I don’t like being a grumpus about films. It brings me no joy to report that the recent spate of Disney live action remakes like Beauty and the Beast and, uh, “The Lion King” (in quotes ’cause is it really live action?) did nothing for me, rendering me sleepy with their ho-hum indifference and redundancy. However, the upcoming Mulan remake seems more and more like it’s gonna turn that trend around. And with every new piece of footage I see — including a new spot just released by Disney — I get more and more excited. I’d love to tell you why.
The new Mulan stars Liu Yifei as the title role, a fierce warrior who illegally disguises herself as a man to fight in the army in place of her father (Tzi Ma). Under the orders of China’s emperor (Jet Li), the army is fighting the Huns, including the adversarial Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee). To prepare, Mulan finds a mentor in Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) and a potential love in fellow soldier Chen Honghui (Yoson An) — all while facing the supernatural threats of a shapeshifting witch (Gong Li).
Unlike the excellent 1998 animated film, which featured kid-focused choices, catchy musical numbers, and plenty of comedic relief in the form of Eddie Murphy‘s talking dragon, the new take from director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) feels much more earnest in tone, mood, and construction. This new spot hints thrillingly at the action choreography we’ll see in the picture, while satisfyingly allowing its performers room to deliver lines that summarize the plot by rattling the heart (“I’m Hua Mulan. I will bring honor to us all.” Yes times one billion). In general, it feels like the way to succeed creatively for Disney’s live action remakes moving forward: Don’t make the exact same beat-for-beat movie. Find out the unexplored kernel in the source, and develop that. Here, Caro and company seem to have understood that at the beating heart of Mulan is a grown-up wuxia film, combining martial arts heroics, mythological themes of good and evil, and authentic Chinese culture bursting forward in every frame. Mulan is becoming one of my most anticipated films of 2020 — and clips like this show why.
The new Mulan drops in theaters March 27. Check out the new spot below.