The latest Disney remake brings honor to the main heroine.
The 1998 animated feature “Mulan” was an absolute delight, because it possessed a Chinese spirit by resurrecting its legend Hua Mulan, giving the heroine her courage and honor, and allowing Eddie Murphy to deliver the goods as the voice of her dragon guardian Mushu. The latest live-action remake, directed by Niki Caro, is not a musical comedy, but it does break tradition like Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella,” Jon Favreau’s “The Jungle Book” and Tim Burton’s “Dumbo.” Meaning: it doesn’t weaken the iconic movie lines like Favreau’s “The Lion King” did, it doesn’t humiliate the characters like “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” did, but most of all, it expands the world the main heroine lives in.
It has a certain “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” spirit with all the impressive martial arts stunt work and faithfulness to the Chinese culture. In the remake, there are also arranged marriages, men who must serve in the army, women who are told to bring honor to their families, and mystical creatures who must be guardian angels. All the elements we saw in the animated feature.
You know the story as an evil barbarian by the name of Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) threatens to reign terror against the Emperor (Jet Li), and every household must contribute one male family member to battle. Mulan (Liu Yifei)’s war veteran father Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) is the only male member of her family to fight, so the girl must disguise herself as his son Hua Jun to take his place.
The supporting characters she encounters include be her commanding officer Commander Tung (Donnie Yen), who sees a spark in her similar to her father’s; her handsome alley Chen (Yoson An), who becomes fascinated by her character; and Khan’s confidant-a shape-shifting witch named Xian Lang (Gong Li), who often transforms into a hawk. Out of them, and they’re all well-acted, Xian Lang is quite revealing, as she provides her strengths and weaknesses, and proves to be more than meets the eye.
“Mulan” may goof off a bit with jokes about Mulan refusing to take a bath in order to hide her feminine truth, but it does provide a dazzling, vibrant, and radiant passion in the story (with the screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin) and the main heroine. Yifei gives a life-giving performance as her, and continues to remind Disney fans that women can be smart and beautiful at the same time. They’re not pieces of meat, and both the actress and character know that. And you also get terrific supporting work from Lee as Bori Khan, Yen as Tung, An as Chen, Ma as Hua Zhou, Li as Xian, and Li as the Emperor. The acting here is excellent, and no whitewashing is necessary.
No expenses are spared as, “Mulan” is the most expensive movie directed by a female filmmaker, who in this case is Niki Caro, and costs between $200 and 300 million. I was dazzled by the production design and sets of the Chinese empire and villages, as well as the special effects. The buildings look real, there’s also a yellow frozen lake, and the visual effects for the phoenix (Mulan’s guardian) and hawk are absolutely realistic. This is a special-looking film.
Now, this is how you remake a Disney animated classic, one that takes risks, never takes the most obvious approaches, and recycles no dialogue whatsoever. This brings honor to fans of the 1998 hit, and I’m riveted it managed to find a spot on Disney+ during this COVID-19 crisis.
Streaming on Disney+