Finally Disney’s live action remake of their classic animation MULAN has opened after repeated delays since March due to the pandemic. While Mulan gets to be screened in the cinemas across Asia, and wherever cinemas have reopened, it is only available through Disney’s streaming service Disney+ in its home base of USA. This is actually a pity because this Mulan needs to be seen on a big screen in order to fully appreciate its visual spectacle. Every frame seem to have been carefully planned making the whole movie look so gloriously colourful, artistically and beautifully framed.
But what is a movie that is just nice to look at if it is without a soul or good story to take the audience through? Fortunately for us, the story of Mulan is rich with culture, values, and adventure and this live action treatment of a well known story still manages to feel new and original. It is familiar yet different enough not to be too familiar. I like that they took their time in telling the story from a brief introduction to a young Mulan to a lengthy middle act on Mulan’s experience in her army training. There is so much positive messages in this story unlike most modern tales where evil and dark forces often take the centre stage. Firstly there are the three words on Mulan’s sword which reminds our heroine on the virtues of being “Loyal, Brave and True”. Later, a fourth virtue of the importance of being filial piety is added. Then there is the overall story which challenges the stereotype of males being stronger and better than females, and the importance of humility and teamwork. In between all these wonderful messages, we have an exciting story to boot with big battles on the foot, sorcery and even a bit of romance. Some of the fighting scenes and roof top chases, reminded me of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and made me forget I was watching a Disney fairy tale! It was also interesting to see how Mulan actually completed her own self training by listening to the advice of an adversary! Perhaps what is lacking in this version compared to Disney’s animated version is the slapstick humour. There is no Mushu, the talking dragon sidekick to provide any comic relief and the overall feel of the movie may seem a bit grim in comparison. For me, this is fine. If I wanted humour, I would go and watch a comedy.
Finally there is the casting. Chinese actress Liu Yifei is a relative unknown but she does a good and convincing job here portraying Mulan. She is supported by a dream cast that includes Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Gong Li, Jason Scott Lee and the legendary Shaw Brothers’ martial arts actress Cheng Pei Pei. Each carried their supporting role nicely without overshadowing anyone despite the super star status of some of these.
I found this Mulan superb and one of Disney’s best live action translation of their animated classics. This one feels the least Disney of the lot perhaps because it lacks the humour and attention to cater to its younger audience. For me this is a good departure and works well for the story.