Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 55 minutes, Director – Niki Caro
As the war against the increasing threat of Northern invaders demands more troops a young woman (Liu Yifei) disguises herself as a man, running away to join China’s Imperial Army in place of her elderly father (Tzi Ma)
Like many films of recent months Mulan has faced a long journey to the screen. After multiple push-backs amidst the Covid-19 pandemic the film finally finds a home away from the silver screen, on Disney+. Which is a shame, because Mulan is a film made for the big screen. Its immense detail, mixed with Niki Caro’s direction, creates the look and feel of something akin to a true epic. And much of the action throughout the film carries the same feeling. Carefully constructed and laid out often you find yourself with your eyes glued in awe to the screen as Liu Yifei’s Hua Mulan boldly faces battle, skilled with wits as sharp as her sword. The entertainment factor is high from start to finish within this film, bringing the viewer in for an enjoyable ride from start to finish throughout the fast flowing running time.
But, this is much more than a piece of entertainment. This remake of Mulan is a well-told, well-craft story. Keeping some of the themes of the original bringing in tweaks and additions that help to build a new style and tone, keeping thing fresh and engaging. The standard story is still there Mulan finds herself disguising as a man, running away and joining the Chinese Imperial Army so that her elderly father (Tzi Ma) doesn’t have to go and fight, being the only male in the family. Therefore, in disguise as Hua Jun, Mulan finds herself surrounded by a multitude of boisterous, somewhat rowdy men – one from each family. Each one having to be quickly trained and disciplined to fight the ever growing threat of Northern invaders, led by the vengeful Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), with the assistance of Xian Lang (Gong Li), a powerful witch with the ability to overcome entire forces with her shape-shifting abilities.
These aren’t typical Disney villains, and are certainly different to those of the original Mulan film. They are scarred and pose a harsh force to the heroes of the film. A promise that’s ingrained within the violence of the battle sequences and fights. Sparingly used and precisely laid out the 12 rating is lived up to, and again offers something different. There’s a fine streak of mild intensity and drama to the combat sequences. Using the connection that you’ve formed with Yifei’s protagonist. Like her, and those that she’s around, you’re thrown into this new situation, feeling the high stakes always at play; especially for the central figure as she is, of course, having to hide herself in such a situation where you’re almost always in sight of other people. Yet, it’s difficult not to root for such a strong and well-formed figure. Wanting to see her succeed, knowing she has each situation in hand. All leading back to that entertainment factor that spawns from the levels of investment that you have with the film and the characters within it.
With everything that the film has to offer in terms of action, plot, character and everything else the piece never feels slow or as if it goes on for too long. You simply sit there at the spectacle on offer, immersed by the detail in each element and the pure entertainment factor that it emits. This might not be the full-on straight, direct no laughs action-drama that some might have hoped for. There are one or two mild laughs to be found in some scenes, in a similar vein to the 1998 animation on which this remake is based, alongside Guo Maoqian’s original work The Ballad Of Mulan, and a fair share of them are successful in raising a mild chuckle. However, gone are asides to Mushu and Cri-kee, as Caro has stated mostly for the sake of realism, but it allows for the attention to be back on the flowing dramatics of Mulan’s journey. She is the main focus of the film after all. The titular intelligent warrior with whom we have the connection with, and experience the majority of the film through the eyes of. Defying the expectations of those around her and traditional roles this isn’t your traditional Disney film, or indeed live-action remake. This is something different. Something bolder with style and flair. It might be made for the big screen but it’s still captivating on the small screen.
Carefully crafted in each department, brought to life by Niki Caro’s sweeping direction, Mulan isn’t just a strong piece of entertainment; it’s a well told story with engaging characters and fine action. All solidifying the stakes, and the viewers engagement, with an effective, and equally detailed, style that fully brings you into the world and tone of the film.