Last weekend I decided to shell out the rather steep figure of $29.99 to Disney+ to watch the new live-action version of Mulan, directed by Niki Caro, starring Liu Yifei.
After two hours and no cheesy music numbers (I’m clearly not a fan of musicals) I can confidently say that this was money well spent.
Most of us know the storyline of the 1998 animated musical version of Mulan; for those who don’t, the film tells the tale of a young woman who disguises herself as a man to take the place of her ailing father in the Chinese military when a draft is called to defend the empire against an invasion.
The live-action version basically follows the same storyline, with some pretty cool additions.
One of these additions includes a vibrant and majestic phoenix who guards over Mulan. I thought this was an ingenious way to include the family guardian (in the animated version this was a cricket-sized dragon, voiced by Eddie Murphy). While the phoenix does not talk, its presence is felt throughout the film and brings a sense of power and grace to the scenes that is palpable.
Of course, I have to commend the badassery of Mulan and her learned and practiced “chi” abilities throughout the film. From her wit and quick thinking, to her crazy horse-riding gymnastics, she found herself constantly saving the asses of the incompetent male soldiers (boy, this sounds familiar!).
“I will bring honor to us all.”-Mulan
Probably the most creative addition though, was Xianniang, played by Gong Li, a powerful witch with shapeshifting abilities. This “villain” was a beautiful and complex character who had been shunned and cast out by society. By learning a bit of her backstory when she confides in Mulan, we begin to humanize this villain and even sympathize with her. The witch is graceful and stoic as she shape-shifts and displays her powers. She is also compassionate when she spares Mulan’s life on multiple occasions throughout the film and even sacrifices her life for Mulan at the end.
I applaud the ability of the director and screenwriters to take a classic film that so many of us grew up watching and add some twists to enhance the plot without destroying the quality and sanctity of the story.
Watch the trailer for Mulan below:
Find Mulan on Disney+