Official release poster
|Directed by||Niki Caro|
|Music by||Harry Gregson-Williams|
|Edited by||David Coulson|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures|
|Box office||$43.8 million|
Mulan is a 2020 American action drama film produced by Walt Disney Pictures. It is a live-action adaptation of Disney's 1998 animated film of the same name, based on the Chinese folklore "The Ballad of Mulan". The film stars Yifei Liu in the title role, alongside Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, and Jet Li in supporting roles. It is directed by Niki Caro, with screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin.
Plans for a live-action remake began in 2010 but the project stalled in development hell. In March 2015, a new attempt was announced and Caro was hired to direct in February 2017. Liu was cast in the title role in November 2017, following a casting call of 1,000 actresses, and the rest of the cast joined over the following year. Filming began in August 2018 and lasted through November, taking place in New Zealand and China. With a production budget of $200 million, it is the most expensive film ever directed by a woman.
Mulan's Hollywood premiere was held on March 9, 2020. Originally scheduled to be a wide theatrical release, it was ultimately cancelled in the United States after being delayed multiple times due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Disney instead premiered the film on September 4, 2020, on Disney+ for a premium fee in countries where the service had launched. It will have a traditional theatrical release in countries without Disney+, where theaters have re-opened. The film received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised the action sequences, visuals, and performances, but criticized the screenplay.
In imperial China, Hua Mulan is an adventurous and active girl, to the disappointment of her parents, who hope that one day she will be wed to a good husband. As a young woman, Mulan is forced to meet with a matchmaker to demonstrate her fitness as a future wife. Mulan, flustered, attempts to pour tea in front of the matchmaker, but a spider causes her to knock over the kettle and the matchmaker calls her a disgrace in front of her family.
To the north, an imperial outpost is invaded by Rouran warriors, under the leadership of Böri Khan. They are assisted by the witch Xianniang, who uses her magic to pose as a surviving soldier and report the attack to the Emperor of China; he then issues a conscription decree ordering every family to contribute one man to fight Khan's forces.
Imperial soldiers arrive in Mulan's village to enlist recruits and her elderly and frail father Hua Zhou is forced to pledge his service as he has no sons. Realizing that her father has no chance of survival, Mulan flees with his armor, horse, and sword to join in his place. Mulan arrives at the training camp, which is run by Commander Tung, an old comrade of Hua Zhou. Alongside dozens of other inexperienced recruits, she ultimately becomes a trained soldier under his tutelage without exposing her true identity.
The Khan's army continues to advance, forcing Tung to end training early and send his battalion to fight. Mulan chases some troops on her own, but is confronted by Xianniang, who mocks her for pretending to be a man. She attempts to kill Mulan, but flees when her attacks are stopped by Mulan's leather armor. Mulan removes her male disguise, returning to the battle just as the Rourans begin attacking her fellow troops with a trebuchet. Mulan uses discarded helmets and her archery skills to maneuver the trebuchet into firing on a snowy mountain, triggering an avalanche that buries the Rourans.
Mulan rides back to camp and rescues Chen Honghui, a soldier she befriended in camp. Unable to hide her true gender any longer, she is expelled from the army and begins her return home. On her way, she is confronted by Xianniang, who reveals that she was also shunned by her people and fights for Böri Khan only because he treats her as an equal. Additionally, she reveals that the attacks on the outposts have been a diversion, as Khan's true plan is to capture and execute the Emperor for having his father killed. Risking execution, Mulan returns to her battalion to warn them of the impending capture. Tung decides to believe her, and allows her to accompany a unit to the Emperor's palace.
Xianniang, posing as the Imperial Chancellor, persuades the Emperor to accept Böri Khan's challenge to single combat, while removing the city guard from their posts. The guards are murdered, and the Rourans prepare to burn the Emperor alive. Mulan's unit distracts the Rourans while Mulan goes to save the Emperor. Khan tries to snipe her with an arrow, but Xianniang, sympathetic to Mulan and disenchanted with Khan, transforms into a bird and sacrifices herself by catching the arrow. Mulan kills Khan, but not before he disarms her and destroys her father's sword. She frees the Emperor, who offers to let her join his personal guard. She declines the offer and returns to her village.
Mulan is reunited with her family. An emissary from the Emperor, under the leadership of Commander Tung, arrives to present Mulan with a new sword, while making a personal request that she join the Emperor's Guard.
Additionally, Ming-Na Wen, the original voice of Mulan in the animated film and its sequel, cameos as an esteemed guest who introduces Mulan to the Emperor. Utkarsh Ambudkar and Chum Ehelepola were cast as Skatch and Ramtish, a couple of con artists, but their roles were cut from the final film.
Walt Disney Pictures expressed interest in a live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated film Mulan starring international star Zhang Ziyi, with Chuck Russell chosen as the director. Plans for a live-action Mulan remake began in 2010, but the project never came to fruition.
On March 30, 2015, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Disney had restarted development of the live-action adaptation with Chris Bender and J. C. Spink producing, while Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek would be writing the screenplay. On October 4, 2016, it was announced that Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver would rewrite the script, combining the Chinese ballad and the 1998 animated film, while Jason T. Reed would be producing the film along with Chris Bender and Jake Weiner. On February 27, 2020, Reed said that Mulan's sidekick from the original film, Mushu, was removed due to the character's negative reception in China. Reed also said, aside from both the original ballad and the animated film, the filmmakers drew inspiration from different Chinese adaptations of the ballad while writing the film, stating that, since "[t]he traditional Disney audience and the diaspora Asian audience viewed the movie in one way, and the traditional Chinese in China audience viewed a slightly different way", the filmmakers "dug in to try and make sure that [they are] addressing both of those audiences in a thoughtful way".
Since several recent Hollywood films were accused of whitewashing, Mulan has been under intense scrutiny since The Hollywood Reporter reported that Disney was making a live-action adaptation of Mulan. An online petition titled "Tell Disney You Don't Want A Whitewashed Mulan!" received more than 100,000 signatures. On October 4, 2016, Disney announced that a global search for a Chinese actress to portray the title role was underway. A team of casting directors visited five continents and saw nearly 1,000 candidates for the role with criteria that required credible martial arts skills, the ability to speak clear English, and star quality.
On November 29, 2017, Chinese-American actress Yifei Liu was cast in the film to portray the titular role of Mulan. Many celebrated this as a win for diversity in Disney films. Further cast announcements for Donnie Yen, Gong Li, Jet Li, and Xana Tang were made in April 2018, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Ron Yuan in May, Yoson An and Chum Ehelepola in June, Jason Scott Lee in July, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Cheng Pei-Pei, Nelson Lee, Jimmy Wong and Doua Moua in August, and Chen Tang in September.
Disney originally sought an Asian director. Disney first considered Ang Lee, Taiwanese film director and two-time Academy Award winner for Best Director. The Hollywood Reporter mentioned that Lee was approached but declined on October 12, 2016. According to the report, published on November 22, 2016, he said that he would like to see an Asian director leading the film, but he himself had to decline because he was still obliged to promote his film Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Next, Disney met with Jiang Wen for the position; finally on February 14, 2017, New Zealander Niki Caro was hired as the director of the film, which made Mulan the second Disney film with a female director and a budget above $100 million following A Wrinkle in Time.
Principal photography began on August 13, 2018, at locations in New Zealand and China and wrapped on November 25, 2018. According to actress Gong Li, the film's production budget was $290–300 million due to the "massive and...unprecedented scale" of the sets, although the actual figure was later reported to be $200 million. The budget makes Mulan the most expensive film ever directed by a woman.
The visual effects are provided by Sony Pictures Imageworks, Weta Digital, Framestore, and Image Engine, with Seth Maury and Andres Langlands serving as visual effects supervisors and Sean Andrew Faden serving as production supervisor.
The remake does not feature any songs from the original film and instead features instrumental versions of the original film's songs. Caro later explained that the songs were deleted because she felt it didn't fit with her realistic vision of the film; she believes that since people do not break out into song as they enter war, the film should not either. Though she still tried to "honour the music from the animation in a very significant way", she did not want to disrespect the original film in any way; however, she claimed she could not find a place to squeeze in the original music. Producer Jason T. Reed clarified Caro's previous statement by saying that the songs will be featured "in a slightly different way" in the remake.
Matthew Wilder, who co-wrote the songs for the original film, said the remake will feature a new version of the song "Reflection", and that the song "thematically plays a large part in the new movie throughout the score". Christina Aguilera, who previously performed an end-credits version of "Reflection" for the original film, confirmed during a performance in The Xperience that she had recorded a new version of "Reflection", as well as new material for the remake's soundtrack. On March 6, 2020, she released a new single for the film's soundtrack, titled "Loyal Brave True". The song was written by Jamie Hartman, Harry Gregson-Williams, Rosi Golan and Billy Crabtree, and produced by Jamie Hartman. The song was also released in Spanish, as "El Mejor Guerrero". Additionally, the singer confirmed that she would also release a re-recorded version of "Reflection". On March 8, a Mandarin-version of the song, titled "自己" ("Zìjǐ"), performed by Yifei Liu was released, while Aguilera's English version was issued later the same year, on August 28. The soundtrack album was released by Walt Disney Records on September 4, 2020.
|2.||"Tulou Courtyard (Extended)"||3:14|
|3.||"The Desert Garrison"||3:27|
|4.||"Böri Khan & Xianniang"||1:37|
|5.||"The Lesson of the Phoenix"||3:14|
|6.||"Honor to Us All" (Originally written by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel)||1:54|
|8.||"Mulan Leaves Home"||3:50|
|9.||"Four Ounces Can Move a Thousand Pounds"||3:40|
|10.||"Mulan Rides into Battle (Extended)"||5:41|
|12.||"Training the Men"||3:02|
|13.||"Mulan & Honghui Fight"||1:25|
|14.||"Oath of the Warrior"||1:24|
|16.||"I Believe Hua Mulan"||3:56|
|19.||"Chasing the Hawk"||2:24|
|20.||"Fight for the Kingdom"||5:43|
|21.||"Mulan & the Emperor"||0:57|
|22.||"Return to the Village"||1:32|
|23.||"The Fourth Virtue (Extended)"||5:41|
|24.||"Loyal Brave True"||Christina Aguilera||2:46|
|25.||"Reflection (2020)"||Christina Aguilera||3:38|
|26.||"Reflection (Mandarin)"||Yifei Liu||3:39|
Mulan's world premiere was held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 9, 2020. The film was originally scheduled for a November 2, 2018 theatrical release, but was delayed, with The Nutcracker and the Four Realms taking its slot. It was rescheduled for March 27, 2020 before being removed from the release calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film later rescheduled for July 24, 2020, taking the former slot of Jungle Cruise, and then was delayed again to August 21, 2020. On July 23, the film was removed from the release calendar once again.
On August 4, 2020, Disney announced that it was cancelling the film's wide theatrical release in the United States, and would instead premiere the film for a premium fee on Disney+ on September 4, 2020. Mulan will be available for the purchase until November 2, 2020, before becoming available for all subscribers on December 4. The film will not be offered in France as a premium offering, instead releasing to Disney+ subscribers in the country for free at a later date. Speaking about the US$29.99 price point for the film in the United States, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said, "We're trying to establish a new premiere access window to capture [the] investment we got [in the film]... From our research under a premiere access offering, not only does it get us revenue from our original transaction of PVOD, but it’s a fairly large stimulus to sign up for Disney+." The premium fee will be approximately US$26.00 in other countries when considering conversion rates for their native currencies. Unlike other premium VOD releases that feature a 48-hour viewing window, Mulan will remain available to renters for as long as they stay subscribed to Disney+.
The film was still released theatrically in countries where theaters had re-opened, as well as in other countries that do not have Disney+. In China, the film was released on September 11, 2020.
On July 7, 2019, the official teaser trailer and the official teaser poster were released during the broadcast of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup Final. The teaser trailer was viewed 175.1 million times in its first 24 hours, including 52 million from China, making it the seventh most viewed trailer in that time period. On September 30, an exclusive photo featuring Liu as a soldier in the Imperial Army was released on Empire's upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker issue. On October 24, a prequel novel written by writer Grace Lin was announced along with a preview being made available online. Entitled Mulan: Before the Sword, the novel was released on February 11, 2020. On November 4, a video clip filmed during a Toho cinema preview was leaked online, featuring new shots of Mulan as a warrior battling fiercely and taking off her hair band. On November 6, Liu was featured as one of the 25 stars of Next Gen Talent 2019 nominated by The Hollywood Reporter with two new studio stills released concurrently. On November 20, the Japanese theatrical poster was released online. On December 5, the official trailer was released. On January 26, 2020, 6 individual character posters were released. On February 2, 2020, the final trailer was released. As a result of delaying its original March 2020 release, film executives estimated that each time the film was delayed it cost Disney between $200,000 and $400,000 in marketing fees, a figure that could reach $5 million if it was moved out of the summer season altogether. Variety estimated that Disney spent around $50 million on global advertisement for the film, with Deadline Hollywood attributing $35 million of the marketing budget to TV ads.
The film was marked by several controversies, relating to both production decisions as well as comments by individuals involved in the movie. Disney CFO Christine McCarthy has stated that the controversies the film has caused have created 'a lot of issues for us'.
A call to boycott the film began when Yifei Liu reshared an image posted by the People's Daily, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. The image included a quote from Chinese reporter Fu Guohao who worked for the state-owned tabloid Global Times and was subsequently assaulted by protesters during the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests: "I support Hong Kong police. You can beat me now. What a shame for Hong Kong." This sparked international controversy, with Liu being accused of supporting police brutality in Hong Kong. The hashtag, #BoycottMulan, has since started trending supporting a boycott of the film. In response to the controversy, Liu was not present at the 2019 D23 Expo, which gave fans an exclusive sneak peek of the film.
On February 27, 2020, film producer Jason T. Reed said that Mulan's love interest Captain Li Shang was dropped in response to the Me Too movement. In his statement, he explained that "having a commanding officer that is also the sexual love interest was very uncomfortable and we didn't think it was appropriate". The reasoning behind the removal was met with social media backlash from fans of the original film and members of the LGBTQ community, who deemed Shang's relationship with Mulan's male alter ego Ping to be bisexual. Reed was initially surprised by criticism of Shang's removal, but acknowledged that the character had become a "LGBTQ icon", and clarified that Shang's role would be served by two new characters, Commander Tung and Chen Honghui.
Disney received some criticism for hiring a white director for the film, rather than an Asian director. In a February 2020 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, director Niki Caro responded to the criticism by saying "Although it's a critically important Chinese story and it's set in Chinese culture and history, there is another culture at play here, which is the culture of Disney, and that the director, whoever they were, needed to be able to handle both — and here I am." In an August 2020 interview with Film School Rejects, Caro responded further to the criticism, saying "Firstly, I resist the idea that you tell somebody who can tell what story. That sounds a little bit like censorship to me. An artist will express themselves, and the burden of responsibility is on the art. That will be judged — and should be judged. The other side of it is that more diverse people need to be allowed to tell stories. That’s what it comes down to. The people who are hired for all kinds of stories need to be more diverse. It can’t just be white people being hired to make movies, no matter what the subject matter is. Our culture is going to be richer for the more diversity there is, and the art, the movies, the television, it will be better. The more this conversation is being had, the more that diverse artists are given opportunities."
Criticism has also been directed at the fact that filming took place in the province of Xinjiang, where internment camps containing up to a million ethnically Turkic citizens are located. At the end of the credits, the film gives special thanks to several government entities in Xinjiang, including the now-sanctioned Xinjiang Public Security Bureau in Turpan, which operates the internment camps, and several local committees of the Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party. The public security bureau in Turpan was added to the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security's "Entity List" in October 2019.
According to Reuters, after the controversy about the film's links with the Xinjiang erupted overseas, the Chinese government ordered media outlets not to cover the release of Mulan. At a September 10 conference, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said that "almost the entirety" of the film had been shot in New Zealand, but that 20 Chinese locations were used to "accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country". She added that the controversy had "generated a lot of issues for [Disney]". US Senator Josh Hawley sent a letter to Bob Chapek asking, among other things, for clarification on Chinese government involvement in the film. The Human Rights Foundation also sent a letter to Chapek asking Disney to condemn human rights violations and consider donating some of the film's earnings to promote human rights in Xinjiang.
Variety estimated Mulan would need to be rented by about 8.4 million subscribers (13.8%) in order to break-even. On the weekend of the film's release, the Disney+ app was downloaded 68% more than the past weeks' total, similar to the 72% spike upon Hamilton's release that July. Deadline Hollywood reported that industry sources with knowledge of the situation "are figuring that Disney may not have earned great presales" and that they could put Mulan on a third party service like Amazon Prime or Google Play before the December release. However following the film's opening weekend, Business Insider reported it had been viewed by 1.12 million households (only including users renting with TV-connected devices), which would result in $33.5 million in sales for Disney. Yahoo! Finance then reported that, according to analytics research firm 7Park Data, nearly 29% of U.S. households that subscribe to Disney+ purchased Mulan through September 12, which would result in $261 million for Disney.
Mulan grossed $5.9 million from nine countries in its international opening weekend, including $1.2 million in Thailand and $700,000 in Singapore, both of which were the highest debuts of 2020 in the respective countries. It also made $800,000 in both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. In its second weekend the film made $29.1 million from 17 countries, including $1.8 million in Russia and finishing first in Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, and South Africa.
The film made $23.2 million on its opening weekend in China, a low figure but a 23% improvement upon Aladdin's debut the year before. Several factors, such as the film only receiving an official Chinese release date days before, giving little chance to build a strong marketing campaign, the movie's Disney+ digital release resulting in pirated copies online, a lack of local press coverage due to the movie being partially shot in the controversial Xinjiang region and low reception from fans on sites such as Maoyan and Douban were attributed to the film's muted performance.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 75% based on 267 reviews, with an average rating of 6.83/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "It could have told its classic story with greater depth, but the live-action Mulan is a visual marvel that serves as a stirring update to its animated predecessor." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 67 out of 100, based on 51 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, praising the "fine cast, exciting action and spectacular visuals" and writing, "This is such a great-looking film, with amazing set pieces and dazzling action and colors so vibrant they would dazzle a Crayola factory, it will still play well on your home monitor. There are so many gorgeous shades of orange and magenta, blue and yellow, it’s as if we’re seeing these colors for the first time." Kate Erbland of IndieWire gave the film a "B+", calling it a "remarkable action epic that carves its own path" and wrote, "Mulan is perhaps the best example of how to marry the original with something fresh. 'The Ballad of Mulan' has always been an epic-scale story about the power of being yourself in a world not ready to accept that, a tale that will likely always have resonance."
Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B+ and described it as "a classic hero(ine)'s tale, exhilarating in its elaborate set pieces and large-scale ambitions even when the smaller human story within it sometimes falls short." Writing for Variety, Peter Debruge said, "On one hand, the result isn't immediately recognizable as 'a Disney movie,' but neither does it establish its own narrative or visual signature, the way Tarantino did when remixing Asian influences for Kill Bill. This is pure pastiche, as Caro and her crew shamelessly pilfer from kung fu, Fifth Generation and Hong Kong action movies, incorporating anime and Bollywood touches as well."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "Mulan is a spirit lifter, and though it doesn’t arrive as planned, it could not arrive at a better time", saying "Throughout Mulan, there are shots of such visual splendor that viewers will catch their breath. In one, the morning mist clears and reveals an army in the distance, with its flags and colors, a frightening yet strangely beautiful sight." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Mulan is a heroic muddle, one that elicits both a disappointed sigh and an appreciative nod. It lays down a marker of progress achieved and progress to come."
Mulan has been met with bad press and poor reviews from Chinese audiences. The film currently scores 4.9 out of 10 on the rating site Douban. Reviewers on Douban contended that the film had flat characters and a bland story with details that do not make sense. Many people also appeared unsatisfied with how the film handles certain Chinese cultural elements. One of the more common complaints about the film is its treatment of qi. Qi is a traditional idea in martial arts and Chinese medicine concerning a person’s energy flow. But in Mulan, qi becomes a magical power that the eponymous heroine possesses. That power is limited by dishonesty, though, keeping Mulan from realising her full potential until she strips away her disguise as a man. Other Chinese viewers complained about some of the characters' make-up, saying it reflects Western stereotypes of China rather than being a reflection of actual Chinese culture.
In April 2020, it was reported that a Mulan sequel is in development with Chris Bender, Jason T. Reed, and Jake Weiner returning as producers.
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