Saturday, March 6, 2021

Movie with Abe: Mulan

Directed by Niki Caro
Released September 4, 2020

Throughout history, opportunities for men and women have almost never been equal. Because men have typically hold more power, they have been the decision makers in determining what it is that the supposedly inferior gender is capable of doing. That has not stopped many bold and trailblazing women from proving that they are just as competent as the men who try to hold them back, and in some cases, far more skilled. The ancient story of Mulan is an excellent example of this, one brought to fresh if not entirely necessary new life in this live-action blockbuster.

Mulan (Yifei Liu) grows up as the daughter of Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) and Hua Li (Rosalind Chao) and older sister of Hua Xiu (Xana Tang), eager to learn the ways of qi from her father, who teaches her but urges her not to advertise her abilities since she is supposed to be a housewife. When Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) attacks the Chinese empire with the Rouran forces and a powerful witch, Xian Lang (Gong Li), the Emperor (Jet Li) conscripts one man from each family to join his army. Mulan steals her father’s armor and enlists in his place, posing as his son so that she can serve on behalf of her family.

This film is the latest beloved 1990s animated film to be given the live-action treatment after “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” and others. Unlike both of those, this version is not a musical, though it does contain soundtrack cues that should remind loyal fans of the absent songs and may find them wanting very much to hear them again. While the backdrops and costumes are certainly admirable, there isn’t an overly compelling reason that this film needed to be made. Its action sequences are decent, but the excitement of the animated original doesn’t quite translate.

The performances in this film are relatively strong, led by Liu, who brings a stoic bravery to Mulan that drives her to persevere despite continued minimalizing behavior from the men around her. Gong Li is particularly well-utilized in a supporting role, one that again finds her female character underestimated by her domineering and violent commanding tyrant. This film, which made the Oscar shortlists for its score, an original song, and visual effects, is a perfectly standard and adequate watch that will surely elicit stronger opinions, likely more negative than favorable, from those with an emotional attachment to the original film.


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