At the heart of Disney’s live-action “Mulan” is the unflinching resilience of China and its people — a theme director Niki Caro feels is “particularly poignant right now” amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“At this difficult time, we hope that Mulan’s spirit continues to inspire around the world,” Caro said, sending love to China ahead of the screening at the film’s Los Angeles premiere Monday night at the Dolby Theatre. “You are a living testament to Mulan and ... bring honor to us all.”
The cast and creatives of the forthcoming remake converged on Hollywood Boulevard as planned Monday, despite recent cancellations of several other high-profile entertainment events worldwide because of coronavirus concerns. Barring the occasional elbow bump (in place of a handshake or hug), most were undeterred by any potential health risks the crowded red carpet and screening might have posed.
However, many expressed sympathy for those living in areas severely affected by the outbreak, which originated in title star Liu Yifei‘s birthplace: Wuhan, China.
“My heart goes out to them, and I wish them all the best,” said Tzi Ma, who plays the father Mulan saves by joining the Imperial Army in his stead. “I think they’re doing really the best job they know how, given the severity of what went on.”
Others encouraged the public to take proper hygiene and safety precautions, stressing the importance of global unity as the growing threat of a pandemic continues to cause panic.
“What’s happening right now is really unfortunate, and it’s really chaotic,” said Yoson An, who plays Mulan’s fellow soldier — and new love interest — Chen Honghui. “To solve this outbreak, we have to work together as one ... because we’ve got one planet, and really, beyond our appearances and cultures, we’re one people. We all feel and experience the same emotions and ups and downs in life. So yeah, I think our priority right now is to focus on everybody’s health and wellness.”
Currently, the majority of movie theaters in mainland China — accounting for about 70,000 screens — are closed because of the epidemic. As such, the China releases of several titles, including “Mulan,” have been postponed indefinitely. Still, Ma has high hopes for the war epic when it eventually reaches its Chinese audience.
“Once everything calms down, and they’ve got this thing under control, they will get the opportunity to witness this film, which we feel very proud that we’ve represented China well,” Ma said. “Hopefully it will build some bridges. Embrace the panda. Don’t fight the dragon.”
Jimmy Wong, who plays Ling and protected himself against germs by “not touching my face and making sure that I will wash my hands for 20-plus seconds once this is all over,” echoed Ma’s sentiments.
“I really hope that they do the best that they can to take care of themselves, maybe practice a new hobby while they’re quarantined, and when the movie finally does come out, go to it as a celebration to finally be back out and to watch something that unites everyone together,” Wong said.
The “Mulan” team seemed confident Chinese moviegoers would embrace the adaptation upon its delayed debut, in part because it aims to honor Chinese culture by returning to the original ballad of Mulan, while also paying homage to its beloved animated predecessor.
“When you have the opportunity to make something in live action, you have the opportunity to make it real, and the journey of this character from village girl to male soldier to warrior and hero was so interesting to me and really demanded that we do it justice in a real way,” Caro said. “It was really important to me to bring through iconic moments or sequences or songs from the animation into the live action, and I hope my love for that glorious movie shows through this one.”
Among the changes fans of the 1998 classic can expect are a younger sister for Mulan, a mysterious new villain played by Gong Li and subtler, instrumental versions of songs like “Reflection” and “Honor to Us All.” As noted by co-screenwriters Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, Mulan is not “discovered and outed against her will” this time, unlike “every other version of ‘Mulan.’”
And, as indicated by its PG-13 rating, this “Mulan” skews slightly more mature, featuring intense battle sequences and complex emotional themes.
“I love the animation, OK. But animation is animation. It’s geared toward a younger audience,” Ma said. “Live action’s live action. You see these people as real. So in that sense, it’s kind of more of an adult version of the legend.”
“They can expect a really adrenalized, muscular, spectacular action movie — but that is also emotional, deeply felt in its heart and humor,” Caro said. “I think they can expect to be entertained and moved and, I hope, inspired.”
“Mulan” hits theaters March 27.