ESP’S resident movie reviewer Gavin Miller checks out the films on both the large and small screen and now grabs a seat on the sofa to stream Disney’s Mulan…
Although this takes several strides away from the usual ‘classic Disney animation turned into live action blockbuster’ – it proves to be a glossy and competently delivered iteration of the tale.
Gone are the songs, comedy, romance and Eddie Murphy’s gobby slapstick dragon sidekick Mushu – replaced by a structured, more adult-orientated visual spectacle.
It’s the first film in Disney’s back library that has garnered a 12A rating, and despite some dumb-downed violence among the fierce battling, provides a noteworthy actioner from A to B – without ever reaching spectacular status.
But with a solid performance from little-known actress Yifei Liu in the lead role – surrounded by some of Hollywood’s greatest Chinese exports in Jet Li (Romeo Must Die), Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Tzi Ma (Arrival) and Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) – this fantasy adventure is always engaging, complete with the usual Disney production values.
When Rouran raiders from the north of the country – led by Scott Lee’s vengeful leader Bori Khan and Gong Li’s (Miami Vice) powerful shape-shifting witch Xianniang – look to take down the Imperial Chinese dynasty governed by Jet Li’s Emperor, the ruler issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the army to help defend them from this imminent threat.
But when war veteran Hua Zhou (Ma) is unable to present a son for combat, the ailing man has to put himself forward for conscription – that is until his vivacious eldest daughter Hua Mulan (Liu) takes his sword, armour and enlistment papers and disappears to do her family’s duty.
Disguised as a man called Hua Jun, the skilled, spirited and determined Mulan is tested by multiple obstacles as she fights to keep up appearances – or be expelled from the army led by Yen’s honourable Commander Tung – while embracing her true potential in defending her homeland.
This leads to an epic journey that transforms her into an honoured warrior, and ultimately earns her the respect of her nation, as Mulan and her comrades – including romantic interest Chen Honghui (Yoson An) – end up on a date with destiny against Khan and his vicious thug-like army.
And while it ultimately plays it fairly safe, with a well-constructed and balanced script Mulan proves to be an enjoyable ride getting there, with a nice mix of storytelling and action that ticks most of the right boxes – even though it does lack some of the charm of the original animated movie.
But it proves to be easily the equal of the likes of The Lion King and Aladdin in the animation-turned-live action films of its ilk – even if it doesn’t reach the heights of maybe a Beauty and the Beast or The Jungle Book – and despite a hefty price tag on Disney Plus’s new Premier Access service, is just about justified for a family night in.
After battling coronavirus for the past six months to get a theatrical release, Mulan has finally found its home on the House of Mouse’s streaming network – and hopefully the sword-wielding warrioress gets the audience this enigmatic performance deserves.
ESP Rating: 3.5/5
Cast: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Gong Li, Tzi Ma, Jet Li, Yoson An, Rosalind Chao, Xana Tong & Ron Yuan
Running Time: 1 Hr 56 Mins
Director: Niki Caro