August 31st, 2020
STARRING: YIFEI LIU; DONNIE YEN; LI GONG; JET LI; JASON SCOTT LEE; TZI MA
DIRECTED BY: NIKI CARO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Any way that you slice it, Mulan is a rousing success. Not even the global pandemic can stop this movie, with gorgeous cinematography, a hero's journey, and a class-act cast. Plus, the track record for these Disney live-action revivals has been a disaster to this point, which makes it interesting to see the Mickey Mouse club “desperate” for a win. The Lion King was an embarrassing shot for shot redo of the animated film. Aladdin didn’t even have a successful roll-out with the trailer going viral for Will Smith’s awful blue body. Leaving it to the warrior story of Mulan to bring them to success, director Niki Caro has made a spectacular picture, worthy of being on the same level with it’s animated original.
Fans of that animated version may not be too happy with the removal of Eddie Murphy’s talking dragon, but the narrative changes to this version are ultimately for the better. There’s a bit less humor, a PG-13 rating, and more of everything else. The screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin, and Lauren Hynek follows the structure from before, with fresh, and well written updates to separate itself. Mulan (Yifei Liu) is the daughter of Zhou (Tzi Ma) and Li (Rosalind Chao), and along with her sister Xiu (Xana Tang), she is expected to bring honor to the family by being matched to a respected suitor. Trying to pin down Mulan is not an easy task; She is special, in tune with her chi, and destined for more than just being a gentle wife. When the evil Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) attacks military outposts, along with the fierce witch Xianniang (Li Gong) doing his bidding, the threat of the Emperor (Jet Li) is real, forcing all men to defend their country.
The narrative that follows are the more familiar parts of Mulan. She defies the archaic rules, takes her father's place to go fight, with sword in hand, and a chip on her shoulder. She pretends to be a man, training alongside Honghui (Yoson An), under Commander Tung (Donnie Yen), in order to fight in her family's honor. And the path is displayed with narrative elegance and speed. There is the use of training montages, which look like luxuriously choreographed Olympics ceremonies, and various action set pieces which remind me of artistic martial arts/war films Yimou Zhang, such as Hero or more recently Shadow. It all builds up perfectly to Mulan revealing her true self and true skills.
What makes this version of Mulan strong is the spirit that radiates through it all. The major headlines about the production was the authenticity, using an entire Asian cast, an excellent woman directing behind the camera, and a diverse crew showing that yes, big budget movies can be made by a collection of artists of all kinds of backgrounds. It makes me proud to say that Mulan goes beyond achieving the success it reaches for. The work by Yifei Liu is exceptional as the title character, with a supporting cast raising her up, specifically Tzi Ma as the gentle paternal figure, Donnie Yen bringing his exciting martial arts style to great action scenes, and Li Gong, whose Xianniang is vicious and the opposite image of Mulan’s reflection.
I typically wouldn’t be sad that a Disney movie isn’t getting the theatrical release during Covid- the massive entertainment conglomerate can always be taken down a peg. But Mulan is worthy of that big screen experience. I wish audiences could see Mandy Walker’s cinematography- which is gorgeous, but also offset by some plastic CGI sets- and the tactile, almost guaranteed oscar nominated costume work by Bina Daigeler. All of it would be worth the price of admission. The ultimate praise, however, belongs to Niki Caro. This Mulan gives off a big Wonder Woman or Black Panther vibe in style and accomplishment, setting an excellent path for movies to follow. They can call it the path of Mulan.
MULAN IS AVAILABLE TO RENT THIS WEEKEND WITH YOUR DISNEY+ SUBSCRIPTION
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady