Not to be compared to the original: “Mulan” review

Sarah Wandor

Critic’s Corner Columnist

The live-action “Mulan” (2020) is based on the animated 1998 “Mulan” movie. It is set in ancient China, which is being invaded by the Huns, so the emperor requires one man from each family to serve in the army.

The film follows a woman named Mulan whose father is required to serve in the army despite his age and leg injury since he is the only male in the family. However, Mulan, concerned for her father’s safety, secretly takes his place, disguises herself as a man and joins the imperial army.

She struggles to hide the fact that she is a woman and to fit in with the rest of the men. Throughout the movie, her skill, strength and intelligence are shown as she becomes the woman to save not only her father but China as well.

Though “Mulan” is based on the animated version, I critiqued it without comparing it to the 1998 animated “Mulan” movie. So how closely or different they are from each other does not affect how good or bad the film is.

Throughout the film, the actors did an excellent job at breathing life into their characters and portraying them well. With most if not all the actors likely having English as their second language, it could have been difficult to put emphasis on the correct words and show emotion through the lines given. Yet each actor, no matter how small a part they had, did this very well.

The actress for Mulan’s mother was very good at showing the concern and love she had for her family. When she talks to her husband about Mulan, you can hear in her voice that she is worried but balances it very well by retaining her composure with her facial expression, reflecting what the character is feeling.

The same can be said of the actors for the soldiers as well. They may have been background characters, if you will, but each of them did a fantastic job of making them feel like real people even with the little lines they had. All of the actors portrayed their characters well and really brought them to life regardless of how small they were.

The script was well written in parts but not so much in others. There were times where it was natural and drew the audience into what was happening, yet at other times it felt very forced and pulled one’s attention from what was taking place on screen.

A prime example is when the soldiers and Mulan are talking the night before battle. One of them is joking who is going to die first, but another says that is not something to joke about as this could be the last time they see each other. This is very well written as it is very human of them to think they could die during battle and it shows the nervousness they feel.

However, the scene continues with Mulan quoting her father and how she will protect them. The scene that first drew in the audience’s attention has now lost it because it broke up a deep and human moment between friends to place attention on Mulan. It was not needed and it felt more forced than genuine. It didn’t fit because of where it was put and how Mulan said it.

Another example is when Mulan sheds her armor and reveals she is a woman. It was meant to be an empowering and inspirational scene but fell drastically short because of the way it was written. It felt weird, out of place and more of a letdown to what should have been a defining moment for Mulan.

There are many more examples of scenes like these throughout the film, where scenes were very well-written, worked really well and built up the energy of the movie while others fell incredibly short and the energy that was once built up came crashing down.

As a script writer, one cannot let that happen as you want to build that energy which helps the emotion and tension of the film transcend the screen and helps the audience feel what the characters themselves would be feeling. That helps a movie to feel real and have audiences connect with it.

The live-action “Mulan” is very different from the original animated version, so comparing the two is not only difficult but both films should be appreciated separately.

Despite its shortcomings, “Mulan” is a movie I would recommend people to watch but not to compare to the original. I was pleasantly surprised as I did not expect this film to be good and yet it was. Its vibrant colors and excellent acting make it a film that is worth seeing once. It may not be the best film but overall, it is fairly well done.

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