(Mild spoilers for the 1998 Disney animated film below.)
Both films are based on the Chinese legend, “The Ballad of Hua Mulan,” telling the story of a young woman in the Northern Wei era (spanning 386-536 CE) who takes her father’s place when each family is required to provide one male to serve in the emperor’s army.
In this version, Hua Mulan is already a well-trained fighter—the Arya Stark of Chinese legend—and she serves for 12 years with none of her fellow soldiers ever suspecting her true gender.
Disney’s 1998 animated film broadly follows the traditional storyline, except Mulan is not well-trained when she first runs away. The film also added a love interest, and a catchy original soundtrack. was released to critical acclaim, grossing $304 million worldwide and earning Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. That was a marked improvement on Disney’s prior two animated films, and , but well below the box office success of classics like , and T. But it was good enough to merit a direct-to-video sequel in 2004, and a spot on the roster of the studio’s ongoing live action remakes.
The remake is being described as more of a “war action drama,” and there’s only the barest hint of the animated film’s soundtrack in the background, but it’s still the same essential plot. Per the official synopsis:
When the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders, Hua Mulan, the eldest daughter of an honored warrior, steps in to take the place of her ailing father. Masquerading as a man, Hua Jun, she is tested every step of the way and must harness her inner-strength and embrace her true potential. It is an epic journey that will transform her into an honored warrior and earn her the respect of a grateful nation…and a proud father.
I am not usually a big fan of Disney’s live action remakes of their classic animated films, but I have to admit, this is an effective, sumptuously eye-catching teaser for one of my favorites in the Disney . We see our free-spirited heroine (played by Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei) riding her horse across the Chinese countryside, only to come home to the news that her family’s matchmaker has found her an auspicious match. “It is decided,” Mulan’s father, Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma), says, perhaps sensing his daughter isn’t exactly thrilled by the news. “It is what is best for our family.”
And of course, Mulan initially submits: “Yes. I will bring honor to us all.” Cut to her training in the art of being the perfect Chinese wife, where we are treated to a litany of desired virtues: quiet, composed, graceful, disciplined. But Mulan embodies them in her own way, as we see her secretly practicing martial arts, before running away to take her father’s place in the emperor’s army to fend off an attack by Hun warrior Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee)—originally known as Shan You in the original animated film.
Mulan also has a sister, Hua Xiu (Xana Tang) in the live action version, which also includes a new Khan ally: a witch named Xianniang (Gong Li). These elements may derive from the , a 17th century tragic novel based on the Mulan legend, in which Mulan has a younger sister and bonds with a fellow female warrior named Xianniang.
is slated for theatrical release on March 27, 2020.