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November 26, 2009

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This 'Mulan' is no cartoon

MORE than a decade after Disney made a blockbuster animated film out of a folk tale about a young woman in ancient China who takes her father's place on the battlefield, a Hong Kong director is taking on the story of Hua Mulan with real actors.

Jingle Ma said his live-action version of "Mulan" avoids glorifying one of China's best-known female folk heroes, instead focusing on her vulnerabilities and relationships. Ma said he delved into Mulan's trepidation when killing for the first time and confronting the death of her comrades.

"The animated movie tells you she is cheerful. She's a little godlike in that she can solve all her problems. She can use her wits to solve many of her problems. But it doesn't discuss her deepest emotions," he said in a recent interview.

In Ma's 115-minute movie, opening in China, Singapore and Malaysia tomorrow, gone are the goofy antics of a sidekick dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy and the smooth Broadway-style numbers performed by "Miss Saigon" star Lea Salonga, replaced with the bloody, gritty reality of war. One of the movie's shots shows Mulan, played by Chinese actress Zhao Wei, sprayed with blood on her face after killing a general from a foreign tribe.

It's debated whether Hua Mulan is a historical figure. The basis of the folk story is largely a 300-word poem from the Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420 -589) that gives the broad sketches of her life, leaving plenty to the imagination of the storyteller.

"Most people think Hua Mulan is a god, but I think Hua Mulan is a woman," Ma said.

American and European distribution deals for the 80 million yuan (US$12 million) production are still being negotiated.


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