Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Mulan (2020)

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Mulan (2020) – Film Review

Cast: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma

Director: Niki Caro

Synopsis: Following an enemy invasion, the Emperor decrees that one man from every family must fight in the Chinese Imperial army. Disguising herself as a man, a young woman rides off to war, taking her ailing father’s place…

Review: It is hard to look past the fact that since Disney started to up the ante with their live action remakes, it has been a lucrative venture. From 2015’s Cinderella to last year’s The Lion King, these six films combined have brought home a near total of six billion dollars in box office receipts. However for all that success, one could make the case that these films have (admittedly some more than others) done very little to justify their existence. It comes a relief to say, that after some utterly soulless adaptations, Mulan brings the honour back to these live action remakes.

When an invasion from Northern invaders, the Rourans, threatens the safety of the country and its people, the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that one man from every family is to be conscripted into the Imperial Army, to stand and fight. With her father’s health in decline after spending many years of his life fighting for his country, Mulan bravely decides to take a stand. In order to save his life, she disguises herself as a man and takes his place in the army, knowing that if her true identity is revealed, it would have deadly ramifications.

When looking at these live action remakes, it’s next to impossible to not compare them to their animated predecessors. Furthermore, it’s probably an understatement to say that the 1998 animated adaptation would have been an important film for anyone growing up in the 1990s. At its core, there was an empowering message for girls and women everywhere: to not let societal constraints restrict them from being who they want to be. Yet, for all the wonderful things about the animated adaptation of this classic tale of a legendary Chinese warrior, historical inaccuracies meant its reception in China was far from the one Disney would have hoped. Hence for this new adaptation, much has been changed as it strives for a more realistic, gritty tone that honours the tale of the legendary figure it depicts.

For starters, there are no spontaneous moments where a character bursts into song, and the comic relief that was Mushu is also nowhere to be seen. Instead, the intent is clearly there to faithfully depict the story of this legendary figure as accurately as possible. Liu Yifei gives a sincere performance in the titular role. She imbues her with the three characteristic traits that ultimately define who she is a person: loyalty, bravery, and being true to who she is. She also has the added bonus of being an extremely skilled warrior. Unlike the animated film, the majority of her fellow recruits are barely given any development, save for Honghui (Yoson An) and her commander General Tung (Yen), both of whom serve as replacements for General Shang: her love interest in the the animated adaptation.

The 1998 film’s villain Shan Yu, was a suitably ominous and terrifying foe that you would not want to cross paths with. In his place comes Bori Khan, who in spite of a concerted effort to give him some backstory and flesh out his motivations, is a very one dimensional antagonist. His severe lack of charisma and screen presence prevents means he is nowhere nearly as intimidating as his animated counterpart. A completely new presence in this version, Gong Li’s Xian Jang, a witch who fights alongside Bori Khan, had potential to be an exciting antagonist. Though her presence here feels completely unnecessary, as her role is underwritten, consequently taking the spotlight away from Bori Khan.

The film’s battle sequences are breath-taking to watch. The assured direction from Niki Caro, combined with the use of stunning practical, mountainous sets, provides rich visual majesty to Mandy Walker’s cinematography. With Mulan marking only the second time being the second time Disney has backed a female directed project with a budget of over 100 million dollars, the studio has put their money where their mouth is. Instead of using the nostalgia of these animated classics, as an excuse to merely print money, they have delivered a live action re-imagining that actually justifies its existence. Though in a year where cinema releases have been severely blighted, it’s a real shame that the film didn’t get the big screen treatment it deserved.

It may not quite live up to its animated predecessor. However, this adaptation gets down to business and honours the Hua Mulan legend, whilst simultaneously setting to set the benchmark for future live action adaptations.

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Mulan (1998)

mulan

Mulan Film Review

Cast: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, June Foray, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, James Hong, George Takei, Pat Morita

Director: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook

Synopsis: After her elderly father is called up to serve in China’s army, his young daughter Mulan disguises her self as a man to serve in his place, to help defeat the invading Huns.

Review: For Walt Disney Animation Studios, the period between 1989 and 1999 is known as the Disney Renaissance. Having had something of a difficult time prior to this, the studio came back with a bang, making and releasing ten films during this booming period in animated films, many of which can be considered some of the most successful films the studio has made. The penultimate film of said era, released in 1998, is certainly a fine example of the brilliance and wonder that the studio brought to the big screen.

Set in Ancient China, with war having just been declared after the villainous Hun army invades, the Emperor responds by ordering that one man from every family must serve in the Chinese army. When her elderly father, having served previously is called up yet again, Mulan decides to take action. She will not fulfil the traditional female roles that is of expected of her, instead, she takes her father’s armour, disguises herself as a man, and goes off to join the army in order to protect him. Disney certainly does princess stories perhaps like no other, and here they pull of yet another incredible story.

With strong themes of honour, duty and family surging throughout, the film also offers a great example of a strong independent female character who doesn’t bow what was expected, maybe even demanded of a woman at that time, and offers a great role model for all young females to aspire to. Despite the war that is raging at its heart, Mulan also offers plenty of great humour, this is mostly down to the brilliant work of Eddie Murphy as Mulan’s pint sized sidekick Mushu the dragon, before he was Donkey in the Shrek franchise. The veteran comedian and actor is on superb form here as he attempts to guide Mulan on how to be and act like a man. His lucky accomplice Crickey also does his best to add the humour but the bulk of it comes from Mushu, with more than a few references that will fly over the heads of younger viewers, but will provide adults with a good laugh.

There are more than a few very memorable characters besides Mulan and Mushu of course, some of her recruits in the army are also extremely funny and a lot of fun to watch. The story is very well executed and the animation is of course splendid, with Disney you wouldn’t expect anything less. With superb supporting music by Jerry Goldsmith and Matthew Wilder, along with some really well written and performed songs, Mulan is the perfect blend of exciting and beautiful story telling that the whole family can sit down and enjoy immensely.

With a strong female protagonist at its core, fused with majestic animation and solid story telling and great music, Mulan was a further example of a studio at the very top of their game in the late 90s.

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