Mulan (Hua Mulan) (Blu-ray) (2009)

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Released 5-Oct-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Gallery-Photo
Trailer-x 9 but not for this film
System Test-TS-HD MA Audio Sound Check
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 114:16
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jingle Ma
Wei Dong
Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring Zhao Wei
Jaycee Chan
Yu Rongguang
Hu Jun
Chen Kun
Xu Jiao
Vitas
Liu Yuxin
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $49.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Chinese DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

“There are no heroes on the battlefield, only dead men and crazy ones”: Hua Ha

     The figure of Mulan first appeared in a Chinese poem in the 6th century AD. Her exploits are set in the period of the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534 AD) and the tale of her deeds was augmented in a number Chinese poems, novels, operas and films before coming to the attention of Western audiences through the 1998 Disney animated feature complete with songs and talking animals. This 2009 version of Mulan (original title Hua Mulan) is an epic live action film, staring Zhao Wei (Red Cliff (2008)) as the eponymous heroine.

     When Wei dynasty China is threatened by the marauding Rouran tribesmen from the northern steppe, the Emperor calls up men from the villages to form an army to oppose them. One man summonsed is Hau Hu (Yu Rongguang) but he is old and ill and to save him his daughter Mulan (Zhao Wei) disguises herself as a man and answers the call in his place. Also called up from the same village is Fei (Jaycee Chan) who agrees to help Mulan hide her subterfuge. In the soldiers’ camp, Mulan meets Wentai (Chen Kun); he discovers Mulan’s true gender but, when the Rourans attack and Mulan shows her fighting qualities, he also stays silent. Indeed, Wentai and Mulan prove to be such a successful military team they are both promoted by the Emperor and become generals of the northern armies, leading a successful fight against the Rourans for a decade. In all this time although the attraction between them grows it must remain unfulfilled and Mulan struggles against her feelings for Wentai. She also becomes disillusioned with the endless war, and the deaths of her friends on the battlefield in the seemingly endless cycle of invasion, ambushes and bloodshed.

     The stakes are raised when the brutal and violent Mendu (Hu Jun) succeeds his father as leader of the nomad tribes and he launches a massive invasion of the Wei heartlands. Betrayed by her superiors, Mulan has to try to save her soldiers, protect her country and end the cycle of bloodshed through an unlikely alliance, even if it means giving up the man she has loved for a decade.

     Mulan is not primarily a martial arts film, or even an action film although there are some pitched battles. Instead it is a love story, albeit unfulfilled, which suits the abilities of Zhao Wei as the eponymous heroine. She is not a natural martial artist, although she does well enough; instead she is an excellent actor and seems to be the rising female star of Chinese cinema. She has, for example, essayed a memorable performance in John Woo’s Red Cliff (2008), where she held her own against a galaxy of male superstars, and played opposite Donny Yen in 14 Blades (2010), where her character was vulnerable, feisty, beautiful and very feminine. In Mulan, although she is the lead, she actually has less to do but is still delightful and watchable and she proves that she can hold a film together in her own right.

     In Butterfly Lovers (2008) (reviewed on this site here), director Jingle Ma took another Chinese legend and mingled romantic drama and martial arts with indifferent results. Mulan, which he made the next year, is more of the same blend, if on a larger historic scale and with larger action sequences. Yet, while the battles in Mulan are chaotic and noisy, the staging is not convincing and the martial arts on show fall well below those, for example, in Red Cliff. This means that for those of the audience who want action the romance intrudes. The romance is also not fully successful; although Wei is good, the unfulfilled desires of the main characters do not achieve the same level of suppressed feeling that was so beautifully realised in, say, the romance between Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).

     This is not to say that Mulan is a bad film; it is not and it is a better and more entertaining film than Butterfly Lovers. Where Mulan, does work is in its examination of the nature of heroism. In the character of the female general Mulan and in the depictions of the bloody aftermath of battle; it does not glorify war - the consequences are bloody and anything but heroic, as Mulan’s “brothers” die in the cycle of violence and bloodshed that no-one seems able to stop. The film also looks stunning, with some wonderful vistas and beautifully framed sequences courtesy of cinematographer Tony Cheung (who is on a roll, being also responsible for Three Kingdoms (2008) and 14 Blades (2010)). And, of course, Zhao Wei is delightful. If only Mulan had mixed the romance and action more seamlessly, or concentrated on one or the other, it could have been far more cogent and satisfying than it is.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Blu-ray of Mulan is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in 1080p.

     The print is pristine. Detail is excellent with exceptional clarity showing every aspect of costumes and armour. Colours are deep and natural, skin tones good, brightness and contract consistent. Blacks are deep and shadow detail exceptional. I noticed no film or film to video artefacts.

     Burnt in English subtitles are in a white font. They are quite small, were sometimes hard to read against light backgrounds and occasionally flashed by too quickly to read completely. I did not notice any spelling or grammatical errors.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Audio is Chinese DTS MA HD 5.1. For the first half of the film it was fairly subdued although dialogue was always clear and the surrounds used for ambient sounds and music. Then, around the hour mark, a battle occurs and the audio bursts into life; drums boom, horses thud across the sound stage, arrows fly and thump into their targets and the walls rock very nicely! The sub woofer also kicked in here, whereas previously it had been more subdued.

     Lip synchronisation seemed occasionally to be slightly off, but was not distracting.

     Li Si Song is credited with the theme music but otherwise I cannot find a composer listed. The score is quite epic, with strings reminiscent of Yo Yo Ma, as well as voices. It works well and supports the visuals effectively.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     These trailers play on start up (and need to be individually skipped): A Christmas Tale (2:09), 13 Assassins (2:22) and Bunraku (2:14). The trailers selected through the menu are a different group, as detailed below.

Wu Xing Collection Trailers

     Included here are: 14 Blades (2:43), The Lost Bladesman (1:04), Red Cliff (1:48), Three Kingdoms (1:09), Bruce Lee: My Brother (2:39) and Fireball (2:39).

Photo Gallery

     40 film images. Silent, use the remote to advance.

DTS- HD MA Audio Sound Check

     Speaker set up.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region Free US Blu-ray has no extras, the UK Region B release seems the same as ours but with different trailers. The Region A HK release is Region A locked and comes with a huge collection of worthwhile extras on a second DVD disc – which is coded Region 3. The extras include

     The HK release is the best available due to the extras. I do own it and can confirm that both the feature and extras have English subtitles. However, the Blu-ray is Region A locked and the DVD Region 3. If your system will not support those Regions, our Region B version is as good as any Region B friendly release currently available.

Summary

     Mulan looks stunning, with some wonderful vistas and beautifully framed sequences, and Zhao Wei is always watchable. If the film had only mixed the romance and action more seamlessly, or concentrated upon one or the other, it could have been more satisfying.

     The video and audio are very good, the extras limited to a picture gallery and some trailers.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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