of the sequences are.

Mulan review: Live-action remake on Disney Plus a timely, moving take - CNET
Yifei Liu as Mulan in Mulan (2020) dir. Niki Caro

The rest of the cast is just as good. They all have organic chemistry that brings the film together especially the soldiers in Mulan's regiment. There is a community feel which grounds the movie. You see them start out as strangers and slowly becomes somewhat of a family. The scene where they are talking before they head into battle really shows how much the characters have progressed.

There are also a few of recognisable faces such as Donnie Yen who plays Commander Tung
and Jet Li who plays The Emperor. While I didn't recognise them at first, it was a nice tidbit to know that they were in the movie. 

The other actor apart from Yifei Liu that caught my attention was Gong Li who plays a new character Xianniang one of the antagonists. Her performance is a compelling one in part due to the way her character was written but a lot of it falls on Gong's delivery. It's a lot more multi-faceted than I initially thought. Apart from Mulan, she is easily the best character.

Mulan Cinematographer Mandy Walker on Color and the Battle Scene | Collider
Gong Li in Mulan (2020) dir. Niki Caro


Writi
ng/Direction

There was a lot of outrage when it was announced that Li Shang and Mushu were not going to be in the movie, from myself included and now that I've watched the movie, the change makes sense. Tonally, the Mulan remake is more serious than its predecessor. It leans more into the mythos of the character by using other retellings as a guide and by doing so removes a lot of the comedic and romantic elements that a lot of us are familiar with. And given the tonal shift having a comedic dragon and a romantic subplot in a movie about war makes no sense. Sure Mulan and Chen Honghui have a connection but it never explored more than some glances and one gesture towards the end. 

Also, this version is trying to be more accurate than the 1998 version. When it was released, the 1998 movie was met with unfavourable criticism as Chinese audiences complained that the story was a watered-down westernised version of the myth. And this movie seeks to correct that. 

Niki Caro, the director and the screenwriters had an impossible task, to create a movie that resonated with Chinese audiences who didn't care for the original and wanted to see their culture decided correctly and American audiences who have a strong connection to the first one. And I can't say that they succeeded seeing as I am not in either of those groups. From my perspective they crafted a good story, it has story beats that could easily resonate with anyone regardless of where they came from. By using strong familial links, the movie is able to ground itself while also having emotional backbone. However, the movie's reliance on chi isn't explained very well. Some have more chi than others and we aren't really given an explanation as to why. Also, Xianniang story is an interesting one, especially as the movie shows that there is a parallel between her and Mulan.

The direction is solid. While it does slow down a little in the middle, it's not for long and Niki Caro's direction really shines in terms of the action sequences. They aren't jarring and play to the strength of the characters while also giving each person their time to shine. 
Mulan Cast Guide: Where You Know The Actors In Disney's Remake From
Yifei Liu as Mulan in Mulan (2020) dir. Niki Caro

CGI/Set Design 

This movie is stunning. I said in my Instagram story last night when I watched it, that it looked really pretty and now that I've seen the movie, I can wholeheartedly say that it is a beautiful movie with its own distinct visual language. The establishing throughout the movie are colourful and vibrant and the movie as a whole looks epic and grand. 

There is also a great use of colour grading, Mulan's village is a lot more vibrant and colour but as she becomes a soldier the colours are more muted and neutral. This also makes the red of the uniforms to stand out.

Mandy Walker, the cinematographer did a great job with light. Take the scene below, there is a beam of light on the emperor almost like a spotlight, highlighting his importance. The shot is also framed in a way that put the emperor in the middle, making sure that we look at him further highlighting his importance to both us and the story.  

Mateo Touzet 🇫🇷📸 on Twitter: "Not without flaws, but #Mulan remains to  this day the best live action movie from #Disney. Creatively, it is an  absolute success. A huge amount of work

I wish I had seen this in the cinema because watching it at home didn't do the visuals any justice. They deserve to be seen on a big screen.

Score/Soundtrack 

One of the biggest gripes of the movies is the lack of music. And I understand why, as someone who is listening to I'll Make a Man out of You as I write this, the music feels like a fundamental part of the movie and without it, the remake almost feels a little hollow, but the absence of music all comes down to the tonal shift. As I stated earlier this movie leans more towards realism and having musical numbers in a war epic won't work. Here's a quote from the Wikipedia page 
Caro later explained that the songs were deleted because she felt it didn't fit with her realistic vision of the film; she believes that since people do not break out into song as they enter war, the film should not either.
And her reasoning makes sense.

That being said Harry Gregson-Williams, did a great job of incorporating the songs from into the score. Rather than having them stand out, they blend into the score, creating emotional weight. Reflection is used numerous times and plays a thematic role, and those moments are probably the best parts of the movie because it sounds more epic given the introduction of drums. 

The filmmakers also did a fantastic job of bringing Christina Aguilera back to sing Reflection even though it isn't used in the movie. And the version of Reflection has a new verse, which makes it new and different rather than a rehash fo the 1998 version she sings. Much like the score, this version of the song has added instruments which make it more of an anthem than a ballad. There is also a new song called  Loyal Brave, Ture based on the phrase that plays a very important role in the film. I like the song, it fits with the themes of the remake while also having the same core message of the original.

Overall Thoughts

I've heard a lot of polarising things about this movie. Some say they really enjoyed it, while others have said it's a disappointing, underwhelming mess. I fall in the middle, I think it's just okay and have no strong leanings in any one direction. This is what I tweeted when I finished the movie. 

When it comes to their live-action remake, Disney is damned if they do, damned if they don't. Making the movie is like walking on thin ice because the movies they are remaking mean so much to so many different people. Have the movie be too similar and it ends up like The Lion King, that didn't really need to exist where the validity of the remake comes into question. Have it be too different and you have a movie like this that alienates its core audience and people would argue that it taints the legacy of the first one.

And while I think this movie is different from the original, the core of the story is still there. And given the tonal shift and the fact that the filmmakers were trying to ground the film in reality, it makes sense. Having a talking dragon who cracks jokes would take the tension out the of a lot of the scenes seeing as its a war epic at its core. 

While this isn't my least favourite remake, it's towards the middle of the list as it felt a little hollow. There are good performances from the actors and gorgeous landscape shots but overall the movie never really made me feel anything. 

I will say though that some of the behind the scenes information about this movie 

K. Austin Collins' Rolling Stone review said it best. 
Its cast, attitude and overall eagerness to please — all benefits, one would think — don't add up to a good movie. They add up to a blueprint of the movie this ought to be.

I will say though that this movie does a good job of paying homage to the film it is based on while being its own thing and delivering a fresh new take.

Let me Explain has a great video explaining the issues with the movie while also talking about the positive aspects.

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