The Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, a young woman who disguised herself as a man and became a respected warrior, has been told on screen before – Chinese versions include a 1939 live action movie, a 1994 cinematic opera and a cartoon adventure with all the characters depicted as animals. Of course, Western audiences will recognise Mulan’s story from the 1998 Disney animated family film, on which this live action movie is loosely based.
Unlike the other Disney live action movies that have updated classic animated ones (like Beauty And The Beast, Cinderella and The Lion King), this doesn’t copy the 1998 film in its entirety. Kiddie-friendly elements such as the comic dragon Mushu and the musical numbers have been dropped in favour of sweeping vistas, stunning fight scenes and luscious locations that dazzle the eye, giving the movie a more grown-up feel than the animated version.
Of course, the story remains the same as young Mulan (Yifei Liu) shows too much independence and tomboyish-ness for her traditional village, who all expect her to be a delicate, elegant and obedient woman. When the emperor, under threat of an impending war, decrees that every family must send one man to fight for the nation, Mulan dresses as a man and disappears into the night to become a soldier.
Training with men, she keeps her true identity secret (dodging communal shower time for obvious reasons) as the soldiers prepare to do battle with a Rouran warrior (Jason Scott Lee), his army, and Xian Lang (Gong Li), a powerful shape-shifting witch.
Director Niki Caro, who made the lyrical Whale Rider, delivers a visually stunning film and skilfully mixes action sequences with quieter, dramatic moments. The theme of being true to yourself shines through, and there is much to enjoy even if the movie doesn’t quite have the emotional pull to provoke laughter and tears (which the ‘slighter’ animated Mulan was able to do).
Backed by a fine supporting cast, and Caro’s eye for a beautiful backdrop, Yifei Liu is a true star as Mulan, playing the role to perfection as a classic Disney heroine and a modern day hero combined – and is the best reason to watch this luscious epic that was sadly denied a debut on the big screen due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
*4th September 2020 – Mulan is exclusively available with Premier Access on Disney+ and will be available to all Disney+ subscribers at a later date.
Is Mulan (2020) suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
This film does have a 12A certificate but nearly all the action sequences feature little or no blood.
Very young children may find Xian Lang a little scary.
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