Mulan ★★

Maybe Disney should have just left Mulan alone. The 1998 version of the Chinese legend was one of the studio’s less compelling animated musicals, an awkward combination of showbiz formula, girl-power chutzpah, and Asian cultural references. For the live-action remake, directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), the powers that be have dropped the production numbers and put very little in their place. It would be difficult to concoct a less imaginative remake. The wuxia action is certainly more prominent here, but the frantic editing and camerawork make such sequences a taxing chore. There’s also a fakey quality to the imagery that makes it feel—in this age of the Zoom meeting—as if much of it was shot against a virtual background. Meanwhile, the cultural context is at once vague and oppressive—there’s constant talk of “chi” and “ancestors”—to the point that it’s nearly rendered meaningless. With Yifei Lu in the title role, posing elegantly but not given much of a chance to project any sort of inner life.

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