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A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: “Mulan” (2020)

•Now Available For $29.99 With A Disney+ Subscription•

Disney continues their recent obsession of remaking their animated films into live action movies and their latest is “Mulan”. Almost being shelved indefinitely due to the pandemic and a summer of doing the release date tango. Disney has made the inevitable decision to release the film to their streaming service Disney+ for a premium price of $30 (with a Disney+ subscription). “Mulan” is on a whole other level in Disney’s live action adaptations and director Niki Caro interweaves the story’s ancient poetic roots with Easter eggs from the 1998 animated film. Niki Caro is a great filmmaker and while her film credits are short, they are impressive and she makes “Mulan” her own artistic endeavor. Liu Yifei as Mulan possesses a lot of poise and charisma in her first English language role. She has everything it takes to be a crossover star and the array of Chinese veteran actors is impressive including Donnie Yen and Jet Li. Niki Caro takes you on a sweeping, grande journey. A vast and epically scaled canvas that was clearly meant to be experienced on the big screen. It made me wish I was watching “Mulan” in a packed theater the way it was meant to be seen. Niki Caro knows how to stage the films few elaborate action sequences to the “wire-fu” aerial fighting style, influenced by Chinese cinema. Whether it’s on the big screen (where it should be) or if in the comfort of your own home. “Mulan” is the lively, magnificent film we’d all hoped it would be.

It’s been long talked about in Hollywood especially in the past few years, that not only are there too few female filmmakers out there. But also the fact that these female talents don’t receive the credit that they deserve and while both are true statements. One of those under appreciated filmmakers is New Zealand director Niki Caro. I want to give her the recognition she deserves because she is one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood and a true expert at her craft. 

While her credits are short, they are impressive starting with her breakout indie hit “Whale Rider” nearly 18 years ago in 2002. Caro then made an impact with studio fare like Jessica Chastain’s “The Zookeepers Wife”. Or the excellent and certainly her best work to date, “North Countrty” with Charlize Theron. Why am I mentioning Niki Caro and her work? Well she is the director of Disney’s long-anticipated, longer-than-expected (no thanks to this unending pandemic), remake of “Mulan”. In fact this isn’t her first effort for Disney, as Caro directed the superb and very underrated sports film “McFarland USA” with Kevin Costner. 

If somehow you haven’t heard by now, which is almost impossible seeing the endless marketing this film has gotten. Disney is continuing their recent obsession of remaking all of their animated films into live-action movies. “Mulan” already had it’s US premiere date locked in when theatres were forced to close down due to the pandemic, shelving the film indefinitely. After a summer of doing the release date tango, Disney had made what many have seen as an inevitable decision to release the film to their streaming service Disney+, but here’s the kicker….

It comes at a premium price if you want to see the $200 million dollar blockbuster. Yep good ol’ Mickey and the house of mouse is giving the folks at home the “premium access” to “Mulan” by charging $29.99 (with a Disney+ subscription). It’s also reportedly set for a regular Disney+ release in December, just in time for the holidays at no charge to Disney+ subscribers. So the big question that everyone is curious to be answered: Is it worth the $30? 

Firstly “Mulan” is on a whole other level in Disney’s live action adaptations. Working from a script by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (The New “Planet Of The Apes” trilogy) and Elizabeth Martin & Lauren Hynek. Niki Caro interweaves the story’s ancient poetic roots with Easter eggs from the 1998 animated film (there is a great one toward the films end), but she excludes the songs, Eddie Murphy’s pet dragon Mushu, no ancestor spirits, just a story about a spirited young woman’s commitment to duty, country, and family. 

That was always the heart of the “Mulan” story anyway. Here Caro makes it her own artistic endeavor and is by far the most effective of all the live-action remakes of Disney’s animated films. There’s no attempt here to fashion Mulan into a storybook princess in search of her prince; she is depicted as a hero and a warrior.

Starring Liu Yifei, she possesses a lot of poise and charisma in her first English language role. Yifei has a steeliness and physicality in her Mulan that makes her a convincing fighter. She seems well positioned to be a crossover star, with her reportedly having done like 90% of her stunts herself which is impressive.

As good of a warrior as Mulan is depicted, one of the most disappointing elements is that she never really gets an amazing mano-a-mano fight. In her showdown with throwaway villain Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), the choreography is pretty cool but ultimately it’s too short of a sequence and a bit of a let down. Even though he is missing most of the film this should have been a show stopping fight. The array of Chinese veteran actors is impressive, including: Tzi Ma, Donnie Yen (in a fantastic supporting role), Gong Li and Jet Li who gets an oddly dubbed voice. Not sure why the decision to dub Jet Li’s voice, but the dubbing is atrocious and doesn’t match his lip movements. 

Niki Caro takes you on a sweeping, grande journey. A vast and epically scaled canvas that was clearly meant to be experienced on the big screen. It made me wish I was watching “Mulan” in a packed theater the way it was meant to be seen. As gorgeous as the film is, the hard work of the countless talented women behind the scenes, including Niki Caro, cinematographer Mandy Walker and costume designer Bina Daigeler. Seeing the film on your home tv doesn’t do their work justice, nor is it the same watching it at home. 

Caro works with her biggest budget to date, and has made an entertaining adventure film for the whole family. She knows how to stage the films few elaborate action sequences, which doesn’t happen until an hour in. Keeping the first hour to mostly exposition. “Mulan” has some fantastic magical elements, from a character’s sorcery ability to the soaring phoenix that occasionally appears as her spirit animal to the “wire-fu” fighting style, influenced by the classic Chinese Wu Xia genre that pays tribute to the classics of Chinese cinema. 

Niki Caro’s live-action take on the classic story is steeped in traditional cultural locales and details, but feels bracingly modern with the help of what looks to be very few special effects and it’s wuxia inspired aerial work. Caro has done some incredible work throughout her career, but this is her at peak performance just on the sheer epic scale alone.

So is it worth 30 bucks? It’s hard to say, it’s a yes despite some set backs I had. If you are like many and stuck at home with kids, it’s worth it just to give them a nice treat. It’s a better idea if the grown-up fans split the cost between friends or family members, unless your not anxious can wait until the December release, but at least Disney is upfront about when it’ll be released without the premium attached to it. Considering the $200 million budget, you can’t really blame Disney for the $30 at home ticket price. 

Thankfully once you pay the premium price tag the movie will be yours to own in your Disney+ movie library. You also got to think when has a night out at the movies cost you less than thirty bucks anyway? Whether it’s on the big screen (where it should be) or if in the comfort of your own home. “Mulan” is the lively, magnificent film we’d all hoped it would be.

GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3.5 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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