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Mulan (2020) Review

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Mulan 2020

Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Yifei Liu as Mulan
Donnie Yen as Commander Tung
Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan
Yoson An as Chen Honghui
Gong Li as Xianniang
Jet Li as The Emperor of China
Tzi Ma as Hua Zhou
Director: Niki Caro

To save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army, a fearless young woman (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China.

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I was very sceptical about the live action remake Mulan to say the least. I only saw the original Mulan for the first time within the last two years, so it’s not like I had a long running love for it, even though I did like it. However, these live action Disney remakes have mostly just been fine but generic. When I saw the new Mulan I liked it even if I didn’t think it was anything better than okay. But it does get worse the more I think about it.

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One of my biggest complaints of Disney’s live action remakes is that they play things really safe, pretty much just replicating the animated movies in an uninspired way. Mulan did slightly interest me from the trailers as it actually looked like it had a vision beyond just copying the animated movie, it actually looked distinct. Overall, it’s roughly the same movie but there are some small yet significant changes. At first I thought about complementing the movie for at least trying to be something different. With that said, the movie itself didn’t turn out so well, and some of those differences are partly responsible for that. Despite some complaints from others about the filmmakers taking away the music, I don’t really have an issue with that. Most of my issues boil down to three main issues. The first issue I have is with regards some of the changes made. For every aspect they remove from the original animated movie, they don’t necessarily substitute it with something, and so it feels empty a lot of the time. Sometimes some things are also carried over from the animated movie and altered, and end up being rather pointless. An example is that the comedic relief from the original being a dragon played by Eddie Murphy isn’t in this movie. What bothers me isn’t that the character isn’t here in the live action movie, what annoys me is that he is seemingly substituted with a phoenix that only appears a few times of the movie, rather pointless really. I don’t mind the movie taking a serious perspective to make itself stand out from the original. However none of the moments made an impact, it just felt like it was going through the motions. As a result, it feels very bland from beginning to end.

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My second main issue is with regard to the character of Mulan and the overall message. In this new version of Mulan, the lead character is powerful because she has high amounts of chi (which I’ll get back to in a bit). She is pretty much a superhero, which takes away all tension from the action scenes, not to mention takes away relatability from her as a character. Speaking of relatability, it seems like the movie is actively avoiding emotion as well. An important scene where Mulan makes the decision to replace her dad in the coming war was quite powerful in the original. In the remake, the filmmakers just can’t wait to get into that armour and out of there, with not a shred of emotion given. The messaging is also different. Mulan 2020 unlike its predecessor doesn’t work as an empowerment story, aside from the aforementioned lack of relatability of Mulan, it just doesn’t jell with the fact that essentially the story is (and uncomfortably so) rooted in imperial nationalism and devotion to monarchy. Now that’s certainly different from the animated movie, but it’s significantly worse. Then there’s my third issue, although the film looks like it’s being accurate to Chinese culture, from actually hearing from some experts talk about it, it doesn’t quite get it right. It is clear that for all their best attempts, the movie was clearly made by a white crew because it lacks authenticity. I previously mentioned about Mulan apparently being so powered because of her chi, in that she has a lot of it. However, it’s worth knowing that chi is actually energy, not midichlorians or some other power level. So understand that when characters mention that Mulan has a high level of chi, it’s like they are saying that she has a high level of blood or something. Hearing some different perspectives on some of the representation of the culture, in my mind the movie just gets much worse. The rest of the script is pretty bland and by the numbers, doesn’t do enough to keep you invested, characters are forgettable, and you don’t really feel anything throughout.

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The acting is a bit mixed. Some actors like Donnie Yen and Jet Li work well and give reasonably commendable performances. Much of the rest of the cast however are just serviceable and nothing special. Even the lead actress who plays Mulan, Yifei Liu, is okay at best. To be fair most of the issue with her is the writing of the character as previously mentioned, she’s two dimensional and rather bland. The villains are completely forgettable and I don’t really have anything to say about them.

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The direction from Niko Caro is a bit of a mixed bag. The visuals are good (if sometimes in a bland way), and the colours can sometimes be nice. The action scenes is also very flawed, and it’s mainly to do with the very messy editing, there are a lot of cuts during the action. The CGI can be hit or miss, it ranges from being decent to really bad.

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I can’t tell if you’d like the 2020 version of Mulan. If you’re curious about the movie at the very least, then I’d say it’s worth checking out for yourself. If you love the original Mulan, you might take issues with some of the changes. I liked the movie alright when I saw it, but right now, I think it’s rather average at best.

The Farewell (2019) Review

Time: 100 minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Adult themes
Cast:
Awkwafina as Billi Wang
Tzi Ma as Haiyan Wang
Diana Lin as Lu Jian
Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai
Lu Hong as Little Nai Nai
Jiang Yongbo as Haibin
Director: Lulu Wang

A headstrong Chinese-American woman (Awkwafina) returns to China when her beloved grandmother (Shuzhen Zhao) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.

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I’d been hearing about The Farewell a while ago, and I’ve been meaning to get around to it for some time. I just knew it as the movie where a family don’t tell a grandmother about her cancer, very difficult to forget that premise. I heard some great things about it, and having finally gotten around to it, I can confirm that it is very good and for sure worth seeing.

First thing to establish, the story of The Farewell is based off writer and director Lulu Wang’s own life, with a situation where she had to pretend along with the rest of her family that her grandmother didn’t have cancer, while staging a fake wedding so that they could secretly say a final goodbye to her. Knowing this adds a personal level to the movie, and it feels honest throughout. If you looked at the significant events that happen over the course of The Farewell, not much actually happens. It’s a much quieter movie, none of it feels melodramatic or pretentious, and it feels quite real. This is a slower paced and dialogued focused movie, with the dialogue being very well written, witty, emotional, and very strong on the whole. There are some interesting conversations throughout, such as about whether the grandmother should be told about her cancer or not, or the differences between living in China and America. It doesn’t really take sides about any of it, just showing the characters’ perspectives on the topics. From the premise, it sounds like a depressing movie but it’s actually quite funny at many points, while also effectively delivering on the heartfelt moments. Although The Farewell is around an hour and 40 minutes long, you might find this to be slow if you are expecting the runtime to fly by and for it to be very eventful, because that’s not the case. I was expecting a slower and quieter movie, and as that I thoroughly liked it, and it did its job well. Now I think I should just come out and say that I didn’t connect with much that happened, not that I couldn’t empathise with the characters and what they’re dealing with, but I’m fully aware that this movie meant a lot more to others. As for me, I respect it greatly, but I wasn’t as emotionally invested as maybe some other people who love the movie.

I just knew Awkwafina from Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight, generally more comedic roles. However with The Farewell she establishes herself as an impressive dramatic actor, such a genuine and real performance. Another equally great performance is that of the grandmother played by Shuzhen Zhao, she was fantastic here. The bond and chemistry between the two are fantastic. The rest of the cast mostly make up the rest of the family are also pretty good, but it’s Awkwafina and Zhao’s movie really. While I get that, I do wish some of the other characters were developed a little more than how they were.

This is Lulu Wang’s second film, and she’s really directed this well. It’s very well shot, and she really captured the locations well (especially with the movie being almost always set in China). With The Farewell being a dialogue driven movie, Wang did a good job at directing these scenes particularly, keeping the conversations flowing.

The Farewell is a solid, empathetic and heartfelt dramedy. It’s very well written and directed by Lulu Wang, and the acting is great, especially from Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen. Even if you’re a little iffy about the premise, trust me when I say that it’s well worth watching, definitely deserving of all the acclaim it has been receiving.

Arrival (2016) Review

Amy Adams as Louise Banks in ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures

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Time: 116 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast
Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks
Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly
Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber
Michael Stuhlbarg as Agent Halpern
Tzi Ma as General Shang
Director: Denis Villeneuve

Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extra-terrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.

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Arrival (originally called Story of Your Life) was one of the most anticipated films of 2016. With the cast which consisted of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and especially Denis Villeneuve’s involvement, I was excited to see what movie we would get. I have to be completely honest, Arrival is one of my favourite movies of the year, and that’s saying a lot considering the movies I’ve seen this year. The story was great, the direction was flawless, the acting was absolutely fantastic, everything fitted nicely into place. Not everyone will love Arrival, you do need to know what sort of movie they are going into. But I personally loved it, and it really deserves a lot of praise.

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From start to finish, Arrival had me completely riveted. I had no idea which direction the story would go in, and I was satisfied with all the twists and how the story turned out. I think it’s a lot better to not know a lot about this movie before seeing it. With this movie, you need to really pay attention to what is going on, especially when it comes to the last act. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say, its very mind bending and cleverly done. The film is also slower paced and you do need to know that going in. I personally liked the pacing, it is quite slow and steady but I think it personally helped tell its story in a much better way. There’s one other thing I should mention: the ending will divide people. I won’t spoil what happens but I personally loved it. It’s the kind of ending that you really have to think about, and it is absolutely perfect. I have no problems with the ending.

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Amy Adams is absolutely spectacular in the movie, this is really her movie. I won’t reveal what happens with her in the story, but she’s absolutely great. This is really one of Amy Adams’s best performances, and that is saying a lot. She definitely deserves a lot of praise. Jeremy Renner was also really great in a supporting role, and added a lot to the movie. The other supporting cast, consisting of actors such as Forrest Whittaker are also great. The acting from all the talented cast was excellent.

Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly in ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures

The cinematography is absolutely beautiful, this is Denis Villeneuve’s best looking movie, and that’s saying a lot, considering that he directed Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario. The CGI was fantastic, at no point was it overused or looked fake. The design of the alien beings and the way it was done was so great and effective, the aliens as a whole were created quite original. The soundtrack by Jóhann Jóhannsson is absolutely beautiful and added a lot to the movie.

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You do need to know what you’re getting into, don’t go into Arrival expecting a fast paced, alien encounter sci-fi movie. It takes the alien encounter story we’ve seen so many times before and takes it to whole new levels. Even though you need to know what type of film you’re watching, the less you know about the film itself the better. There are so many surprises that you won’t predict. I can’t really find any flaw with this movie honestly. Arrival is one of those movies that gets better and better the more I think about it. Go out and see Arrival as soon as possible.