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Mulan (2020)

Mulan's 2020 online release: Everything to know - CNET

DIRECTOR: Niki Caro

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

REVIEW:

After such titles as Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, and Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, Niki Caro’s Mulan finally does something a little different. Partly the filmmakers had a little more wiggle room because the 1998 animated musical original is not as iconic as the above titles, and was never considered among Disney top tier, but avoiding a scene-by-scene regurgitation helps Mulan avoid the feeling of an expensive cosplay that befell the previous live-action remakes. Mulan overall feels fresher and stands on its own as an engaging adventure.

The broad strokes, if not all of the details, will be familiar to fans of the 1998 original (which itself was based on an ancient Chinese legend). In ancient feudal China, an army of Rouran warriors led by Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) mounts an invasion, prompting the Emperor (an almost unrecognizable Jet Li) to order mass conscription of one man from every family in the empire. Half-crippled war veteran Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma), with no sons and two daughters, is honor-bound to answer the call despite a leg injury making his demise in battle almost inevitable. But this is unacceptable to his rebellious warrior daughter Mulan (Liu Yifei), who steals his sword and armor and poses as a boy to go in his place. After training under Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) and hiding her secret from her comrades, principally the object of her impossible attraction Chen (Yoson An), Mulan faces off in battle for the first time against Bori Khan’s forces and his shapeshifting witch sidekick Xian Lang (Gong Li), who feels a kinship with Mulan and wants them to join forces.

Mulan plays mostly “straight”. Unlike the previous Disney live-action remakes, all musical numbers have been excised (although Harry Gregson-Williams’ score occasionally pays homage), as has Mulan’s fatuous dragon sidekick Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy in the original), replaced by a non-speaking phoenix. Mulan’s commanding officer/love interest Li Shang has been split into two characters, her (platonic) commanding officer Tung, and her comrade-in-arms Chen, although their “romance” is never fully developed. Gong Li’s Xian Lang (an invention of this version) and her potentially ambiguous, conflicted, and intriguing dynamic with Mulan feels half-baked, and her about-face feels insufficiently-developed, as does the friendship with semi-romantic undertones between Mulan and Chen. A couple awkwardly-integrated bits of slapsticky comedy—-one involving a bit of physical comedy, other bits involving Mulan’s buffoonish fellow trainees—don’t quite work and feel like obligatory pandering to the original Disney comedy out of place in the more serious tone. Mulan works better when it’s playing straight.

Mulan is visually sumptuous, with colorful scenery and costuming and cinematographer Mandy Walker capturing picturesque landscape shots (filmed in China), and the battles avoid the overly watered-down feeling that sometimes results when Disney tackles large-scale battle scenes (except for the suspiciously “clean” lack of casualties on the good guy team in the climactic battle), and the PG-13 rating feels warranted although there’s nothing inappropriate for any but the youngest of children. The movie is replete with martial arts fight scenes (Ang Lee of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was offered the chance to direct but was unavailable). Caro strives to craft an epic adventure but falls just short. The climactic battle feels too small and perfunctory to generate the impact it could have had.

Mulan 2020 cast: actors in the Disney remake - Radio Times

Unlike the 1998 animated original’s voice cast, Mulan has been filled with an ethnically appropriate Chinese cast. Lead Liu Yifei isn’t overly emotionally expressive, but that’s not required for the largely stoic Mulan, and she compensates for whatever she lacks in depth with physical prowess in her various fight scenes. Chinese martial arts star Donnie Yen (who previously got to strut his stuff in Rogue One) is suitably authoritative, along with getting to show some moves, while the other biggest impressions in the supporting cast are a suitably fearsome Jason Scott Lee, and Tzi Ma as Mulan’s conflicted father.

Niki Caro and screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin, and Lauren Hynek fall a hair short of the epic adventure they strive for, but they have succeeded in (finally) crafting a live-action remake of a Disney animated feature that stands on its own with enough freshness to justify its existence, as well as serving as an ode to female empowerment. Mulan serves as not only the best thus far of Disney’s live-action remakes, but an engaging adventure in its own right.

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