| March 6, 2022
The opening of Mulan, after a magic drone ride through the lush, green Chinese countryside with some wise male voice over about the story we are about to embark on, reminded me of Beauty & The Beast. The camera swoops into a Hakka walled village, establishing the town of personalities and, indeed, Mulan, who is chasing a chicken.
It isn’t long before dad is telling little Mulan to hide her light under a bushel in order to be a traditional girl in a traditional world. This fills the void of an opening musical number like “Belle,” in which everyone opines on the beautiful, quirky girl with her face always in a book. (I bet she could handle a chicken pretty well too.)
Then, as fast a running bird, the movie turns into an Ang Lee/Zhang Yimou high-end chop-socky movie with some great Chinese action stars and the man who was once Bruce Lee.
The rest of the way through Mulan, the film hops back and forth between the two ideas. Fish out of water meets a legitimate Chinese war movie with the requisite touch of magic.
There is something about the reality of Mulan being a real-life teenage girl that changes the dynamic of the whole experience, as compared to the animated film. Director Niki Caro never mocks… never goes for the easy gag…. never forgets that her Mulan is a real life young woman.
As a result, there is something truly dangerous about this young woman pretending to be a boy to defend the honor of her family (and ultimately, to do much more than that). The frathouse culture that sometimes comes of military training is as uncomfortable as the occasional threats that lying to could lead to death or worse. But Mulan is not a sexualized girl at all, though the actress is beautiful. Caro & Co. don’t indulge in anachronisms. Nor is she a plain Jane who finds her beauty when she takes off her glasses or her kimono or her battle gear. She is from a time long past and she feels real.
There is a lot of classic moviemaking… characters you are interested in talking for extended periods. And it’s lovely. Caro’s films, large-budget and small, have included this. As impressive as Mandy Walker’s cinematography is, the intimacy brings the magic.
And then… it’s just fun. Big canvas. Solid action. Plenty of weird Shaw Bros stuff done with a great deal more sophistication. There’s the wacky boys in military training, a dumb jock and a round-faced goof amongst them, and – hee-hee – the cute one.
Yes… She will only become a great fighter when she rocks out with her… uh… hair down. This is no spoiler. And there are moments that read as silly. But that is part of the joy.
The reason the movie works – and it really works – is that you want to believe, you like this rather silent young woman, you are rooting for her to find her higher self, and Ms. Caro never gets in your way, making the experience too sweet or too sour.
There’s even a Marilyn Monroe homage… but I’ll let you find that.
After my 10-year-old watched the film with us (“What do you mean there’s no Mushu!?!?”), we turned on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but he wasn’t ready for the subtlety of that one. Executioners from Shaolin is probably a better fit. But he had a great time, even without Mushu.
As for whether it’s worth $30 to see now instead of in December as part of the regular Disney+ package… that’s up to you. I can promise you won’t feel ripped off by the movie. Value for the dollar is in the eye of the beholder.
| March 6, 2022
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"Netflix, the great disrupter whose algorithms and direct-to-consumer platform have forced powerful media incumbents to rethink their economic models, now seems to need a big strategy change itself. It got me thinking about the simple idea that my film and TV production company Blumhouse is built on: If you give artists a lot of creative freedom and a little money upfront but a big stake in the movie’s or TV show’s commercial success, more often than not the result will be both commercial (the filmmakers are incentivized to make films that will resonate with audiences) and artistically interesting (creative freedom!). This approach has yielded movies as varied as Get Out (made for $4.5 million, with worldwide box office receipts of more than $250 million), Whiplash (made for $3.3 million, winner of three Academy Awards), The Invisible Man (made for $7 million, earned more than $140 million) and Paranormal Activity (made for $15,000, grossed more than $190 million).From the beginning, the most important strategy I used to persuade artists to work with me was to make radically transparent deals: We usually paid the artists (“participants” in Hollywood lingo) the absolute minimum allowable by union contracts upfront, with the promise of healthy bonuses based on actual box office results—instead of the opaque 'percentage points' that artists are usually offered. Anyone can see box office results immediately, so creators don’t quarrel with the payouts. In fact, when it comes time for an artist to collect a bonus based on box office receipts, I email a video clip of myself dropping the check off at FedEx to the recipient."
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