This movie has been hyped. Hyped because of the theme songs (Stefanie Sun trumps all in terms of popularity in China), hyped because it was Mulan, one of the most famous heroines in Chinese culture, and hyped because it was Vicky Zhao Wei, who is just loved and unlike most Chinese celebs, not just within China’s boundaries.
And the sales reflected that. In six days the movie earned 50 million yuan its first six days, not the highest China’s seen, but a solid success and the Chen Kun-Zhao Wei pairing was proclaimed a box office guarantee since their first on-screen pairing Painted Skin, also was a hit. But all those factors doesn’t mean good movie. Basically, this is a post for everyone looking forward to this movie to go in with low expectations. Because while this movie has drummed up more overseas interest than other Chinese films this year, simply because of the name “Mulan” (thanks Disney!) this is not even close to being one of the better Chinese films of this year, or even of the holiday season. Expectations should have been low from the start since the director is Jingle Ma.
The general reviews have indicated that this film was “lacking”. At douban.com the rating is 6.4 which equates to “not really good but watchable”. If you want to read an English review Twitch has one, so does a A Nutshell Review. Consensus: acting’s pretty good – the directing is weird.
It’s always mystified me that A-list stars Chen Kun and Zhao Wei would choose to work with the director who butchered the other most famous cross-dressing feminist story in Chinese culture – Butterfly Lovers. That was panned critically AND was a box office bomb. It’s like Jingle Ma got rewarded for failure with a bigger cast, a bigger budget, and really good theme songs and singers, and an even more famous,at least internationally, Chinese classic to screw up.
It’s not to say Jingle Ma hasn’t had his share of good movies. He’s a rather famous Hong Kong director with a long career, and I really enjoyed one or two of his films like Fly Me to Polaris and Tokyo Raiders. But he’s no John Woo. He’s not consistent and his movies are a hit and miss, and frankly, more misses. He seems to make fun films better than serious ones, but serious was the direction he took Mulan, or at least tried to take it. There’s nothing in his resume that indicated he would make a good historical, culturally-significant epic and I just don’t understand why he was chosen for this film at all. Again, refer back to Butterfly Lovers.
So both idarklight and I are rather perplexed at all the news and interest about this movie. We had assumed it would be really average if not terrible a long time ago. It’s an wonderful story and likable enough cast. But…there’s just so many other, better Chinese movies to watch, and tons more films to look forward to.
In the meantime, it’s not an entire loss – promotions of the cast are always fun like Behind the Story interviews (btw – Hunan TV funded this film). In the first part below- the little girl sings the Henan Opera version of Mulan (cut for those who don’t want to watch the whole show). That was the first performance I ever saw in a CCTV Chinese New Year’s Gala, many years ago, sung by another little girl whose probably quite grown up now. It was enchanting, and I loved Mulan ever since, before the Disney version, although my love for Mulan grew after seeing the Disney version because that version rocked too.
So will this top the Disney Mulan? Probably no, not even close. Zhao Wei fans shouldn’t feel bad though…it’d be really hard for anyone to top the amazing Lea Salonga, animated Mulan’s singing voice.
But Mulan is not a Disney movie. Nor is it a Jingle Ma movie. It’s a legend, perhaps a reality, but it’s something in every Chinese girl’s heart, and the hearts of some non-Chinese as well (again, thanks Disney!). Even if this movie sucks, there will be more versions of it to come as China’s entertainment sector grows bigger and people want to explore it more in medium of film and television. And I’ll be looking forward to the future adaptations.