The basic outline is more or less the same: Hua Mulan is a woman with a gift for combat but is excluded from the military draft simply because of the idea that a warrior’ belongs only to men. So she disguises herself as a man to fight in her injured father’s stead. Liu Yifei is a formidable presence as Mulan.
One notable exception is Xian Lang, a warrior witch played with true majesty by Gong Li, drawn to the side of the Rouran Khaganate (who replace the Huns of the original) due to her persecution by the Emperor’s men. Xian Lang allowed the parallels between Mulan and herself, their shared lack of acceptance from their male peers, and makes for a far more exciting screen counterpart than the rest of Mulan’s compatriots.
Most of the anticipation for Caro’s take was focused around its apparent emulation of wuxia, Chinese stories of chivalry and martial arts first introduced into Hollywood with Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. An introspective deconstruction of the Western imagining of China and gender roles within the feudal society shown on screen, Lee’s film about warrior women might not have found such success in the West if not for its popularity Mulan.
It’s almost darkly amusing how readily it comes down to a “hire more women guards” school of thinking that even its predecessor managed to avoid.
It’s tempting to at least credit Mulan with being the first big-budget Disney remake to embrace live-action fully and mostly eschew CG backdrops for tactile sets and stunning locations, but that’s setting the bar too low. The original songs (save a re-recording of Reflection in the credits) have been left aside to focus on action, but the results are hardly as rousing. The gravity-defying choreography pays some deference to wuxia but embodies none of its grace or rhythm. Caro finds some interesting settings for the more acrobatic fights (such as an extensive, elaborate scaffolding). The more large-scale battles only feel inert, primarily when held compared to the Chinese epics by figures such as Zhang Yimou that Mulan itself purposefully evokes.