Thursday, September 3, 2020

Mulan (2020) - Movie Review

The Movie: Mulan

The Director: Niki Caro

The Cast: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Pei-Pei Cheng, Xana Tang, Ron Yuan

The Story: A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father.

The Review:
Disney has been on quite the roll over the years with their live action remakes and I am here to say that this movie might just be the best of them all, at least from my own humble perspective. With Niki Caro in the director's chair and an all star cast that casting directors around the world would give anything to have on their resume, there was no doubt that this movie at least had the potential to be something special. From what I understand, this retelling of the classic tale is more true to its origins than the animated musical version that Disney put out way back in 1998.

The fact that no one breaks into song at any point during the movie actually works to the story's advantage as it allows for more of a straightforward action movie with lots of brilliant fight choreography and some truly stunning visuals. I love how bold and colorful the movie is which draws a subtle, or maybe not so subtle connection to the animated film and there are lots of other hints and callbacks as well. One of my favorite moments of the entire movie is a very specific callback and homage to the animated film and I'm not even going to say anything else because I want you to have the same moment of happy surprise that I did. That is if you catch it.

One thing I had to remind myself of while watching the movie is that the target audience is kids and families so I had to adjust my critical eye a few times to allow for a bit of silliness and goofiness. Even with some really big action sequences, the movie is still nowhere near Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon territory which is fine, I wasn't expecting it to be, it definitely falls into a middle ground between history based Chinese action movies and Disney produced family films.

The real magic of the movie may just be the representation factor as it features a 100% Asian cast with a female lead and some of the biggest names available including superstars Donnie Yen and Jet Li. Other names in the cast include Tzi Ma, Li Gong, Jason Scott Lee, and Pei-Pei Cheng each of whom have had Hollywood walk of fame caliber careers. Other standouts in the movie are Yoson An as fellow warrior Honghui, Ron Yuong as Sergeant Qiang, and Xana Tang who plays Xiu, Mulan's sister.

One name in particular I was very happy to see in the cast is Rosalind Chao who plays Mulan's mother. Earlier this year I watched her in a starring role as the lead in Nancy Kelly's Thousand Pieces of Gold. Talk about an iconic performance, Ms Chao set the gold standard (pun intended) for Asian women and women in general when it comes to leading role opportunities especially since the movie came out thirty years ago during a time when an Asian woman leading a feature film in America was almost unheard of.

While we're talking about Thousand Pieces of Gold, I have to let you know that I interviewed Rosalind Chao, along with director Nancy Kelly and producer Kenji Yamamoto, earlier this year as a newly remastered version of the movie was being released. This was right before Mulan's original theatrical release date and Roaslind was nice enough to answer a couple questions about her experience making Mulan. You can listen to the interview on the Podcast embedded directly below this paragraph. The Mulan questions are right at the 30:38 point of the interview.

Going back to the opportunities this movie is creating, imagine the young girls and especially young Asian girls who now have a hero, a role model, and true representation thanks to Yifei Liu's performance as Mulan. Imagine the possibilities that will be created from this movie. I really wish it could have been seen in the theaters, with help from the Disney marketing machine it could have had a similar cultural impact as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians and would have done so much to push diversity forward. I believe it will still have an impact and will still be an inspiration to so many people but to not have that buildup and explosion of media exposure, it's just not the same.

Enough of my rambling, just watch this movie because it's good. Good acting, good action, good story, and it will leave you with good feelings when it's all said and done. The story is also just different enough to separate itself from the animated version while still honoring it in so many different ways. Are there songs? No. Is there a silly talking dragon? No. Neither of those things should take away from what the movie does really well and that is telling the story of a young Chinese woman who fought her way to being a hero and eventually became a legend.

The Verdict:
Mulan is exactly what I was hoping it would be and probably even a little more. The Disney magic may still be firmly in place yet the filmmakers were also allowed to tell the story in a new way that is actually much closer to the actual legend of Mulan than what we have seen before.

Check out the Podcast!

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