I have to admit my experiences with Mulan as a child are limited. I only saw it once, because after leaving the theater, we found out my aunt had locked her keys in the car and it was a major drag. So I never watched the movie again.
That's probably why I am so excited to see the new Mulan in my own home, especially because it's acclaimed filmmaker Niki Caro bringing the epic tale of China’s legendary warrior to life!
The story remains the same as the animated tale, or as Disney puts it, "A fearless young woman risks everything out of love for her family and her country to become one of the greatest warriors China has ever known. When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father."
Yeah, that sounds epic.
But a lot goes into making movies like this one. Let's take a look behind the scenes.
One of the coolest takeaways here is the story of Yifei Liu as Mulan. I love seeing accomplished martial artists make the transition onto mainstream film. It made me pumped for the action within this story. Accompanying her on-screen is fellow martial artist Donnie Yen as Commander Tung.
We all get Tzi Ma as Zhou, Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan, Yoson An as Honghui, Ron Yuan as Sergeant Qiang, with Gong Li as Xianniang and Jet Li as the Emperor.
I have a very soft spot for Jet Li, so it's cool seeing him play older and getting more time in front of the camera.
Some of the sets here are massive. You can really see the budget and scope of the story on display. Caro praises Yifei Liu’s (Mulan) acting and physicality in the film, which inspired the other actors. She also talks about the impressive martial arts skills of Donnie Yen (Commander Tung), which had to be filmed in slow motion in order for the director to see everything he was doing.
News that cinematographer Mandy Walker (Hidden Figures, Australia) and director Niki Caro have made the most of an epic scale of locations, large format photography, and visual effects largely kept in-camera should be exciting for everyone planning on watching at home.
How did they do it?
“We did a lot of previz for the stunts, ordered for filming in such a way that we could capture individual shot elements. We also used storyboards so we could align where and how to join between one location and another shot,” Walker explains. “There’s not a lot of CGI in this movie. We try to use location backgrounds to reduce the amount of matting and as much as possible we shot in-camera. The horses are ridden by Mongolian stunt riders who travelled to New Zealand for this scene.”
It was all hands on deck with the planning. Both Walker and Caro had to be on the same page to get these shots and keep the actors safe.
“I went with Niki to these rehearsals which might be of 100 people and 60 horses and, with a lens and finder, I’d line-up angles and take note of the choreography to plan where our camera should go. In this scene, I’ve used a Russian arm to travel with the horse riders and a cable-cam running on the top. There’s also a drone but only for very wide shots. I don’t like using drones, especially large drones carrying heavy payloads, close to actors or horses because it can be dangerous.”
For our camera fans out there, the A camera for the picture is the ARRI Alexa 65 recording ARRIRAW at 6K.
For wider shots, Walker used Panavision Sphero 65 glass, but for closer portrait shots of Mulan, she had a portrait lens specifically made by Panavision and based on Petzval Portrait lenses.
Mulan is coming to Disney+ Premier Access on September 4th where subscribers can pay $29.99 to see it.