Disney's live action adaptation of Mulan is a soaring epic that will thrill global audiences. A valiant young woman defies the rigid patriarchy of ancient China to fight for her country. Mulan faces thundering invaders on horseback, a powerful shapeshifting witch, and the shame of her treasured family. The beautifully shot film captures her journey of self-discovery against formidable obstacles. Mulan is immensely entertaining with a whole lot of heart.
The story begins in a remote Chinese village. Hua Mulan (Crystal Rao) is a rambunctious, but athletically gifted girl. Her father, Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma), recognizes her strong Qi, or life force. His daughter has the spirit of a warrior. But a woman's place is in the house and not on a battlefield. Mulan's exasperated mother (Rosalind Chao) worries she will never marry, and bring dishonor to their family. Mulan must hide her abilities to preserve her family's good name.
Years later, a fierce Rouran tribal leader, Bori Kahn (Jason Scott Lee), attacks Imperial garrisons from the north. He has disrupted trade on the Silk Road and threatens China. The Emperor (Jet Li) issues an edict. Every family will send one man to fight for the Imperial Army. Hua Zhou was crippled in the previous war, but is determined to serve again. A grown Mulan (Liu Yifei) refuses to see her beloved father die. She steals his sword, armor, and horse; then enlists in the army as a man, Hua Jun.
Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) is impressed with Hua Jun's training. The young man has distinguished himself from the other soldiers. Mulan goes to great lengths to hide her secret. The penalty for dishonesty is death. Bori Kahn's forces have made their way to the training outpost. Mulan is spectacular in the battle, but surprised by an unforeseen adversary. Bori Kahn's secret weapon is the exiled witch, Xian Lang (Gong Li). She recognizes Hua Jun is really a woman, and just beginning to understand the true nature of her Qi.
Mulan is markedly different from the 1998 animated film. There's no singing or dancing here. Director Niki Caro (North Country, The Zookeeper's Wife) delivers a Chinese war drama in the vein of Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There are stunning battle scenes, expertly choreographed martial arts duels, and awesome supernatural visual effects. The film deftly blends the lore of Chinese culture into a tale of female empowerment. The underlying message drives the narrative without being burdensome. Mulan learns her differences are a strength not a weakness. You cannot change others if you don't believe in yourself.
Mulan is quite similar to a Star Wars film. It's not a space opera, but shares many characteristics. Mulan's Qi, life force, grows as she reaches her true potential. Xian Lang sees what she can become. Xian Lang represents the lure of the "dark side". She was also a young girl with a strong Qi. Her villainous turn was the product of ignorance and sexism. The witch offers a seductive alternate path. Why should Mulan serve a system that represses her? Their subplot takes the film in a completely unexpected direction.
My only quibble is the level of violence. I could have used more blood during the fight scenes. Alas, this is a family film. Mulan is a blockbuster on all fronts. I was even impressed by the end credits. Mulan is a production of Walt Disney Pictures. It will have a theatrical release in countries without Disney Plus. The streaming service will offer Premier Access to Mulan for $29.99 on September 4th.