The Emperor’s Saviour

Mulan

Director: Niki Caro

Cast: Yifeu Liu, Gong Li, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Tzi Ma, Ron Yuan

Film Rating 7 out of 10 – Catch Mulan in Cinemas now or on DisneyPlus

Disney’s bid to attract the massive Chinese cinema going audience with Mulan which was scheduled for a worldwide release on the 27th March 2020 was an ill-timed affair as the leap year that is 2020 brought along a vicious virus from the Far East and ravaged the world, closing down cinemas and forcing cities into lock down.

The effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic on world cinema in 2020 has been devastating and only films like Christopher Nolan’s exceptionally brilliant Tenet will attract reluctant audiences back into the cinemas. Many big budget film productions have postponed their release dates until 2021.

Nevertheless, the New Zealand director of Whale Rider Niki Caro did a fairly good job of taking on Mulan, an adventure tale set in ancient China with a completely Chinese cast. Built on the premise that a young and feisty girl from a Chinese village Mulan disobeys her father Zhou played by Tzi Ma (Skyscraper, Arrival, Million Dollar Arm), disguises herself as a man and joins the Imperial army to fight Northern invaders led by Bori Khan played by Hawaiian actor Jason Scott Lee (Alaska is a Drag) and aided Xianniang, a witch played by Gong Li (Coming Home, Curse of the Golden Flower, Memoirs of a Geisha).

Mulan is played by rising Chinese actress Yifei Liu (The Forbidden Kingdom) who rises above her male counterparts in the Imperial army and comes to the rescue of the Emperor played by Martian arts legend Jet Li (The Forbidden Kingdom, Hero, Kiss of the Dragon).

Although the script of Mulan leaves much to be desired and the dialogue seems stilted and uninspiring, the action sequences are great and at least the cast is authentic although it would seem better if this film’s dialogue was in Chinese with English subtitles, but director Niki Caro was obviously appealing to Western audiences while paying homage to her Disney employees.

Unlike Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther which successfully captured the zeitgeist of 2018. Black Panther was released by the Disney owned Marvel Films and was part of the Marvel franchise of superhero films with sufficient legacy to back up the main character.

Mulan on the other hand was a Disney produced film which while brilliantly shot and cinematically constructed, the storyline was predictable and didn’t offer enough depth for this multi-talented cast of Chinese actors who have all appeared in far superior Chinese films including Coming Home, Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower.

Despite some flaws, Mulan is an enjoyable action film set in ancient China, a land filled with loyalty, honour and unbridled patriarchy. Some interesting aspects of ancient Chinese culture are examined but not in the elegant fashion done by far superior directors such as Zhang Yimou in Raise the Red Lantern in his breakthrough film in 1992 which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

Mulan is enjoyable but unfortunately might be overlooked amidst the current existential health crisis engulfing the world. Mulan gets a rating of 7 out of 10 and is spectacular watch but the storyline is not original.

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