Lady General Hua Mulan (1964) Review

"Lady General Hua Mulan" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Lady General Hua Mulan" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Lady General Hua Mu-lan
Director: Griffin Yueh Feng
Writer: Ko Jui Fen, Dung Chin Lee
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Cast: Ivy Ling Po, Chin Han, Chen Yan Yan, Cheung Kwong Chiu, Yeung Chi Hing, Wu Ma, Lee Kwan, Kok Lee Yan, Cheng Miu, Lee Wan Chung, Feng Yi, Han Ying Chieh
Running Time: 106 min.

By JJ Hatfield

When the Mongols banded together with other nomadic tribes, they invaded China, beginning with the outlying border towns. The edict went out from the Emperor, reaching every family in the land, to send forth one male – of fighting age – to protect the country from the marauding hordes. Master Hua intended to honor the call to duty; however, he was no longer a young man fit for battle. Concerned for his safety, his daughter, Mu-lan, convinces Master Hua that he need not sacrifice himself in order to uphold the family honor.

The story of Hua Mu-lan (or Mulan) – which originated as a brief poem from the 6th century Northern Wei Dynasty – was so stirring, it not only survived, but grew in length over generations; it was eventually written as a full book by the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The story of Mu-lan is an old and cherished one for the Chinese, but many people will recognize the name from the animated Disney film version or from one of the numerous other movies, plays, operas and books.

Lady General Hua Mu-lan smoothly melds traditional Huangmei Opera with the cinematic touch of the Shaw Brothers Studio. Huangmei Opera was developed in the mid-1800’s, in the tea-producing, Huangmei region of China. Initially created of folk songs, people would sing while collecting and preparing tea. The operas became incredibly popular, not only around Huangmei, but across China and beyond.

A 24-year-old Ivy Ling Po touched a nation when she starred in the The Love Eterne (1963), a film that helped bring Huangmei Opera to the big screen. Her brilliant performance in that film led to the title role in Lady General Hua Mu-lan.

Ling Po’s film career began at the age of 12, but even as a very young child, she was immersed in Huangmei Opera. Known for her beautiful voice and acting ability, she often dubbed the songs for other actresses in films and operas.

Ling Po has an incredible gift of connecting with audiences, and Lady General Hua Mu-lan is no exception. Her expressive face, fluid movements and fighting skills are superb. She demonstrates an excellent stage presence and is amazingly adept at portraying both male and female roles. Make no mistake, Lady General Hua Mu-lan suceeds because of Ling Po, which explains why she received the Best Actress award for her powerful role.

Yueh Feng (The Bells of Death) directed and co-wrote the lively script for Lady General Hua Mu-lan. He is quite experienced in the genre, directing for the Shaw Brothers for over a dozen years, and the Great Wall Company, before that.

As with many of the earlier Shaw movies involving war, there are numerous action choreographers, but none are specifically credited (Hong Kong Cinemagic lists Han Ying Chieh as one of them). It appears that in some of the big battle scenes, the actors/fighters on the periphery were not given much direction on what they were supposed to be doing. The lack of experience, or care, in lensing some of the scenes, is frustrating.

In China- and other countries in southeast Asia – it has been only in recent times that women were able to act in theater or operas. Lady General Hua Mu-lan is one of a very few Chinese stories that even suggests gender equity, which was extremely rare, especially in literature that has survived the ages. Although women in China have always fought to defend their family or land, never has a woman, posing as a male, risen to the rank of general.

Even if you think you know the story of Mu-lan, you haven’t experienced it like this before. This is a wonderful historic version, and as far as I am concerned, the best at portraying all of the primary characters, especially the title character.

Lady General Hua Mu-lan is more intense and darker than modern remakes, especially the wretched, mixed up mess of Disney’s cutesy cartoon, Mulan. The Disney version was a huge commercial success (it sold lots of dolls, DVDs, CDs, backpacks, school supplies and…), but it bears no resemblance to the original story, other than in name. This version is far superior and stays true to the original adventure of Mu-lan.

Lady General Hua Mu-lan is an excellent film that everyone will enjoy.

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 9/10

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About JJ Hatfield

i like movies
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