by Mike Favila, Editor
Funimation has just rereleased Mulan: Rise of a Warrior on BD, so it seemed like a good time for me to finally catch the 2009 interpretation. I have to confess some writer bias: I really like Zhao Wei (or alternately, Vicky Zhao) as an actress. I loved her performance in Shaolin Soccer as a bald headed but appreciated goalie, and was floored by her acting range in Red Cliff. When this came up for review, I couldn’t wait to pick it up and take a look.
Originally released in 2009, Mulan: Rise of a Warrior more faithfully adheres to the original poem than the Disney film most Americans have been exposed to. The basic premise is the same. War is beginning in China against invading tribal forces (in this case, the Rourans). All military families must offer one male soldier to the Wei dynasty, in order to fight back the hordes. Mulan’s father is old and disabled, but is still an honorable man and wants to honor his commitment to his country. Mulan takes the horse and the family armor in the middle of the night, while he is asleep, and replaces him. Since this isn’t the Disney Mulan, there isn’t any character defining moment, with the pivotal hair chopping and a soundtrack of pretty songs that my little sister can sing along with. Additionally, in this version, Mulan was already a sort of tomboy growing up and possessed martial arts training, so the requisite training montage is out as well. She rises through the ranks to eventually become a general, while at the same time finding love with a fellow soldier.
Personally, Vicky Zhao being accepted as a man is a hard premise to accept. Like Clark Kent (but without the glasses), it doesn’t seem like just putting her hair in a topknot would really be enough to deem her asexual. Maybe it’s just my natural bias to find it hard to believe anybody could mistake her as a dude. Barring that suspension of disbelief, Zhao does a great job with the role, and really embodies the spirit of Mulan. Jaycee Chan (Jackie Chan’s son) plays the comic relief. While there isn’t a ton of places to inject levity into the story, he manages to elicit a few laughs. As the story intensifies, his character works almost as an anchor for Mulan, whose life has changed so much over a span of 12 years. Vitas, an apparently really famous Russian singer, appears in the movie as a servant boy of the Rourans.
The special features in Mulan: Rise of a Warrior are in SD, but the content is mostly one on one interviews with the actors and the crew, so it’s not really necessary to present the material in high def. The “Making Of” special is pretty in-depth, and covers the motivations of the characters and the passion of the directors and principal cast. It’s obvious they all really respect each other, and truly wanted to make something that would not only would be a blockbuster, but could also be a meaningful film. The cast interviews are pretty much the same thing, in that it seems like everybody is really proud of the whole group’s work on the film. There aren’t any major bombshells, but I never expect huge revelations from these things. Of course, the obligatory trailer and previews are also included.
The picture is very bright and vivid. It’s hard for me to avoid comparing this film to Red Cliff, just because it shared so many of the same personnel. The soundtrack is nice and loud, with a good dynamic range. I wasn’t in love with the soundtrack, but maybe I’ve just overdosed on shakuhachi. (And who hasn’t sometimes, am I right?)
I have mixed feelings about this film. While the pacing was uneven, and didn’t really give me a good sense of the 12 years that had passed, Mulan: Rise of a Warrior had a lot of entertaining moments. Even when compared to the Disney cartoon, I could still enjoy this on its own merits. I sometimes wish the special effects were a little less cheesy, but there weren’t too many of them to take me out of the moment. I enjoyed the elevated martial arts aspect, as opposed to straight combat, but the story can sometimes lapse into war movie cliches. If I don’t see a soldier collecting dog tags from the dead, or another closing somebody’s dead eyes with their hand, it wouldn’t be the biggest tragedy. On the other hand, I have to give the creators points for staying much truer to the source material. In the poem, Mulan starts while weaving something on a loom, and leaves it unfinished while she goes to war. When she comes back, she resumes her task, having successfully defended her nation. Now THAT is dedication. I would never have even bothered to educate myself on the poem, and would be reliant on the Maxine Hong Kingston version from Disney if I had never seen this. So that’s a plus. Also, anything with Vicky Zhao is always a good use of a few hours. If you want a fun (albeit death filled) romp through the plains, Mulan: Rise of a Warrior is probably for you.
ComicsOnline.com gives Mulan: Rise of a Warrior 3 out of 5 fights in the desert!
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