This version of “Mulan” isn’t like Disney’s nearly scene-for-scene live-action musical remakes of “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” Directed by Niki Caro and featuring an ethnically Chinese cast, it’s an epic martial-arts retelling of the original ancient Chinese “Ballad of Mulan.” It’s much more serious and intense than the animated movie, with fewer gender-bending jokes and no songs or wisecracking dragon (sorry, Mushu fans).
It’s also more violent, with both large-scale and one-on-one battle sequences that leave people dead and injured and a few close calls when main characters seem on the verge of death. Weapons include swords, bows and arrows, knives, and flaming projectiles shot from a catapult (yes, the avalanche scene is still here). Romance is limited to a few lingering looks and one meaningful but brief touching of hands.
Mulan (Yifei Liu) strips down to take a bath in a river, showing her bare shoulders and part of her back. Her fellow soldier, a man, is shown shirtless. Fans of the 1998 version should keep their eyes and ears open for several Easter eggs, including cameo by the original voice of Mulan, Ming-Na Wen. The themes of honor, honesty and devotion to family and country and the challenging of gender stereotypes will give families plenty to talk about after watching Mulan together.