It seems there's a great deal of appreciation for 90's Disney of late. First Avatar essentially remakes Pocahontas, then Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time borrows liberally from Aladdin, and now that Chinese variation on Victor Victoria is also given the live-action treatment. We should expect James Woods to be reviving his much-lauded turn as Hades in the flesh any time now...
Yes, I'm kidding. I'm well aware the story of Mulan is an age-old and oft retold Chinese tale, and as such is very close to the heart of a great many in China. It is clear that the people behind this retelling of the tale also recognise the importance of the story, and so have sought to tell the tale as honourably and respectfully as possible. But in so doing, they neglected one little detail... entertainment value.
Dear oh dear, this is one bore of a movie.
It starts out promisingly enough; there's a sombre tone to the eary scenes, a frank outlook on the horrors of war and the lack of space for emotion on the battlefield. Mulan may be fighting for her homeland and her family, but this is not to say her team is an entirely honourable one, with the constant threat of execution hanging over anyone who so much as bends the rules. Naturally the presence of a woman in the barracks ranks high on the list of offences, making her being there that bit riskier. However, we quickly lose any sense of concern for our heroine once it becomes abundantly clear that no one suspects her of being female. Which, frankly, is ridiculous.
I mean, look at her for crying out loud. She's a damn pretty lady. Yes, she's got armour on, and yes the long-haired men tie their hair up similarly, but there's absolutely no mistaking her femininity. Nor does she go to much trouble disguising her voice either. Actress Vicki Zhao and director Jingle Ma really should have put more effort into making her appear manly, because if we can't believe that her fellow soldiers would accept her as a male it rather scuppers the whole endeavour. Audience disbelief will only suspend so far.
Other than that, the movie piles on the old 'war is hell' stuff. Which would be fine, if the battle scenes were up to much. But, again, here the movie falls short. Cut and shot in a most bland and repetitive fashion, the battles rapidly cease to have much emotional impact. We're repeatedly told Mulan is meant to be a great warrior, yet never really see her being such; she's just one among a horde swinging her sword around in a vaguely showy manner. Yawn.
So in the absence of compelling action, we have a deluge of heartfelt conversations about what it means to be a warrior and so forth, all set to what sounds like outtakes from the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon soundtrack. But where Ang Lee's classic managed to balance brains, brawn and heart in an effortless fashion, Mulan smacks of trying too hard. It's constantly striving to be dramatic with seemingly little grasp of what actually makes for effective drama, and it gets grating really quickly. A particular pitfall: the leading lady's tears. Here's a little idea of how to brighten up a viewing of this movie: a Mulan drinking game. Simply drink every time you see a single tear roll down Vicki Zhao's cheek. I guarantee you'll be good and tipsy long before the movie's over. And, alas, it doesn't end nearly soon enough.
It pains me that my first bona fide review here at KA-BOOMSKI! must be such a negative one, but that's just the way it goes. Wise man say forgiveness is divine, but never give good write-up to boring movie. Or pay full price for late pizza, for that matter.
I say you go for Disney's Mulan (Special Edition)instead, as it's considerably more fun. Wow, my action movie cred is going through the roof here...
Mulan (2009) is available now on Region 2 DVD from Cine-Asia. (Note - contrary to the cover art above, it's rated 15, not 18, and is not subtitled 'Warrior Princess.' No Xena-type goings-on here, I'm sorry to say.)