Dr. Seri Luangphinith

Mulan 花木兰

The journey a woman to protect those she loves.

Original Release Date: November 26, 2009.
Genres: Drama film, Romance, Action.
Running Time: 114 minutes.
Alternative Titles: Mulan: Rise of a Warrior; Mulan: Legendary Warrior.
Director: Jingle Ma.
Writer: Ting Zhang.
Lead Roles:

Company Information: Company Starlight International, Media Group, Beijing Galloping Horse.
Budget: $6.75 Million.
Box Office Statistics: $304 million.

Awards

  • 10th Changchun Film Festival
    • Best actress (Zhao Wei)
  • 30th Hundred Flowers Awards
    • Best Picture
    • Best Actress (Zhao Wei)
  • 19th Shanghai Film Critics Awards
    • Best Actress (Zhao Wei)
  • Vietnam DAN Movie Awards
    • Favorite Chinese Movie,
    • Favorite Chinese Actress (Zhao Wei)

Alternative Review

A Warrior In Disguise: Is it Feminism or Nationalism?

A review by Everett McKee.

Director Jingle Ma has continued his legacy of bringing action packed movies to the big screen with the hit film Hua Mulan. Following titles such as the 1994 Drunken Master II as well as the 2008 title The Butterfly Lovers, we see his skills culminate into this theatrical explosion of emotions. Led by the outstanding Zhao Wei as the legendary Mulan. Her performance brings the inseparable realities of war and all its hardships along with the contrast of one’s duties to the nation and family. Playing on the bigger theme of devotion to one's country this has been a timeless message that has travelled throughout Chinese cinema since the early days of Chinese cinema’s inception with films such as the 1905 film Conquering the Jun Mountain which comes out of one of the four great classics of Chinese literature known as Romance of the Three Kingdoms written by Luo Guanzhong.

This was not the first time that director Jingle Ma has played around with the concept of hidden identities. In his earlier 2008 film The butterfly Lovers which is also known as The Assassin's Blade stars Charlene Choi as Zhu Yanzhi. A woman who must also disguise herself as a man to learn fighting skills in order to protect her family. It may be seen as a big screen flaw that the lead roles have such beautiful actors as it is no surprise that the audience may see through Mulan's ploy and her feminine persona. It is hard to buy into the character's disguise because every motion of strength and compassion has a motherly touch. Zhao Wei’s beauty would be her greatest strength and weakness as she takes up the her legendary role.

However the film does not rest solely on the shoulders of Wei as the amazing supporting cast goes one step further than most war movies. Jingle Ma utilizing Jaycee Chan Just like he did his father Jackie Chan develops a strong emotional connection with Wei’s Mulan as well as the audience. Unlike the animated comedic relief Eddie Murphy plays as his character Mushu the sidekick dragon is to Ming-Na Wen’s Mulan. Jaycee Chan as Fei Xiaohu or Tiger plays a critical role as a close friend to Mulan. As a regular soldier he holds no special title and is subject to all the horrible conditions and scenarios as any other solder. This hierarchical split in positions keeps the audience on their heels as we watch fellow soldiers such as Hu Kui’s character Turtle and others fall in combat. Ultimately we watch these supporting characters who were all intimately connected to Mulan get cut down one by one. These heart breaking scenes lead up into the ultimate death and one of if not the best scene of Tiger at the hands of the Rouran army.

This gut wrenching scene of fellow soldiers who grew close to Mulan getting slaughtered right in front of the eyes of their fellow comrades is just as hard on Mulan’s army as it is on the audience. Jaycee Chan on his knees leading his fellow brothers into the afterlife singing a song to quell the heartbreak is tear jerking. This fantastical scene would set Jaycee Chan apart from his father's own acting career as there has never been so much depth and connection and raw emotion to any of Jackie Chan's characters as we see Jaycee Chan has had in this role as Tiger.

One of the weakness in character connections would have been between Zhao Wei and the love interest character of Mulan's, Wentai. Played by actor Chen Kun, Wentai brought the courtly love aspect to this film. One of the main drawbacks that was attached with this character was the quick pace story as the timeline was too rushed to develop an effective emotional connection between Wentai and Mulan. Unlike other characters such as Chan’s or Kui's, Kun needed the time to build the romantic emotion that was felt left out to the audience. Chen Kun’s Character should have played a much larger role similarly to a Romeo and Juliet position however what we get is a deus ex machina which swoops in at the last moment to save the damsel. In the scene with Wentai sacrificing himself as a hostage to spare his men or more importantly Mulan, this scene comes almost as a cop out as well as undermining the emotional captivation and importance the previous scene of Jaycee Chan as Tiger's death had on the audience. Furthermore for the 113 minute run time there could have been at least another 20 minutes or so of time devoted to building this love connection. However the further cop out of the story is an attempt to build emotion upon the unattainable lover that we see between Mulan and Wentai. As he must uphold his duty to the country the love between Wentai and Mulan must desist in order for the story to have a closing. This ending seems almost unemotional as the audience sits through the intimate talk these two characters have at the end of the film. Professing their love and making one last attempt to kindle their fire is seen in vain as the major themes of the film take hold and establish itself through a nation branding process.

This theme has been commonly brushed aside through many reviews through the perception of feminism that seems to take hold of critics. As it would be assumed a woman being able to fulfill the duties and role of a man is enough of a banner to rally behind. In Jinhua Li’s academic review National Myth and Trans-Cultural Intertextuality we find more initiatives highlighting the strong feminist agenda within the film as Mulan, “by going to the war, Hua Mulan essentially sacrifices her chance of having her own family and living a normal life”. However, unlike the Disney version of Mulan there is something different between these versions. The theme shifts away from the strong willed woman looking to undermine the misogynistic persona the disney cast portrays. In the Feminist and Queer Analysis of Disney's Mulan there is much more emphasis on the reinforcement of masculinity through "the girly" recruits have to be transformed into men". This is also emphasized in further reviews such as Feminist Fiction: Mulan as it is discussed the use of feminine conformity because it showed that "women are to be obedient, hardworking and attractive, and most of all they need to produce sons". However through Jingle Ma's vision of Mulan, she is given all of these opportunities including a dowry to help her in her arrangement. Yet this does not satisfy her and the importance of filial piety as well as duty to one's country become pertinent throughout the film. The quote that set this theme apart the most was between Wentai and Mulan when she says to him "you once said if you could give your life to end this war you would do it. Thus bringing the movie to a dramatic end with both characters understanding the importance to their duty for the country over the duty to oneself. A major shift from the "duty to my heart" theme that the Disney version tries to convey.

Jingle Ma who is also critiqued by Beyond Hollywood with "trying to tick too many boxes at once". Which is agreeable as the director tries to fit all of the historical information as well as the emotional and love scenario all within this "Red Cliff" style screenplay. This covering of too many issues is where the story plot gets dry as the audience is lost between the various conflicts at play which all do not get the screen time and depth needed to bring out true emotion. Coming back to how short on time this film seemed to be.

Overall this high budget film did captivate audiences although not through intending moments of the director but because of a well-balanced cast that held the plot together. Although each character may not have been granted the due screen time and had their lives ending in such dramatic ways, the overall tension of the film could still be found through the expensive details. This film can be seen as one of Ma's best works yet there is still a way to go for his true masterpiece film.

April 2016

About the Author: Everett McKee is a native to the island of Oʻahu. As a graduate of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo he had focused particularly on chaucerian texts. Further works of his interest focus on military history of Chinese culture as well as Japanese society. As an avid scholar he continues to study strategic and philosophical works. Through metaphysical and interpersonal ideals he envelops himself in procuring the major issues that plague humanity. In hopes that his studies might one day lead to solutions that will alleviate mankind from the struggles of animosity. His journey across the world to experience new cultures is what he hopes will accomplish his quest for ultimate knowledge. As he has learned through a great philosopher, “the circumstances of one's birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.”