Mulan: Rise of a Warrior is the latest attempt at adapting the classic Chinese legend of Mulan into a feature length effort. The story focuses upon Mulan (Wei Zhao) who substitutes herself into battlefield when her father becomes ill. She pretends to be a male, and risks her life to be supportive of her father, who could die with his illness. It's a story based on genuine heartfelt emotion that brings the story to its core.
Mulan's father is unaware of this move when the bold, brave, and true-of-heart Mulan rises to the challenge before her during trying times of war and enlists under the guise of being his son. She puts herself out there for her father and with great strength and determination she will become a legend to her country.
The good news about a new modern telling of the Mulan tale is that it's one of the most moving, inspirational, and heartfelt stories that could possibly be rendered in film. What's not so lucky is that the film both works and doesn't work on a number of levels; i.e. it's a bit of a mixed bag of results which won't please everyone, mainly because it's an inconsistent effort on the whole.
The film's story seems perfect for a Chinese epic with great production values, superb direction, and all around top class filmmaking. Well, that simply isn't the case with the actual adaptation that was made this go around. The film lacks any finesse which would bring the story to those lofty levels. It's unfortunate because the story of Mulan is a great one and could certainly thus benefit from being translated into a epic masterpiece. It just isn't something that you will find with this film; the filmmakers involved were seemingly unable to bring it to that quality level.
The most positive aspect of the film; the aspect that stood out as being most successful within the entire production was that the performance from Wei Zhao was generally an impressive one that carried everything forward story-wise. Mulan is a fascinating character and in moments where the script is trying to expand upon the dramatization of the performance, Zhao thus manages to bring forward some of the better emotional moments. Her skill is something that grounds it and makes it better.
Another impressive aspect found in the film performance-wise, was the effort made by Kun Chen as Wentai, the gifted warrior who over-time falls in love with Mulan, whom he learns is not a boy, and while the two are training together and eventually fighting alongside one another in battle the relationship elements expand between them and Chen and Zhao both rise to this in challenge. They made the characters believable and also emotionally relevant to the audience through their fine performances.
These performances felt synchronized as the flow of these character performances could excel further than expected initially. The romance and companion-based moments were compelling and it made the film more bearable, enjoyable, and successful in terms of being compelling.
At least the character moments worked better when it came to the screenwriting of the film actually attempting to be up to par in delivering some good moments from the performers. Unfortunately, the script was one of the more lacking areas, as some moments did work splendidly but just as many if not more moments felt forced in writing that was generic, unrefined, and overly simplistic with melodramatic dialogue that didn't work.
Another downside of the film is that the direction was never far from being only slightly above average. 'Average' direction is not the best suited level of quality suited for this story to be told best, but the filmmaking is neither disastrous nor overwhelmingly successful.
The directors, Wei Dong and Jingle Ma, brought the story forward with some good aspects: the performances were the main highlight in some respect and the framing and visual aspect was a moderately decent effort throughout the film's many scene-changes. It just wasn't ever on par, creatively, with the world created from the story. I wanted to see an epic film with a greatly impressive scope in design and execution of filmmaking but it's merely adequate work.
Unfortunately, a lot of the time the directorial framing with shots was still a sub-par, messy, and uninspired effort. At times, the film felt 'cinematic' and successful while other times it felt like a made-for-TV production simply because the directing was not quite as impressive as one might have hoped. The dramatic moments excelled the best, though, which is a trait that ultimately benefited the film. The downside is that action-sequences (of which plenty exist) and other stylistically "abundant" sequences are merely acceptable in filmmaking quality if not even downright bad at times.
The action in particular feels lazy, boring, and redundant with too-frequently relied-upon shots of warriors clashing against each other without any properly realized setup or characterization, both in-script and directorially. This is an oversight of the filmmakers. It brings the film down a few notches.
The effort isn't brilliant, not even remotely, but there are still quality aspects of merit to this film. Ultimately, most audiences will likely find it moderately entertaining, inspiring, and successful (which is more than many films can say). It's worth checking out for fans of Mulan and for any Asian cinema buffs looking for a decent two hour effort with some pizzazz.
The presentation is a decent one. The transfer certainly isn't a slouch, but it isn't groundbreaking or even remotely near reference grade either. The cinematography is decently reproduced; the gray, murky, and sometimes solemn design of the photography is well represented with 1080p quality on this High Definition transfer encoded with MPEG-4 AVC. It's not a film with great, consistently high bit-rates for mbps, but it does a decent job and remains sharp and genuinely faithful to the film's look in design. The film is preserved in the 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track is mostly impressive. The dialogue is always clean and intelligible, while sound effects and bass are well handled for most of the film's running time. A few of the action sequences actually seem to have less well designed acoustical dynamics but the bass is quite strong, making it a wash overall. The music occasionally adds an extra element.
There is a 'Making Of' featurette (15 min.) which includes interviews and some behind-the-scenes moments to showcase the filmmaking and actors/producers/directors taking about production and their thoughts on the film and characters, especially Mulan.
Interviews with Cast and Staff (1 Hr. 11 min.) is an extended collection of footage with the majority of the interview footage conducted with the cast and crew. There are clearly still a number of minor edits, but this is a lengthy and in-depth inclusion that fans of the film may enjoy considering the amount of time spent interviewing those involved with the production.
Lastly, the disc includes the original theatrical trailer for Mulan: Rise of a Warrior and some trailers promoting other FUNimation Entertainment Asian-cinema releases.
Mulan: Rise of a Warrior is a worthwhile movie with decent direction, writing, and a couple of worthwhile performances that help to carry the entire filmmaking effort. It's not quite as grand, epic, and satisfying as the storytelling might demand, but the end result is a movie that is at least decent and which is mostly enjoyable. It's unlikely you'll love Mulan: Rise of a Warrior. However, this is an OK cinematic excursion worth renting and checking out.