Cert 12 Stars 4
Disney’s latest big budget live action remake of its 1998 classic animated features delivers exactly what’s promised, a handsomely staged and stirring action adventure set in medieval China.
Faithful to their original story, we follow Mulan, a young woman who steals her father’s armour, disguises herself as a man and runaways to join the imperial army to defend the empire from barbarians from the north.
However there’s no songs and less humour than I expected with the absence of Eddie Murphy’s manic energy as a dragon comedy sidekick being a loss.
Careful to cast ethnically correct actors to avoid accusations of ‘whitewashing’, Chinese born actress Liu Yifei cuts an earnest, determined figure as Mulan, and impresses most when showing off her physical prowess.
The well-staged set pieces lean towards the acrobatic bamboo-pole balancing style of films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the magical life force of chi with its good light side and evil dark side reminds us Star Wars supremo George Lucas drew heavily on Chinese folktales for his concept of ‘The Force’.
Elsewhere Yoson An charms as the handsome love-interest, Jason Scott Lee is effective as the revenge driven bad guy, and popular actors such as Donnie Yen and Jet Li appear in key roles.
The biggest change is in the addition of a wholly new character, with revered actress Gong Li appearing as a powerful and villainous shapeshifting witch who offers a dramatic counterpoint to the loyal, brave and good Mulan.
Pitching our hero against a fearsome antagonist who’s afforded sympathy is an idea previously encountered in Disney’s groundbreaking Marvel superhero adventure, Black Panther which starred Chadwick Boseman who sadly passed away earlier this week.
And as his performance, charisma and talent was instrumental to Black Panther’s success and its proving to Hollywood the viability of top tier films with a non-white cast or Western setting, the existence of Mulan is part of his legacy.
It’s just a shame this won’t be seen on the big screen, where it’s epic sweep and breathtaking vistas could be fully appreciated.