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Mulan (2020)

A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father.

Mulan is a 2020 American fantasy action drama film produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Directed by Niki Caro from a screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin, it is a live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1998 animated film of the same name, itself based on the Chinese folklore story Ballad of Mulan.

The film stars Yifei Liu in the title role, alongside Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, and Jet Li in supporting roles. In the film, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, masquerades as a man to take her ailing father’s place during a general conscription to counter the Rouran army in Imperial China.

Plans for a live-action remake began in 2010 but the project stalled in development hell for most of the decade. Filming took place in New Zealand and China from August to November 2018.

Over the course of production, the film was the subject of several controversies, including changes to the source material and filming in Xinjiang in light of the Uyghur genocide and Xinjiang internment camps. The film also received criticism for its production team largely consisting of people of non-Chinese descent. This included the hiring of Caro, rather than an Asian director.

Mulan held its world premiere at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 9, 2020. The film was originally scheduled for a wide theatrical release later that month, but was cancelled in the United States after being delayed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequently, the film was released on September 4, 2020 by Disney+ for a premium fee known as Premier Access in countries where the service had launched.[6] The film had a traditional theatrical release in countries without Disney+ where theaters had re-opened.

Due to its overall limited theatrical release as a result of the pandemic, the film grossed just under $70 million (not including revenue from Disney+ Premier Access) against a production budget of $200 million. The film received generally positive reviews from Western critics, who praised the action sequences, costumes, and performances, but was criticized for the screenplay and editing.

However, it received unfavorable reviews from fans of the original animated film and Chinese critics, who criticized the character development, its cultural and historical inaccuracies, and its depiction of Chinese people. At the 93rd Academy Awards and 26th Critics’ Choice Awards, the film received nominations for its costume design and visual effects, as well as a Best Special Visual Effects nod at the 74th British Academy Film Awards. A sequel is in development.

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Mulan (2020) Trailer

 

Mulan (2020) Reviews

Its origins date back centuries, and its animated predecessor is beloved within the ‘90s Disney canon, but the latest version of “Mulan” couldn’t be more relevant, vital, and alive.

Director Niki Caro’s live-action take on the classic story of a young Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man to become a warrior is thrilling from start to finish. It’s steeped in traditional cultural locales and details, yet feels bracingly modern with the help of dazzling special effects and innovative action sequences.

You want gravity-defying, wuxia-inspired aerial work, and elaborately choreographed martial arts battles and horse stunts? You got ‘em all. And a truly impressive array of veteran actors helps keep the emotions grounded, including Tzi Ma, Donnie Yen, Jet Li and the goddess Gong Li.

At the center is the lovely Yifei Liu, who’s called upon to show a great deal of range as Mulan transforms herself from brazen, impetuous rebel to mature, commanding leader. Just as important is the fact that she finds her voice over the course of this journey—a phenomenon specific to this character and this story, but one that couldn’t be more resonant for women of all ages watching all over the world, right now. Liu’s performance might have been more powerful if she’d been a bit more emotive, but the steeliness and physicality she displays make her a convincing fighter.

Caro is a perfect choice to helm this live-action “Mulan,” having made her name nearly two decades ago with another story of a determined girl who dared to buck the patriarchy, 2002’s “Whale Rider.”

Working from a script by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Elizabeth Martin & Lauren Hynek, Caro interweaves the story’s ancient poetic roots with Easter eggs from the 1998 animated film—although there’s no wacky dragon sidekick, alas—but it’s very much its own artistic endeavor, and is by far the most effective and necessary of all the live-action remakes of Disney’s animated catalog that we’ve seen in recent years.

Caro’s take on the tale, as mainstream and family-friendly as it is, also carries the unmistakable spirit of the #MeToo movement: women standing up for themselves and each other and demanding that men hear and believe them. One particular moment of solidarity and validation caused my heart to get caught in my throat, and it’s one of many instances that made me wish I was watching “Mulan” in a packed theater.

As gorgeous as the film is—the work of countless talented women behind the scenes, including cinematographer Mandy Walker and costume designer Bina Daigeler—it’s not quite the same watching it at home, even on a giant TV, even with an enthusiastic, movie-loving kid on the couch next to you.

The bones of “Mulan” remain familiar, though. We first see the character as a playful, acrobatic young girl (played by Crystal Rao), climbing up and leaping across rooftops in her village to chase a chicken in a bit of foreshadowing of the action to come.

Her father (Ma, as warm a presence here as he was in “The Farewell”) seems proud of his daughter’s plucky nature, but her mother (Rosalind Chao) reminds her that “a daughter brings honor through marriage.” A meeting with a matchmaker (the veteran Pei-Pei Cheng) that goes comically wrong is one of many indications that a traditionally servile, female path is not in Mulan’s future.

When invaders led by the villainous Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) threaten the emperor (Jet Li) years later, the imperial army fans out across China to amass soldiers to protect the palace, gathering one man from each family.

Mulan’s family has no sons, so her father—a wounded warrior himself—must join to maintain honor. Instead, Mulan grabs his sword and rides her horse under cover of darkness, reporting for duty to the stern commander (Yen) with her hair tucked under a cap and her voice slightly lowered. In the tradition of gender-bending movies ranging from “Yentl” to “Just One of the Guys,” Mulan must find convoluted ways to avoid changing clothes and showering in front of her fellow soldiers, including the handsome Honghui (Yoson An), with whom she enjoys a verbal and physical spark.

She also struggles to avoid the shapeshifting sorceress Xianniang (Gong Li), Bori Khan’s menacing right-hand woman who keeps finding her. Despite her malevolent nature, she and Mulan have more in common than the young woman would like to admit, and the complicated and uncomfortably honest nature of their relationship gives the film an intriguing, feminist spark. (Li also gets to wear the most fabulously ornate costumes, including ones inspired by Xianniang’s ability to transform herself into a hawk.)

But the movie loses some momentum when it’s about the actual nuts and bolts of the plot against the emperor. Sure, it’s the narrative machinery that drives Mulan’s transformation, but it gets bogged-down and talky, and it’s not nearly as compelling as the character’s ultimate acceptance of her undeniable inner strength.

The regal and fierce Xianniang has her number early on, and when they finally meet each other for battle, she wisely tells Mulan: “Your deceit weakens you. It poisons your qi.” There’s a bit of a Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker, love-hate dynamic to this showdown, but the underlying truth of that statement resonates. Her feminine strength has made her an outcast in this male-dominated world, but she recognizes that Mulan can’t achieve her own full potential until she’s fully honest about her identity.

When Mulan finally lets her hair down, literally, it’s a declaration of independence, a joyous moment of self-love. Pieces of “Reflection”—the 1998 theme that helped make Christina Aguilera a superstar—punctuate Harry Gregson-Williams’ score here and in other key moments, allowing them to soar but also tying back nicely to the animated movie that means so much to so many. (Stick around through the credits to hear Aguilera performing an update of the power ballad as well as a delicate Chinese-language version from Liu herself.) Loyal, brave and true: She’s all of the above, on her own terms.

  • Christy Lemire –  Roger Ebert
  • Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for RogerEbert.com since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series “Ebert Presents At the Movies” opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor.

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Mulan (2020) Credits

Mulan movie poster

Mulan (2020)

Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence.

115 minutes

Cast

Liu Yifei as Hua Mulan

Yoson An as Chen Honghui

Gong Li as Xian Niang

Donnie Yen as Commander Tung

Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan

Ron Yuan as Sergeant Qiang

Jet Li as The Emperor

Tzi Ma as Hua Zhou

Utkarsh Ambudkar as Skath

Director

  • Niki Caro

Writer

  • Rick Jaffa
  • Amanda Silver
  • Elizabeth Martin
  • Lauren Hynek

Cinematographer

  • Mandy Walker

Editor

  • David Coulson

Composer

  • Harry Gregson-Williams

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Mulan (2020) Plot

In Imperial China, Hua Mulan is an adventurous and active girl, to the disappointment of her parents Zhou and Li, who hope that one day she will be wed to a good husband. As a young woman, Mulan is arranged to meet with a matchmaker to demonstrate her fitness as a future wife. Mulan, flustered, attempts to pour tea in front of the matchmaker, but a spider scares the former’s younger sister Xiu, accidentally causing a mishap that destroys the teapot, leading the matchmaker to call her a disgrace in front of her family.

To the north, an imperial outpost is invaded by Rouran warriors, under the leadership of Böri Khan. They are assisted by the witch Xianniang, who uses her magic to pose as a surviving soldier and report the attack to the Emperor of China; he then issues a conscription decree ordering every family to contribute one man to fight Khan’s forces.

Imperial soldiers arrive in Mulan’s village to enlist recruits and Zhou is forced to pledge his service as he has no sons, immediately falling over in front of the soldiers due to his crippled leg. Realizing that her father has no chance of survival, Mulan flees with his armor, horse, and sword to join in his place. Mulan arrives at the training camp, which is run by Commander Tung, an old comrade of Zhou. Alongside dozens of other inexperienced recruits, she ultimately becomes a trained soldier under his tutelage without exposing her true identity.

The Khan’s army continues to advance, forcing Tung to end training early and send his battalion to fight. Mulan chases some troops on her own, but is confronted by Xianniang, who mocks her for pretending to be a man.

She attempts to kill Mulan, but her attacks are stopped by the leather with which Mulan’s chest had been bound to hide her identity. Mulan removes her male disguise, returning to the battle just as the Rourans begin attacking her fellow troops with a trebuchet. Mulan uses discarded helmets and her archery skills to maneuver the trebuchet into firing on a snowy mountain, triggering an avalanche that buries the Rourans.

Mulan rides back to camp and rescues Chen Honghui, a soldier she befriended in camp. Unable to hide her true gender any longer, she is expelled from the army and begins her return home. On her way, she is confronted by Xianniang, who reveals that she was also shunned by her people and fights for Böri Khan only because he treats her as an equal and that no one else does.

Additionally, she reveals that the attacks on the outposts have been a diversion, as Khan’s true plan is to capture and execute the Emperor for having his father killed. Risking execution, Mulan returns to her battalion to warn them of the impending capture. The soldiers she befriended stand up for her, and Tung decides to believe her, and allows her to lead a unit to the Emperor’s palace.

Xianniang uses her magic to be in the image of the Imperial Chancellor and persuades the Emperor to accept Böri Khan’s challenge to single combat, while removing the city guards from their posts. The guards are murdered, and the Rourans prepare to burn the Emperor alive.

Mulan’s unit distracts the Rourans while Mulan goes to save the Emperor. Khan tries to snipe her with an arrow, but Xianniang, sympathetic to Mulan and disenchanted from Khan, transforms into a hawk and sacrifices herself by intercepting the arrow. Mulan kills Khan, but not before he disarms her and destroys her father’s sword. She frees the Emperor, who offers to let her join his personal guard. She declines the offer and returns to her village.

Mulan is reunited with her family. An emissary from the Emperor, under the leadership of Commander Tung, arrives to present Mulan with a new sword, while making a personal request that she join the Imperial Army as an officer.

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Mulan (2020) Box office

Mulan grossed $5.9 million from nine countries in its international opening weekend, including $1.2 million in Thailand and $700,000 in Singapore, both of which were the highest debuts of 2020 in the respective countries. It also made $800,000 in both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. In its second weekend the film made $29.1 million from 17 countries, including $1.8 million in Russia and finishing first in Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, and South Africa. Through three weekends the film had grossed $57 million internationally.

The film made $23.2 million on its opening weekend in China, a low figure but a 23% improvement upon Aladdins debut the year before.

Several factors, such as the film only receiving an official Chinese release date days before, giving little chance to build a strong marketing campaign, the film’s Disney+ digital release resulting in pirated copies online, a lack of local press coverage due to the film being partially shot in the controversial Xinjiang region and to avoid drawing attention to the political controversies surrounding the film, as well as low reception from fans on sites such as Maoyan and Douban, were cited as contributing to the film’s muted performance.

The film fell 72% in its second weekend in the country to $6.5 million.

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Mulan (2020) Critical Response

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 73% of 317 critic reviews were positive, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The site’s critical consensus read, “It could have told its classic story with greater depth, but the live-action Mulan is a visual marvel that serves as a stirring update to its animated predecessor.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 66 out of 100 based on 52 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, praising the “fine cast, exciting action and spectacular visuals” and writing, “This is such a great-looking film, with amazing set pieces and dazzling action and colors so vibrant they would dazzle a Crayola factory, it will still play well on your home monitor. There are so many gorgeous shades of orange and magenta, blue and yellow, it’s as if we’re seeing these colors for the first time.”

Kate Erbland of IndieWire gave the film a “B+”, calling it a “remarkable action epic that carves its own path” and wrote, “Mulan is perhaps the best example of how to marry the original with something fresh. ‘The Ballad of Mulan’ has always been an epic-scale story about the power of being yourself in a world not ready to accept that, a tale that will likely always have resonance.”

Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B+ and described it as “a classic hero(ine)’s tale, exhilarating in its elaborate set pieces and large-scale ambitions even when the smaller human story within it sometimes falls short.” Writing for Variety, Peter Debruge said, “On one hand, the result isn’t immediately recognizable as ‘a Disney movie,’ but neither does it establish its own narrative or visual signature, the way Tarantino did when remixing Asian influences for Kill Bill.

This is pure pastiche, as Caro and her crew shamelessly pilfer from kung fu, Fifth Generation and Hong Kong action movies, incorporating anime and Bollywood touches as well.”

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Mulan is a spirit lifter, and though it doesn’t arrive as planned, it could not arrive at a better time”, saying “Throughout Mulan, there are shots of such visual splendor that viewers will catch their breath.

In one, the morning mist clears and reveals an army in the distance, with its flags and colors, a frightening yet strangely beautiful sight.” Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Mulan is a heroic muddle, one that elicits both a disappointed sigh and an appreciative nod. It lays down a marker of progress achieved and progress to come.”

Aja Romano of Vox wrote, “The Mulan remake jettisons everything great about Disney’s animated classic and delivers nothing new.” and “Mulans few bright spots can’t save it from clunky writing”

Anupama Chopra of Film Companion wrote, “Mulan should have been a much better film. I loved the 1998 animated original. The live action version doesn’t have songs or the sassy, talking dragon Mushu. The beats are predictable and it’s decidedly odd to see Chinese people speaking with American accents. But I’m a sucker for father-daughter stories.”

Walter Chaw of Film Freak Central gave the film one half out of four stars, writing, “[E]verything about this Mulan is ironic accidentally.

Whatever its intentions, its execution and the circumstances of its creation are in opposition to them. It’s a feminist tract that enforces male notions of value; a call to arms that fights for the wrong side of our current history; and a proud statement of national identity that celebrates the Nation of Disney as opposed to China. It’s majestically painful as a representation of how white people view Asians and, yes, it would be different had an Asian person been allowed to direct the film.”

Grace Wong of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “The animated Mulan meant so much to me, and the character I grew up loving taught me that being loyal, brave and true means standing up for what you believe in, no matter the cost. Today, I believe Mulan would be on the side of the Hong Kong protesters, who also fight to have independence, their voices heard and their lives valued. I hoped to see these threads in the new iteration. Instead we got an almost unrecognisable, twisted reflection of the original.”

Hamilton College professor Zhuoyi Wang argues that the film “is not, as many believe, just another Disney film suffering from simple artistic inability, cultural insensitivity, or political injustice, but a window into the tension-ridden intersectionality of the gender, sexual, racial, cultural, and political issues that shape the production and reception of today’s cross-cultural films.”

“The film made significant compromises between its goals of cultural appropriateness, progressive feminism, and monetary success. Although it eventually failed to satisfactorily resolve these at times conflicting missions, it still achieved important progress in addressing some serious gender and cultural problems in Mulan’s contemporary intertextual metamorphosis, especially those introduced by the Disney animation.”

 

Mulan (2020) Accolades

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients Result
Academy Awards April 25, 2021 Best Costume Design Bina Daigeler Nominated
Best Visual Effects Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram Nominated
Art Directors Guild Awards April 10, 2021 Excellence in Production Design for a Period Film Grant Major Nominated
British Academy Film Awards April 11, 2021 Best Special Visual Effects Sean Faden, Steve Ingram, Anders Langlands and Seth Maury Nominated
Casting Society of America April 15, 2021 Feature Big Budget – Drama Debra Zane, PoPing AuYeung, and Dylan Jury Nominated
Chicago Indie Critics Awards January 3, 2021 Best Original Song “Loyal Brave True” Nominated
Costume Designers Guild Awards April 13, 2021 Excellence in Fantasy Film Bina Daigeler Won
Critics’ Choice Movie Awards March 7, 2021 Best Costume Design Nominated
Best Visual Effects Mulan Nominated
Critics’ Choice Super Awards January 10, 2021 Best Action Movie Nominated
Best Actress In An Action Movie Yifei Liu Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards July 22, 2021 Best Animation/Family “True”, Walt Disney Studios Nominated
Best Fantasy Adventure Nominated
“Warrior”, Walt Disney Studios Nominated
Best Fantasy Adventure TV Spot “Exhale”, Walt Disney Studios Nominated
“Oath”, Walt Disney Studios Nominated
Hollywood Professional Association November 19, 2020 Outstanding Color Grading – Theatrical Feature Natasha Leonnet, Company 3, EFilm Nominated
Outstanding Visual Effects – Theatrical Feature Sean Andrew Faden, Diana Giorgiutti, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury, Hubert Maston, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Nominated
Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards April 3, 2021 Best Period and/or Character Make-Up Denise Kum, Rick Findlater, Georgia Lockhart-Adams, James MacKinnon Nominated
Best Period and/or Character Hair Denise Kum, Rick Findlater, Georgia Lockhart-Adams, Terry Baliel Nominated
Best Special Makeup Effects Denise Kum, Chris Fitzpatrick Nominated
Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards March 13, 2021 Favorite Movie Mulan Nominated
Favorite Movie Actress Yifei Liu Nominated
People’s Choice Awards November 15, 2020 The Action Movie of 2020 Mulan Won
Satellite Awards February 15, 2021 Best Art Direction and Production Design Grant Major and Anne Kuljian Nominated
Best Costume Design Bina Daigeler Nominated
Best Visual Effects Sean Faden Nominated
Saturn Awards October 26, 2021 Best Action or Adventure Film Mulan Won
Best Actress Yifei Liu Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Donnie Yen Nominated
Best Director Niki Caro Nominated
Best Writing Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, Elizabeth Martin Nominated
Best Costume Design Bina Daigeler Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards April 4, 2021 Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture Mulan Nominated
Visual Effects Society Awards April 6, 2021 Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature Jeremy Fort, Matt Fitzgerald, Ben Walker, Adrian Vercoe (for Imperial City) Won
Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature Theo Vandernoot, Sandra Balej, James Carson, Yuri Rudakov Nominated
Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature Christoph Salzmann, Beck Veitch, Joerg Bruemmer, Indah Maretha Nominated

 

Mulan (2020) Movie Info

To save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army, a fearless young woman disguises herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China.

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