Mulan finds a way to offend just about everyone. Are you a feminist? Prepare to be disappointed by the film’s simplistic idea of empowerment. Do you consider yourself to be a champion of human rights? Then you would no longer be incensed by Disney’s willful denial of the mass atrocities. Or maybe you’re just a movie fan? Good luck with director Niki Caro’s impersonal input into the content.
Although Disney’s live-action remakes’ technical value has still been questionable—their presence can be traced more to Hollywood’s condescension to Chinese viewers than to any imaginative rationale—these films still seem to be growing softer. In what can be seen as a blow to Disney’s face, Mulan was roundly rejected by China when it came out theatrically over there, potentially putting an end to the West’s incursions into that market.
For way too long, both Hollywood and Bollywood have thought of China as a simple paycheque. They are pushed by subpar ‘products’ down the throat of the world, persuaded of its less demanding tastes. But the Chinese audience has caught on. And this time, it’s a personal matter. Unlike Hindu Thugs, which was a bad movie that no one in China wanted to pay to watch, Mulan is attempting to ‘honor’ Chinese society by placing millions of US dollars on what has to be the most glaringly misleading Hollywood film of its kind since the Keanu Reeves-starrer 47 Ronin. It’s a huge cultural appropriation.
In a classic attempt at misdirection, Disney put together a mostly Asian cast but failed to maintain this awareness when recruiting a predominantly white crew. At the helm, Niki Caro, a studio stationed in-house talent.
Her presence can relax those who prefer women’s stories to women’s stories, but do you see what I’m looking at? They’ve solved one issue by putting a woman at the helm, but what cultural perspectives will a New Zealand filmmaker potentially add to a Chinese story? It’s like giving Zoya Akhtar the reins to a biopic of Rosa Parks.
And the listener dies in this crossfire of cynical decision-making. Not only is the current Mulan a dreary slog, it willfully lacks the essence of the animated original. As you may have noticed, Caro has scrapped the songs and influenced a more serious sound, comparable to Jhang Yimou and Ang Lee’s epic films, the latter of which moved on to Mulan. At Disney’s encouragement, she even changed the nationality of the lead villain.
Mulan cannot be separated from the cultural context that affects it, precisely because filmmakers choose choices. By making those decisions, he has invited them to discuss them. It would have improved if it were a decent film, with an attractive plot and a compelling message, but it seems overwhelmingly uninspired—just an opportunity to make more money. This is unforgivable, given the sheer volume of money available to Caro.
Why, for example, do the intricate sets look like they were designed three days before shooting when they were meant to look more live-in? Why does the CGI look so fake because numerous sources have related the film budget to about $200 million? If you think Henry Cavill’s computer-generated mouth in the Justice League looks weird, wait until you see what they did with Jet Li’s face in the Mulan. Convince me the Deepfake isn’t done badly.
The legendary Li is only one of the many casting coups that the filmmakers have taken away. The ensemble also includes Gong Li, who plays a shape-shifting witch; Tzi Ma, who plays Mulan’s father; and the great Donnie Yen, whose talents as a martial artist are lost in a film that would rather haphazardly cut fight scenes than let Yen get down to business.
Of all the live-actions that Disney remakes, Mulan is the one that most deviates from its animated original. Though most of these films—Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The King of the Lions—were very mindful of the source material, Mulan continually runs over himself, attempting to reinvent the wheel. It is also too worried to be politically correct, which is admirable and something that requires sincerity as far as matters are concerned. There’s so little of it in here.