With Mulan, have Disney finally delivered a remake worthy of your time?
Let’s get the most pressing question out of the way first. Is this worth an extra £19.99 on top of what you are already paying for your Disney Plus subscription? And the answer is a resounding YES. Now that’s out of the way, let me tell you why.
In the interest of disclosure, I don’t think I’ve even watched the original movie, just seen bits. I know it features Eddie Murphy as a small wise cracking dragon but that’s about it. For some reason, it was one of the Disney films that really never appealed to me. However, when I saw the trailers for this remake, I must say I was intrigued. As tired as I am of Disney remaking their entire back catalogue, every now and again they get it right. The epic settings and martial arts swords play I glimpsed from the trailer had me hooked.
Now this was supposed to be a cinema release and not too long into the movie you see why. This is a quality cast at their best performing in beautifully, scenic sets and locations. It’s obvious this was meant for the big screen. There is a dated perception amongst cinema purists that only low-quality movies come straight to home release. What Netflix have demonstrated with the quality of their recent releases is that the old stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. Disney take it further by throwing the outdated idea completely out of the window. Mulan’s father says, “There is no Courage without fear” and Disney showed great courage in releasing this straight to their streaming service, knowing there will be backlash from some of their customers and the film industry as a whole. But these are changing, uncertain times. Someone must be brave enough to try and find our new normal or at least a way the industry can function as people aren’t flooding back into cinemas and that may not change for the foreseeable future.
When it comes to watching movies, my preference has always been cinema, purely because I have too many distractions at home. But from the moment this film started, I was glued to the screen. The colours were vivid, the locations gorgeous and the foundations of an epic yet familiar coming of age tale were laid. This is a tale of challenging traditions, finding acceptance in your own skin, amongst those that know you and your community as a whole.
These themes are echoed throughout the film and are dealt with in a manner that not only shows the harsh thinking of the times but also shines a mirror on us today when considering some of our own entrenched positions regarding things we believe are right, simply because they have always been that way.
Now, for fans of the original, accept there are no songs, nor talking animals. This is a dramatic retelling of the tale. But having said that, this is also a fantasy martial arts epic, in the vein of crouching tiger hidden dragon. There’s dark magic, mystical beliefs and great martial arts action and set pieces. Director Niki Caro saw fit to take most of her influence from this film from the original Mulan tale about a female warrior from the Northern and Southern dynasties period of Chinese history, originally described in the Ballad of Mulan.
The entire cast of the film deliver great performances. Jason Scott Lee’s villain is evil and predictably single minded in his pursuit of the throne. Donnie Yen’s General is spectacular to see in motion on the big screen. Jet Li’s emperor is strong and commanding but unfortunately very under used for someone of his calibre. Gong Li’s villainous witch Xianniang I’m informed is a most welcome addition to the story. Her story almost mirrors Mulan’s as a talented but unaccepted outcast, looking for where she can fit in and be accepted.
And that brings me to Mulan herself. Liu Yifei does an amazing job of not only bringing great humility and gentleness to the role whilst also convincingly taking out multitudes of soldiers with dazzlingly slick moves. Her performance both in quiet vulnerable moments and the massive battles holds the film together amicably. She would have maybe received more praise for her performance if not for comments she made on social media in support of the Hong Kong police. This led to calls to ban Mulan as they perceived her support as being anti-human rights.
Whatever your personal beliefs are, I’m not for banning a film due to them. Firstly, a film is greater than the sum of one persons’ performance and secondly, while I may occasionally disagree with the actors views on certain issues, boycotts are not the solution. If that was the case, many of us wouldn’t be watching Tom Cruise films (scientology, anyone?!)
Mulan is a sprawling epic martial art retelling of a classic tale. The pacing is good, the performances top notch and the action is satisfying. Definitely worthy of the asking price and one that all but the most critical will enjoy.