#REVIEW: “DISNEY’S MULAN”
By Mr. Will Wong
One of the worst things about this Pandemic was not being able to see Disney’s Mulan in March when it originally was supposed to be released, yet one of the best things about it also is now being able to see it. We’ve waited patiently with bated breath and while it seemed like this day would never come, Niki Caro‘s live-action adaptation of Mulan now is here and is decidedly getting an at-home release on Disney+.
1998’s commercially and critically-lauded animated predecessor is a tough-act to follow, even some 22 years later. While this latest incarnation of the historic heroine might not hit the same emotional notes and lively charm the previous Film did, it definitely has something to say and commands our undivided attention. While lovable Mushu the Dragon might be gone, this Film possesses still a bit of mysticality.
As China is about to be infiltrated by invaders from the north, The Emperor (Jet Li) calls for one man only per family to serve in the army to fight in the impending war against Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), who is avenging the loss of his father. With her ailing father Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma), a former war veteran too weak to fight, Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei) against her father’s wishes, secretly disguises herself as a man to fight in the war. The story recounts some of the challenges she faces masquerading as a man, which are just as tough as harnessing her natural ability in training to become a warrior. Mulan finds herself exceeding all expectations, but what will come of it if it ever becomes known that she doesn’t bestow the virtues placed upon her to being “loyal, brave and true” should it be known she really is a woman?
Disney’s Mulan is told through a Screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, asking new questions and introducing a few new characters in Mulan‘s love interest Chen Honghui (Yoson An) and her mentor in Commander Tung (Donnie Yen), who both are based on Li Shang in the previous Film. We also meet a shape-shifting witch named Xianniang (Gong Li), an ally of Bori Khan who truly is more than meets the eye.
What this Film does better than before is that it builds its villains not necessarily as being evil, but also human and having reasons behind their actions. While Xianniang might easily be discounted as being an evil witch, the Film takes a moment to explain the bond that women share being marginalized if they didn’t conform to societal expectations of them and this takes the storytelling to a deeper level. While we’ve made progress in the conversation surrounding gender equity, the Film is a reminder that expectations and limitations placed upon us are imaginary confines and if anything, this is a message the next generation needs to be empowered with.
Furthermore, Disney’s Mulan captures so beautifully the true heart of the story – the importance of family honour and standing for what is right. We never lose sight of this in Caro‘s storytelling. Cinematographer Mandy Walker (Tracks, Hidden Figures) has an awe-inspiring ability to capture landscapes with an understanding of space that transports us right into the story.
Liu Yifei carries the weight of the Film on her own and does an admirable job executing the physical demands of her role. The action is fantastic, always cautious never to get too bloody or cruel. Liu‘s Mulan is a testament that being a strong woman doesn’t necessarily have to come at the cost of grace and vulnerability and this is why so many of us to this day still love and relate to the character. In terms of a Supporting Cast, there couldn’t be one more stacked with talent including great performances by Yen, who gives heart to the story and Tzi Ma, who pretty much has the market cornered on being our “Favourite On-Screen Chinese Dad”.
While we will miss the phenomenal songs heard in the last version of the Film, they will always be there for us to enjoy and aren’t going anywhere. If you stay for the credits you get to hear Christina Aguilera‘s updated rendition of original theme song, Reflection. Liu also sings Mandarin-Chinese version of the tune following. Caro‘s take on the Film is about expressing the core of why Mulan is so timelessly-inspiring with a sword’s edge.
Disney’s MULAN will be available to Disney+ subscribers with Premier access on Friday, September 4, 2020. It will be made available to all Disney+ subscribers at a later date.