What to watch: Mulan

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Yifei Liu plays the heroic Mulan, who takes her frail father’s place when he’s conscripted.
Yifei Liu plays the heroic Mulan, who takes her frail father’s place when he’s conscripted.

This remake of Disney’s superb 1998 animated film has been mired in controversy – from the usual criticism about remakes being unnecessary to more serious issues such as filming taking place in a Chinese province with internment camps.

But if you can look past this and concentrate on the finished product – while keeping in mind this is a Disney movie aimed at the whole family – you should be thoroughly entertained and swept along by this exhilarating crowd-pleaser.

Based on the legend of Hua Mulan, the story is set in Imperial China and centres on a young woman (Liu) whose boisterous nature is at odds with what society expects from her.

At the urging of her mother (Rosalind Chao), Mulan’s loving father, Zhou (Tzi Ma), halfheartedly tries to curb her adventurous spirit but he can’t help but admire his fearless child.

When invaders attack an imperial outpost, the emperor (Jet Li) decrees that each family must send a man to fight in the army. As he has no sons, frail veteran soldier Zhou is determined to go, but taking his horse, armour and sword, Mulan heads off to the army instead.

 Gong Li impresses in her role as the witch Xianni
Gong Li impresses in her role as the witch Xianniang.

Ditching the original movie’s catchy tunes and Eddie Murphy’s wisecracking dragon, which would have sat oddly in this more realistic take, the remake spends more time on Mulan’s moving relationship with her father and creates an interesting tension between her life choices and those of a witch (Gong Li), a powerful woman who turned evil because people couldn’t accept her true nature.

Liu is convincing as both the stoic soldier and vulnerable young woman, and she has solid support from the other stars, while it’s great to see Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Jungle Book) back in a high-profile role.

The breathtaking scenery, magnificent costumes and elaborate action sequences should please fans of action epics.

(Review: 4/5)

Action adventure. With Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen and Jason Scott Lee. Director: Niki Caro. 10-12PG PV.

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