Movie Review: Mulan (2009)

I gained two free tickets from OMY.com to watch the movie preview of Mulan, and then have to write about it. Below is my take on the show.

Genre: Drama/War/ Romance
Director: Jingle Ma
Cast: Vicki Zhao, Chen Kun, Hu Jun, Jaycee Chan, Vitas, Nicky Lee, Xu Jiao
Opening Day: 26 November 2009

The Plot is simple: When China faced the impending threat of invasion, a nation wide draft was conducted. The legendary Hua Mulan (starring Vicky Zhao) disguised herself as a man, taking the place of her ailing father, to enlist into the army. In the army camp, Mulan met her childhood friend, Xiaohu (played by Jaycee Chen), as well as gained the attention of Wentai (starring Chen Kun), the battalion’s Vice Commander. Through the harsh military training, she proved herself an outstanding warrior. Mulan eventually assumes a historically critical role in defending the nation in a time of war who was on par with the men. I think that using the Chinese idiom, 巾帼不让须眉 (jin guo bu rang xu mei), is an apt term to describe the heroine.

There are already several film adaptations of the story of Mulan; hence this movie would run the risks of becoming a cliche. Furthermore, there is a slew of Chinese historic war epic films in recent years, such as “The Warlords”, and “Red Cliff”. Thus, it will be an uphill challenge for “Mulan” to excite the audience (Chong, 2009).

Director Ma avoided these pitfalls by giving a different meaning to war and crafting the story around its central character, Mulan. He attempted to leverage on the perspective and emotions of the female persona in stark contrast to its male dominant environment.

Thus, the focus of the movie was less about Mulan’s accomplishment in battles; but her personal journey of self discovery to being a great general. Director Ma sought to amplify the greatness and selflessness of Mulan through the various self sacrifices and tough decisions  she had made for the sake of her country.

I agreed that Director Ma had made the right casting choice. In the show, Mulan and Wentai had to suppress themselves and bear the enormity of the task of defending the country. Vicky Zhao and Chen Kun managed to deliver and brought out the  complex emotions of their characters vividly –sorrow, grief, anguish, frustration, fear, terror, helplessness, resilience and courage — in the face of the cruelty of war. Jaycee played the sidekick,  Xiaohu, who injected comic relief to the film and demonstrated his strong loyalty to his friends; while Hu Jun portrayed the blood thirsty and megalomaniac Rouran prince very convincingly. Overall, the actors put up an outstanding performance.

There is no word to describe the poignancy of the circumstance the characters were in; hence silence is powerful in bringing out the pain. There was a richness of dilemma which Mulan faces: “Country v.s Self” and “sentimental v.s ruthlessness”. It is a touching movie which conveyed authenticity.

The romance between Mulan and Wentai is another highlight of the movie. Despite their deep love, there was no fairy tale ending — Mulan and Wentai did not “live happily ever after”. Bound by their duties and responsibilities to their country and towards securing a lasting peace, the ill-fated lovers parted their ways and lived in each others’ memories. Having ended the war after twelve long years and that the main leads survive, were perhaps the silver linings of this movie.

War is a man-made calamity. The absurdity of it often stems from the maniac decision of a sadistic and ruthless leader. The main message, which Director Ma wants to drive home, is about the heavy price of restoring peace (Lee, 2009). This movie, in itself, is a anti-war thesis.

Mulan hanging rows of name tags from soldiers who had died in combat.

Instead of showing gruesome scenes of multilated or bloody bodies, Director Ma artfully used symbols which we could relate to. Objects, such as the soldiers’ wooden name tags, are reminders of the atrocities of war — there will always be causalities no matter which side of the battle won. These name tags must be remained with the soldiers for as long as they were alive; and returned to their families should they died on the front line. The scenes of washing of the blood stained tags by the river and hanging them out to dry… these help to give a face, an identity to those forgotten warriors who had passed away. The art direction and the cinematic effects give the movie an almost poetic and melancholic mood.

Therefore, the above mentioned factors make this movie distinct from the Disney version which is saccharine and cloy. Hence, I think that this movie is worth a watch.

Spoilers: Quotations from the movie

1) Mulan’s father’s maxim:

Some say, travel too far and you’ll forget your home;
Kill too much and you’ll forget yourself.

离家太远,就会忘记故乡;杀人太多,就会忘记自己。

2) Wentai giving encouragement to the war-weary Mulan:

Do you thing I want to fight?
We have no choice, this is War!
Once you put on a General’s armor, Your life is no longer your own.

你以为我想打仗?我们没得选,这就是战争。你穿上了将军的战甲,就不再属于你自己。

3) Mulan addressing her troops after she got over the grief:

Hiding, will not stop the war!
Fear, only makes us lose more!
But I, Hua Mulan, will never betray my country!

4) Mendo, the new Rouran King, on his interpretation of war:

Why do we have to rob and plunder?
Because, we do not have steel.

Why do we need steel?
Because we want to make weapons.

Why do we need weapons?
To plunder and rob.

我们为什么要抢劫?因为没有铁。为什么要有铁?因为要造武器。为什么要造武器?因为要抢劫。

Reference:

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7 thoughts on “Movie Review: Mulan (2009)

  1. chlau 6 December 2009 / 4:34 pm

    I agree with the reviewer, but I would like to add one more thing:

    Director Ma’s treatment of a female heroine is sensitive and mature without condescension – the audience is always made to remember that Hua Mulan is always a woman first, and a warrior second. Mulan did not leave home to fight in a war for glory or for gold; she did not do it out of patriotism (though patriotism did eventually become something she fought for). Everything she did, she did out of love and care for her father, Wentai, her comrades and the countless faceless victims of war. She is perfectly able, yet very vulnerable; quietly confident but totally bereft of bravado (which is a display, oddly, of insecurity), courageous yet fearful.

    The most gratifying part about this war movie is the unexpected denouement, not by feat of arms nor by men on the battlement but by simple cooperation of two courageous women.

    A very refreshing take on war movies after a slew of them with ‘glory’ scenes and an ever more morbid attempts to choreograph the best kill scenes.

  2. Ying.Wei 6 December 2009 / 7:55 pm

    This is the first time I am writing a movie review, hence there were certain aspects of the movie which I had overlooked. Thanks for sharing your views on my post. :-)

  3. lovely 28 January 2010 / 12:01 pm

    love the movie but hate the ending……….

  4. Bernard SG 31 March 2010 / 4:48 pm

    I agree with all that you said and, echoing Chau, I think it’s worth pointing out that the symbolic of the Mulan character in this specific movie is raising philosophic debates that are very familiar to contemporary feminism.
    I will probably write a blog entry about that.

  5. missdeetya 18 November 2012 / 9:28 pm

    haiii… i just watch this movie about…2 hours ago! LOL and reminding me how i love zhao wei…. love your review and the quotes… it hurting me when Hua Mulan be so hurt in war.
    Zhao Wei such great actress!
    Deetya

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