Friday 4 September 2020

Mulan (Movie Review)

A part of me is still kinda miffed that I didn't get to see Mulan in theaters. This was considering how close I had come to doing so, just before Nigerian cinemas got shutdown in early March. I mean, the movie had already had its Hollywood premiere and the cinemas I visited had standees and posters for the film everywhere you look. But alas, it wasn't meant to be, and we'd end up having to wait more than 6 months for a chance to see it again.

That wait is finally over, and the film is now streaming exclusively (read: legally) on Disney+. It comes with an additional $30 admissions fee though, and the question on many people's lips right now is whether or not it is actually worth that additional $30. My short answer is a resounding yes, but what follows is my case for why Mulan is one of the better Disney live-action adaptations we've gotten thus far.

The movie stars Liu Yifei as Mulan, a young woman with very powerful chi that manifests in the form of acrobatic grace and exceptional fighting skills. Groomed by her father (Tzi Ma) in the ways of a warrior from a very young age, she has a hard time conforming to the expectations of her village and family. But when the empire is threatened by an army of Rouran invaders, the emperor (Jet Li) decrees that all families must supply one man to fight in an army of their own.

The problem is her family is without any men of fighting age, and her father, although a former solider, is well passed his prime. He accepts the emperor's call all the same, not wanting to bring dishonor to their family name. But before he is shipped off to join the army the following day, Mulan wakes up early, stealing his sword and armor with the intent of taking his place by pretending to be a man herself. Now she must hope she doesn't get discovered, while trying to bring honor to their family name.

I'll be the first to admit that there seems to be something lost in Mulan's transition from theaters to streaming. I'm of course referring to the overall quality of the viewing experience, not the quality of the film itself. A part of me longs for an opportunity to see all these sweeping shots of ancient countrysides, and carefully-choreographed fights scenes and epic battles, on a theater screen where they belong. A home cinema setup just can't replicate the sheer scale of an IMAX screen, or the booming speakers of an auditorium, no matter how sweet that setup may seem.

As for the film itself, this version is more than serviceable, depending on your familiarity with the material being covered. Most of the fantastical elements the original was known for is gone though, as well as all of its songs, but I feel this is a stylistic choice that really works in this version's favor. Sure, you could argue that those very things were the heart and soul of the original film, but they would have undoubtedly held back the filmmakers from achieving what they've been able to achieve here. Sorry Mushu fans.

It's a shame that things turned out the way they did, with the coronavirus throwing a wrench in Mulan's original distribution plans. Because I could easily see the move making upwards of a billion dollars at the global box office, much like The Lion King and Aladdin before it. It would've played especially well in China and with Chinese audiences, with its heavy focus on Chinese folklore and its topnotch Asian cast. Not to mention all that kickass martial arts and wire stunts. The movie boasts the kind of spectacle you would expect from a full-blown Asian production, and I think this live-action version will appeal to fans of Asian cinema, and fans of action adventure stories in general. Is it as great as the 1998 animated version? No. But that doesn't make it any less great in its own right.

The movie will be getting a theatrical release in countries without Disney+, which includes China, so I am still curious to see how it would perform when it opens over there next weekend. And with our local cinemas also finally getting the go ahead to reopen after all these months, it looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel after all.


  1. It is sad it went straight to Disney+. I'm guessing the thirty dollar price tag is the cost of a family of four, but seeing as my wife and I would've caught an early show and spent less than twenty, it's too much.
    This one I'm actually looking forward to seeing (when it's cheaper) as I thought the other live actions were just cash grabs and this one looks better than the animate film, which I thought was just all right. With the fight scenes and the scenery, I'm sure it's amazing.

    1. I wasn't too keen on the 1998 version either, even though I'll admit it is still the superior of the two films. This one felt different enough to me though, unlike The Lion King, which was almost shot-for-shot.