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Disney's Live-Action Mulan - What We Know So Far

Disney is very, very busy these days. They have their hands full with incredibly successful properties like Marvel, Star Wars, and Avatar. And yet, for all of the bustle, they've still found time to remake a number of their animated classics. At this point, the collection includes retellings of time-honored movies like Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, Dumbo, and The Lion King. Each film has been lovingly brought back to life in a live-action format that has particularly resonated, in most cases, with those Millennial audiences that cherished the 2D cartoon originals.

With all of the live-action success stories so far, though, there's one remake on the horizon that's just might end up taking the cake: Mulan. The 1999 musical stands proudly among the greatest of the House of Mouse's Pantheon of blockbuster animated films — and with good reason. From the wisecracking antics of Eddie Murphy's Mushu to the dramatic musical numbers and a climactic standoff that features one brave woman single-handedly taking down an entire horde of barbarians, the original film is about as good as it gets. What can the new version bring to the table? Here's everything we know about this epic live-action remake so far.

What's the release date for Mulan?

Mulan's triumphant return to theaters was slated for March 27, 2020 — just over two decades after the original film's release date in June of 1998. Just before the movie was set to storm into theaters (and after getting some pretty positive buzz from early screenings) it became one of many blockbuster releases to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic. Disney has yet to set a new date, though we can hopefully still expected it before the end of 2020.

This wasn't the project's first delay, however. Once upon a time, the remake was supposed to be released on November 2, 2018. Why shift the date by nearly a year and a half? Because it took over a year to find the right actress to play the lead role. Once that was done, the film was locked into the March 27th slot. Hopefully, its long-awaited debut won't be delayed too much longer.

The first Mulan teaser offers a glimpse of the remake's world

A 90-second teaser for Mulan was released in July 2019, and it took all of three seconds to show a distinct change in the storytelling. Some live-action remakes have been remarkably similar to their animated predecessor. Beauty and the Beast, for instance, stayed very close to script, primarily opting to add new things rather than change old ones. Not so with Mulan's story — at least, that's the initial takeaway from the teaser.

The trailer opens up on a depiction of Mulan's home town, with her family discussing her upcoming meeting with the matchmaker. From there, it begins to bounce between Mulan the disaffected would-be bride and Mulan the fierce warrior. Many of the latter sequences are clearly shot with an eye for the epic, too, maximizing the grandeur and intensity of each scene.

Initially, the heroine is shown moodily practicing with a bow and arrow alone in the dark. However, as the trailer progresses, it shows her joining in cavalry charges, firing bows and arrows in rapid succession like Legolas, and running on roofs Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon style. Perhaps the most compelling thing about the entire trailer is the fact that it's clearly designed to send a serious, dramatic message with no comedy (or music) in sight... at least so far.

Mulan's official trailer reveals a new take on an old story

On December 5, 2019, a full-length trailer for Mulan was finally released, providing a good deal more information for the long-brewing remake. The earlier teaser may have had a smattering of information for audiences to chew on, but the official trailer takes things to a whole new level by taking a closer look at the actual plot of the movie. 

The trailer opens on a series of images that once again show Mulan despondently preparing for the quiet life of a woman in ancient China. It isn't long before the mood abruptly changes, and a story begins to emerge that fans of the original animated feature are very familiar with. An invasion led by a dual threat combo of the warlord Bori Khan and the witch Xian Lang leads to Mulan's aged father being recruited into the emperor's armies. Of course, the heroine goes in his place, and we see her training with other recruits and fighting against China's enemies. 

The scenes that flash by are nothing short of epic. From a family sword labeled "loyal, brave, and true," to the use of magic and fantasy, barrages of arrows shot in Hero-esque style, and a larger-than-life score inspired by Disney's musical, there's no doubt that this film is going to be one heck of a ride when it charges into theaters.

Are reshoots a sign of behind-the-scenes trouble on Mulan?

While Disney fans must wait to finally get a live-action reincarnation of the cartoon classic, in the fall of 2019 it started to feel like they really should be happy to be getting anything at all. In October, rumors began swirling that the already delayed movie was about to go into a serious set of reshoots — as in months of reshoots. The report claimed that additional photography was needed to spruce up and rework some battle scenes, but the severity of the rumored fixes so late in the game boded ill for the already turbulent production process, especially since the potential added work could take up until a month before the release date to finish. This naturally had fans on edge — until the rumors dissipated.

It's not that reshoots weren't taking place. They were, but according to We Got This Covered, Gavin Fang, a Chinese film and box office analyst, reported on Twitter that while the rumor of reshoots was true, the "months-long" part was completely false. They would take a couple of weeks at most. This is much more in line with standard practice in blockbuster filmmaking, and not likely any cause for concern.

Who's playing Mulan?

So, how did the casting process end up pushing the Mulan remake back by over a year? It turns out that finding the perfect person to play the lead role wasn't just challenging — it was about as difficult a task as possible. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney enlisted a team of casting directors that visited five continents, where they saw nearly 1,000 different candidates audition for the role. Talk about doing your homework. It makes sense, though, as you don't meet a girl like this every dynasty. 

The casting team wasn't just looking for actresses who had passable martial arts skills and could speak English fluently. They also made a top priority out of finding someone who was ethnically Chinese, as well. Kudos to Disney for recognizing that crucial priority.

After spending such a gargantuan amount of time and effort, the team finally chose the popular Chinese American actress Liu Yifei. The choice was a good one — Liu Yifei is talented and has already proven her acting chops. Along with a string of other projects, the actress has starred in The Forbidden Kingdom and Outcast, both of which saw her holding her own alongside well-established actors like Jackie Chan, Nicolas Cage, and Jet Li.

Who else has joined the cast of the Mulan remake?

Having worked alongside him on 2008's The Forbidden Kingdom, Liu Yifei is reteaming with Jet Li for Mulan. The martial arts master has been tapped to play the venerable Emperor of China. This is exciting news, even if it's a fairly reserved role all things considered — here's hoping they can sneak him into a fight sequence alongside the titular character. 

In addition to Li, the film has cast Mulan's slapstick trio of fellow warriors Yao, Ling, and Chien Po. Ling will be played by Jimmy Wong, Po by Doua Moua, and Chen Tang will be taking up the role of the "king of the rock." 

One significant face missing from the action, though? Li Shang. The hunky commander has failed to show up on any casting reports so far. Instead, it looks like the production team has opted to split Shang's prominent character into two separate personalities. Donnie Yen has been cast as the character Commander Tung, who appears to be taking on the role of Mulan's military commander. Separate from that relationship, we have Chen Honghui, played by Yoson An. I appears that Chen Hongui will be a fellow recruit in Tung's unit who bonds with Mulan before the two form a romantic relationship.

Who's on the creative team for Mulan?

Of course, even the best cast isn't going to get very far without a good group of people working behind the scenes as well. Fortunately, the story of China's warrior-heroine appears to be in good hands. 

Starting at the top, Disney has tapped Niki Caro to helm the project. The Kiwi director has already drawn attention thanks to her work on films like North Country, The Zookeeper's Wife, and McFarland, USA. She first established herself in 2002 with Whale Rider, a Maori film with feminist themes of family, destiny, and generational divides — some obvious parallels with Mulan. For all of her past accomplishments, though, a blockbuster like Mulan could launch Caro to new heights. In fact, the simple act of taking the job made her the fourth woman to ever solo-direct a film with a $100+ million budget. If she manages to knock the project out of the park, then the sky's the limit.

Along with Caro, a team of four writers has been brought on to adapt the story to a live-action format. They include Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Martin, and Lauren Hynek. Jaffa and Silver are of particular interest, as they have worked together on both Jurassic World and the recent Planet of the Apes films. This gives them copious experience in bringing classic stories into the modern era, which is encouraging, to say the least.

Revisiting the story of Mulan

Before we get too far into the possible direction that the live-action remake could take, let's take a quick trip down memory lane and revisit just how Disney's 1998 animated version of Mulan played out. The film takes place in ancient China, during the Han Dynasty. In response to a Hun invasion, the Emperor orders a full mobilization, including one man from every family. This prompts Mulan to buck tradition and go in her aged father's stead, disguised as a young man. She is soon joined by the disgraced family guardian, a tiny dragon named Mushu, and the two manage to convince everyone that she can bring the goods. 

After training with the other recruits, Mulan's unit sets out to reinforce the imperial army, only to find that they've already been annihilated by the Hunnic horde. Mulan heroically saves her brothers in arms (and China, to boot) by causing an avalanche to sweep away the enemy during an ambush. In the process, though, she is revealed to be a woman and is cast out of the army.

Finding that some of the Huns, including their leader Shan Yu, have survived the avalanche, Mulan fearlessly follows the soldiers to the imperial city, where she alerts everyone to the approach of the Huns and helps foil their attempt to kill the Emperor. Ultimately, Mulan is recognized for her heroic deeds, and returns home to celebrations and a visit from her commander (and love interest) Shang, whom she invites to stay for tea.

The original legend of Mulan

While the live-action remake will obviously be leaning heavily on the '90s animated classic for the bulk of its inspiration, there's also the original Chinese legend itself which the writers can draw from — and based on the gritty realism depicted in the trailer so far, it looks like they're doing just that. Of course, old stories like these almost always have a ton of different versions over the centuries. Naturally, this means the exact details of the legend have varied over the years. That said, Mulan's traditional story takes place in ancient China during either the 4th or 5th century. There are many distinctly similar factors that modern audiences will recognize in the tale as well. 

For instance, the story always starts with a horde of barbarians invading China. This leads to Mulan volunteering to enlist as her aged father's "son" in order to save him from having to go to war, where he'll meet almost certain death. She takes her family's heirloom weapons, joins up with the army, and finds success as a soldier. She even falls in love with an officer and is offered a reward from the Emperor, at which point she simply asks for a horse to ride home. 

Variations on the story of Mulan

For all of the similarities across versions of the story, there are also many things that are completely different. For example, while the animated feature manages to neatly fit everything into what feels like a few weeks or possibly months, Mulan actually fought in the ranks as a warrior for a decade. We're talking about a legitimate army career here. Not only that, but she was eventually promoted to general status. 

At one point, some stories explain that she goes into battle dressed as a woman with the specific intention of inspiring her men by revealing her true identity. It works, and her soldiers gain an even greater respect for her.

While Mulan does eventually draw the attention of the Emperor, it's not quite as epic as the climactic finale of the '90s movie. Rather, the Emperor simply finds out that his bravest soldier is a woman and, impressed, offers her a reward. She asks for a horse and rides home, only to find that her father has died during her long absence — at least in some versions of the story. This tragic ending gets even worse in some accounts, as she is forced to become the wife or concubine of an emperor. In the end, refusing to accept this fate, China's greatest heroine ultimately takes her own life. 

How will the Mulan remake adapt the story?

It's pretty obvious why the Disney story team chose to stick closer to the more upbeat tellings of Mulan's story. But, while the protagonist committing suicide may be a little too grim a direction even for a live-action drama, the untold elements of the original legend do leave some juicy opportunities for the remake. The team behind it is certainly aware of that — director Niki Caro explained in an interview that "the live-action is based on that inspirational Chinese ballad and on the animated Disney classic." Clearly, they're paying attention to the source material, rather than delivering a direct remake of the 1998 cartoon.

At this point, it's pretty clear that the live-action version is going to be a serious story. The trailer alone is loaded with stoic dialogue and spirited fight sequences. It makes one wonder if they're really going to keep this one at PG like its fellow remakes or if they'll finally crack into that PG-13 territory. The trailer also seems to indicate that we're definitely going to be getting Mulan fighting in battle as a woman, which is pretty awesome. If they do choose to angle towards the original legends more, perhaps we'll even see her with a longer career in the army, leading her own forces into battle. Here's hoping.

Mulan faces a new villain

While he didn't have a ton of lines, Shan Yu was a pretty important character in the original animated film, and it wasn't until Mulan literally lit the man up over the imperial city that everyone could breathe a collective sigh of relief. Despite his importance, though, it appears that the writers have actually decided to ax the Hunnic leader from the remake.

Instead, the production team is cashing in on a little creative liberty and going in a different (if still quite intimidating) direction. The film has brought in Gong Li, known for her role in Memoirs of a Geishato play the powerful witch Xian Lang. The official trailer also sets up at another villain, the warlord Bori Khan, but it appears he will be little more than a frontman for Lang's nefarious plans. This shift from brute force to the supernatural is a curious one, and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out on the big screen.

The trailer also makes a deliberate attempt to compare Mulan to a phoenix — which traditionally sits at the right hand of the emperor and is his guardian and his protector — while also showing the witch literally turning into a bird of prey, indicating a fowl showdown of some sort or another is afoot. On top of that, the trailer even showcases a duel between the two female leads. One way or another, it appears that Hua Mulan will be facing down a new adversary as she does her level best to bring honor to us all.

Songs or no songs? That is the question.

So far, Disney has shown that they're not afraid to tamper with old formulas, especially in the area of music. The Jungle Book, for instance, had quite a different feel and tone compared to the songs of the original, high-spirited musical. Both the Beauty and the Beast and the Aladdin creative teams were smart enough to stick to the original musical numbers, but they went right ahead and expanded some songs and even added a couple of entirely new ones into the mix.

In stark contrast, Mulan seems poised to break from the musical formula completely. Initially, director Caro sparked rumors that the film would have no songs at all when she stated in an interview, "Yes, from what I understand, no songs right now, much to the horror of my children." However, the statement came early on, and since then she's course-corrected by explaining that, in essence, the comment was taken out of context and that the team was "still exploring the role that music's going to play in it, but for sure there will be music." 

Honoring the original music of Mulan

The melodic controversy seems to indicate that we shouldn't expect musical numbers based on the original movie's songs at this point. However, the footage that we've seen thus far has provided a few clues as to what the creative team has in store. The official trailer, coming several months after the director's initial comments, seems to deliberately showcase a number of hints that the movie, while not necessarily musical in nature, will indeed be paying homage to the original hits.

The trailer heavily incorporates an instrumental theme that is clearly based on the original song "Honor To Us All," while the last line uttered by Mulan herself — while facing down a horde of barbarians, no less — is literally "I will bring honor to us all." At another point, an officer declares, "We are going to make men out of every single one of you," hearkening back to the instant classic "I'll Make a Man Out Of You." While the apparent lack of full-blown musical numbers is doubtless a disappointment to many fans, it seems clear that director Niki Caro and company are still dead-set on honoring the original score.

What's Mushu's role in the Mulan remake?

Of course, what would a Mulan remake be without the guardian of lost souls? The Eddie Murphy-voiced Mushu is one of the most fondly-remembered elements of the original animated classic. Mushu superfans should be careful before they get their hopes too high when it comes to the remake, though. While the fan blog DisInsider did report that a source had claimed the little guy would be in the film, very little information has come out about what his actual role would be. 

Will we see the powerful, the pleasurable, the indestructible Mushu? Or will we see a live-action alternative that is more subdued and subtle? Maybe we won't get an actual character at all, but merely a quick glimpse of a small dragon statue in Mulan's ancestor room or some other Easter egg. So far, no one is reported to have been cast in the role, which doesn't bode well for a direct adaptation from the '90s original. However, fans can take comfort in the fact that the cast list does contain an entry for a character named Cricket, which hints that perhaps Mushu's sidekick Cri-Kee will somehow be represented. 

The official trailer seems to heavily imply that the story will be steering into the "Mulan, the phoenix" angle pretty hard. It even cuts to a shot of a live phoenix while Mulan's father is asking the ancestors to protect her. Perhaps instead of having no protector, we'll simply be seeing Mushu swapped out for a more appropriately epic phoenix guardian.

Mulan's Super Bowl spot: epic, epic, and more epic

Among the many movie sneak peeks presented during the 2020 Super Bowl was a 30-second ad for Mulan, offering condensed evidence of what was already fairly common knowledge: this movie is going to be epic. Along with a few already familiar shots, the Super Bowl spot shows glimpses of soldiers training by the hundreds, hordes of barbarian cavalry led by the intimidating villain Bori Khan, and hand-to-hand fighting with plenty of flipping, jumping, slicing, and dicing.

Along with the already familiar shot of Mulan dodging a pair of arrows while riding her horse, we also get a glimpse of the warrior literally jumping off of her steed while riding in order to deflect an incoming spear mid-throw. There's also a shot of the sorceress Xian Lang chucking a dagger at the heroine, who hits it out of the way with her sword just in the nick of time. Probably most epic of all, though, is a wide shot of Mulan leaping from a cliff only to land on her horse several dozen yards in front of her. We. Want. More.

On the more peaceful side of things, there's also a glimpse of the heroine dressed in armor with her hair down and face unveiled as she arrives in a village. Presumably, this comes from the end of the film (if we're judging from the cartoon ending at least). The spot wraps up with a shot of Mulan stating the classic line, "I will bring honor to us all."

Mulan gets a final trailer

Right around the same time that the Super Bowl spot dropped, a longer trailer was released that was billed as the "official final trailer" before the film's release. This one runs for a little over two minutes, and it uses that time to incorporate a bit of a narrative element in between the grandiose battle scenes.

It opens with an adviser explaining to the emperor that six northern cities have fallen to invaders before it flips over to show Xian Lang trouncing Chinese warriors with her mysterious powers. It then shifts to Mulan's family, where we see her elderly father — a war hero who's clearly past his prime. From there, it once again dives into the storyline we all know and love, this time incorporating a ton of grandiose scenery to back things up.

Perhaps the most intriguing addition to the final trailer is Bori Khan's discussion of why he is invading China. The warlord mentions taking revenge for his father, which sounds like we'll be getting a little bit more dimension in this iteration's villains. We also get an exciting new look at a key action sequence. As we bounce back and forth between the Chinese and barbarian armies, one shot shows the latter with a massive avalanche closing in behind them — sound familiar anyone?