Review by Gilberto Campa
The Ballad of Mulan is a tale that has stood the test of time for many different reasons and has lead to the character of Hua Mulan to become a household name that everyone is familiar with. The 1998 animated adaptation of the story is widely considered as a classic with its voice work, music, and incredible visuals being the most memorable parts of the movie along with the inspiring story. So whether Disney wanted to or not, it was going to be a difficult task to create a live-action version of the story that would satisfy audiences. After seeing it I can safely say that the live-action adaptation of Mulan is another hit for the house of mouse. At a time where audiences are craving new movies and stories to get away from the craziness of the world, I can’t recommend checking this movie enough.
Unlike the other animated to live-action adaptations that have been released in the last number of years, Mulan is the first of these to truly stand out on its own while still paying homage to its history. At the time that the film was slated to be released in March of this year, circumstances affecting the entire world have halted the film industry as theaters closed around the world. With new films being released on demand and through streaming platforms, the major studios are constantly debating between holding off the release of a big-budgeted film or placing it on demand.
The big component of the story is the casting and the portrayal of Hua Mulan herself which would make or break the film. Liu Yifei who is a relative newcomer on the scene had the heavy shoes to fill from Ming-Na Wen, and she absolutely commands the screen as Mulan through every step of her development as a warrior while bringing honor, truth, and loyalty to her family. Unlike the previous version, this story really emphasized the “War” aspect and you understand the stakes while seeing the physical toll that it gives the characters. And Liu isn’t alone in this fight as she gains the training, discipline, and later the ultimate respect of Commander Tung (played by the always intimidating & impressive Donnie Yen) and the rest of the Imperial Army.
The antagonist in the film is not Shan Yu but rather Bori Khan who has a similar motivation in the story and is a very formidable foe to China. The action sequences have a natural intensity and Bori Khan and his followers look very formidable. One other aspect that helped to make this a truly stand-alone story was the addition (or actually more of a new take) on Hayabusa (Shan Yu’s pet falcon) in the character of Xian Lang played by Gong Li. Her arch throughout the story runs very similar to Mulan’s and goes into a direction that I was not expecting, but ended up loving so much by the end of the film. Another highlight of the movie for me was the casting of Tzi Ma who American audiences are very familiar with based on his previous work (Rush Hour, Arrival, Dante’s Peak just to name a few) as Mulan’s father, Hua Zhou. His reasoning for not letting his daughter become the warrior she is destined to be feel’s much more natural and understandable. an actor of his caliber knows exactly when to bring the intensity and to tear on the heartstrings. Which is all due to the nuances and choices that Tzi Ma makes in the movie.
Plus to my surprise, an unrecognizable Jet Li portrays the Emperor of China and had much to do in the film, especially towards the end of the movie. Some of the aspects that I believe people will enjoy are the action sequences that are intense, while also having a sense of fantasy and gracefulness that fit the theme of the movie, while also being beautifully shot. Plus the overall scope and beauty that is shown throughout the story with its cinematography helped to add to the overall experience of the movie. Without going into spoilers the score for the film composed by Harry Gregson-Williams did a wonderful job of having little homage’s to the songs in the animated movie while also perfectly complementing what was going on in the story. The costuming was full of colors and styles that helped to bring a sense of beauty to each and every character, no matter what they were doing. This version of Mulan was a very fun experience and is a movie that I believe people will be happy with as there is something that everyone can enjoy from it. I believe that this model should be continued for Disney when it comes to its classic story adaptations.