Bringing honor to us all
Mulan is back!
Although not in the way as originally planned, the live-action remake of the 1998 Disney animated feature “Mulan” has finally been released. Instead of the wide theatrical release previously scheduled for March 20, the movie was rolled out on the streaming service Disney+ on Sept. 4.
Starring Liu Yifei in the title role alongside a bevy of Asian and Asian-American talent such as Gong Li, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Jason Scott Lee, Jet Li, and Yoson An, “Mulan” tells a familiar story of a young girl who takes her father’s sword and armor to fight in the Chinese Imperial Army in his place, and the journey of self-discovery she embarks upon.
Back in the day, it seemed unreal that the Walt Disney Company would even think of basing one of its animated musical films on a legend from Asia, led by a heroine who: a) was not and did not become a princess, b) cross-dressed, and c) did not need to be saved.
Mulan was the hero not only of her brothers-in-arms, but of an entire country, thereby bringing honor to her family and herself.
Of course there was that musical score by the late Jerry Goldsmith, and songs by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, including “Reflection,” which I’ve been singing for the better part of the last 22 years. (Just so you know, performing the song has not in any way gotten old.)
When the live-action retelling was announced, there were so many opinions surrounding it before even one frame was shot. How much music was going to be included? Will it be a frame-by-frame reproduction of the successful animated feature? Who’s going to be in it? Who’ll be directing? What can we expect from the new version of this beloved, legendary story?
I can tell you this much, and I mean this in the best way: 2020’s “Mulan” is its own creation.
It goes without saying that because of its setting, as well as the location of filming, there’s bound to be some breathtaking cinematography (by director of photography Mandy Walker).
Thanks to the presence of folks like Donnie and Jet, there would be a considerable amount of action. Because it’s Disney, they were going to make this Mulan strong, beautiful and more in control of her destiny. And, just like in the animated film, she would not need a man to rescue her.
Allow me to very candidly admit that all of my objectivity has been thrown out the window. Call it nostalgia, sentimentality or what have you, but there is no way I’ll be able to see this film with a critical eye in the way I can, or at least try to, with other pieces.
“Reflection,” although not sung until the end credits (there are two versions played back to back: one in English by Christina Aguilera and another in Mandarin by Liu Yifei), is all over the movie. Iconic images from either the animated feature or marketing material have been reproduced.
For the most part, the story follows the same path, Hua Mulan’s story starting and ending in the village she calls home, surrounded by her family. There are marked differences as well: Mushu the little dragon is nowhere to be found and the role of Captain Li Shang, Mulan’s commanding officer, as well as love interest, has been split into two roles (Donnie Yen is now officer-in-charge Commander Tung, and Yoson An is Chen Honghui, the guy in charge of flirtation and serious six-pack abs).
There isn’t just one, but two villains in Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and a witch named Xianniang (Gong Li). Mulan also now has a sister who happens to have arachnophobia, and she has always been trained in martial arts by her father (Tzi Ma).
Even though I can’t see you, I can somehow feel your concern about whether or not to take the plunge and watch the movie. Here’s my only piece of advice: temporarily put aside whatever vestiges of the original animated film you might have in your mind, and approach this new telling with as clean a slate as possible.
The live-action remake of “Mulan” is in many ways a different experience—one that made me sob several times, whether it’s because I saw one of my friends onscreen, or heard “Reflection” underline an important story point, and one that does pay homage to the past, but is carving its own path.
Those of us who were part of the original film spiritually held the hands of those involved in this new one, generously sharing our qi and wishing it the best. Like its live-action remake predecessors like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” it’s not meant to be a replacement but rather a companion to their animated counterparts.
Although I wished for this film to be viewed on IMAX, these are very unique times, and all we can do is do the best we can under these most trying of circumstances. Perhaps a belated theatrical release once we’re through with this pandemic will be in the cards. Fingers crossed for this!
Mulan is that little girl who was told what she couldn’t do, went on a journey of self-discovery, and found herself despite the obstacles in her way. She grew up to be the warrior that could, and did. And perhaps we can find some inspiration in the spirit of that to weather these tough times.
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