New Zealand director Niki Caro (WHALE RIDER, 2002) and her magnificent cast and crew have brought the ‘Ballad of Mulan’, an ancient Chinese poem, back to life in the jaw-dropping live-action film MULAN. Disney’s first offering of this incredible tale about a legendary female warrior was an animated feature in 1998. It was hugely successful --- just ask our daughter who was five years old at the time --- and now Disney has followed that with this much-anticipated version.
Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu) is the oldest daughter of Zhou (Tzi Ma), her father, who is suffering from an old war wound, and Li (Rosalind Chao), her
mother. She would much rather be learning the skills of a warrior from her father than preparing for marriage by meeting with a matchmaker.
When the Emperor of China, played by the renowned international star Jet Li, demands that one man from every family must serve in the Imperial Army in the war against Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee), Mulan sees her chance and takes it. Disguising herself as a man, she becomes Hua Jun, an untruth punishable by death.
MULAN is brilliantly conceived and executed, along with being visually stunning. From the first frame until the last, it is a feast for the eyes woven through this amazing story of female power as a tribute to the rich beauty of Chinese culture.
Based on ideas from writers Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, and with additional contributions from wife and husband screenwriters, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, this MULAN is not at all focused on the typical Disney princess love story. Instead the writers were more interested in “celebrating the idea that power comes from being true to who you are.”
All of this is vitally important, but without the “perfect” Mulan, it would all be moot. After an exhaustive global search for over a year, the filmmakers were extremely fortunate to have Chinese star Yifei Liu sign on as this
determined, fierce heroine.
And Liu is exceptional. She trained extensively for the role, but she makes it all look so effortless, especially when she’s wielding a sword. Plus, she’s truly beautiful --- that hair --- wow! When Mulan finally loosens her tresses, letting everyone know she’s a woman, it’s such a powerful moment --- one I hope all girls/young women will appreciate when they see MULAN.
Like all Disney films, there’s a certain amount of humor. To hide her identity, Mulan passes on the nightly showers with her fellow soldiers, opting for guard duty instead. As the others grow to admire her fighting skills, a couple of her comrades tell her she stinks, and she may want to bathe --- something I found very amusing. It’s usually the other way around ---
And, on top of everything else, Liu also sings. She recorded the favorite song, ‘Reflection’ from the animated version, in Mandarin, which plays during the credits. Christina Aguilera performs the new English version.
The entire cast is formidable --- and so good. The other female standout is Gong Li, who has appeared in several of my favorite films, such as JU DOU (1990), FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (1993) and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (2005). In MULAN she plays Xianniang, an ally to the villain Böri Khan, and who possesses mystical powers. This is not a character in the original ballad, but one made up for the film --- and especially for Li and her many talents. She’s alluring and ethereal, as always.
I could go on and on --- MULAN is just that fantastic. If you have children --- especially girls --- please make sure they see this movie. And, like I have written many times before, this film isn’t just for kids. Adults will find it as immensely entertaining as the young set.
MULAN will only be available on Disney+, so don’t wait thinking you will see it soon at a theater near you.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
It’s been almost a generation since Disney gave the world the animated blockbuster MULAN in 1998. Those child moviegoers 22 years later can now regale in Disney’s splendid live-action version.
Certainly, a new age of young cinema lovers will be eager to see MULAN (2020), and their parents will appreciate its PG-13 rating. There are so many incredible aspects featured in the current production with which moviegoers of all ages should revel.
MULAN is first and foremost an action/adventure film, yet despite its many battle scenes --- all done with extras, no CGI --- not a drop of blood is spilled. The injuries and fatalities in the fight sequences are all implied, the swift editing never lingering on any one individual --- thus earning its MPAA rating. The exceptions to this rule, of course, are the combat scenes between Mulan (the phenomenal Yifei Liu) and her chief antagonists, including Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) --- but still no visible signs of typical battle carnage.
The mostly Chinese, English-speaking cast is brilliant. From the film’s centerpiece heroine Mulan and her family, to the military officers, down to the bit characters making up her fellow recruits, MULAN commands our attention lest we miss a special line of dialogue. The soldiers with whom Mulan trains provide much of the film’s warmth and humor, at times hilarious. A quartet of writers collaborated on the complicated and intelligent screenplay. They are Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek.
Yifei Liu was chosen from a worldwide search of thousands of candidates to play Mulan. Director Niki Caro and her producers ultimately decided that Liu was the only choice, whose martial arts ability and athleticism helped immensely in her landing the role. Liu reportedly performed 90% of the stunts seen in MULAN, including the numerous parkour style movements captured flawlessly by cinematographer Mandy Walker. Walker’s impressive contributions to MULAN took her and the filmmakers through much of China and New Zealand.
Liu is also a gifted actress as displayed in the non-action scenes of MULAN when she interacts with her father Zhou (Tzi Ma) and her mother and sister.
The film is also a great testament to the importance of family. Mulan’s courage, dedication and intelligence should be an inspiration to young girls everywhere.
Her resourcefulness as she disguises herself as a man to fool the military brass provides much of the tension in the story. At one point her fellow recruits let her know how badly she smells having not showered, for obvious reasons. She finds what she thinks is a secluded lake to bathe only to be confronted by the handsome soldier Honghui (Yoson An). Mulan manages to wriggle out of this predicament with the same skill she employs to defeat opponents with her sword-wielding prowess. The New Zealand-born An is an actor to watch in future films.
While most of the film is shot as live action, some animation is used to portray the enigmatic Xianniang, an ally of Böri Khan. Xianniang frequently morphs into a hawk and back again, and is played by famed Chinese actress Gong Li. And a fantastic avalanche scene also uses computer graphics.
The music in MULAN is an awesome element of the movie, composed by the decorated Harry Gregson-Williams. The late Jerry Goldsmith provided the score for the animated version of MULAN and his work was a serious inspiration to Gregson-Williams. In a similar vein, Christina Aguilera’s career was launched with her first U.S. release entitled “Reflection”, one of the featured songs from the 1998 MULAN. Aguilera also performs the new version here. A second song in this film, called “Loyal, Brave, True”, is also sung by Aguilera and these three words are inscribed on Mulan’s sword in Chinese. This is just one example of Caro’s attention to detail and dedication to her craft. The fable of the ‘Ballad of Mulan’ dates back some 1500 years in China’s culture, so it was critical to Caro and her crew to get it right.
MULAN will be streaming exclusively on Disney+ starting September 4th. Expect MULAN watch parties to break out all over the world --- you will get your money’s worth!!
Opinion: Strong See It Now!