REVIEW: Mulan (2020)
Streaming today on Disney+ through Premiere Access is the 2020 live action remake Mulan. The film was directed Niki Caro (Whale Rider). This film makes Caro the second female director to direct a Disney film with a budget more than $100 million following A Wrinkle in Time.
The beginning of the story falls in line similarly enough to the animated feature. Mulan (Yifei Liu) must marry to bring honor to the family. Her father Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) is proud of her, but mother Hua Li (Rosalind Chao) is skeptical that she will find a husband. And, of course, when she goes to The Matchmaker (Cheng Pei-Pei), things don't go so well.
At the same time, the Imperial Army requires that each family send a male to serve. Zhou is only proud enough to serve despite his ailment. Mulan, worried for her father, goes to take his place in the army.
At camp, there are some changes from the animated film. Instead of Li Shang, we have Commander Tung (Donnie Yen). But to avoid the "me, too" era, instead of her commanding officer being her love interest, it is fellow recruit Chen Honghui (Yoson An). Mulan also goes by the name Jun rather than Ping. Although, Ling (Jimmy Wong), Yao (Chen Tang) and Chien-Po (Doua Moua) are still here as is a soldier named Cricket (Jun Yu). At the general storyline remains the same.
On the villains side, instead of Shan Yu, the Rourans (instead of Huns) are lead by Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) who is accompanied by a falcon shape changing "witch" named Xian Lang (Gong Li). Mulan and the Imperial Army fight for The Emperor of China, played by the legendary Jet Li.
Mulan is a simply gorgeous film. It captures the action quite beautifully, from the high kicking martial arts to the magic cast by Xian Lang. It kept me at the edge of my seat. This movie is every bit a martial arts action film as it is a Disney movie. The photography managed to turn the backdrops of China's majesty in its own character. The whole film just had me in awe stylistically.
Mulan may have changes from the animated feature, but it definitely has its heart. It's not like its unrecognizably different and you will see enough beats in there to know the story. Honestly, it did not bother me at all.
People (who haven't seen the movie yet) have complained about the lack of Mushu in the film, but, despite the fact that the Chinese people found the depiction of him as a dragon in the original film as culturally wrong, he just wouldn't have worked in this film. While there are comedic beats in this film, Mushu would have changed the tone entirely.
One of the more fascinating additions to this film is the element of chi, an ancient notion which is like the Force in which it binds all living things. It tends to explain how they're able to do these superhuman things. But, in this film, chi is only meant for men. Women who display to much of it are branded witches.
This is what happens with Xian Lang. I thought her character would bother me as that was the largest departure from the animated feature, but I like how they framed her character as a warrior in her own right, but her heart turned cold when she was exiled for it. In fact, I found her more compelling than the main villain Bori Khan.
One notable difference between this and the original film is that there is much more sexual chemistry between Mulan and Honghui (who is also based on Li Shang) than between Mulan and Li Shang from the original where the relationship was mostly flitted around.
If anybody is nervous about the music missing from the film, don't despair. The film does a great job in intertwining the familiar songs of the original animated film with the score. I thought it was beautiful and tastefully done.
Mulan is, to me, the best of the remakes so far. There is enough there that makes it familiar, but enough that entices me as being different enough to not constantly compare every turn of the movie.
The road to Disney+ was a move created after the movie had to reschedule a few times due to the COVID-19. In order to recap some of its losses, Disney created the Premiere Access program where people could pay $29.99 above the regular membership fees in advance of its wider access in December. All eyes are on Mulan to see how popular it is as more movies may come out this way if it does well. We can only hope as Iike to see more from this new program. I honestly thought that it was worth the money and I will be watching it a few times for sure, so the $29.99 price does not bother me at all. So, if what I thought about Mulan translates into the kind of sales Disney needs to release more Premiere Access, we are in for a great ride.