After seeing the trailer in theaters, Mulan (2020) was the first of the live action* Disney re-makes I was interested in seeing. I would have actually gone to the theater to see it, which is high praise from me. I don’t go to theaters as often as I used to. Unfortunately, it was not to be. COVID-19 upended the world in many ways.
When Disney Plus decided to offer it up as a premium product on its streaming service, I didn’t think long about whether I would purchase it. I know the reasons why – Disney’s Parks Division is taking a huge hit, losing billions per quarter. They have to get income coming in.
I’ve watched it twice so far, and it would have been well worth seeing in the theater. We have a 65-inch screen in our living room, so it makes for nice viewing, although it definitely isn’t the same as a theater. Still, the action scenes hold up well on this size screen and the film is quite enjoyable.
Mulan (2020) is no longer a musical. Gone also are the wise-cracking dragon side-kick as well as the “lucky cricket” (although there is a cricket in the film). Instead, the audience is presented with a girl who is not very “girly.” I can relate to that.
Mulan’s father is a war hero who returned with an injury that still causes him difficulty. He has been blessed with two daughters, but no sons. Mulan idolizes her father and he sees in her the Chi of a warrior. He counsels her to hide her Chi – it is too powerful for a girl and will not serve her well.
When the decree from the Emperor arrives demanding one male from each household to fight off the invading Rourons, led by the evil Bori Khan. With a witch by his side, they are disrupting trade on the Silk Road and threatening the Empire. What he really wants, however, is vengeance against the Emperor, who killed his father.
Knowing her father will not survive a return to battle, Mulan steals his armor and sword and heads off. She disguises herself as a boy and chooses a different name, Hua Jun and presents herself for service.
There are comic moments, but not the same ones from the animated flick. If you are looking for a faithful retelling of that story, you won’t find it here. Instead we have modern themes of a woman who has been told to suppress who she is all of her life discovering her true self. It’s not to be a typical wife and subordinate to her husband.
There is action galore. Both the younger Mulan and the woman she grows into see plenty of it without a battle in sight. Crystal Rao portrays young Mulan and does a terrific job with the right expressions and degree of fun she finds in being who she wants to be. Her father (portrayed by Tzi Ma) seems to delight in his “boyish” young daughter, much to the consternation of her mother (portrayed by Rosalind Chao). I don’t know how much of the action stunts she did herself, but she is very believable to me, having been a bit of a “tom-boy” myself in my youth.
Yifei Liu is the older Mulan. I don’t find she pulls of the boyish look, but that’s okay. I don’t think she is really supposed to. They believe who she is simply because the truth of the situation never occurs to any of them. She hides her abilities, just as afraid of that revelation as she is of revealing she is a woman. It’s an interesting take on how we continually tell girls to be more “lady-like” and hide who they are and what they are capable of.
The interaction between Hua Mulan and “the witch” is very interesting. It’s hinted that they have quite a bit in common. I really liked this addition to the story and it works well. The parallels of two women who had a strong chi and were rejected by society underscore what happens after one is rejected and turned away. They tend to be embraced by darker elements who value their ability, even though Bori Khan is just using the witch as long as he needs her.
I thoroughly enjoyed this version of Mulan and watched it twice so far. Even my spouse commented that Disney out-did themselves with this one. I think it’s well worth the $30 investment to see it right now.