Disney's Mulan Movie Review - "Deserves More Love"
Updated: Sep 4
We were fortunate enough to be invited to the UK Premiere of Disney's Mulan a few days before the country was in lockdown and people finished panic buying toilet roll! I'm sure you're all familiar with the storyline, and are fans of the animated movie. It's your boy Mistah Islah here on behalf of myself, Michael Truong, Deana Hassanein & Mariah Idrissi as we dig right into the movie, the highlights and lowlights, and what we think of Disney's latest live action adaptation!
***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***
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ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO KEEP READING?
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The Scenery Was Breathtaking
Especially watching it on a super ultimate ma-hooosive cinema screen in Leicester Square, was beautiful. The landscapes were outstanding, the East Asian architecture made it feel like we travelled back in time to a traditional era of China. The movie does not disappoint through out when it comes to this!
I mean, would you just take a look at these stills from the movie?
Hua Zhou (Mulan's Father) Plucks on Your Heartstrings
I've been a fan of Tzi Ma since I was a kid, watching him in 'Martial Law' as Sammo's arch nemesis and his role in the 'Rush Hour' franchise. Watching him in an 'elder' role such as this, he really does hit home with the family vibes. Easily the most heartfelt performance of the movie through his interactions with Liu Yifei's Mulan. His devotion to doing what must be done with intention of protecting and serving his family can be seen in his eyes yet also in his firm hand as a Father. It was evident through his portrayal of the character why Mulan felt so lovingly towards him and risked her life to save his.
Not gonna lie...someone was cutting onions when he was on screen.
The movie opens with a 'young Mulan' parkour-ing around after a chicken, when the matchmaker scene goes upside down we're reminded here of her abilities, if anything they have become sharper as she's become older. Director Niki Caro explained that she has a special 'chi' that was suppressed as it was basically not lady-like to behave or be able to fight the way she did. According to the matchmaker, a woman should be "Quiet, composed, graceful, disciplined"
Props to the costume, hair & make up and props team because it looked like a lot of time and effort went into getting this scene ready! There's also a funny shot with the Matchmaker upon Mulan's return home at the end of the movie that had the audience chuckling in the cinema!
Jet Li Wasn't Kicking Ass For Once
I think this was the first time I've seen Jet Li in a role like this. The Emperor was voiced by late Pat Morita in the animated movie, and who better to fill the role of the 'Karate Kid' legend than another legend? We got to see a short demonstration of The Emperor's skills, just enough to know he was a bad ass when he was younger. But hey, it's Jet Li. Who need's any proof?
My Donny, Donnie!
Let's admit it, after watching all Donnie Yen's old school movies especially the Ip Man franchise - you know you're just waiting for him to show up on screen! Commander Tung definitely has an entrance that has Donnie Yen written all over it
His authoritative role in the film definitely suits him, a big difference from his gracefulness and kindness as Ip Man. He has a funny scene with Mulan as he offers one of his daughters to match-make with her when the war is over. I swear, if Tinder was available in this era then these matchmakers would be out of a job!
While it was nice seeing him demonstrate form and drill techniques to the rest of the soldiers, sadly as a Martial Artist myself and a Donnie Yen fan I was expecting to see a lot more moves from him in the film.
Even if he just had ONE moment to shine like he did in Star Wars: Rogue One I would have been happy. Personally I think towards the 3rd phase of the film with the attack on the palace would have been a great opportunity to see Commander Tung flurry punch a few goons (giving a small nod to Ip Man) while yelling out something like
"Mulan, Go! I've got this!"
Missed opportunity I think, but I'm here hoping for a deleted scene!
The Training Camp & Mulan's Comrades
This was just interesting to see as a Martial Artist, it must have been amazing to see in person on set. Watching them all perform their training drills in synchronisation felt powerful.
There are moments with Ling (Jimmy Wong), Chien-Po (Doua Moua) and Yao (Chen Tang) that were funny to see with Mulan trying to be as manly as she could. There was also a small nod through the dialogue amongst them that gave credit to the original song 'A Girl Worth Fighting For'. I would have loved to see a lot more scenes of them bonding during training.
The Love Interest
The original love interest from the animated movie was Captain Li Shang, in this adaptation that role was replaced by Honghui played by Yoson An. A great genuine performance from a talented Actor. The fight scene between him and Mulan in the training camp was very well performed, possibly the best choreographed fight in the film. He was casted very well as the stud in the film.
However, at some points whilst Mulan was disguising as a boy...it felt as if Honghui was already showing "interest" in him(her) way before discovering the truth about her gender. This confused us, as it came across as if the character was either borderline homosexual or he secretly knew the whole time. But we don't think it was the latter, because by the end of the movie he gave no indication that he was aware of Mulan's disguise and played along for her sake through out the movie.
So it got pretty 'weird' in a few scenes between the two, it may just be a small attention to detail that wasn't noticed by the filmmakers.
There Is No Mushu
We know what you're thinking after reading that, "Dishonour on you! Dishonour on your cow!" while it would have been great to have Mushu in the live adaption, after watching it I don't see how a talking dragon would fit in and be taken seriously in this version. As well as Mulan's characteristic horse and pet cricket. They really do serve the animated movie better, but Niki Caro had a great answer for you when I asked her here:
While they replaced Mushu with a wondering and watchful phoenix, we couldn't help but wonder why the CGI for it wasn't up to scratch. It was very noticeable. It doesn't effect the emotional impact of the movie but surely Disney could have put in a lot more money to make it look as good as a dragon from Game of Thrones?
Xian Lang - The Witch
Played by Gong Li, the witch with shapeshifting abilities was a new instalment to the Mulan story as an ally of Bori Khan. While it was nice to see a new element to the movie and watch her kick ass in a mystical sort of way, at times it did feel like Xian Lang was out of place in the plot. We all thought she needed a deeper reason to be there, it was almost obvious that her desire to be taken seriously as a woman was going to be her character arc in the film.
I would have just preferred her to be pure evil, almost like an evil Mulan counterpart, a mirrored version of her that she would have to face off with before the final boss fight. Either way, it was nice seeing her have a change of heart near the end and help Mulan.
Bori Khan Was BAD ASS
As a massive Jason Scott Lee fan, it was strange but a good sort of strange, seeing him play a villain. A really dark and eary one by the way, he definitely took his method acting to a dark place to find his inner Bori Khan.
It was great just seeing him on screen again after so many years, I loved his portrayal of Bruce Lee in 'Dragon: A Bruce Lee Story'. Sometimes when watching that I forget that I'm watching Jason Scott Lee and not Bruce Lee.
I may have shouted 'I love you Jason' during the screening, to which he threw up his rockstar hand in the air in response to me and I freaked out. I can't believe how different he looks now, but this role was definitely made for him! Long hair, beard and all! Would have been good to see him go toe to toe with Jet Li for a few seconds!
The Battle & Fights
The famous battle of the mountains takes place and we're finally shown what the soldiers are made of. There is a really impressive scene of Mulan chasing Bori Khan on her horse and his horse riders LITERALLY spin around and ride their horses backwards whilst shooting arrows at her. Director Niki Caro explained that it was all real and they were trained horse riders.
However, Mulan's plan to use the mountain of snow to her advantage happened really fast. Like, one minute she's running and the next minute she's already staged her attack and it's ready to go.
A Surprise Cameo
Probably the most biggest spoiler I could include in this article, but for the Mulan fans out there we are treated to a special cameo from the original voice of Mulan
Ming Na Wen
I like what you did there Disney, I like it.
Mulan - Liu Yifei
Saving the best to last, I haven't seen Liu Yifei since 2008's 'Forbidden Kingdom' (although she has done a whole bunch of other movies) so it's refreshing to see her on-screen again. Director Niki Caro said that the casting process to find Mulan took over a year, but essentially the role was hers to begin with if it wasn't for scheduling issues.
She definitely brings the character to life, she has the balance needed to play the role. She convincingly goes under cover as a male soldier really well and not to mention her natural Martial Art talents.
Her commitment to her training whilst hiding her identity was admirable to watch, as she opted in to do the night watch so that the other men wouldn't discover her secret. Watching her overcome each training drill felt empowering,
I think it all proved how much she loved her family and more so her father. You can easily empathise with her inner conflicts. She's missing her family, whilst hiding a secret that could dishonour her as well as taking part in a life threatening war.
Overall, this adaptation of Mulan is definitely worth the watch. It's a visual celebration of Chinese culture and a nice break from your recent 'Disney Princess' films. It gives the same kind of female empowering vibes as WonderWoman did but with all the East Asian culture combined. In an industry where we don't see Asian leads often, this is very refreshing.
The only things I would critique are that the film feels rushed at times, where it could have taken its time to let the story marinate. I'm not sure if this was execs that decided the film needed trimming but I would definitely vote for the film to be longer and take it's time.
I was hoping that it would adapt more of a traditional East Asian Martial Arts side to it when it came to the fight scenes, but again, maybe lengthy fight scenes weren't on the list of priorities with the people higher up.
I feel like the film deserves more love, love from the audience and Disney needed to show it more love when cooking it up in the kitchen.
We couldn't recommend it a watch more than we already have. Turn the lights off, turn your sound system on and enjoy the movie on Disney+ with no interruptions!