Sometimes, things don’t quite go as planned…
Mulan could easily be called the first theatrical casualty of the current COVID-19 pandemic that we are riding out as it debuts on the premium platform of the Disney+ streaming service today because it’s worthy of the bigger stage in so many ways and proves once again that female directors are MORE than capable of working on the massive stage.
When the Emperor of China (Jet Li) issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan (Yifei Liu), the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father (Tzi Ma). Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father.
To be fair, this Mulan really only bears a passing resemblance to the animated original from 1998 and that’s a good thing after dealing with the photo realistic animals of The Lion King. While it’s got a very safe tone to it overall, director Niki Caro really crafts a solid piece of Chinese historical action which shows just enough nods to the Wushu style classics of the genre while still being a large scale Hollywood piece of action.
Filmmaker Niki Caro, who is mostly known for smaller scale indie dramas, simply takes to large scale spectacle filmmaking like a duck does to water.
The film looks amazing from top to bottom as Caro in unison with cinematographer Mandy Walker make a film that pays homage to the style of films that came before it; taking in the scope of these stories while never losing focus on the character and the coming of age story of this unique woman that is at the crux of it all.
The script from writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek is incredibly well crafted as you’d expect, but it also plays inside the lines in a fairly safe manner. Sure, it’s a Disney movie so that’s to be expected but this venture into period live action had a chance to get a little messier with it’s over all story. Not necessarily in regards to action and violence but in the social commentary it wants to make about the necessity of treating men and women equally. It felt like Mulan as a character needed some more substantial hurdles to clear in order to gain the respect of the men she fought alongside as well as her father. Obviously we all want the happy ending, but it would have helped over all if her journey had been a little more earned. That being said Caro manages to cloak smaller issues like this with a well paced narrative and a very solid performance from a leading lady who is hopefully in store for some bigger and better things.
Yifei Liu in only her second English Language Feature (we think) is effortlessly earning herself a spot as an international star in the making. It’s not always seamless; but she commands the screen and feels very at easy as an action heroine that young girls and women will be able to look up to for generations. Otherwise the ensemble is basically a “who’s-who” of actors of Chinese or Asian decent as Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Gong Li, Rosalind Chao, Pei Pei Cheng and Tzi Ma round out the ensemble giving key support to Yifei Liu. Plus as a bonus, older fans will recognize Jason Scott Lee (of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) as our heavy Bori Khan who gleefully chews the scenery when he is on screen.
At the end of the day, Mulan is a very solid watch that will keep audiences of all ages more than engaged. It could have done a little more, but is ultimately a life affirming piece of popcorn cinema, which is something we need these days.
Mulan is now available via Disney+ for a onetime charge of $34.99 CAN ($29.99 US) to add to your streaming service. Just think of it this way…it’s cheaper than 2 tickets and popcorn at your local multiplex tonight, so what are you waiting for?