China / USA 2009   Directed by: Jingle Ma, Wei Dong  Written by: Ting Zhang  Produced by: Guangcheng Song, Zhe Wang  Cinematography: Tony Cheung, Hang Zhang  Editing: Chi-Leung Kwong Cast: Wei Zhao, Jaycee Chan, Jun Hu, Kun Chen, Vitas, Rongguang Yu, Yuxin Liu, Zhou Sun, Jiuzhe Li

MULAN is another period piece from China and dedicates its runtime to the legendary heroine whose life and very existence must be considered more a myth than a fact until today. MULAN instantly reminds us of Disney’s animated film and there are indeed “some” parallels: the first 20 minutes of Jingle Ma’s adaptation is nearly identical to Disney’s version. It feels like the only difference is live action vs. animation. Amazing. That is not exactly creative, of course, and we were about to leave the cinema a wee bit early. Jingle Ma and his team clearly copy Disney and think they can get away with it, like people’s memory is short and the audience wouldn’t remember the animated MULAN anyway. Other than that we cannot sufficiently explain how someone can have the audacity to re-shoot someone elses movie (well, on the other hand Marty did THE DEPARTED and got an Oscar for recycling, so Ma is in good company).

Fortunately the first impression is wrong and MULAN is getting a grip. In Ma’s version of the legend Mulan must stop the invasion of the Rouran. While the invasion of the Rouran is a historic fact, Mulan ever crossing their path is probably not. The rest of the story seems equally made-up: Jingle Ma is more interested in emotions, without caring too much about accuracy (which probably shouldn’t be a benchmark anyway bearing in mind that Mulan may have never existed). Consequently MULAN concentrates on the life of the protagonist, from her being recruited by the military, her relationship with the son of the emperor and finally her position as general of the Chinese army. Different from many other epic battle movies that are primarily interested in grand set pieces and quantity, MULAN prioritizes the feelings, thoughts and the motivations of the heroine. Thus the causes are more important than the effects, and that’s probably how it should be unless you have Arnold starring in your movie.

MULAN gradually and quickly develops into a gripping drama and surprisingly solid film. It always sets the right mood and tone and keeps the ball in play without trying too hard, thanks to Zhao Wei’s good acting and thanks to some very beautiful cinematography courtesy of Tony Cheung as well as elegant editing.

MULAN is a good combination of drama and action, with both sides being sides of the same coin, supporting each other and increasing the other’s effectiveness. MULAN may very well be Jingle Ma’s most mature work and is a classic epic that may not be historically accurate but tells the moving story of a strong female personality. The film avoids the usual clichés and never compromises Mulan’s integrity as a person or as a woman. Mulan never backs down, albeit is very human and real, but she simply doesn’t depend on men or their expectations towards her role or place in society.

All this and much more makes MULAN worth watching and makes it look and feel much more honest than many other historic films of the latest wave coming from China.



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One Response to “MULAN [HUA MULAN | 花木兰]”



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