Mulan (2020)

Movie Title: Mulan

Year Released: 2020

Rated: PG-13

Runtime: 2h

Genre: Fantasy, Action, Drama

Director: Niki Caro

Writer: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, Elizabeth Martin

Starring: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, Jet Li, Crystal Rao, Rosalind Chao, Xana Tang, Elena Askin, Jun Yu, Jimmy Wong, Chen Tang, Doua Moua, Nelson Lee, Cheng Pei-pei, Arka Das, Ming-Na Wen

Review: To save her ailing father, Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma), from serving in the Imperial Army, a fearless young woman named Mulan (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China.

The 2020 adaptation of Mulan is a remake of the 1998 Disney classic of the same name. This film is NOT a carbon copy of its predecessor so those hoping for such will be sadly disappointed. However, if we're talking in terms of a standalone war epic/underdog story, I really found this movie to be quite enjoyable. The most obvious difference between Mulan from other live-action Disney remakes is that it is not a musical. At no point in this film do the actors break out into classic Disney songs from the original. Also, there is no Mushu, the comedic relief dragon from the animated version that was voiced by Eddie Murphy. When I first heard that Mushu was not a part of this film, it was initially upsetting, but this film centers much more on the impending war. Mulan's relationships with her fellow warriors who are unaware that she's a female, provide about as much comic relief as this story can withstand. There's definitely a much more serious tone to this film, despite the fact that it's still the prototypical uplifting underdog story that you would expect from both Mulan and Disney. I think that is what I like about it. They didn't necessarily cater this movie towards children and paint it as a bright and cheery adventure. Gone are the hilarious dragon, catchy songs, crazy ancestors, and cross-dressing men. All things that made the original animated version light-hearted, silly, and endearing to children. But that does not mean this is a bad movie. This movie depicts the trials and tribulations of war, but still showcases Mulan as a young, inspiring heroine that girls can look up to.

Speaking of the titular character, I thought Yifei Liu did a great job in the role. She's cunning and charismatic, and there's a quick build up to her character in the early stages of the film that explain why she isn't quite like other girls her age. With a proclivity for adventure, arrows, and hand-to-hand combat, Mulan proves that she belongs in more ways than one. Her relationship with Donnie Yen's Commander Tung is really heartwarming, and I really liked the dynamic between her and Gong Li's Xian Lang as well. Xian Lang is a new character, not in the original. She's a shape-shifting witch who's on the wrong side of the fight, and while she's tasked with bringing Mulan and the Imperial Army to its knees, there's also a respect factor between her and our heroine. Lang knows Mulan's secret, and develops an admiration for her as she is excelling as a warrior in her male-dominated environment. Last but not least, it should be noted that Donnie Yen isn't the only badass martial arts action star in this film. That's right, the Emperor is none other than the legendary, Jet Li! He's awesome, and as a fan of many of his previous works (Fist of Legend, Fearless), it's cool to see him play a role here, even in an abbreviated sense (Don't worry, they still give him some fun stuff to do!).

There is very much an epic scope to this film, that I think would have benefitted from a COVID-less big screen release. Watching this film on a TV in my living room didn't quite do it justice. The beautiful Chinese landscapes and the vibrant colors were spectacular to look at, but I kind of yearn for what could have been. Not only is the setting picturesque, but the effects are spectacular, and the costume designs are very beautiful. After all, this film did get nominated for two Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Best Costume Design. As noted above, this movie is creatively different. Additions and subtractions galore. And this is why I feel like this film has been so hotly contested. I really enjoyed this movie for what it was, and tried my best not to dwell on what it wasn't. If you expect to re-live the glory days of the 1998 animated classic, you'll probably not have a good time. But if you cast those reservations aside, and go into this with the understanding that you're about to see a vastly different film, then you just might have some fun with this!

Stars (out of 4):

Fun Fact: Actor and martial artist Jet Li, who plays the Emperor, admitted initially turning down the role. After his daughters reminded him that it was important for Disney to shine a light on Chinese culture, he backtracked and accepted the role.


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