Today I watched the 2009 film Mulan: Rise of a Warrior / 花木蘭 starring Zhao Wei. I read some good things about this telling of the Mulan story and I like Zhao Wei so I was really looking forward to it.
The story of Mulan is one that most of us are familiar with, but in this version, the plot focuses more on her time as a general in the army, and the romance between her and a fellow soldier who also rises to become a leader. I found this spin on the story somewhat interesting, but I felt they didn’t spend enough time developing the relationship, and kind of left it to the imagination. Lots of tears were shed on-screen, but that emotion didn’t quite connect with me. I often get teary-eyed when watching movies, but not for this one.
Of course, the tale of Mulan has to have a lot of fighting in it, and this movie has its share of battle scenes, however, I was a little disappointed in the quality of them. I guess I was expecting a more epic feel along the lines of Lord of the Rings or Avengers, but that was not to be. I’m sure the budget for Mulan was only a fraction of those blockbusters, so it’s understandable. The fighting here is pretty much all live-action actors and extras as far as I could tell and nothing special or memorable in the martial arts world. It makes sense though since the focus of the story is on Mulan’s emotional struggles rather than the physical battles.
The overall look of the movie is washed-out and gloomy (in contrast to the vibrant colors of the live-action Disney version) and not pretty to look at which is kind of a bummer, because I’ve seen movies where dark and depressing can look slick, polished, and amazing, such as in Shadow 影. I’m pretty sure a touch of CGI could have given Mulan: Rise of a Warrior that extra boost visually that it needed.
On the other hand, you could say the movie had an authentic, historical feel to it (although having a white character in the opening shot was an odd choice). Contributing to the authentic feel were the costumes and armor. I loved looking at them and although I am no expert, they felt accurate to the time… as if I were looking at the real armor from a museum. The colors were muted and not flashy at all. I didn’t once feel like this aspect of the movie was unrealistic. And the clothes that the characters wore in Mulan’s rural village at the beginning of the movie seemed authentic as well. It really establishes that this isn’t a fantasy world, but part of history, even if Mulan was most likely a fictional character.
If you want to watch a wartime romance movie, Mulan: Rise of a Warrior might just be for you. Just don’t expect anything super-epic, which is a shame since the story of Mulan I think deserves that kind of scope. Still, it’s a good re-telling of the story and worth a watch.
My rating of Mulan: Rise of a Warrior is 7 out of 10.