Mulan is arguably one of the most controversial films in recent years. Not because of the inclusion of any controversial messages, but due to the talk circulating its lead actress Liu Yi-fei regarding her support of the Hong Kong police during last year’s anti-government protests. After people learned of this, Disney’s live-action film was widely boycotted.
Disney’s remake of Mulan that was meant to entertain had become politicized, which in turn had an effect on its estimated box office. But its ill fate was not only due to its controversies, but the global pandemic. Due to covid-19, Disney had decided to skip the conventional method of launching the film in cinemas, and to stream the film via Disney Plus starting on September 4. It was only released theatrically in countries where theaters had reopened like China.
Mulan, which hit theaters in Hong Kong last Thursday, was a highly anticipated film that I was waiting for, amongst many other Chinese people. The hashtag Hua Mulan had reportedly been viewed for over one billion times on Weibo (Chinese version of twitter) with 770,000 comments on the topic of the live-action film Mulan. The movie was set for release in March of 2020, but due to the coronavirus it had been delayed, and although my excitement for the film has died down – I had the opportunity to watch the film.
Audiences must have had high expectations for Mulan 2020, as the animated version of the 1998 version of Mulan wasn’t quite favored as much by the Chinese, which is evident looking at the disappointing numbers from its box office. Disney, which poured five years into making Mulan 2020, is now attempting to win the likes of China, the world’s second-biggest box office, through a brand-new version of the well-known warrior.
Many would expect that in this divided world, the Chinese would support this movie which was boycotted by many in the west. But in fact, Mulan had received low ratings from Chinese after a disappointing debut in mainland China on September 11, seemingly reflecting that the majority of Chinese people were unimpressed by this remake.
Putting this talk of the buzz aside, Mulan was far from satisfactory.
Mulan director Niki Caro had incorporated the traditional Chinese culture, promoted the values of filial piety – Disney had even included a line in the beginning of the movie, from the original poem of Mulan that translates to “ Mulan replied, “They say the male rabbit likes to hop and leap, while the female rabbit prefers to sit still. But in times of danger, when two rabbits scurry by, who can tell male from female?”.
Evidently, we can tell that there is research put into this, unlike the previous movie from 1998 that had included characters that were not at all mentioned (the cricket, the dragon, etc.) But as I watched the film, I realised that I lacked interest. Scenes rolled on in a chronological order robotically. It wasn’t able to portray what the animated version was able to, and that was the emotion.
Mulan’s daring decision had proved her to be a real warrior through her sacrifice for her family. But here in this live action, somehow those scenes that were meant to be memorable felt forced. It felt scripted. Characters were not able to directly express the intensity of emotions or build much suspense at particular points of the movie. The movie was fast and slow – slow in pace due to the boredom I was filled with, and fast with the scenes as if it was last-minute work that the student had to hand in to the school-teacher.
Oddly, a movie that was supposed to be filled with suspense was replaced with dissatisfaction. Despite having a 200 million US dollar budget for props, costumes, numerous destinations that the movie had taken place in, and famous cast that are all A-list celebrities – it really proves that money is unable to express the right emotions in a movie. Overall, the budget of the film had wowed me, but the movie wasn’t quite able to.