Thursday, 21 July 2016

Mulan

If I were to say the phrase "Let's get down to business", what would you instantly think of?
Assuming you hadn't read the title of this review, you'd still think of Disney's Mulan.
The only Disney Princess willing to be seen without her makeup.
This movie is classic and amazing and I'm going to explain to you why it's classic and amazing.
The movie opens with a shot of the Great Wall of China, which would normally be cliche and lame but since the villains of this movie are the Huns, whom the Great Wall was built to protect against, I'll give it a pass.
Pictured: America, 2018.
As a guard patrols the wall, he is surprised by a grappling hook latching itself onto the rampart next to him. As he leans over he sees a whole load more hooks come flying up towards him. He rushes to the nearest tower to light the warning signal, but is confronted by our primary villain for this movie, Shan-Yu.
This guy.
Shan-Yu stares the guard down, but he lights the fire anyway, laying down his life to warn China.
That guy has a pair of solid brass ones.
Not that it helps, since Shan-Yu gleefully tells him that he wants China to know of his approach.
I just know this guy's going to be a subtle, nuanced character.
We cut to the Emperor's throne room, where General Li tells the Emperor the news. While both Li and the Emperor's aide Chi Fu argue that they can deal with the problem, the Emperor orders a conscription. Every family in China must send one man to be trained.
It's kinda hard to make a guy who's conscripting civilians into a good guy, but Disney seem to have managed it.
He explicitly does it to help protect the farming villages, so that helps.
We then transition to our actual main character, who's preparing for a test of some kind.
And she does it by cheating.
Just as she writes down the word 'Punctual' a rooster crows, signifying to her that she's late. She completes her chores with the help of her little brother, who is in fact her dog.
This is actually a very subtle method of showing that she's an only child, since she wouldn't be calling her pet dog 'Little brother' if she actually had a little brother.
Kudos movie, well played.
Although your slapstick could use some work.
At the family shrine, Mulan's father is praying to their ancestors for help with Mulan's upcoming meeting with someone called the match-maker.
Basically, they're marrying her off and are hoping the match-maker is impressed enough with her to choose a good husband.
It does not bode well.
Mulan rushes into town, where her mother and grandmother are waiting. Her grandmother has bought a tiny cricket for luck and has a plan for testing it out.
This does not look particularly lucky to me.
The cricket's name is Cri-Kee and I absolutely loathe every facet of his existence.
Behold! The grotesque visage of pure annoyance.
Cri-Kee serves no purpose in this movie. We already have an annoying-but-kind-of-likable animal companion in the form of Mushu (He'll show up later). Difference is, Mushu actually affects the plot.
We do not need our animal sidekicks to have animal sidekicks of their own.
Now that that's out of the way, Mulan shows up and her family get her ready.
I'd take her as is.
The movie takes this as an opportunity for a song, but both myself and Mulan are unimpressed.
I'd much rather play whatever game this is too.
By the end of the song Mulan is dressed and ready, with the cricket tucked away for luck.
"Yes, it does make your butt look big."
She lines up with the other girls and is the first to be called in to see the match-maker. The meeting goes mildly alright, though problems start to arise when she grabs Mulan's arm and the ink comes off without her noticing.
Can't beat the classic gags.
Mulan of course gets distracted an everything goes to pot.
And visa-versa.
In Ancient China, pot goes to everything.
The match-maker yells at Mulan that she'll never be married and storms off in a huff.
Later that day (And after a song) Mulan is expecting to be chewed out by her father too, but instead he has a nice thing to say about her.
This nice moment gets interrupted when Chi-Fu rides into town with the conscription orders. He calls out some names, including that of an old man who clearly cannot battle, so the mans' son steps forward to take his place. When it comes time for her father to be called, Mulan tries to interject that he can't fight due to an old war injury, but Chi-Fu chastises her for speaking.
His name literally means 'Bully', so I don't think we're meant to like him much.
Mulan's father gathers his armour and practices with his sword, but doesn't last long before his wound brings him to his knees.
That night (To some amazing music) Mulan makes the decision to steal her father's equipment, cut her hair and ride out in her father's place.
While it takes her family some time to notice that she's missing, the spirits of her ancestors witnessed the whole thing and are not pleased.
And yet he looks like such a happy fellow.
This is the first ancestor, who wakes up one of their spirit animal guardians, our annoying-but-helpful animal mascot for the movie, Mushu.
He's a very imposing dragon, until you remember that he's less than 2 foot tall.
Mushu is voiced by Eddie Murphy a full three years before he was an annoying-but-helpful animal mascot in the Shrek franchise. Luckily, this scene is balanced out by the voice actor behind the first ancestor, none other than George Takei himself.
"Oh my" indeed.
Mushu is hyped to be awake and is ready to do his duty to protect the Fa family, but the first ancestor reminds him that he's fallen from grace and is in fact just the gong-keeper, whose only duty is to awaken the actual spirit animal guardian.
I'm not sure what Mushu did wrong, but I'm assured that heads did roll for it.
The ancestors argue about which guardian to send, with the first choosing the most powerful guardian, a fearsome-looking dragon statue so big that it didn't fit inside the shrine and is in fact halfway down the garden.
But I have to question the dragon's supposed power, because when Mushu tries to wake him up, he goes to pieces on us.
Maybe he's secretly Wil E. Coyote's spirit animal?
With the great stone dragon doing his best crazy paving impression, Mushu decides to do it by himself, tricking the ancestors and setting out on his own.
Well, except for Cri-Kee, who comes along with him.
So effectively on his own.
After the comedy sketch between them, the scene shifts back to the Hun army and the village they've burnt down.
You know this movie is for kids right?
The Huns are riding through some mountains when Shan-Yu holds his hand up for them to stop. Some of his men go into the nearby rocks and retrieve a couple of Chinese soldiers who were hiding there.
Shan-Yu picks one up by the throat and congratulates them on finding the Hun army, before throwing him to the ground and telling them to send a message for him.
"Tell your Emperor to send his strongest armies. I'm ready."
Then he asks his archer how many people are needed to send a message.
I don't think the Chinese scouts liked his answer.
This scene was a bit of mood whiplash wasn't it?
Next morning Mulan has reached the army encampment but is too nervous to enter since she's afraid that her disguise won't work.
And that's when Mushu shows up.
He should do kids parties.
They don't exactly hit it off, especially when Mushu brags that his eyes can see straight through Mulan's armour.
But I thought this was a Disney movie.
After a short discussion about dishonoured cows, then enter the camp.
Where Mulan immediately makes some friends.
That poor fish looks so surprised.
Inside the main tent General Li is discussing strategy with Chi-Fu and one of his Captains, Shang. Li will take the main forces to protect a village that lies in Shan-Yu's path. Shang has three weeks to train the recruits then join the main army, with Chi-Fu writing a report on whether they're ready or not.
Judging by the above picture, he's got his work cut out for him.
Shang asks who the troublemaker was and everybody points to Mulan. When he asks for 'his' name Mulan stutters, having not thought this far ahead
Disney's first true feminist icon and she didn't think to prepare a male name?
After some incredibly cringy back and forth, she eventually gives her name as Fa Ping.
The name's rather interesting, since it's traditionally Hua Ping. This literally translates as 'Flower vase', which is not only a silly name for a guy, but also Chinese slang for a camp gay individual.
She might as well have said that her name's 'Fabulooous'.
Of course, Fa Ping isn't that much of an improvement, considering what it means in Internet slang.
To be fair, it was a rash decision to impersonate a guy.
The nest morning everyone assembles as Shang does his drill sergeant routine. He shoots an arrow into the top of a ridiculously tall wooden post. Thanks to some backchatting Yao (The short soldier with sideburns whose been acting like a jerk to Mulan) is volunteered to retrieve it.
Oh, but he has to carry discipline and strength with him too.
They're what the cool kids call 'Metaphors'.
Obviously Yao doesn't make it to the top, so we're going to need a training sequence. But this movie doesn't have the time to go through all of that, so maybe we should condense it down. Maybe into a montage of some sort. And this would be a great opportunity for a song.
Let's get down to business!
That may very well be one of the most inspiring songs Disney has ever made.
So let's immediately follow it up with Shan-Yu promising murder a small child and her entire village.
This guy's smile is kinda creepy. Not as creepy as Chedward's, but still creepy.
The scene does serve a purpose other than making Shan-Yu out to be creepy. He uses the doll to work out where the Chinese army is, using clues like horse hairs and the smell of sulfur.
This guy could give Prince Humperdinck a run for his money.
After that bit of mood whiplash we whiplash back to fun times with Mulan having a nice bath in a lake away from the men. Her plan goes awry when the three main soldiers show up, also intent on relaxing.
As Mushu said "There's a couple of things I know they're bound to notice."
Mulan tries to wiggle out of the situation and eventually does so with Mushu's help.
I blame Robin Williams for this whole thing where the comedy characters use things that didn't exist yet.
When she gets back to camp she overhears Chi-Fu and Shang having a discussion about whether or not the soldiers are ready for battle. Shang believes they are, but Chi-Fu doesn't believe that Shang should even be a Captain, due to him being General Li's son.
"I have the script here and it clearly says that I need to be an asshole to you."
Once Shang leaves Mushu comes up with a plan to get Mulan onto the front lines. It involves forging a message from General Li requesting assistance.
Which, naturally, works perfectly, despite having been written by a cricket.
This scene angers me. Partly because having the cricket do it is unnecessary, but also because he makes a typewriter sound as he does it.
So the trainees pack up and move out. As they march through China they sing a song about having a nice woman to come home to.
And just as the song reaches its' climax, they come across the burnt remains of the village, complete with doll for extra poignancy.
Ouch, my feels!
Things go from bad to worse when Chi-Fu discovers the remains of the Chinese army. Things then manage to get even worse when Chien-Po (The big guy) finds General Li's helmet.
And if you remember, Li was Shang's father.
My feels have been hurt enough already.
Shang takes a moment before returning to his horse. He orders his men to move out, since they have to beat the Huns to the Imperial Palace to warn the remaining army.
But before she leaves, Mulan places the doll at the base of the sword.
AUGH!
They start to cross the mountain when suddenly one of their fireworks blasts out of their cart. Shang is angry because it might give away their position.
"Hey look, someone's giving us free arrows."
Everyone takes cover as a massive horde of Huns charge from over a ridge. And when I say a horde, I mean a horde.
That's just a tiny fraction of the numbers I'm talking about.
Everyone draws their swords and prepares to die in battle. Shang orders Yao to aim the last cannon at Shan-Yu, but Mulan steals it and runs out into the battlefield.
Why?
Because she spotted a cliff covered in snow overlooking the field, so she fires the cannon at it, causing a massive avalanche to engulf the Hun army.
I believe the phrase is "Uh-oh."
Shan-Yu takes a swipe at Mulan but the noise makes his horse rear up, allowing her to escape and get to her own horse, dragging Shang with her (He charged out to help).
Despite getting caught by the avalanche they manage to be saved when Yao fires an arrow with a rope attached, which Mulan ties to her horse's harness.
Now, I'm not an expert on horses, but I'm pretty sure that his back should be broken.
Once he's woken up Shang goes over to Mulan and thanks her for saving their lives and defeating the Huns, going so far as to say that "Fa Ping has earned my eternal trust."
Naturally, Mulan faints from her injury and they take her to a Doctor.
Where they found a Doctor out in the middle of the mountains is beyond me, but hey, Disney movie.
A Disney movie that actually shows blood no less.
While the Doctor gives Shang the good news that Mulan will live, he also gives Shang some odd news.
Mulan is actually female.
"And here I was beginning to think I was gay. Can't have that in a Disney movie."
While Shang stomps away angrily, Chi-Fu grabs Mulan and drags her outside to humiliate her in front of everybody.
He apparently doesn't remember the bit where she saved all of their lives.
Shang grabs Mulan's sword from her horse and strides over to her, but instead of executing her he throws it to the ground, exclaiming his debt to her repaid. Chi-Fu berates him but Shang just orders his men to move out.
That night, after some sulking and some soul-searching, Mulan decides to go home and face her father.
But before she leaves, she spots something that forces her to make a detour.
Is this guy part-Terminator?
Shan-Yu and some of his men managed to survive the avalanche and, despite their losses, they still plan on conquering China.
But as I mentioned, Mulan spots them and races to the Imperial Palace to warn everyone.
Typical man, never listens to a word a woman says.
Shang doesn't listen to Mulan, so she tells Yao and the others to stay on their toes. Just when the emperor is congratulating Shang, the Huns ambush them.
This guy has played way too much Assassin's Creed.
While everyone's distracted by Shan-Yu's sudden appearance, his elite soldiers jump out of hiding and kidnap the Emperor, locking the door to the palace behind them.
The soldiers start battering down the door but Mulan knows they won't make it in time, so what does she do?
Suggest crossdressing of course.
Happy nightmares children.
The team use their sashes to climb some pillars, but just as they do so Shang shows up, using his cape to do the same.
Sadly, he is not in drag.
Elsewhere, Shan-Yu's men drag the Emperor out onto the balcony so that the crowd can watch as Shan-Yu makes the Emperor kneel before him.
"Kneel before Zod!"
His men guard the door, but are suddenly struck by stupid henchmen syndrome and get fooled by the heroes, who surprise them and easily knock them out.
Mulan, we know you're badass, please stop showing off.
Shang charges through the door and saves the Emperor, who is carried to safety by Chien-Po.
Guess he was the Big Damn Hero the entire time.
While the others escape Shan-Yu gets the upper hand against Shang, so Mulan distracts him by throwing her shoe at him. She holds her hair up and he recognises her as the soldier that killed his entire army, which enrages him and allows Mulan to lead him away.
While she runs she encounters Mushu and spots a tower filled with fireworks, which gives her an idea.
Which involves a joke that Disney really shouldn't have gotten away with.
"I'm Batdragon."
Mulan leads Shan-Yu up to the roof and just as he thinks he's got the upper hand, she surprises him one last time.
By getting her pet dragon to fire a massive rocket into him and launching hi into the fireworks tower, where everything explodes.
I told you this movie was amazing.
"Oh you know he dead."
Just as Shan-Yu leaves (In multiple directions at once) our other antagonist arrives, Chi-Fu. He's furious and is blaming everything on Mulan, but is silenced by the Emperor.
The Emperor steps forward and chews out Mulan, summing up all of the crimes she's committed.
But instead of ordering her execution, he congratulates her, since she saved his life.
"Mulan, you wrecked all of the shit! Well done."
The Emperor bows before her, which causes everyone else to bow even lower. 
After being offered Chi-Fu's job (Which she turns down) Mulan is given gifts from the Emperor. She responds by hugging him, which would normally warrant her execution in and of itself, but the Emperor just lets it go. After hugging her friends goodbye, she walks up to Shang, who just tells her that she fights good.
"Seriously dude? You're just gonna let her ride away?"
Back at her home, Mulan's father is sitting in the garden when Mulan returns.
She hands him the gifts the Emperor gave her, but he just throws them aside and hugs her instead.
Dammit movie, stop hitting me in the feels.
Her grandmother complains that she should have brought home a man, but then Shang arrives. Mulan asks him to stay for dinner and her grandmother asks him to stay forever.
Even the ancestors are pleased.
So that was Mulan, an absolutely amazing movie that has spawned a surprising amount of memes.
Sure it had some problems. The villain, cool as he was, wasn't a truly personal foe and felt kinda detached from the plot until the ending. The repeated mood whiplash was a bit much at times. And did we really need hat bloody cricket? Like, at all?
But what was good about this movie stands out. The voice-work was phenomenal, featuring Ming Na-Wen as Mulan. In case you don't know, that's this lady.
It's like the anthropomorphic representation of badassery.
The songs are forgettable for the most part, with one obvious exception. In English it's sung by none other than Donny Osmond, but in Chinese it's sung by Jackie Chan. Both Mandarin and Cantonese.
So that's awesomeness in three languages.

Next time, well, let's just say that I love it when a review comes together.

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