It’s painfully obvious that this movie is made by clueless white people behind the camera. It’s a collection of Asian cinematic tropes and Chinese fan fiction of historical events, all injected into a movie that’s designed to sell to as many target audiences as possible.
Niki Caro does tweak the original. Live-action Mulan promises to be an adaptation of the legend from Chinese history, not the Disneyfied story – no animal sidekicks, bisexual Li Shang, and musical numbers.
The cast is decent enough despite the dumb script. Yifei Liu is a well-cast as Mulan but Gong-Li steals every scene she’s in as a powerful witch. The guys do their best.
The production value isn’t shabby either. Disney money provides detailed costumes and locations. The landscapes are augmented, but they’re lavish enough for you not to dwell on it too much.
The production value, however, can’t redeem a movie that’s written as if it’s being explained to a five-year-old.
The film has captain obvious to narrate what’s happening, a CGI Phoenix in case you didn’t get the obvious metaphor and lessons that are spelled out in every turn. As a result, the movie is devoid of tension, emotion, and character development.
The movie refuses to let Mulan do her thing. Instead of letting her navigate a male-dominated world and prove that the definition of a warrior that doesn’t depend on a pair of balls, live-action Mulan depends on fantasy elements.
The script invents another female character – a sorceress scorned for her powers – to stir some conflict but only highlights that Xian Lang is the best character in this movie. The witch attempts to lure Mulan into the dark side where she can freely use her power for herself instead of the ungrateful idiots who are too thick in the head to realize that she’s their ultimate weapon.
Mulan has Chi and Asian Shadowfax. The script borrows from Asian movies to show that it’s an Asian movie – wire-fu, kung fu, bedsheet kung fu – and the action sequences are basic. In fact, you can pick any Donnie Yen – reduced here into a cardboard cutout as Commander Tung – kung fu movie with a blindfold and you’ll get something leagues better.
After moving from one ridiculously contrived plot point to the next, Mulan ends as a shameless cash grab. It’s a dressed-up average action movie that is incomparable to the original, despite the animated movie’s faults. It offers nothing new for both its fanbase and new audiences. Except if you’re five.
Mulan has a high production value that can't mask a lifeless, depersonalized, uninspired action movie.