Most English-language audiences know very little about Chinese cinema. Those who do are probably only familiar with the works of Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee or director Stephen Chow. China may not have as expansive a film industry as America, India or Japan, but it does produce some truly beautiful and moving films with high production values. Very few are translated into English in part due to lack of interest case in point, the film we’ll be examining today.
Let’s take a look at Mulan: Rise of a Warrior.
A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment
Now, most people reading this article will be instantly familiar with the 1998 Disney film, Mulan. The story of Mulan is an ancient Chinese legend of a woman who fought for twelve year in a war against an invading army and saving China. The film follows a similar plot, with a fellow soldier protecting and falling in love with Mulan, called Wentai. There are several battles and fight scenes, the death of many beloved characters and a tragic but hopeful ending. Make no mistake, this is not Disney’s Mulan.
Zhao Wei, the actress who play the titular character is fantastic. Strong yet appropriately fragile at the right times, has a great physicality in her stunt work and has wonderful emotional depth. They could not have picked a better actress to pull the movie. Chen Kun is also great as Wentai, a soldier who is not who he appears to be. The romance between these two is heartbreaking because being a drama, they don’t end up together despite being perfect for each other. Even though it’s the logical ending, the accurate ending, the ending we all knew was coming, it was just so sad. They had such great chemistry it was just absolutely devastating that they just don’t end up together.
I will say the rest of the cast is just as strong, especially Jun Hu and Jaycee Chen, who play Prince Mudu and Fei Tiger. They really keep the story moving and really add comedic value and drama tension at different points of the movie. This movie had wonderful casting and it really took the movie from war drama (which I can’t stand) to amazing drama powerhouse. The one that really stood out to me was Russian singer Vitas as the Rouran servant. Being the only white person in the movie without explanation or cause was a bit off but it didn’t take away from the film too much.
There are some holes in the story. Sometimes plot points aren’t clear — like whether they were abandoned in the final battle and if so, why. It also jumps around to storyline to storyline so it can be very hard to figure out what’s going on unless you pay attention. These are both minor nitpicks but they are important to note since it affects the viewing experience. The dialogue is well written, which is more central to the film and its overall quality.
The film comes in both subs and dubs. I will advise you watch the film in the original Mandarin, not because the dub is bad but because it sounds more organic. The dub actors do have an accent, though I’m not sure if they naturally have them or they wanted to make them sound more foreign/Asian. The subs are all right — you could tell that there were some mistranslation or things that were too literal.
The cinematography is breath-taking in some scenes with great battle scenes and stunning outdoor lighting. They must have hired a great cinematographer and art director. Director Jingle Ma has made some truly wonderful films, most of Jackie Chan’s Chinese films, so its clear that quality is his business. The music is subtle and doesn’t overpower the story. It looks fantastic and crystal clear on Blu Ray, so if you have the player watch it in that version.
Mulan: Rise of a Warrior is a great movie that deserves to be seen, which is why it kills me that many people will refuse to do because of the subtitles. It’s a beautiful, powerful film that understand what makes a good story. If you’re a fan of Chinese cinema, good action or just love historical dramas, this is definitely one move you’ll love.
– Amazing cast.
– Great cinematography.
– Great writing.
– Sub/Dub is a little shaky.
– Holes in the plot.