In Brief: Wasn’t a big fan of the 1998 animated film and didn’t think I’d like the live action version. Boy was I wrong!
The animated Mulan was released in 1998. I wasn’t a fan. The movie was a huge hit and an even bigger fan favorite. It did not resonate with me but most of them don’t. So here I sit a couple of decades and a few years later and I’m also not anticipating Disney’s live version.
Then I watched Mulan. Boy did I get that one wrong.
Mulan requires the suspension of disbelief. You have to ignore that the film’s star, Yifei Liu looks more like a young woman than a guy. And you also have to pretend not to wonder exactly how a young woman in a troop full of guys manages a bathroom break and not let just about everyone know he’s really a she.
Once you get past that, Mulan is a terrific movie.
I say that humbly. For years I have severely criticized Disney for redoing many of its famed animated films and turning them into live action bombs. Until now the only one I’ve thought worthy of the effort is Beauty and the Beast.
The others — Aladdin, Jungle Book, The Lion King, Dumbo and a bunch more — have been awful. Using the adjective “awful” is me being nice. Most are worst than awful.
You know the story. Mulan is a girl who takes her father’s place in the Chinese army. The army is charged with defending the nation from invaders. Girls aren’t allowed to be warriors and being caught faking sexual identity is a serious crime. Mulan is tough, manages to become a good soldier, and though she’s eventually found out, Mulan becomes the hero of the war.
Her courage and skill lead to the defeat of the enemy.
Yifei Liu (The Assassins) stars as Mulan. She is quite good in the role. Liu is athletic and makes us believe she can take on bad guys and win. Her acting? Immaterial. It’s not all that hard to look photogenic when you are and to look like you’re really acting when there are very few lines to deliver.
Liu is joined by Jet Li who stars as the emperor, Gong Li — arguably China’s best-ever actress — and Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma and Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story).
The original film had something like 29 writers. This version has just four including Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver who helped write Jurassic World and a couple of the movies in the new Planet of the Apes series. They’re both very good writers and get excellent help from newcomers Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek.
Mulan’s directing chores landed at the feet of Niki Caro (Whale Rider, The Zookeeper’s Wife). Her film pushes two-hours while the original landed at close to 90-minutes. Unlike a few of the other live-action redos, the extra minutes in Mulan don’t hurt.
Caro and the writers make a few key changes from the original plot. While purists and fans of the animated flick might complain, those changes are actually an improvement. Most are in the area of character development. She also stretches out the action sequences.
It also appears that Caro has become adept at special effects. They’re excellent and where most directors of this brand of movie exaggerate things, Caro practices restraint. She does the action sequences at a reasonable length. Nothing feels overdone.
Best of all, Caro blessedly resists the temptation to do the action sequences the way they’re done in a lot of Chinese action flicks. You know, they’re the ones with characters doing gravity-defying, tree top tip-toeing and walking straight up walls. They have fights in the air with swords and fists while the characters spin this way and that, feet never touching the ground.
Another change from the original is the rating. The 1998 movie is rated G. This one picked up a PG-13 rating though I didn’t seen anything in the movie that made the “13” all that necessary. It is a little violent in places but it’s not that violent.
Director: Niki Caro
Stars: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Gong Li, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Tzi Ma
Rated PG-13 for mature themes. Unlike most of the Disney classic animated feature live action remakes, this one is very, very good. Surprise! Give Mulan a 4 1/2 on the Friday Flicks with Gary o to 5 scale.
You can find Mulan on the Disney+ Premium Access
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.