A remake with some hefty changes to the 1998 blueprint
A remake with some hefty changes to the 1998 blueprint
Film review: Mulan (2020) - Lanz Aaron G. Tan (The Philippine Star) - September 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Disney’s original Mulan (1998) was an animated extravaganza for the ages: it re-invigorated a culturally significant story, introduced memorable charismatic characters, and presented songs so iconic they would make most Broadway musicals blush with envy.

Niki Caro’s remake of the same name makes some hefty changes to the 1998 blueprint: no Mushu, no Captain Shang, and most surprisingly — no songs. But their absence paves the way for a direction that Disney’s reboots have desperately needed; by setting a distinguished tone, Caro’s Mulan saves itself from the impossible task of being as over-the-top as its animated counterpart. But the question remains — is this update worthy?

On a technical level, it’s undisputed that Mulan is a formidable accomplishment. It boasts a soaring score by Harry Gregson-Williams which accentuates key instrumental themes from the animated classic, while also adapting darker hues and layered Oriental textures.

Mulan is also well-varnished eye candy. Cinematographer Mandy Walker carries the visual storytelling with a flair rarely seen in children’s blockbusters. She films interiors with an effusive ambience, and captures the lush beauty of natural landscapes shot on-location in China and New Zealand. Walker takes full advantage of Mulan’s $200M production budget, often filming with an ultra-wide lens that wraps around the screen to fully envelop viewers in breathtaking real-life locations.

However, when it comes to embodying Asian values, Mulan is a banana — yellow on the outside, but white on the inside. While it’s important to flaunt an all-Asian cast, Mulan’s leading creative team is exclusively White — and that dissonance is evident on screen. And no, merely repeating words associated with Asian customs (like “Loyal, Brave, True”) to the point where they would make a tipsy drinking game doesn’t count as cultural respect.

In Caro’s film, Mulan is magically born a martial arts superstar, which obviously gives her infinite room to grow as a character — especially if all her trials can be turned on a dime. Joking aside, Mulan’s screenplay is probably less at home on a movie screen than it is in a furniture shop — in the company of all things wooden. Some characters can be swapped around or deleted with no consequence to the plot — so don’t worry, if you have a hard time remembering characters’ names after the film, it’s not amnesia.

If you’re a zealous Mulan fan and are curious to check out this rendition, there is visual splendor awaiting — just don’t expect it to match the original’s candor.

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