Mulan gets comical

Taiwanese singer Lee Chien-na (holding helmet) plays Mulan and Singapore actress Ann Kok (with star ornament in her hair) is her older pregnant sister.
Taiwanese singer Lee Chien-na (holding helmet) plays Mulan and Singapore actress Ann Kok (with star ornament in her hair) is her older pregnant sister.PHOTO: RESORTS WORLD SENTOSA

In this heartlander-friendly show set in ancient China, the characters speak like Ah Bengs and Ah Lians in Singapore

REVIEW / MUSICAL

MULAN THE MUSICAL

Resorts World Sentosa, Tainaner Ensemble and Studio M, Resorts World Theatre/Thursday

With a number of movies and drama series already made on the subject, not many people can say they are unfamiliar with the legendary tale of Hua Mulan, a Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man to serve in the army in place of her elderly father.

So it is no spoiler to say that Mulan's true gender is eventually revealed in this two-hour Mandarin musical. But before this, there is much dramatic material to work with. This production transforms Mulan's cross-dressing act into comedy, introducing twists and turns which depart from the original legend and the popular 1998 Disney animated film adaptation.

To be clear, this is not highbrow entertainment. Rather, the show is positioned as heartlander-friendly fare, with madcap humour peppered with local colloquialisms.

  • BOOK IT / MULAN THE MUSICAL

  • WHERE: Resorts World Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa, 8 Sentosa Gateway

    WHEN: Till Feb 5, on selected nights at 8pm

    ADMISSION: $38 to $128 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

    INFO: The show is rated Advisory 16 for mature content and coarse language

Singlish phrases such as "jialat" and "wah lao eh" make it into the dialogue. And phrases related to national service are especially plentiful, with the army camp's company sergeant major - played by local actor Pierre Png - called "encik" (Malay for "mister"), for example.

Local actress Ann Kok also has a starring role as Mulan's older pregnant sister. The mishmash of languages and slang may seem jarring at first. But if you suspend your disbelief, it is possible to immerse yourself in this fantastical world set in ancient China, where the characters speak like Ah Bengs and Ah Lians in Singapore.

Heartlanders might find this endearing and relatable, although these references might be lost on foreign audiences. Nonetheless, the attempt to localise the Mulan legend is refreshing.

While the effeminate stereotype is repeatedly milked for comedic effect during the show, the final message seems to be an inclusive one, healing the tensions surrounding gender and people who do not perform according to expected norms.

Perhaps the weakest link of the production is the singing of the female lead, Taiwanese singer Lee Chien-na, who plays Mulan. Although sweet and tender, her voice seems weak and shaky when taking on the more rousing numbers. And in the higher registers, such as during the contemplative song Not What I Wish To Do, she struggles.

Thankfully, one of the male leads, Taiwanese singer Chou Ting-wei, does much better as the army camp's general. His expressive delivery - at times commanding with confidence, at others trembling with emotion and uncertainty - makes him the standout performer in this breezy comedy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2016, with the headline 'Mulan gets comical'. Print Edition | Subscribe