'Mulan' is a Joyful, High-flying Spectacle
Written By Mikey Sutton • Editor-in-Chief • Owner
There is no singing, but when Mulan jumps, it soars.
Unfortunately reduced to the small screen in the U.S. due to COVID-19, Disney's $200 million live-action makeover of its 1998 animated classic loses none of its visual spectacle and youthful exuberance. Available as a $29.99 bonus to a Disney+ subscription, Mulan may polarize hardcore fans of the original for its missing characters and songs, but it is joyful, high-flying entertainment, a centuries-old tale of destiny and independence. This is actually a more faithful retelling of the ancient Chinese poem "The Ballad of Mulan." Its messages of honor and devotion to family ring true after thousands of years.
Yifei Liu plays Hua Mulan with star-making charm, infectious energy, and humility. Since she was a little girl (Crystal Rao is wonderful as her younger self), Mulan displayed remarkable athletic skills and instincts. However, what was considered impressive for a kid (her warm but tough father, portrayed by Tzi Ma, is like her biggest fan) is frowned upon when a daughter reaches the age of an arranged marriage. Such chi, or energy force, should only be utilized by warriors; in other words, men.
But, since the beginning, Mulan rebels against conventional thinking. She wants to stretch her wings like a phoenix and allow her abilities to catch fire. When the villainous Rouran Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) invades China with his black-clad group of killers, the Emperor (Jet Li) delivers orders that each family has to volunteer one male in joining the Chinese Army to fight them. However, Mulan has no brothers, and the only man would be her dad, who is now old and physically compromised, his war hero days long behind him. Knowing that she cannot stop him for what would be instant death, she steals his armor, his sword, and his horse, running off in the middle of the night. Disguised as a man, Mulan enters battle with the realization that her deception, if unveiled, could result in expulsion, public humiliation or even death.
Mulan balances heart and humor in a graceful balance. Kudos to Disney for not holding back on the violence, either; Mulan kills her foes so the PG-13 rating is well deserved (parents, relax: there's no blood.) The action sequences are breathtaking and in the second half director Niki Caro ignites the pace at an exhilarating speed. Fans of movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers will find the wire craft familiar, an essential aspect of contemporary wuxia filmmaking. To those not born yet when they were originally released, this movie will knock them out. However, even for viewers who feel they've seen it at all before will be caught in its hypnotic pull.