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Posts Tagged ‘Donnie Yen’

Liu Yifei

“MULAN” My rating: B (Begins streaming Sept. 3 on various platforms)

115 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Disney’s new live-action “Mulan” occupies a precarious sweet spot that is hard to establish and perhaps harder to keep.

The film is simple enough (and inoffensive enough) for children, yet possesses ample thematic depth and technical imagination to engage adults.

Well, most adults, anyway. Certainly those adults who will end up watching it with their offspring.

The story is already familiar to many of us, thanks to several centuries of Chinese folklore and numerous film adaptations, especially the 1998 animated Disney version.  The premise finds a young woman, Mulan, disguising herself as a man and taking her aged/injured father’s place in the Emperor’s army in a fight to repel ruthless invaders.

It hardly needs pointing out that the yarn’s feminist credentials remain timely. Moreover, director Niki Caro has made a career of female empowerment with titles like the sublime “Whale Rider” and the gut-punching “North Country.” She knows her way around the subject.

But she also brings to this incarnation martial arts action reminiscent of Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and a David Lean-worthy sense of place and space (although with Lean you knew  those spectacular sunsets and sand dunes were the real deal; here they may have sprung from a computer program).

And in young Chinese star Liu Yifei the film has a heroine able to suggest her character’s inner drive and thoughts while presenting a manly — i.e., emotion-smothering — face to the outside world. (Has there ever been a lead female role with so little smiling?)

This “Mulan” forgoes the musical numbers of the animated version, not to mention the goofy dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy. Instead it emphasizes visual beauty and battle (albeit PG-13 battle…these soldiers die bloodlessly).

The villain here is Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), the scarred, long-haired barbarian leader seeking revenge for the death of his father years before. With an army of gravity-defying ninjas, Bori Khan is relentlessly marching into China, intent on personally slaying the aging Emperor (Jet Li).

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rogue-one-at-act“ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY” My rating: C+

133 minutes | MPAA rating: R

After nearly 40 years of Wookies, Jedis and Imperial storm troopers, am I finally over the whole “Star Wars” thing?

The sad truth is that I was underwhelmed — sometimes flat-out bored — by “Rogue One,” the latest addition to the “SW” universe.

And here’s the thing…it’s  not a bad movie.  Certainly not bad like the three George Lucas-driven prequels were.

“Rogue One” is reasonably well acted and technically flawless. Moreover, it’s an attempt to make a more adult, racially-diverse “Star Wars” film, a stand-alone tale that is darker both thematically (it’s like an intergalactic Alamo where everyone goes down fighting) and visually.

Nevertheless, “Rogue One” is emotionally lifeless. I didn’t care.

Director Gareth Edwards and the producers and writers have worked so hard to hit familiar buttons of “Star Wars” mythology that the resulting film feels generic, as if it were directed by a committee rather than a single visionary individual.

The plot, for those who have been living in the spice mines of Kessel, follows the efforts of a team of rebel spies to steal the plans for the Death Star, an enterprise that will result in the destruction of said moon-sized weapon by Luke Skywalker in the original “Star Wars” movie.

Our heroine is Jyn (Felicity Jones), whose scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was taken from her to develop the Death Star.  After years of crime and imprisonment, Jyn is given an opportunity by the Rebel Alliance. She will be part of a team tasked with finding Galen and getting those precious plans.

They’re a mixed bag of idealists and pragmatic warriors.

Foremost among them is Cassian (Diego Luna), the ostensible head of the team who, unbeknownst to Jyn, as been secretly ordered to assassinate her father, lest his genius bring the Death Star to completion.

Chirrut (Donnie Yen) is a blind swordsman who relies on The Force to battle enemies. A pretty obvious nod to a subgenre of samurai films, he’s got a grouchy partner (Wen Jiang) who fights with a monstrous hand cannon.

Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) is a pilot who knows his way around the Empire’s military outposts.

Best of the bunch is  K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a towering droid made by the Empire but reprogrammed to serve the Rebel Alliance.  Apparently K-2SO also was given a microchip for sarcasm and irony, which he exercises regularly at the expense of his human cohorts. (more…)

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