Director(s): Niki Caro
Writer(s): Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin
Cast: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li and Jet Li
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Sep 4, 2020 - Disney+
Mulan, premiering September 4th on Disney+ for a premium access fee, is the latest in a line of live-action remakes that will eventually see a giant mouse captaining a vessel in the live-action remake of Steamboat Willie. Director Niki Caro helms this version of the 1998 animated film about a legendary warrior. The film has the look of a big screen epic, but given the current pandemic, has seen its release changed to a premium streaming offer.
Northern invaders led by Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) have been attacking outpost after outpost, their path of death and destruction aided by a powerful witch, Xian Lang (Gong Li). When the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that each family must provide one male to fight, Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma), a veteran warrior and father of two girls, steps forward to answer the call despite his failing health. Not wanting to see her father hurt in any way, the headstrong and gifted Mulan (Yifei Liu) steals his armour and disguises herself as a man, fooling her fellow soldiers and legendary leader, Commander Tung (Donnie Yen). When the armies clash, Mulan must not only fight the enemy, but also a battle of loyalty, bravery, and truth.
There are a few changes from the animated version. In the animated Mulan, her character worked hard to develop her skills and it was her tenacity that made her successful, In Caro’s version, the screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Lauren Hynek & Elizabeth Martin seems to have dropped by the Star Wars area of Disney as Mulan has displayed amazingly impossible physical abilities since childhood and her interactions with the witch, Xian Lang, have a hint of a Darth and Luke dynamic. The only thing missing is a Chinese Yoda. In the animated version, Mulan’s commander later had feelings for her, but in the #MeToo era, the position of authority/romance angle doesn’t go over so well, so the Captain Li Shang character was divided into Commander Tung and Mulan’s peer, Chen Honghui (Yonson An). Also, the cheeky Chinese dragon, Mushu, who was Mulan’s companion in the animated film is replaced by a mythical phoenix that we see on occasion though it never interacts with Mulan.
Liu Yifei, who portrays Mulan, handles the physical elements very well, though the emotional depth in her performance is a bit lacking. Jason Scott Lee is perfectly malevolent as the invading Bori Kahn. Gong Li’s witch has many layersand portrays a character whose power is also her prison. Tzi Ma, who portrays Mulan’s father effortlessly combines honour, love of family and quiet dignity into a wonderful performance and Donnie Yen adds nobility and power to his performance as Mulan’s commander. Yoson An will probably get a few hearts a-flutter as Mulan’s fellow soldier, Chen Honghui. Finally, the legendary Jet Li adds gravitas and a few good moves to the Chinese Emperor.
Caro and her team have created a film with an epic sweep that really longs to be seen on the big screen. From stunning landscape shots to busy villages and lush palaces, there’s always something to keep the eye interested. The battle scenes are large in scope and parents of little ones should know that the battlefields and vanquished garrisons are not missing scores of dead soldiers.
Audiences will be attracted to Mulan’s sweeping story of loyalty, bravery and truth. If we’re sticking with truth for a minute, then I do need to address that the film is not without some controversy. Disney is a large corporate entity that, like many studios, is dependent on a large cash influx from Chinese audiences to succeed, which in turn entails some cooperation with, and appeasement of, the demands of the Chinese government in order to get clearance to be shown there. Just as the film was being released, Disney’s PR team were probably working overtime to deal with a #BoycottMulan campaign, that stemmed from Liu Yifei voicing support for the police in their battles with pro-democracy citizens in Hong Kong.
In 2020, loyalty, bravery, and truth have to compete with politics, power, and profit.