Mulan: More serious, less playful than the original

Published: July 11, 2019

Most of Disney’s live-action adaptations have been fairly loyal to their animated counterparts, but it looks like the studio might be going in a dramatically different direction with its upcoming revisit to Mulan.

Directed by New Zealand filmmaker Niki Caro and starring Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei in the titular role, the remake appears to have a more serious, less playful tone than its predecessor.

The story is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, the daughter of an ailing warrior who disguises herself as a man and takes her father’s place in the army. The teaser trailer suggests that this could be Disney’s grittiest live-action adaptation thus far, more realistic and less inclined towards fantasy than its animated version.

The protagonist’s companion, the quirky, talking dragon Mushu, is conspicuously absent here, and it is certainly hard for those of us who grew up watching the 1998 movie to imagine Mulan without Mushu. Plus General Shang – the leader of the Chinese army and Mulan’s love interest in the original – is nowhere to be found, and appears to have been replaced by the character of Chen Honghui (Yoson An), an army recruit who becomes Mulan’s new flame; we’ll just have to wait and see why this change was made.

Also, it seems highly unlikely that this set of soldiers will break into a song about a girl worth fighting for as the musical parts appear to have been omitted. The film is, however, expected to feature instrumental versions of the animated movie’s classic soundtrack which should at least invoke some nostalgia.

Disney’s live adaptations of late have raked in the money at the box office, but haven’t always satisfied critics. It looks like Mulan could be a financial and critical success as well, based simply on the talent involved and the strength of the story. Additionally, many have long been saying that Hollywood now needs to champion films which boast a diverse cast and tell stories which represent varied protagonists. By the looks of it, Mulan is a step in that direction.

Ultimately, while the overall tonal shift may be jarring for fans of the original, the more dramatic approach could still suit the tale of a fierce warrior breaking barriers and defining herself on her own terms. The action elements seem strong, and the cinematography looks impressive in this brief clip.

The diverse international cast – Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Gong Li, and Jet Li, along with the aforementioned Yifei and An – is likely to deliver interesting interpretations of their characters. And it is also great to see a project that not only features a strong female character commanding the storyline but also finds a female director behind the camera.

Mulan is set to bring honour to us all when the film hits cinemas on March 27, 2020.

(All photos: IDMb)


Sameen Amer

Sameen Amer

The author is a Lahore-based freelance writer and critic. She tweets as @Sameen (

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