Mulan (UK - BD RB)
Marcus checks out this new Mulan adaptation. Where's the talking dragon?
When war arrives in her small village, Hua Mulan (Zhao Wei) is distressed as her very ill father steps up to be inducted into the army. The night before he leaves, Mulan steals the family armour and sword and sneaks off to replace her father in the battle, all the while pretending to be a man.
With the constant threat of the death penalty if she’s discovered (seriously, they threaten the death penalty for seemingly everything in that camp) she befriends officer Wentai (Chen Kun), who helps protect her secret and fights side by side with her as Mulan discovers the brutality of what it’s like to be a man in the heart of war.
I’m guessing that my experiences with the story of Mulan are much like many of you out there, the Disney movie. Other than a bit more brutality and a lack of a smart talking dragon this isn’t a drastically different take on the classic tale (though the final act differs quite a bit). It sticks to the main beats of the story I knew already and most of the memorable moments arrive as you’d expect them.
This actually makes the movie feel quite rewarding in that it managed to deliver on the story I knew and the familiarity somehow made Mulan feel quite celebrated and at the same time, expanding upon—which was always going to be the case I guess—considering all I really knew was the House of Mouse version.
For about the first ten minutes or so this adaptation feels a whole lot older than it is, which gives it an almost Kurosawa feel to proceedings. With the flashy costumes, theatrical make up for some of its cast and it’s straight to the point dialogue, it feels like it’s honouring the master film-maker's work but this soon fades as the modern film-making techniques start to seep in. There are some horrendously placed fades in here that use a white flash to branch scenes together. These rarely work and make for a feeling of an edited down movie as opposed to a passage of time. I’m not sure if there’s a longer version out there somewhere but this certainly makes it feel like there might be.
The biggest pill to swallow here is just how feminine Mulan is. They don’t even attempt to sell Mulan as a convincing man. Her face is just about as feminine as they get and try as I might to give the film-makers the benefit of the doubt, there’s just nothing convincing about this girl passing as a masculine solider.
It’s probably unfair to compare this to the Disney animated movie as it’s a far more epic take on the classic tale. It has a fine first hour or so filled with likable characters (one of whom is played by Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee Chan) and it has a handful of good fighting and battle scenes, but after a while it all got a bit samey for my liking and I found myself watching the timer to work out how long it was before we got to the inevitable reunion with Mulan’s father.
The transfer here is a solid one, with deep blacks, lots of lovely texture and a relatively natural colour palette (despite the intentional blueish tint to the visuals) but on the flip side of that it never really mixes it up and every scene ends up looking pretty samey.
The image is all but grain free and the large armies can look pretty fantastic when shown off in a showy wide shot and despite feeling a little restricted, Mulan conveys the epicness of the director's vision without opting for the massively obvious use of CGI armies running at each other.
The battles here are really the only part of the DTS-HD Master Audio track that really has any real impact and even that feels a bit confined in places. The clashing of swords ring out well and the galloping of horses and large numbers clashing hammers home the bass, but many of the elements feel piled on top of one another and sort of become a wall of noise as opposed to specially placed areas of the battle.
Dialogue is presented well and there’s the odd splattering of atmospheric tricks but really this is all pretty front speaker centric and maybe not as wide a track as the movie deserves.
The ‘Interview Gallery’ offers up two parts of cast and crew interviews (Part One 39:10 SD, and Part Two 32:08 SD) as well as ‘Jiao Wu- Young Hua Mulan' which is a short and sweet chat with the little girl in the movie.
The making of (14:58 SD) is many of those interviews inter-cut with clips from the movie and the short behind the scenes clips are split down into five parts, all covering on set footage and coming with a note saying how weak the quality is (really it’s not that bad, just camcorder quality).
Lastly there’s the movie's trailer (02:07 HD) and a whole host of other Cine Asia trailers.
Mulan is pretty much what I expected it to be with the odd highlight here and there. It gets the story we all know across but in many ways outstays its welcome a little bit. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re a fan of epic movie story telling but if you’re a little worn down by them of late (like me) you may want to stick with the short and sweet Disney version for a little longer.
The disc is a solid affair with enough quality in the video, audio and extras departments to be happy with; it’s just that none of it does a lot to set it out from the crowd.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 21st June 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS Mmaster Audio5.1 Manderin, Dolby Digital 2.0 Manderin
Extras: Trailer, Interview Gallry, Making of, Behind the Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jingle Ma, Wei Dong
Cast: Wei Zhao, Jaycee Chan, Rongguang Yu
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 114 minutes