Movie Review: Mulan (1998)

Confession time: I have never actually watched this movie before. I know dishonor on me, dishonor on my cow, blah blah blah. But I then thought that since Disney recently released their live action remake, I might actually give this animated version a go (finally). So let’s get down to business.

Ladies and gentlemen… “Mulan”.

Fearing that her father might die if he goes to war, young Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) steals his gear and pretends to be a man so she can take his place in the army. We all know the basic setup at this point, even if you haven’t seen this movie. And the way it’s handled here I quite enjoyed. It’s not without fault however. There are parts of the story that I feel they glossed over a bit, kinda rushing through some aspects in an effort to get to the “good stuff”. That’s not to say that the story here is bad, it’s still a fun family adventure without a good message at its core. I just wish it maybe slowed down a little more to let certain moments simmer more. But as it stands, the story and the way it’s told is still quite entertaining.

The characters in this are colorful, charming, fun, and surprisingly nuanced at times. First up is Mulan, title character and very relatable person. While the people around her want her to be a fancy girly-girl to honor her family, even though she’s not like that at all. And to see her development in the movie from somewhat clumsy and insecure to someone a bit more tough and confident, that’s engaging. And Ming-Na Wen does an excellent job voicing Mulan. Next we have Mushu, a guardian dragon who sets out to help Mulan become a hero… even if he’s only doing it for his own gain. He’s mostly there to bring laughs, but I think the filmmakers found a good balance in that and making him a valuable part of certain emotional developments. And while it might seem slightly jarring to put Eddie Murphy in a role like that at first, I must say that he was great in the role. Then you also get supporting work from people like B.D. Wong, James Hong, Harvey Fierstein, Soon-Tek Oh, Miguel Ferrer, Pat Morita, Frank Welker, and more, all doing very well in their respective roles.

The music of this film is quite good. The main score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, and it’s an absolute treat for the ears, creating a lot of emotion through the various tracks, giving us a some great background ambiance. Then you have the songs (’cause you know, Disney) that were done by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel. While I don’t think that all of them are among the upper echelon of Disney musical songs, they still generally work pretty well for the movie. The peak of the tracks is of course “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” (sung by Donny Osmond), a most excellent montage song. So yeah, overall this movie has good music.

Based on a Chinese folk legend, “Mulan” was directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook (with writing credits given to a shitload of people, good grief). And I must say that the craft on display here is absolutely superb. The art style for example takes inspiration from traditional Chinese artwork, and blending it with traditional Disney animation to create an absolutely stunning look for this movie that feels wholly its own. The animation is especially breathtaking in motion, where it shows great fluency that is a treat for the eyes.

This movie has been well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 86% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 71/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7.6/10.

While its storytelling isn’t the best, due to its fast pace, “Mulan” is still another winning movie within the Disney catalogue. It has a good story, good characters, really good music, and great directing/animation. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Mulan” is an 8,77/10. So while a little flawed, it’s still worth buying.

My review of “Mulan” is now completed.

Sometimes you just a need a film that can make you smile. This one did that for me.

Movie Review: Coming Home (2014)

Sometimes life is complicated.

Ladies and gentlemen… “Coming Home”.

Set during and after China’s cultural revolution, the story follows Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) and Feng Wanyu (Gong Li), a devoted loving couple who get separated when Lu Yanshi gets arrested and thrown into a labor camp. But when he returns years later, his beloved does not recognize him. So we follow the two as they deal with this situation. What we have here is a melodrama that could feel pandering and very dull in lesser hands, but thanks to a well constructed script in tandem with a confident and talented director, it manages to become quite a powerful tale that managed to rip out my fucking heart more than once. But it’s not just an emotional family drama, as it’s also a sociopolitical critique, which gave me an interesting look into a historical period I didn’t really know about. Blending all these elements makes for a really compelling story that has gained a spot in my heart.

The characters in this are flawed, layered, and overall simply fascinating to follow. Gong Li plays Feng Wanyu, the main lady in our story. She’s a bit split at first, because she wants to love her man, but also don’t want to be arrested for being associated with him due to the political climate of the era. And what we learn about her throughout the movie is quite interesting, especially when put contrasted against the other characters. And Gong Li is fantastic in the role. Next we have Chen Daoming as Lu Yanshi, the man sent away who later comes home (there’s your title reference, whoop-de-doo). He has a fantastic arc in this movie that is utterly compelling, and Chen Daoming is fantastic in the role. We also get Zhang Huiwen as the daughter of our two mains, who has an interesting dynamic with the two, with Zhang Huiwen giving a really good performance. So yeah, this is quite well acted.

The score for “Coming Home” was composed by Chen Qigang, who I think did a really good job with it. It’s not used too much throughout the movie, but when it shows up, it’s quite emotionally effective. It’s heavily based in strings like violins (and a little bit of cello), with the occasional bit of piano for good measure. And it makes for a sound that is as heartbreaking as the story.

Based on “The Criminal Lu Yanshi” by Yan Geling, the movie was directed by Zhang Yimou. And while I can’t say anything how this fares compared to the book, I’d still like to say that Zhang Yimou did an excellent job in the craft here. Based on the little I’ve seen from him before (namely “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers”), he’s a very visual director. This movie isn’t without dialogue, but it often relies more on the subtle emotions of individual scenes rather than just blatantly expositing what the hell is going on in the characters’ skulls. What helps bring this to life even more is the cinematography by Zhao Xiaoding, which is absolutely beautiful, and helps sell the vibe of the movie incredibly well.

This movie has been quite well received. On Rotten Tomatoes it has an 88% positive rating and a “Fresh” certification. On Metacritic it has a score of 81/100. And on imdb.com it has a score of 7,3/10.

While the slow and deliberate pace of “Coming Home” might scare away some people, I found the movie to be a heartbreaking and engrossing drama. It has a really good plot, good characters, fantastic performances, really good music, and terrific directing/cinematography. Time for my final score. *Ahem*. My final score for “Coming Home” is a 9,64/10. So it gets the “SEAL OF APPROVAL!”.

My review of “Coming Home” is now completed.

Since we’re talking about Zhang Yimou, let’s put some pressure on distributors. I’ve been waiting for his latest movie, “Shadow” to come out here for quite a while. Where is it, yo? Gimme.