Mulan: Rise of a Warrior 花木蘭 (2009) – Movie Review

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.

Last Letter / ラストレター (2020) – Movie Mini-Review

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5, 1/75 sec, ISO6400
“Last Letter” Cedar Park, 2020

I watched Shunji Iwai‘s latest movie Last Letter (ラストレター) this afternoon and loved it. I’m a huge fan of both Matsu Takako and Hirose Suzu, so I knew that even if the story wasn’t so good, I could at least enjoy their acting. But I was captivated by the plot, which unfolded beautifully and culminated in a satisfying and emotional ending. (Have the tissue box ready 😭)

And I found the cinematography to be fantastic… a lovely film to look at just for the visuals, but combine that with a great plot and incredible actors, and Last Letter is a winner.

I love melodramatic movies, and this one fits the bill for sure. Recommended if you can find it! My rating is 8.5 out of 10.

Life (1982) – Book Review

Yu Lao’s Life is the story of Gao Jialin, a young man in his 20s who recently lost his job as a teacher and has to move back to his rural village and peasant life. From there, the story explores the relationship with his elders, his romantic relationship with the peasant girl Qiaozheng, and the city girl Yaping. Although he makes some big decisions that affect his personal life, Jialin’s (and everyone else) fortunes and future are greatly dependent on the government of 1980 China and the bureaucracies it creates. This social structure combined with family connections can give you advantages and also take them away, as we witness as the story plays out. Jialin deals with conflicting motivations and pressures that shift with his job situation, which take him between rural and city settings, and also between the groups of people who live in each.

Some things about the characters that resonated with me (SPOILER ALERT in the bullets):

  • Jialin’s spirit and talent even in the face of challenges. His conflicted feelings towards Qiaozhen versus Yaping were palpable, and the ultimate decision he made was certainly understandable, even if the results are somewhat heartbreaking.
  • Qioazhen’s pure heart and devotion. Even though she knows the limits that her illiteracy places on her, she takes the chance to spend her life with Jialin. I found Qiaozhen the most interesting and admirable person in Life.
  • Yaping’s prudent and opportunistic nature. She realizes her love for Jialin, and how he fits in with her future life. However, when situations change, she’s not afraid to re-evaluate.

I watched the movie version of Life / 人生 (1984) right after finishing the book, and believe that it’s best viewed as a support for the book. As a stand-alone movie, I don’t think it’s very good because events just seem to happen one after another, but you won’t know the motivations or the relationships between the people. It’s a classic case of the book having much more detail and insight than the movie. However, for me, the film added welcomed color to the book. As someone not familiar with the setting, it was great to see what the village looked like, as well as the city and the people. Lao describes the clothing they work, like the Dacron pants or patterns on Qiaozhen’s shirts and voila – there they are on the screen! Not only that, but the dialog in the movie was pretty much exactly like the book (the translations, at least). The scenes were like little visual depictions of the book’s chapters. I thought it was very helpful!

“Qiaozhen and Jialin”

I give the book my rating of 8.5, and the movie a rating of 7.

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Weathering With You / 天気の子 (2019) – Movie Mini-Review

Loved this! Weathering With You is *almost* as good as Your Name, but I think I need to watch it again just to be sure. 😊 The storyline was fun and combines fantasy and reality in an original way, and seems timely considering the changes in the climate.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 1/125 sec, ISO6400
“Beautiful Background” Austin, 2019

Just like in Your Name, the background artwork is amazing. Some of the scenes with cloud-scapes are breathtaking! But what I really enjoyed about Weathering With You was that there was a bit more action, which was refreshing for a Makoto Shinkai film. I’m still in love with the Honda Super Cub, so seeing chase scene involving one was awesome. ❤️

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 1/125 sec, ISO5000
“Supercub Scene” Austin, 2019

Although Weathering With You didn’t have as many moments as Your Name that gave me “the feels”, I enjoyed it quite a bit. There were a few laugh-out-loud moments as well, so I’d say it’s a very well-rounded movie. It’s got a bit of everything: artwork, story, romance, action, and humor. It’s definitely a movie I’d like to watch several times. Highly recommended!

Star Wars Episode IX – Movie Review

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 1/125 sec, ISO5000
“Episode IX Display” Austin, 2019

Tonight I went with my two sons to see the 1:25 am showing of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It was a late showing (Sunday morning actually) because we didn’t think to get the tickets earlier, however it worked out okay for me because I had a mild migraine in the afternoon so I slept from 3 pm until 11 pm and was well-awake to see that late-night show.

*********** SPOILER ALERT ************

I enjoyed Episode IX a lot and thought it was great! I’m in the camp that thought The Last Jedi was an okay movie, but had some really cringey scenes. And when I saw “THE DEAD SPEAK!” come up on the screen for the final movie, I literally rolled my eyes and was prepared for the worst.

But I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with the story, pacing, action, dialog, and humor of the movie. There was plenty of fan-service of course, and the plot wasn’t very complex, but all-in-all it was a satisfying end to the Skywalker saga for me.

One thing I liked about the JJ Abrams movies was the quick bits of humor that were thrown in. For instance, in Episode IX when Ben Solo lands hard after jumping from a high surface, he lets out a little, “Ow” which I thought was brilliant. In the same vein, when Finn is rescued from the Rathtar by Rey in Episode VII, she just says, “That was lucky!” and the scene moves on, without skipping a beat. I loved those types of lines! In contrast, in Episode VIII, Poe’s “can you hear me?” scene with Hux was only mildy funny to begin with, but went on for far too long, and to me it was really lame that a huge part of their battle strategy was based on a silly Verizon joke.

Anyways, just like with Episode VII, I’m ready to see The Rise of Skywalker again on the big screen. And I usually enjoy the second viewings more than the first so I really looking forward to it.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 1/125 sec, ISO500
“Episode IX” Austin, 2019