MULAN (2020)


NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy

As the sun rises over a village in China, former soldier Hua Zhou (Tzi Ma) narrates the story of his daughter, Mulan. Since she was a child (here played by Crystal Rao), Mulan was always fearless and heading into trouble. She is seen chasing a chicken throughout the village, leading to her running across the rooftops. One of the tiles slips and causes her to fall, but Mulan catches her balance and lands safely, although she accidentally breaks the wing of a phoenix statue.

That night, her mother Li (Rosalind Chao) talks to Zhou about Mulan’s behavior, worrying that she will not bring honor to the family as a wife, and that her sister Xiu (Elena Askin) will be more of a viable wife. Zhou talks to Mulan and tells her the legend of the phoenix, who is meant to be the guardian of the Emperor. He acknowledges that Mulan has a strong chi but thinks that chi is for warriors (men). Zhou is confident that Mulan will find a way to bring honor to her family in some way.

Years later on the Silk Road, a witch named Xianniang (Gong Li) kills and assumes another man’s identity near an imperial garrison. A team of Rouran soldiers, led by Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), soon storm their way into the garrison, killing several men and terrorizing other citizens. The Emperor (Jet Li) is informed that the Rourans are making their way toward the Imperial Palace, and he knows who Bori Khan is because the Emperor killed his father in battle many years ago. He orders that every family in China send their strongest sons into battle. Meanwhile, Khan sets up camp with the soldiers and Xianniang, whom he claims is subservient to him, although she knows she possesses more power than he ever will. He wants revenge against the Emperor for his father’s death, as well as the downfall of the whole Rouran army, and believes nobody will stand in his way.

Mulan (now played by Liu Yifei) and Xiu (now played by Xana Tang) are both called to meet with the Matchmaker (Pei-Pei Cheng) so that she may find them proper husbands. After receiving a makeover, the sisters visit the Matchmaker. A spider comes down from the ceiling, and Mulan tries to hide it by covering it with a teapot, but the Matchmaker insists that the teapot remain in the center of the table. The spider pops out again and freaks Xiu out, causing her to flip the table over. Mulan is able to catch the cups and teapot until her hair comes undone and covers her face, causing her to drop and shatter everything. The Matchmaker chastises the Hua family, claiming they failed to raise a proper daughter.

As the family starts walking back home, an emissary from the Emperor arrives to call upon the men in the village to take up arms and fight in the battle against the Rourans. When the Hua family is called, Zhou, visibly weak and crippled, walks without his cane to accept the scroll, but he falls before the village. Mulan attempts to help, but Li tells her she will only humiliate her father further. Later during dinner, Mulan tries to argue why Zhou should not go into battle, but he is adamant that it is his duty as the man to follow through with the orders and fight. After dinner, Mulan watches Zhou trying to wield his sword, being too frail to do so. Knowing she cannot let her father risk his life, Mulan takes her father’s sword and armor, then rides away on their family horse to join the Chinese army.

In the morning, Mulan’s family discovers that she has taken Zhou’s sword and armor, and they worry that if the Rourans do not kill her first, the Chinese army will when they discover her lie. Zhou asks the phoenix statue to watch over Mulan.

Mulan and her horse travel a great distance, but she cannot find her way to the army camp. The phoenix appears and guides her all the way, leading her to the other soldiers. While on line to check in, a large soldier taunts a smaller soldier, Cricket (Jun Yun), and she is knocked down in the scuffle. Another soldier, Chen Honghui (Yoson An), tries to help Mulan up mockingly and she draws her sword on Honghui, who does the same. They are stopped by Commander Tung (Donnie Yen), who tells them fighting is forbidden. Mulan introduces herself to him as Hua Jun, and he orders her and Honghui to fall back in line. She later finds herself among the other soldiers, who are fooling around. Since she is uncomfortable at the thought of showering with them, she volunteers for night guard duty.

The soldiers begin their training under Tung, including a rigorous challenge that sees the soldiers carrying buckets of water with their arms stretched out all the way up to the top of a large hill. One soldier who is caught cheating is expelled from the army. Mulan shows off her skills by bringing out her chi, showing to the soldiers what she is capable of during a spear duel with Honghui but she fears that she might have almost given herself away. Slowly, Mulan starts to bond with the other soldiers, including Honghui and trio Ling (Jimmy Wong), Yao (Chen Tang), and Po (Doua Moua), but they all note that she stinks from not bathing. When Mulan goes to a lake at night to bathe, Honghui finds her and tries to join as a friend, but she turns her back to him and tries to get him to go away so he doesn’t learn her secret. He tells her that while she can turn her back on him, he hopes she doesn’t turn her back on her fellow soldiers.

Bori Khan gathers his men in his tent to discuss their battle plan. The soldiers don’t care for vast riches, but more for the power and revenge that Khan is after. He promises them that and reminds them that Xianniang, who is there under her guise as a hawk, only serves him. After she brings this up to him later, he stands by his word since he found her after she was exiled from her village for her powers. They spot another nearby garrison and make plans to attack. They do so in the morning and kill more soldiers.

Tung calls Mulan into his tent, noting the use of her chi and saying that his own chi is strong too. He thinks that she is holding back due to her father’s legacy, since Tung found alongside Zhou before. Mulan later goes back to the lake to try and practice balancing her chi. After more intense training, Mulan is able to complete the challenge up the hill before anyone else, to the amazement of all the other soldiers. However, Mulan feels dishonest when repeating the three virtues engraved on her father’s sword – “Loyal, Brave, True”. She returns to Tung’s tent with the intention of revealing herself, but he thinks she is just nervous because they are heading into battle against the Rourans the next day. Tung also suggests that when the battle is over, he would like to introduce her to his daughter. Mulan later spends time around the fireplace with her fellow soldiers to give them inspiration.

The next morning, the soldiers gather as the Rourans approach. They head into battle, with a small team of Rourans taking out the charging Chinese soldiers except for Mulan. Although she manages to kill some Rourans, she is found by Xianniang, who knows that she is lying, and therefore her chi is not as strong if she is not true. After a brief fight with the witch, Mulan escapes her clutches and then decides to follow her words. She undoes her armor and lets her hair down, returning into battle stronger and more capable. Xianniang transforms into a flock of crows that attack the soldiers. When they shield themselves together, the Rourans use this against them by hurling fireballs at them with a catapult, severely taking out many of them. Thinking quickly, Mulan rides her horse around the Rourans and tricks them into thinking the soldiers snuck up behind them by using their helmets mounted on spears. The Rourans launch a fireball in that direction, only to hit a mountain and cause an avalanche. The Rourans are wiped out while the remaining soldiers just barely make it out alive. After the snow has settled, Mulan emerges to reveal herself to the soldiers as a woman. Tung expels her from the army, but she would rather die than return home in disgrace. Tung orders her to leave, and if she returns, he will grant her wish.

On her way home, Mulan breaks down until Xianniang arrives to taunt her. She tells Mulan that she did once want to take the noble path, but her exile and ridicule from others led her down the dark path. Xianniang tries to get her to join forces, telling her that Khan is heading toward the Imperial City to kill the Emperor, and not heading down the Silk Road as Tung was led to believe. This encourages Mulan to head back to warn the soldiers. She catches up to them on their path and tells Tung about Khan’s true plans. Although Tung is not ready to listen to someone who lied to him, Honghui steps in to vouch for Mulan and say he believes in her, as do Ling, Yao, Po, Cricket, and many of the other soldiers.

Xianniang makes it to the Imperial City by assuming the guise of the Emperor’s Chancellor (Nelson Lee) and claiming that Bori Khan wants to challenge him to a duel personally. The Emperor obliges and heads out to fight. Meanwhile, Mulan leads the soldiers into the Imperial City by attacking the Rourans. Tung orders the soldiers to fight but to guard Mulan so she makes it to the Emperor, who fights off some Rourans before ultimately being ambushed by Khan and his men, leading to his capture. Mulan makes it to the palace but only finds Xianniang. Although she thinks it is too late for her, Mulan assures Xianniang that she still has a chance to make things right. She asks her to help lead her to the Emperor, but Xianniang morphs into a hawk and flies away, only for Mulan to follow. Xianniang makes it back to Khan and tells her that a warrior woman is leading the Chinese army, and that she will come for him. Knowing Xianniang deliberately led Mulan to him, Khan fires an arrow at Mulan when she comes close, but Xianniang flies in and takes the arrow in the back. Mulan catches her as she returns to her human form and dies.

Mulan finds Khan and the Emperor atop a construct where he plans to burn the Emperor alive. She attempts to fight Khan with her sword, but she ends up losing it when it falls into molten lead. However, with help from the phoenix, Mulan regains her chi and continues to battle Khan. They jump onto a platform, where Khan nearly causes Mulan to lose balance and fall, but she gains the upper hand, takes his sword, and cuts the rope to sever the platform and send Khan falling. As she goes to free the Emperor, Khan attempts to kill him with an arrow, only for the Emperor to catch it and give it to Mulan, who fires it back into Khan’s chest, finally killing him.

A celebration is held for Mulan’s victory. The Emperor offers her a position as an imperial guard in his army, but while Mulan is very grateful for the offer, she feels that she has been away from her family for too long. The Emperor respects her decision, as he feels devotion to family is a major virtue. As she leaves, Honghui catches up to her to say goodbye and assure her that they will meet again someday.

Mulan returns to her village to find everyone astonished at her return. Xiu is with the Matchmaker but stop when she learns her sister has returned. Mulan embraces Xiu and their mother, before Zhou steps out. Mulan apologizes for going against him and for losing the sword, but Zhou says that she is the most important thing for him, and they embrace. Soon, Tung arrives with other soldiers to inform Mulan’s family and the rest of the village about her hand in saving the Emperor and the Imperial City, leading everyone to cheer (and the Matchmaker to faint). Tung presents her with a new sword that contains the same three virtues as before, but with a new fourth one (devotion to family) added. Tung says that the Emperor insists Mulan reconsider her choice in joining his army. As Mulan looks up to the sky to see the phoenix once again, Zhou closes his narration by saying that his daughter would become a legend.

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