Who just spent $32.63 on Mulan from Disney+ Premier? This gal!
Disney had planned to have Mulan to have a theatrical release this spring. COVID-19 changed the plans much like the virus changed many of our plans. So instead of having Mulan in movie theaters, we get it as a video on demand.
For $29.99 (plus taxes) you get to bring Mulan home early! You get it a full 3 months before it begins to stream on Disney+ for regular folks.
So a few technical questions about this before I review the movie –
If one member on an account purchases the movie, all members on the account can indeed watch it. It gets charged to whomever the primary account is. So if your kid accidentally orders it, Mom and Dad get charged.
Sorry for the small images, but if you look at the bottom of the screenshot from my phone you can see a different avatar. My Disney+ avatar is Rogue from the X-Men. I’m the primary on the account. Someone else on the account has Ursula and still has access to the movie.
The reason why I bring this up and why it was a big question with the whole movie. Will only one person on the account have access to Mulan? No. Anyone attached to the account can watch it unlimited times. Disney is not going to charge you for each member watching it. So it’s kind of a good value.
Okay onto the movie review!
Mulan is based on the 1998 Disney animated movie by the same name. It’s the live-action version of the Disney Renaissance era movie. The animated movie is based on a Chinese legend of the woman warrior Mulan. The animated movie starred Ming-Na Wen as the hero, with BD Wong as Shang, legendary actor James Hong as Chi Fu, Pat Morita as the Emperor, and Eddie Murphy as Mushu. Oh! And Donnie Osmond as the singing voice of Shang (which is a shame because BD has a great voice.).
Here’s Donnie Osmond singing the famous song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.”
(Honestly, I love this song.)
The live-action movie has no musical breaks.
The live-action movie is set in a different China than the animated movie. The movie starts with seeing Mulan and her family in their village, which is a small circular looking apartment complex. A young Mulan is chasing after a chicken that has escaped causing trouble.
We see Mulan is athletic, has no fear, has grace in her movements, but is reckless. Instead of being praised for her bravery trying to catch a chicken, she ends up breaking the village Phoenix statue and gets chastised. Later she overhears her parents talking about how she needs to be a good wife and her rebellious spirit isn’t what makes a good wife.
The movie moves us to Mulan when she is riding her horse and is completely free. She comes back to her village and finds the matchmaker found someone for her. As a woman, Mulan must marry well. This is what brings honor to her family. She gets fully made up, looking like the opposite of the wild woman who was just riding her horse in the field.
When a spider crawls into the matchmaker’s tea set up (Mulan’s sister is afraid of spiders) while trying to help her sister she ends up breaking the entire tea set up and gets told she brings shame to her family. Her father later reprimands her.
As this is happening we see that an army has been hurting parts of China, lead by a female shape-shifting witch. The Emperor demands a male from each family, in each village, come join the army to help defeat the threat.
So as Mulan is getting very publicly reprimanded by her father, the messenger from the army comes and demands a man from each family. Mulan’s father, Zhou, after tightening his knee brace, says he’s the man in the family and so will represent them. When asked if there is not another man in his family, Zhou says he is blessed with two daughters. Later Mulan’s mother says that Zhou will likely not come home from war and they need to be brave.
We all know the story at this point, Mulan steals her family’s sword and then pretends to be a man in order to save her father.
There’s no wise-talking dragon or cute cricket to give her pep talks. There’s a group of men/soldiers she befriends who don’t know her secret. Yes, there is a montage of the men training to be soldiers, and when the military finds one man cheating – he is shown to be dismissed from the military and shame brought to his family. This shows us the stakes in play for Mulan. She is risking not only her life and reputation, but her family’s, and her village.
The villain in this movie is the Rouran, lead by Jason Scott Lee’s Bori Khan. With him is the shape-shifting witch Xianniang, who was exiled from her village when her chi was too much and her storyline is meant to mirror Mulan’s. She was exiled, had to fight for herself, and shamed for being too strong and refusing to reform.
She is partnered with the Rouran so she will sit alongside Bori Khan. When Mulan and Xianniang meet for the first time there’s a fight between the pair that is beautifully shot and shows the differences between the two women and how similar they are.
When left for dead by the witch, Mulan realizes that she needs to be who she is and know her strengths, versus being another cog in the Imperial army. She comes into the battlefield with an orchestral version of “Reflections” from the animated movie, with glorious cinematography. She fights in her style of fighting, but by being a woman on the battlefield, she is thought to be a witch, and both sides run in fear.
That’s the basic plot of the movie. The movie differs from the animated movie because many characters from the animated movie aren’t there, even the villain isn’t the same villain. The animated movie had the Huns and they looked physically scary with the sclera of the eyes being copper (which is actually Wilson’s disease). Bori Khan is frightening with his scars.
The witch is equally scary but also incredibly sad. Her storyline, while not in the animated movie, brought this realization that Mulan’s path could’ve gone very differently. Instead of Mushu the dragon, there is a focus on the Phoenix – which wasn’t part of the animated movie.
The storyline itself is very similar to the animated movie, and that’s not a bad thing.
Visually the movie is gorgeous. It’s stunning when revealing the landscapes, the use of color, the perspective it shows. It’s visually a beautiful movie.
There is a scene where the use of a sickly citron shade of green (and that color hadn’t been used in the movie before) showed the change in tone of the movie. The use of color was amazing. I love storytelling via color stories and this was spectacular in its usage.
The music was beautiful, it really was a beautiful score.
Now the actors and the acting –
The movie had to be carried by the woman playing Mulan. Yifei Liu brought such strength to Mulan. Yes, she was barely a 120lb woman, but you could see how she was using physics to win fights – attack people’s center of gravity.
Tzi Ma as Mulan’s father was amazing. You could feel the love he had for his girls, and feel his own personal failings with even a look. Yoson An played Honghui (he replaced Shang in the movie), and in a role that could’ve been very one-note played it with such charm. I think we are going to see big things from him. He was kinda hot and would be good in a rom-com.
Donnie Yen and Jet Li were big roles in the movie playing a commander in the army and Li playing the Emperor. I couldn’t recognize Li. The Emperor is so old and Li is only in his 50s. For perspective Yen and Li are the same age and Li looks 30 years older in this movie.
Li Gong plays the witch, and I was very distracted by her makeup that her acting took second fiddle. She has a very makeup intense, large costume. Her character is tragic, true, but you’re focused on all the other stuff about her character that it makes her subtle acting and character work come second. I did think it was interesting how the makeup team had Gong in such heavy makeup next to Yei’s Mulan’s bare face. They are supposed to be opposite of each other and even the makeup choice showed that.
The one thing that completely took me out of the whole movie was the use of modern weights in a pivotal monologue. Mulan talks about “four ounces being able to move tons”. The use of ounces is from Rome and the Roman Empire. To hear it used in this Chinese set movie… maybe with the silk trade it was used? It just threw me out of the movie for some reason.