I was lucky enough to watch Mulan before it hits Disney+ for all subscribers in December, and… wow. Point blank, Director Niki Caro brings life to an ancient story of female empowerment.
But first, let me preface this whole review by letting you know that you are not getting a rehashing of the original film. There are no crowd pleasing, campy songs to sing-a-long with. There are very little laughs in this movie, which arguably makes the present humor land a bit better. We’ve lost the wisecracking dragon and cute, little, purple cricket to act as Mulan’s conscience. These are replaced with a beautifully rendered phoenix who comes along, once in a while, to help Mulan along her path to destiny, and of course the band of unlikely heroes in her battalion. I really got a kick out of “Cricket,” and you can’t help but love his doofy ways throughout the movie.
There are many similarities to the original film, but also, many deviations, especially after Mulan joins the army. This army is led by a fierce captain who has no soft spot for anyone (Donnie Yen), and the story definitely focuses more on Mulan accepting who she is in her heart than a romance. My favorite moment in this film was after Mulan’s first encounter with the new baddy, Xianniang (Xi Gong), and Mulan’s realizations going forward. I fully appreciated the movie leaning more toward Mulan finding the strength and chi that she always had inside her, rather than becoming strong because she was trained by a man.
From the very start Yifei Liu charmed me. Her balance between being a beautiful girl trying to be as “lady-like” as possible for her family, and her struggle with the warrior inside her is ever apparent in her actions and expressions. When she takes on the identity of Hua Jun, I was nervous about how this very feminine featured actress could pass as a young man ready to fight in a war, but thanks to some very simple techniques from the make up crew and magnificent costuming by Bina Daigeler, the androgyny was perfect.
The acting is very solid all around. Yoson An brings all the charm and dreaminess you can handle to Huonghui (the Shang “replacement”). Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) is unrecognizably scary as Bori Khan as he quickly starts to invade all of China, and of course Gong (Memoirs of a Geisha) brings everything she can to the new character Xianniang, the witch warrior fighting beside Bori Khan. Rounding out the cast with some great cameos from Jet Li and Ming Na Wen, it’s impossible to talk about all of them without making this a novel.
Grant Major and Anne Kuljian draw us into this ancient realm with absolutely stunning sets, while Mandy Walker and her crew seamlessly work in visual effects that are a treat for the eye. Every fight brought me back to classic Kung Fu movies and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. My only complaint is that I wish there were more of the fight scenes. Harry Gregson-Williams harmoniously weaves together a new score with classic songs, we all know and love, to put that icing on an already delicious cake. It brought me to tears in more than a few moments.
Then again, if I was paying the full price to own the movie outright without Disney’s stipulation of having to maintain a Disney+ account, I would pay for this movie. It deserves an IMAX screen, not my 15″ laptop screen and poor speakers. Even with those, though, I enjoyed every moment of Mulan from beginning to end, and it wasn’t nostalgia. The nostalgia faded after the first five minutes, and a whole new story of womanhood, empowerment and strength unfurled before me.
If you go in with an open mind, don’t expect the original, and want a great movie about a young woman finding her place in a world dominated by men, this is it. I have to say it: this is Disney’s best live action remake to date. 4.75/5 Bibles.