×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mulan

China's "response" to the Disney pic scores high on ethnic credentials.

With:
Mandarin dialogue

China’s long-mooted “response” to Disney’s singin’-and-dancin’ “Mulan” scores high on ethnic credentials but considerably lower on entertainment value. Directed by a Hong Kong helmer, with several offshore Chinese among the key techies, pic lacks the dramatic and cultural heft of a purely mainland production, despite a largely mainland cast led by petite, big-eyed star Vicki Zhao as the cross-dressing ancient warrior. Good-looking but uninvolving costume actioner rounded up an OK 83 million yuan ($12 million) in a brief sally in China late last year but flopped in Hong Kong. For Western markets, it’s largely an ancillary item.

The story of the (probably fictional) Hua Mulan has been celebrated in Chinese cinema since the silent days, with more than half a dozen feature-film, film-opera and TV-drama versions. Disney’s 1998 toon, with its pesky, Eddie Murphy-voiced dragon, ethnic cliches and showbizzy razzmatazz, was an international hit but put many Chinese noses out of joint. Several local projects vied over the years to remedy the perceived loss of face, with Hong Kong d.p.-turned-helmer Jingle Ma (“Fly Me to Polaris,” “Tokyo Raiders”) winning the race.

Result has all the feel of a Hong Kong-led, mainland-shot production, with thesps like Jaycee Chan (son of Jackie) spliced in for comedy, but with an overall lack of dramatic and cultural depth. That wouldn’t be so bad if Ma’s helming had some real oomph, but he’s generally been stronger with romances and comedies than costume dramas, as demonstrated by his last attempt, the blah “Butterfly Lovers.”

Film is set in the Northern Wei dynasty, during the fifth century, when Mongol hordes in the north — specifically the Rouran tribes — are eyeing the fertile plains of China as a place to settle fulltime. When the Wei emperor puts out the call for able-bodied men, tomboy Hua Mulan (Zhao) takes the place of her sickly father, professional soldier Hua Hu (Yu Rongguang), and signs up in manly duds, as women are barred from military service, on pain of death.

The only one who knows her true identity is laddish childhood friend Tiger (Chan, consistently annoying), who happens to be in the same troop. But another soldier, Wentai (Chen Kun), soon cottons on, and protects her from discovery; he also tries to teach her to separate emotion from warfare.

Unlike the recent “Pope Joan,” pic is hardly interested, after the initial reels, in Mulan’s cross-dressing problems or her fear of discovery. With the final battle against Rouan leader Mendu (Hu Jun) taking up a major chunk of the second half, the script spends more time on Mulan’s psychological makeup, and whether she can really disengage her personal feelings on the battlefield and match the murderous Mongol in toughness.

Problem is, beyond the physical action (well staged by ace action director Tung Wei), there’s little drama happening onscreen. Zhao, who’s perfect casting for tomboy roles (“Red Cliff”), looks convincing in helmet and fifth-century armor but is a tad short in stature to convince as a commander. And there’s so little sexual chemistry between her and the weedy Chen that the de facto love story never gets off the ground.

On a performance level, the leads are totally outclassed by Hu as the glowering, psychotic Mendu. Korean-American singer Nicky Lee contributes some gruff masculinity as a Wei soldier, while eclectic Russian singer-composer Vitas (who’s repped by producer Starlight Intl. Media Group) simply hangs around the outskirts of the plot as a Rouran court singer. As a Rouran princess who seeks alliance, not war, with the Wei, newcomer Liu Yuxin deserves more screentime.

Sizable local budget (some $12 million) is all up on the screen, with dusty locations in Gansu, Hebei and Ningxia provinces grittily lensed by Hong Kong d.p. Tony Cheung. Score by Singaporean brothers Lee Wei-song and Lee Si-song (“All About Women”) wobbles back and forth between costume-heroic and more contempo sounds.

Mulan

China

Production: A Polybona, Shanghai East, China Film Group release of a Starlight Intl. Media Group production, in association with PKU Starlight Group, Hunan TV & Broadcast Intermediary Co., Shanghai Film Group, Beijing Galloping Horse Film & TV Prods., Polybona Films, Beijing Starlight Intl. Media Co. (International sales: Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong.) Produced by Song Guangcheng. Executive producer, Wang Zhe. Co-executive producers, Long Qiuyun, Ren Zhonglun, Li Ming, Yu Dong. Directed by Jingle Ma. Screenplay, Zhang Ting, Ma, Wang Hui-ling, Bai Bangni, Hu Yu.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Tony Cheung, Chen Guoxiong; editor, Kwong Chi-leong; music, Lee Wei-song, Lee Si-song; production designer, Bruce Yu; art director, Chan Wu-ho; costume designer, Petra Kwok; sound (Dolby Digital), Kinson Tsang; action director, Tung Wei; assistant director, Chan Wai-kei. Reviewed on DVD, Berlin, Feb. 21, 2010. (In Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 118 MIN.

Cast: Mandarin dialogue

More Scene

  • Cara Delevingne attends The Trevor Project's

    Cara Delevingne Recalls Producers Saying That Being Queer Will Hurt Her Career

    Hollywood may be celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month with displays of the rainbow flag and lots of talk about supporting diversity and inclusion, but Cara Delevingne says there’s still work to be done. “Behind closed doors, we are still being told, as I have, by powerful Hollywood producers that we can’t make it if we’re queer,” [...]

  • Kiernan Shipka and Ross LynchMTV Movie

    MTV Movie & TV Awards: What You Didn't See on TV

    Many of the biggest stars in movies and television — including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kiernan Shipka, Sandra Bullock, Tessa Thompson and Brie Larson — came together to present and receive honors at the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards, hosted by “Shazam!” star Zachary Levi. And while non-attendees are able to enjoy [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Anthony Anderson LADF

    Why Anthony Anderson and Billie Jean King are Giving Back with the Dodgers Foundation

    Celebrities and athletes came together at the Dodgers Foundation Blue Diamond Gala to celebrate the team’s commitment to supporting youth and to catch a glimpse of the event’s headliner: Bruno Mars. Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss were honored at the fifth annual event, which raised over $3 million for programs benefiting Los Angeles youth. [...]

  • Shia LaBeouf poses at the premiere

    Shia LaBeouf to Host Birthday Fundraiser for Slauson Rec. Theater Company

    Shia LaBeouf is celebrating his 33rd birthday by giving back. The actor, who turned 33 on June 11, will host a fundraising concert later this month for the Slauson Rec Theater Company, a 10-month-old free performing arts program he co-founded in downtown Los Angeles. The night will also include a preview of the Slauson Rec [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content