Loyal. Brave. True.
This is the Ballad Of Hua Mulan.
From the top, Disney’s Mulan is already a positively enthralling live-action feature. Our first fully Asian cast in a film produced by Disney, which was filmed entirely in New Zealand, and led by and Directed by women; It has a sense of precedence to it. But as are things with precedence, it can find itself obstructed. And like how a single grain of rice can tip the scale, its scale was tipped by its date of release; 2020. It is only one of many features affected by this year, but Mulan‘s release has proved more interesting than most. Set to release directly before lockdown started in many countries, the film was rescheduled for later release. As the impact of the pandemic continued, so did the misfortune of its release. And then Disney offered a surprising plan:
We release it to Disney+.
It’s safe to assume while streaming has garnered a more positive view with the audience; Cinema still has a sense of magic and majesty to it. The audience don’t see “Blockbuster” or “Box Office Hit” and think of their homes; They think of the large rooms filled with hundreds of other strangers, who for the briefest of moments in infinity, share something together. And I think Mulan was ready for audiences to share something like this because of its precedence. So does the viewing of this blockbuster change, because of where it is viewed? I don’t think so. If anything, I think Disney’s Mulan will help the audience remember the magic of cinema, and make them want to get back to it as soon as they can.
After I viewed the live-action feature, I went back and watched the animated Mulan immediately after to see if I remembered “the beats”. These beats are important to the audience Disney hope to cater to; Which in itself is interesting, as its this hopeful cross-section of East meets West. Can this Mulan cater to the original audience and the mammoth Box Office which is China? As the film opens, these beats are in play; We meet our younger Hua Mulan, living in something like a tulou, causing mischief. Very similar to our animated heroine attempting to complete her morning chores don’t you think? Establishing new ideas, which hand themselves to how our hero’s “reflection” is portrayed; We move on to the likes of the excellent matchmaker scene and Mulan’s choice to take her father’s place when the Emperor calls for men to protect them from the Rouran.
These are some very good beats.
From there, Hua Jun is born as they join their battalion and I think we know the rest from here. Liu Yifei‘s Mulan is most excellent; Radiating a sense of pride, confidence and ability throughout the film. Emanating the same sense of love for family as their animated counterpart, they are joined by the return of Mulan’s sibling from the original poem, portrayed as Xiu (Xana Tang); The younger sister who embodies the prescribed “womanhood” of the era, but supports and adores Mulan’s wiliness. Tzi Ma and Rosalind Chao as Mulan’s parents, provide the heavy emotion of those affected by the current and previous war crossing their land. And much like you dear viewer, I was excited to see if the boys are here; Ling (Jimmy Wong), Yao (Chen Tang) and Chien-Po (Doua Moua) do indeed show up and are as rascally as ever. Yoson An‘s Honghui, who is our Shang Li without the rank, provides the romance and rivalry, while the always excellent Donnie Yen‘s Commander Tung takes the rank of Shang Li. And Jason Scott Lee‘s Bori Khan, leader of the Rourans, rivals Shan Yu with ease; Perhaps even bringing a little bit more dread.
But what about home?
New Zealand is on full display once more, as Director Niki Caro‘s sensibilities around colour are felt, with reds garnishing the screen as much as the blues of Whale Rider (2002). Always stunning to look at, and old lands born anew, it’s a feast for the eyes to watch. And when you have a cast which includes the likes of Yen, Lee and Jet Li, there’s an expectation of the stuntwork to be seen, which is as impressive as the cast. Some very tidy wire work hides some of the more sloppier set pieces, while the choreography should get some great cheers from those watching; Especially if it involves Yifei’s Mulan soaring through the air elegantly.
The songs may be gone, but they exist in ways you can’t miss; Similar to how a grain of rice becomes something weighing 4 ounces. But none of this takes away from the heroine and her story. Disney’s Mulan is more a retelling of what you had once watched. It follows the beats we remember, and remixes them in ways for us to enjoy again. Similarly this can be felt in the re-recording of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Reflection’; It’s not that it’s the same or massively different; It’s there to be enjoyed in a whole new way.
And that’s what I enjoyed.
This is the ballad of Hua Mulan. Loyal. Brave. And True. And I think she’s a hero we can all watch and enjoy, on any screen she shows up on.
The film is more than enough to have me thinking of ways on how to watch this on the big screen, but I'm glad I've now had the chance to see it after all this time.
Stunningly beautiful, with a wonderful cast who share the beats of their animated counterparts; Niki Caro has pulled together a great retelling of Disney's Mulan.
And I can't wait to see it again.
Disney’s Mulan was viewed via Premier Access on Disney Plus in 4K. You can currently purchase Disney’s Mulan for $39.95 NZD, at which time all profiles on the account will gain access to watch the feature at any time, as often as they like until November 2nd. Disney’s Mulan will then release for all subscribers to Disney+ on December 4th, 2020. You can find more info here.