‘Mulan’ review: Disney+ live action remake delivers real guts, reinvention – New York Post

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It’s not just a reflection. Thank God.

While Disney has mercilessly plundered its own vaults for scraps the past several years, the studio has too often delivered lifeless replicas of its cherished cartoons — “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” — instead of taking risks. Or making watchable movies.

“Mulan,” however, while not totally original, transitions to live action with real guts and reinvention. Yes, I missed the 1998 animated film’s catchy music and talking animals — Eddie Murphy as a joking dragon called Mushu might be tough to swing in 2020 — but I was swept away by the breathtaking Chinese backdrops and high-stakes battles.

And there are plenty of them. With a PG-13 rating, this “Mulan” is a much more violent take on the ancient story. No funny grandmas with lucky crickets; lots of enemy soldiers killed by arrows.

In the 1998 film, to protect her weak father from the perils of war, Mulan donned drag and sneaked off to join the emperor’s all-male army in the fight against the Huns. Nice gesture, but the gal was a total klutz. Her true identity was only revealed by a doctor after a battlefield injury.

Not anymore. In the live-action flick premiering Sept. 4 on the new Disney+ Premier Access platform, director Niki Caro has kept the character’s framework, but de-Ally McBealed her. Mulan (Yifei Liu) is now a preternaturally strong fighter from an early age, which brings shame upon the family because it’s not what girls are meant to do. So, Mulan bolts off to war, not only for her pop (Tzi Ma, one of cinema’s best dads), but because she knows she’s a better warrior than a tea-pourer.

Liu Yifei in the live-action title role of "Mulan."
Yifei Liu plays the title role in the live action “Mulan” on the new Disney+ Premier Access platform.AP

Having the character be stronger and more imposing doesn’t come off as pandering, or bluntly politically correct either. It makes more sense for this bloodier, more pulse-pounding tale of honor and family.

Sadly, so does cutting the songs. A few tunes are still here as grand underscoring, most powerfully with “Reflection” in the film’s best scene, but nobody pauses to sing a ballad to a puddle, and the training-camp montage does not feature Donny Osmond crooning “I’ll Make a Man Out Of You.” Camp, indeed.

Musical numbers would’ve been an awkward fit. When’s the last time you saw a singin’, dancin’ action movie?

One change-up that doesn’t work is a new character called Xian Lang (Gong Li), a shape-shifting sorceress who serves the evil Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee) but wants to be her own woman. You can tell this film was in development while “Game of Thrones” was still on the air, because she’s a lot like that show’s red woman, Melisandre. This witch only exists to pad out the runtime.

Liu is a smash, though. Even though you don’t quite buy that a bunch of muddy dudes in 100 AD would mistake Mulan for one of their bros, the actress capably carries her movie. Her flirty scenes with handsome fellow soldier Chen (Yoson An) spark, and in combat she wields both cold determination and vulnerability. There is a scene on horseback that would’ve gotten applause if audiences were actually viewing it in a theater.

Yifei Liu as Mulan
Yifei Liu in action as the title character of “Mulan,” premiering Sept. 4 on Disney+.Disney

Unless you’re overseas, you’ll be watching “Mulan” on the couch. This is a major test for Disney’s business, as the studio is charging an unheard-of $30 to rent the big-budget film on Disney+ among other platforms. Many people (except parents, who have no choice) are surely wondering if that eye-gouging price tag is worth it.

What each person is willing to pay to watch a movie is up to them, but I’m sure “Mulan” will make a fan out of you.

Mulan (Liu Yifei) heads to battle.
Mulan (Yifei Liu) heads to battle.AP

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