PG-13 for violence and implied nudity. I mean, there is fighting for the majority of a movie. In a way, it's kind of a war film without a formal war being started. But there is all kind of stunt work going on here. I suppose that there's a degree of peril. I don't know if I would advocate for a PG rating here, but it is close. It's probably more uncomfortable dealing with the very implied sexuality of the movie than any of the violence. But then again, I live in America, where violence seems commonplace. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Niki Caro
And we're back to doing another Disney remake. There are weird challenges that show up when writing a daily film blog. One of the things I didn't see coming is how film trends make writing difficult for variety's sake. I guess I'm probably going to lean heavy onto what I've written before, like with Dumbo or Aladdin, but try to say why Mulan is somehow different from those films. We'll see how this plays out together, eh reader?
So I was the only one in the room who was mesmerized by this movie. It was our New Year's Eve movie (which shows you exactly how far behind in writing I am) and the wife and kids weren't actively complaining. But they were also distracting themselves during the movie with a palpable boredom that I didn't understand. It wasn't that long ago that we had watched the animated Mulan, which bored me to tears. For those who want the Cliffsnotes version of my take on the animated Mulan, it was that the movie wasn't for me. It was the first time I had seen it because it slipped into that era of Disney film where I was just too old to appreciate what was coming out. But I found Mulan tedious and reliant on a few too many stereotypes. So when I was watching the live action version, it seemed like this was almost a new movie.
From what I understand, there is a bit of controversy regarding the live action Mulan. I can get that. I saw that there are a lot of white people behind the cameras on this movie, considering that this is a story so important to China. I also know the Uigburs were kind of slighted once again in the making of this movie, so I am hesitant to throw a lot of praise to this film. But because I'm not an expert at the specific production of this film, I'm going to write from a perspective of simply a consumer of entertainment. It's not the healthiest way to watch a film, but it does happen sometime. If I learn more, I may watch the film in a new light. But as of right now, I kind of just enjoy the movie, flaws and all.
The reason I kind of dug this movie is that I didn't like the original form. Disney has been churning out these live-action remakes to capitalize on marketable properties. But it's all been a nostalgia hunt, which is a double-edged sword. They get the money from the theatrical releases, but the reviews tend to be pretty meh because it doesn't live up to the childhood experience that colored so many youths. It's kind of why I thought that Dumbo was a good concept, despite poor execution. With Mulan, I know that lots of people love that movie. They love, love, love that movie. I don't know if it is was a Lion King level of love, but it was still something pretty palpable. But as a guy who thought that he would have to slog through a boring piece of garbage again (I'm sorry, Mulan fans), I was pleasantly surprised to see this gorgeous film that had compelling characters and solid performances. Yeah, there's wire work and CG. But the rules were established early, so we get that Hua Mulan lives in a world of fantasy action versus completely realistic violence.
The film gets a little shaky, however, when it comes to discussing themes. Mulan came out in 1998, I think. We were just back to getting over our politically incorrect phase (or getting back into it). There was this movie where a woman was the hero of the story and she didn't have to be a princess to do it. The message of the film was that it was foolish to relegate women to second class citizens because they were completely capable of being better than men given the proper opportunity. Cool, the new movie does that too. But I think that there was a bit more zealousness when it came to planning out the narrative of the live-action Mulan because there isn't exactly a subtlety. When Xianniang is introduced into the film, her scene is absolutely rad. She's this mystical fighter, teasing the notion that Mulan is simply the next of a long line of closeted female fighters in China. I like that. But Xianniang is really poorly developed throughout the movie. Her B-story doesn't really have the meat as the A-story, yet she keeps on weaving herself into the A-story. She is created without sympathy. We are never really given the time to bond with her character, but instead must hear about how difficult her life was. Mulan, we instantly get. We have these moments where her disruption of cultural femininity have gotten her into trouble. We get that, because she tends to lean into traditionally masculine behaviors, she is considered difficult by her family and society. But Xianniang is just a strong female fighter who has allied herself with the wrong side.
So as much as Xianniang is physically a capable warrior, it also kind of demonstrates female simplicity by accident. As strong of a character as she is, she teamed up with someone who is over-the-top archvillainy. And the more she is on screen, the dumber she looks. She was put in the movie to compensate for the antiquated elements of the animated movie and, as a result, becomes the newly antiquated concept in the film. And the thing is, she has so much potential. Another byproduct of her being in the film is the dilution of the actual villain. One of my major criticisms of the first film is the very thin characterization of the primary antagonist. He's just this force of nature, which is fine. But he seems like a caricature. That's even worse here because the only reason that he's the big bad of the movie is that he's the last guy to fight, coupled with the fact that he's good at fighting. It's kind of like making Jaws or Oddjob the big bad. We understand that there has to be an intellectual force behind all of the evil of the film and this movie just doesn't offer that.
So the movie is gorgeous and I'm going to have that as my big takeaway. Yeah, it is very imperfect. But considering that I don't traditionally love the Disney remakes, even with the exception of the 2019 Aladdin, Mulan takes some healthy steps towards resolving my issues with these movies. Yeah, I still think that they are pretty unnecessary. I'm sure that I'd lose my mind over a live-action version of The Great Mouse Detective, but it would just be hitting that nostalgia button that I've been holding onto for so long. Mulan is good enough, though, for me to appreciate it for what it is. It's a better movie than I thought it was going to be.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.