When Disney released Mulan in 1998, I can’t say I was too thrilled with it. Mulan always struck me as a heroic figure so it rubbed me a bit the wrong way to have the story presented as a comedy.
As such, I was really curious to see how the Chinese would handle a film with Mulan as a subject. After all, she’s a Chinese legend and her story concerns their history. Not surprisingly, Mulan: Rise of a Warrior has an entirely different feel than Disney’s Mulan.
Back Cover Blurb
When the emperor of China issues a decree that all families in the Northern Provice must defend their homeland against the barbarian hordes, Mulan, a young girl from a military family without a male heir, disguises herself as a male soldier rather than expose her aging father to the horrors of the battlefield. As the invading armies close in, her remarkable courage and insight elevate her to the position of a true leader, who will sacrifice everything to defend her nation and bring honor to her family.
The DVD language options are English and the original Mandarin in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround with English subtitles. The Blu-Ray language options are English and the original Mandarin in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 with English subtitles. For the Blu-Ray extras, the audio is the original Mandarin in Dolby TrueHD 2.0 with English subtitles. I noted no issues with the actual film audio, but the sound levels for the Interviews with Cast and Staff were inconsistent and included a lot of background noise. Also, the subtitles for the Interviews with Cast and Staff contained a number of typos.
The front cover features Mulan standing in armor among those killed on the battlefield. The back features Mulan on horseback with her army in the backdrop, a few screen shots, and the series summary. The cardboard sleeve has the same design as the DVD cover. No DVD related inserts are included inside the case.
Various stills from the film are used for the DVD menu backgrounds. The Blu-ray menu selections take up the lower part of the screen while a sweeping excerpt from the score and various scenes play in a continuous loop. There are only a few options so menus are easy to follow.
Extras include the Making of Mulan; Interviews with Cast and Staff; original trailer; and previews for various Funimation live action Asian films. I should note that the Making of Mulan is presented in Mandarin with yellow English subtitles placed above the original white Chinese subtitles, which looks kind of clunky but still legible. The lengthy Interviews with Cast and Staff is poorly edited and looks like the rough footage for the Making of Mulan video.
Most Americans are now familiar with Mulan, thanks to the Disney film, but for the Chinese, Mulan has been a national legend for generations. As such, Jingle Ma’s Mulan: Rise of a Warrior, a collaboration of mainland Chinese and Hong Kong talent, strives to be epic.
The film accomplishes that epic feel on a number of fronts. The cinematography is gorgeous, with dramatic views of the northern Chinese desert, and the battle scenes, especially the final massive showdown against the vicious Rouran prince, are thrilling. The costumes, from the Rouran royals’ garb to the Wei military uniforms, are a treat for the eyes, and the film includes a lot of nice little details like the soldiers’ dog tags and Mulan’s bronze mirror.
However, there are two places where the film falls short. The first is that Mulan, who’s passing herself off as a man, is clearly feminine. Not to say she’s a wimp. She’s definitely strong and capable and demonstrates that clearly when she breaks up a brawl between fellow soldiers with her superior martial arts skills. But when she’s making her rallying speeches to the troops, she sounds and looks like a woman, even in full armor. A major part of the plot is the romance between Mulan and her commander Wentai so she can’t be too masculine, but Zhao Wei, who plays Mulan, is so pretty you have to wonder if the entire Wei Army is blind not to notice her true gender.
The other major issue is the film’s pacing. There’s a huge rush in the beginning with the Rouran invasion, Mulan going to war, Wentai discovering Mulan’s secret, Mulan distinguishing herself in combat, and her and Wentai shooting up the ranks all in quick succession. Then, after Wentai gets ambushed by the Rouran, everything slams to a halt as Mulan falls into a lengthy depression. When she finally snaps out of it, the film shifts back to a hurried pace, glossing over events spanning several years until we wind up at the final confrontation with the Rouran hordes.
Those issues aside, Mulan offers a compelling portrayal of the harshness of war and a soldier motivated not by glory but the desire to protect those she cares for. An image which the film returns to time and again is the dog tags of the fallen and Mulan’s grief for those who have been lost. Though her staggering military accomplishments are duly noted, the story focuses not on the renown Mulan gains but the desires she must sacrifice and suppress to survive.
Although the film is about warriors and includes many battle scenes, it’s definitely a woman’s film (though you can hardly call it a chick flick). That’s not just because the main character is female nor because of the romance element. Although Wentai is Mulan’s superior in the ranks and socially, he is very much the “man behind the woman.” And when peace ultimately gets negotiated between the Wei and Rouran, it’s brokered by Mulan and the Rouran princess using a Wei prince as a bargaining chip. Still, there’s enough swordfights and martial arts action to keep male viewers from getting bored.
No talking dragons or happy, catchy songs here. Jingle Ma’s Mulan is dramatic with a strong but angst-filled heroine. Though the battlefield and barracks dominate the backdrop, the film’s focus is Mulan’s inner turmoil as she watches friends fall and sacrifices her own passions to save her country.
First published at The Fandom Post.