A month back, I came across one post of Barron from 10nineteen on a review of the 2009 Chinese live-action version of Mulan. Considering that I am of Chinese descent, grew up watching (and loving) the 1998 Disney version of the famed tale, and had a horrible experience with watching the 2020 Disney version (which I reviewed here), I was curious to give the 2009 version a try and see if I could cleanse myself of the 2020 monstrosity that I’d endured just two months prior. Barron was very kind to share the film via Google Drive, and so the day after Christmas, I gave it go.
After giving it a watch, I would say that many of my opinions on Mulan (2009) are aligned with what Barron had wrote in his review, although I will say that I had expectations going into the film, but unfortunately, they fell flat. The Chinese version is different from both Disney ones not just in the fact that the dialogue’s completely in Chinese, but also takes on a darker tone than the others. You can see it in much of the color throughout the film, as it’s drab and somber in hue. It’s grittier, as it doesn’t shy away from the killings depicted on the battlefield, with Mulan beheading one or two along the way.
I also found Mulan (2009) to be more psychological than the Disney films, as it focuses on the titular character undergoing trauma due to being in the army for many years, not just experiencing first-hand thousands of deaths, but also the pressure to lead her troops as a general. There are scenes which aren’t pretty, from Mulan feeling pain at taking the life of an enemy with her bare hands to her alcoholism when her fellow general, Wentai, is supposedly killed. And while the film doesn’t focus too heavily on the gender aspect of it all, it still does subtly depict the high standards (and barriers) that Mulan has to overcome to prove herself worthy of being in the army, let alone a general.
While I was fine with Mulan developing a romance with Wentai, I also agree with Barron that the relationship never really blossomed, at least from what we as the audience could see. I think it got a bit lost in between other issues that the titular character was dealing with, including fighting the Rouran tribes and the pressure of being a good general for her troops. As a result, the love development between the two characters was rather choppy, interspersed between the other problems faced throughout the film.
The war scenes were also fine, although I did notice that it was a bit on the lower budget side. Same went for the dialogue, which I felt a bit overly melodramatic and cliché at times. I also think that, for the film being almost two hours long, it kind of rushed Mulan’s training days in the first 30-40 minutes, and focused way too much on the back-and-forth of fighting the Rouran tribes, her life as a general, and her romance with Wentai. As a result, the last two-thirds of the film felt too drawn out, and I found myself rather bored with it. Plus, I was confused as to why the producers would choose to hire a white guy (played by Ukrainian singer Vitas) as one of the secondary characters; I reckon it’s a “Chinese thing” to hire token white actors in their films to draw publicity to the Western audience, as I’ve seen this before in other Chinese films I’ve watched. Weird, but okay…
Would I choose to re-watch Mulan (2009)? Probably not. But I’m glad I got to satisfy my curiosity, and to regard another interpretation of the classic tale of a badass female warrior. For now, I’ll be sticking to the more-lighthearted 1998 Disney animated film, until another version comes along to give it a go.
Thanks again, Barron, for introducing me to this film! 🙂
— The Finicky Cynic
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