Film review:Mulan

This live action version of a cartoon classic, deserves to be a big hit


Disney’s continuing trend of remaking some of its most iconic animations into live-action features has so far been met with mixed response. While classics like The Jungle Book (2016) and Beauty and The Beast (2017) and have had largely favourable reactions, others like The Lion King or  Dumbo (both released in 2019) have sadly failed to capture the imagination in the same way the originals did.

 In the case of Mulan (first released as an animation in 1998), it looks like Disney have finally managed to do something new and fresh with the medium in what is likely to be their best live action adaptation yet. Set to be released in theatres before the whole world went into lockdown earlier this year, Mulan is now finally being made available exclusively on Disney’s streaming service Disney+ at a premium price.

Leading an impressive all Asian cast, Chinese-born American actor Liu Yifei stars as Hua Mulan, the gifted eldest daughter of a retired warrior in ancient china. When the Emperor (played by iconic actor and martial artist Jet Li) issues a decree that one man or boy per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Mulan steps in to take the place of her ailing father in the absence of a male sibling.

Posing as a man, the young woman is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and "the power of Chi” to rise amongst the ranks of her regiment. Along the way, Mulan strikes a friendly rivalry with handsome soldier Honghui (Yoson An). Together they must defeat the fearsome invader Bori Khan (an exquisite turn by Jason Scott Lee) who has plans to dethrone the Emperor and take his place.  

Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, The Zookeeper’s Wife), and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have given us a beautifully layered and stunning martial art adventure full of intricate action set pieces and a truly compelling premise. The film is also a big departure from the all dancing, all singing light-hearted tone we’ve come to expect from these grandiose productions. Moving away from the usual fresh and breezy classic Disney narratives, the new Mulan presents an altogether darker and more grown up story, and has in fact more in common with award winning martial arts classics such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Just like Yentl, Mulan has to hide her true nature in order to perform the job she knows she is the best at. There is also a deeper and more obvious emphasis on how Mulan can only reach her potential when she finally reveals that she is in fact a girl. This in turn gives the film an interesting and timely feminist tone which was sadly missing from the original film.

Mulan might struggle to keep the attention of younger children, but the film itself is an altogether more grown up entity and Disney should be commended for daring to take more risks with their material for a change. This truly is a magnificent and brave interpretation of a much loved classic.

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