Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Mulan (2020)

Image is property of Disney

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 2010-2019, Film Review

The Farewell (2019)

Image is property of A24

The Farewell  – Film Review

Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

Director: Lulu Wang

Synopsis: After receiving the heart-breaking news that her grandmother has terminal cancer, a young woman flies over to China to be with her beloved grandmother and her family. However, to ease her pain, her relatives have vowed to not inform their matriarch of her fatal diagnosis….

Review: There’s something special and unique about the bonds that we share with the people that we call family. Whether they live just a few blocks away, or maybe across an ocean, the bonds that family members form can be unbreakable and resolute. Within the first few minutes of this semi-biographical film from Lulu Wang, she establishes one such connection between a woman and her dearly beloved Grandma (or Nai Nai as she’s affectionately known). Instantly, from the first few minutes, we are reminded of the power that this institution can have over our lives.

The centrepiece of this heartfelt drama is Billi (Awkwafina), a struggling writer living in New York City. When Billi learns of her Grandmother’s terminal diagnosis, an impromptu celebration is organised so that everyone can bid their matriarch farewell. The only thing is, due to cultural traditions, everyone is under extremely strict instructions not to disclose anything relating to her diagnosis so as to ease her suffering, and let her enjoy her final few weeks of life. Having grown up outside of this cultural tradition, this approach does not sit well with Billi. As the gathering gets started, the entire time, Billi finds herself immensely conflicted.

Having made her name with, and nearly stolen the entire show in Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina gives a heart-wrenching, powerful performance. It’s a very different role when compared to her one in Crazy Rich Asians, but one that she pulls off magnificently. Right throughout the film, there are moments where you can just see this conflict eating away at her, and at numerous times, she seems like she might crack. However despite her intense frustrations, at the urging of her other relatives, she strives to hold firm and maintain the pretence. Though other relatives have their moments with her, the spotlight is firmly on Nai Nai’s relationship with Billi, which is built on nothing but unequivocal love and respect for one another.

For a film that features a family saying goodbye to a dearly beloved relative, it would seem unlikely to have comedy woven throughout the story. However, Lulu Wang’s screenplay expertly combines the comedy and drama, and the results are entertaining and poignant. This balancing act mainly comes down to the wonderful performance of Nai Nai (Shuzhen). While everyone around her is fighting so hard, repressing their sadness, this lady remains blissfully unaware of everything and living her life without a care in the world. In a world where humanity can become cocooned by our own cultures and ways of life, it’s always fascinating to see another culture be brought to a wider audience. Furthermore, irrespective of their own culture, any audience member can appreciate, and be moved by, the traditions of the culture on screen.

The importance of family, and everything that this institution can teach us all as human beings has been depicted in movies before. Therefore, it is to this film’s immense credit that it manages to provide a refreshing take on this important theme and message, with a story that will almost certainly tug on those heartstrings. What’s more, for those that are blessed to still have their grandparents with them, it ought to make them want to reach out and ensure that they take heed to any pearl of wisdom that their grandparents can impart, and to cherish every second of time that you’re able to spend with them.

Poignant and comedic, anchored by a powerful performance from Awkwafina, The Farewell is an emotional family drama that will touch the hearts and minds of any audience member, regardless of culture or creed.