Updated: Sep 6, 2020
After months of delaying it’s theatrical release, Disney ultimately decided to release Mulan for a premium price of $30 on its streaming service, Disney+, which arrived this Friday Sept. 4. It was supposed to be Mulan and Tenet that would single handedly save theater chains from going bankrupt and it’s easy to see why. For Mulan, Walt Disney Studios spared no expense as far as production value and the film is stunning across the boards in every aspect. If you’re suffering from Disney remake fatigue, I have good news for you. This is the first Disney remake from their catalog of original animated films that tries to do something different while honoring and staying true to it’s original film structure and storyline.
Gone are the musical numbers, talking animals, pet dragons, and slapstick comedy. The film, instead, takes on the genre of a straight forward and grounded period drama with action and fantasy elements, so the humor comes from personal relationships and situational human interaction. The strength of Mulan is obviously the production and costume design and cinematography. But not enough praise can be made for the cast. I’ll admit, when I heard about this film going into production I scoffed. Not another Disney remake, I thought. But when I saw the trailer with the legendary Chinese cast of Gong Li (Hero, Curse of the Golden Flower), Donnie Yen (Ip Man, Rogue One), Jet Li (in an unrecognizable role), Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) and Liu Yifei (The Assassins), I knew this film would be epic or at the very least highly respectable in the film world.
The plot is simple and traditional: “Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father.” New Zealand director Niki Caro should be noted for her casting choices and for the stunning fight choreography. The battle sequences alone look beautiful in wide shot masters, which makes it simple enough to follow as opposed to close shots and quick cuts. The set piece towards the end, especially, is visually striking as Mulan moves sideways along the walls floating and defying gravity that harkens the best Wuxia films (Chinese genre of fantastical martial arts films).
Aside from the basic plot, the film moves along at a sharp and steady pace. No real shocking twists or surprises. Just a straight forward tale of filial obligation, loyalty, and honor for one's country. But the film is most moving in it’s themes of female empowerment and open rebellion for traditional values that stem from good characterization. I, myself, am a second generation Asian-American immigrant (first-generation resident) who is still required to uphold centuries old traditions in the wake of the modern world. It’s difficult to express the constant conflict of “tradition vs. daily evolving modern values”. But it is in films, like Mulan, that make it easier to cope with such conflict. And I’m grateful for that fact and for the many younger generations that will find strength in the film’s message.
Mulan is now streaming on Disney+.