Action Adventure

Review: ‘Mulan’ Remains Loyal, Brave and True to the Spirit of the Legend

September 4, 2020Ben MK

The Ballad of Mulan has been a cornerstone of Chinese folklore for centuries, but, of course, the best known version of the story can be attributed to Disney's beloved 1998 animated film starring Ming-Na Wen as the titular heroine. Now that the live-action remake has finally arrived, however, there's just one question on moviegoers' minds — does this new Mulan bring honor to its animated predecessor?

Led this time around by Yifei Liu as the headstrong Hua Mulan, this new iteration more or less follows the trajectory of the original, although viewers keenly familiar with the animated version will no doubt spot the numerous omissions, additions and alterations director Niki Caro and screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek make along the way. That said, the most important thing to note about this retelling is that — unlike Disney's recent live-action adaptations of The Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast — it eschews the musical aspects of its namesake. And while some viewers may find the change jarring, it generally works in the movie's favor when it comes to bringing an air of realism to this mythical tale.

As for the story itself, we're first introduced to Mulan as a free-spirited young girl whose tendency not to follow societal norms have left her father, Zhou (Tzi Ma), at his wit's end. Fast forward several years and the time has come for Mulan to be matched with a suitable husband. But when a representative for the Emperor (Jet Li) arrives looking to recruit one man from each family to fight in the ongoing war against Rouan invaders from the North, Mulan must make a difficult decision. With her father in no condition to don his suit of armor and no son to take up his sword, Mulan opts to take his place instead, stealthily leaving her village under cover of night.

When she gets to the army's encampment, she assumes a new name and a new male identity. And for a while, it would appear that the stoic Commander Tung (Donnie Yen), and his forces are none the wiser. But when the Rouans, led by the vicious Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and the powerful witch Xianniang (Gong Li), corner them on the battlefield, Mulan is forced to reveal her true gender. Ousted from the Emperor's army as a result, Mulan still has one chance to prove her true worth, however. For when the Rouans make a play for the Imperial City, only she can lead a small band of warriors into the capital and put a stop to their plans once and for all.

It all adds up to something a departure from the original, but by no means should fans let that deter them from what is otherwise quite a handsome adaptation of the age-old legend. Bolstered by its gorgeous production design, sweeping cinematography and eye-popping martial arts choreography, Mulan is as ambitious as it is striking to behold. And while this may not be the same heroine an entire generation grew up with, make no mistake, this new Mulan is still every bit as courageous, honorable and inspirational as her predecessor.

Mulan releases September 4th, 2020 on Disney+ for subscribers with premier access. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of violence. Its runtime is 1 hr. 55 min.

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