After many delays, the legend of the woman who saved an empire is finally here and it is definitely worth the wait!
Hua Mulan is the eldest daughter of Hua Zhou, a former soldier for the Imperial Army. With her upbringing, she is a happy girl despite many efforts from her mother, who worries she will not match well with a husband. Now a young adult, after a disastrous meeting with the Matchmaker, Mulan is said to have brough dishonor. However, things have gotten worse when the Rouran Army, led by Bori Khan, have invaded China with the intent of taking over. The Emperor decrees one man from each family will train and join the Imperial Army.
Hua Zhou, despite the last battle leaving to a major injury, is forced to volunteer. However, when Mulan learns of his intentions, she decides to steal his armor and family sword. She disguises herself as Hua Jun, who trains under the leadership of Commander Tung and the strict discipline of General Qiang. Meanwhile, Bori Khan, whose father was killed by the Emperor during the last invasion, has an ace up in sleeve with Xianiang, a witch whose power is deemed inevitable. As Mulan proves herself, the Army prepares for battle and things are about to come to a head. However, what will happen if Mulan’s secret is revealed?
Those expecting something similar to the 1998 animated feature will be disappointed because this is not a musical nor do we get to see Mushu, the lovable dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy. However, those who love a nicely shot wuxia pian combined with a Disney style story will certainly enjoy this. While we won’t get to see Donnie Yen sing “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (which would have been great since Yen is musically inclined – check out his theme song to his “Fist of Fury” series), stay for the end credits to hear lead star Liu Yifei’s Chinese rendition of “Reflection”.
Speaking of Liu Yifei, those who haven’t seen her before this film will want to see The Forbidden Kingdom to see what she can do because she does quite well here as Hua Mulan. We get to see how she earned her skills, using her unparalleled sense of chi to eventually become the warrior she is destined to be. There is a nice little fun scene where we see a young Mulan chasing a chicken and we can clearly see that her father, played by Tzi Ma, is actually more enthused much to the chagrin of her mother. The underlying factor is that it is Zhou who narrates the story, showing that while he was at first disappointed and scared for Mulan after her deceit, deep down he knows she could be a warrior.
While sadly there is no Sheng like in the animated version, that character is split in three. That’s right. Three characters. There’s the strong leader Commander Tung, played by Hong Kong action legend Donnie Yen. There’s the strict regiment sub-leader General Qiang, played by the underrated talent Ron Yuan. His work has been well seen over the course of three decades beginning with American martial arts B-movies and has gradually risen to become a major supporting actor and stunt coordinator as well as a director. Finally, there’s the romantic interest in Chen Honghui, played by Kiwi-based actor and martial artist Yoson An. An may not be seen at first as a type to play a romantic lead, but eventually, it is clear that chemistry develops.
The villains are portrayed by Jason Scott Lee and the legendary Gong Li. As Bori Khan, Jason Scott Lee is menacing to a level where he’s comfortable playing these sorts of roles in wuxia pian. He was one of the good things about the sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, where he played the evil Hades Dai. As for Gong Li’s Xianiang, she makes for quite an interesting villain. With the film set at a time where women are considered inferior, Bori Khan doesn’t care deeply for her but he sees her as a powerful woman who is forced to act more like a slave and not an equal. And yet, when we see Li in her action scenes, it looks like she could actually have that strength to kill Khan herself if only she could convince herself that she is more powerful than him. The big surprise comes in martial arts legend Jet Li playing a non-fighting role as The Emperor himself and another martial arts legend, Cheng Pei-Pei, one of the second-generation wuxia plan female stars, playing the Matchmaker. Both do extremely well in their roles in the limited screen time given.
Mulan may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is one cup I will drink over and over again. If the question is “what if Disney made a wuxia pian, what would be the result?”, then it’s this film. Despite the obvious differences between this and its 1998 animated predecessor, this was well worth the wait.
WFG RATING: A
A Disney production. Director: Niki Caro. Producers: Chris Bender, Tendo Nagenda, Jason Reed, and Jake Weiner. Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin, and Lauren Hynek; based on “The Ballad of Mulan” by Mi Fu. Cinematography: Mandy Walker. Editing: David Coulson.
Cast: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Gong Li, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Cheng Pei-Pei, Xana Tang, Ron Yuan, Jun Yu, Chen Tang, Doua Moua, Jimmy Wong, Nelson Lee.