Mulan | Film Spotlight

Film critic Larushka Ivan-Zadeh talks about upcoming Mulan

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17 Jul 20


Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Gong Li, Jason Scott Lee, Nelson Lee, Yoson An, Ron Quan, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao


Niki Caro

Release date

19 August



Running time

115 mins

Ever since she first sprang to life in a 6th-century Chinese ballad about a legendary female warrior, Mulan has felt like a heroine ahead of her time. In her eponymous, award-winning 1998 animated feature, she cleaved through conventions to redefine what a female Disney character could look like. And now, a generation on, this Han dynasty heroine is still pushing boundaries with what director Niki Caro has jokingly dubbed as "a big, girly martial arts epic", whose jaw-dropping scale and muscular realism lifts Disney remakes to a whole new level.

The heart of Mulan's story remains eternal. When the Emperor of China (martial arts icon Jet Li) issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from northern invaders, Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei), the eldest daughter of an honoured warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into a warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation and a proud father.

However, whereas other recent Disney live-action remakes, such as The Lion King, stuck faithfully to their original source, almost shot for shot, the 2020 Mulan chooses to break new ground as an epic reimagining of the 1998 film.

The most obvious divergence is that there are no songs. This is not a musical. However, don't panic all you Reflections fans, instrumental versions are woven into the score. 

Mulan features a celebrated international cast that includes Donnie Yen (IP Man, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as the tough-talking Commander Tung; Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan; Yoson An as Mulan's army ally Chen Honghui; and Gong Li as Xianniang, a powerful, shape-shifting witch. Amassing such an A-list cast of China's biggest and most established stars was a stiff task, but finding a Mulan was another. The mooted release date was held back as countless actresses tried out for the role, which demanded top martial arts ability, as well as the charisma to be the face of one of the biggest-budget live-action productions in Disney history. Finally, they found Yifei Liu, a Chinese-American actress and singer. The sets were built on an unprecedented scale. Entrusting any director to command them, plus pull off the non-stop sword- twirling, rooftop-leaping, arrow-flying, horse-galloping, fast-kicking action is a leap of faith. So, good for Disney for signing up Kiwi director Niki Caro. Look back to Caro's award-winning 2002 indie hit Whale Rider, the story of a 12-year-old Maori girl determined to lead her tribe, and you'll find echoes of Mulan's tale. An epic tale for all audiences, Mulan 2020 stands up as a fantastic action film, whatever way you cut it.

- Larushka Ivan-Zade