in the original myth mulan isn’t really a clumsy fish out of water. she’s strong and smart and the reason she goes to war is because she’s the most qualified person in her family to fight, regardless of gender.
so how about this: mulan’s a fighter. she knows exactly who she is, like in the original myth, she’s knows how to be the blossoming flower and the great stone dragon. she’s still mulan though, so she still doesn’t memorize the silly ways she’s supposed to be a good wife and has little patience for appearing graceful while pouring tea. she’s innovative and courageous and beautiful, but no one is under any illusions about what kind of wife she’ll be.
and the matchmaker is the matchmaker for the li family as well, for this great big part of china. and general li wants his son to be married before he goes off to war, wants his son to have a reason to fight to live, like a wife waiting for him. and the matchmaker reads the stars and the tea leaves and the astrology charts, and no matter what all the signs point to one thing: the honorable li shang is destined to marry the insolent, arrogant fa mulan.
the matchmaker isn’t going to let that happen, she refuses to be responsible for that disaster of a wedding. so she sends her most beautiful girls, the ones that are obedient and quiet and know their roles, the ones that are eager to marry into the li family.
and each of them are entertained and met and sent back. shang is many things, but smooth isn’t one of them, he has nothing to say to these quiet girls who smile at him, feels large and awkward around their polite smiles. so he and his father go to the matchmaker’s village, shang reluctantly and his father to demand she stops messing with them and provides a proper bride.
it’s on the day that mulan and the other girls are parading in the street. shang sees a girl - mulan - hurry into the end of the line, jumping over a bench and darting around a careening wagon to get there, and stifles a laugh.
then there’s no reason to laugh at all, because a group of huns have decided that this village is in their way, and attack.
everyone scatters, women hide, children hide, and most of the men do too. shang and his father join the fight with some of the other men who hadn’t hid, and these men are starved, clearly not with shan yu, so even though they’re outnumbered they’ll likely win.
shang sees a hun go to attack the girl he’d seen earlier, the girl for whatever reason hadn’t run and hid. the hun raises a sword above his head to strike her down, and shang is so sure he’s about to see this pretty girl lose her head.
but she doesn’t. instead she rolls out of the way, and pops up, headbutting him in the stomach. she takes his sword from his now-slack grip and plunges it into his chest. without hesitation or pause the girl joins the fight, swinging the sword expertly and cutting down every man who stands against her. soon they’re fighting back to back, and shang has never felt more in sync with another person. she cuts off the head of the last hun, and shang has never seen anyone more beautiful than this girl, dress ripped and make up smudged and covered in blood that isn’t hers.
“mulan,” one of the other girls says, peaking out of a store front, “is it over?”
the girl, mulan, looks out over the dozen dead men and says, grimly, “it’s barely begun.” she searches the crowd, finding and old man and yelling, “gather the bodies, we’ll burn that at dusk outside of the village. everyone else,” her eyes sweep across the gathered people, and shang is struck by the fact that this girl isn’t well liked. there’s anger and disapproval in many of the faces, but they’re listening. these people don’t like her. but they do trust her. “let’s clean this all up. these were bandits, not soldiers. there’s nothing more to fear.”
“what if there are more?” the other girl asks, arms wrapped around herself.
mulan raises her stolen sword and says, “then i will slice them to ribbons. this is our village, and this is our country. any who would try to take it from us - from me - will suffer the consequences.”
and it shouldn’t be comforting, hearing words of violence from this young girl, yet everyone around them relaxes, and gets moving, gather the bodies and tending the wounded.
“who are you?” his father asks, and someone who doesn’t know him might think he was angry, but shang can tell he’s impressed.
mulan turns to them and bows, “my apologies. i am fa mulan, daughter of fa zhou. thank you for helping us.” she stands, and shang meets her eyes for the first time.
he swallows, and blurts out, “you - you fight good.”
his father coughs to hide his laughter, but mulan’s eyes crinkle at the corners. “thank you. you do as well.”
and they just keep standing there smiling at each other until his father claps his hands and is like okay - they’ll have to report this to the emperor, no time to dawdle, have to go now.
so they take their leave, and shang thinks this is the last time he’ll see fa mulan.
except there’s still the draft, and this time mulan doesn’t take no for an answer, won’t hear of it. her father is injured and old and she is young and fit to fight. she will go in his place.
so she arrives at the camp, prepared to pretend and lie - except she goes to meet her commanding officer and it’s him, that boy who had fought with her. shang’s eyes widen, but they’re in front of too many people. he can see it on her face, her fear, and she hadn’t shown any fear when she was facing down over a dozen huns, but she does now. so he makes his choice and says nothing, pretends he buys her story.
she tracks him down that night and demands an explanation. he says this war is too important to kill good warriors, whatever gender they are. he swears to keep her secret. mulan is his best soldier from the beginning, and means to treat her like anyone else, but it’s impossible. she isn’t like anyone else, is strong and smarter and braver than them. they argue tactics, and she’s the only one who can give him a workout in hand to hand, and he doesn’t have trouble finding his words with her. he finds himself falling in love with her, but doesn’t say anything. she’s not here for love, she’s here for a war. he vows to say something if they survive this, but it’s unlikely that will happen.
they head to the front earlier. they get there in time to provide back up for his father and his army, and it’s a loss but not a slaughter. his father is too distracted to notice ping is the girl from the village. all he knows is this soldier had led the second wave of attacks, and it was thanks to her any of them were alive at all. they prevent half of the huns from getting through the pass, but that’s still an army heading for the imperial city. the general is injured, so mulan and shang lead the army after him.
they find him at the mountain, and just like before mulan uses the cannon to destroy the army. she knew it would spell their death, but it was worth it, for her people, for her country, for her family. this time it’s shang that won’t accept her death, that tries to drag her unconscious body to safety. only he fails, and mulan becomes buried under the snow.
they return to the city, and shang is besides himself - the woman he loves is dead, she saved them all and she’s gone, and he’ll never recover from this. only he can’t tell his father this, their friends. they think he mourns a friend, not the woman he wanted to make his wife.
except mulan survives, and sees the other huns as well. only she kills them there before they can get to the city, and decides this is for the best. fa ping dies honorably in battle, and fa mulan is free to return home to her family.
so general li decides that it’s time to go to that matchmaker again, and demand she stop playing games. the matchmaker confesses that she thought the bride was unsuitable, and the general demands she send her anyway.
so mulan has barely had the chance to settle back home when the matchmaker shows up at her door saying she’s sending her to see a potential husband, but not who. so mulan shows up all made up to li household and shang drags himself into the room, already resigned to a loveless marriage, when they see each other. “mulan?” he demands, and his father is all pleased because it’s the fighting girl from the village.
but then his son starts crying and they run to each other. shang picks her up in his arms and she clings to him, and shang is babbling about how he thought she was dead, and mulan is so overjoyed that she’s with shang, and shang wants her, that she kisses him without explaining.
except now shang’s father demands an explanation. so they give it to him, the whole story comes tumbling out, and he stares hard at her, and remembers her as ping, the brave soldier that had saved them all. he’s not upset - he ecstatic. he goes to the emperor and tells him everything, and the emperor officially offers mulan an officer position in the army. she accepts, as long as shang is by her side. shang seconds this, and they set in motion the plans for the wedding.
fa mulan and li shang get married and lead armies and live happily ever after, just like the stars intended.
Movies Meme: [1/5] Animated Movies → Mulan (1998)
↳ “I’ve heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan. You stole your father’s armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese army, destroyed my palace and you have saved us all.”
okay so i LOVE mulan okay. as far as i’m concerned it’s a Perfect Movie and doesn’t need any fixing. but i was thinking today and -
- what if mulan didn’t go to war to save her father?
say her father is dead, okay, killed by the previous war. so she’s raised by her mother and grandmother, women who’s complacency and softness has been worn away by necessity. she needs to marry well, for her family’s sake, because her mother has refused the hand of every man who offered. but mulan is even more rough around the edges than before, is educated not only in books (her mother said men wouldn’t find smarts attractive and grandmother pointed out that men aren’t always around and off to school mulan went) but in the sword too, taught to her by her classmate, ping.
mulan is considered in the lower end of the upper class, coming from a family of military men and scholars and successful merchants. ping is near the top, the son or nephew of an advisor to the emperor. his family is very rich and very important, and the reason they become friends is because mulan manages to notice something about him that he’s been hiding from everyone else - he’s going blind.
not totally blind, enough to get around, but blind enough that reading is difficult and swordplay is even worse, although once he has it down he has it. ping is no fool, he’s not weak or bumbling. his eyes just don’t work. so mulan notices and confronts him about it. she promises to keep it a secret, and hey, she’ll even help him with his assignments by reading the books out loud and helping him study. but in return he must teach her the sword, must teach her about military and tactics. he agrees.
ping and mulan become very good friends and there’s some raised eyebrows about it but they are TOO far away in class for it to be inappropriate, so they make tutting sounds and disapproving faces and let it go.
then the draft happens. ping can’t go to war, he won’t survive it. not with his eyesight like it is. so mulan offers him a deal - she’ll go to war for him, in his place. in return, if she survives, he must marry her. if she dies he must take care of her family.
ping can’t make this kind of family decision on his own, so he goes to his mother and tells her everything, about the eyesight and how he’ll die if he goes and mulan’s offer. his mother says he must keep it a secret from his father, but agrees - if mulan fights in her son’s place and survives, a wedding will be arranged. either way, mulan’s family will be taken care of. ping will be sent to live with some cousins in the meanwhile.
“you’re not in love with me, are you?” ping asks, helping mulan saddle her horse in the middle of the night. she scoffs and rolls her eyes, “not even a little. but marrying you will make my family happy, and besides, you’re my best friend,” she says, smiling, “better you than some grabby old man.” he smiles and hugs her and says, “i’m not in love with you either. but don’t die out there. we have a wedding to plan.”
so mulan goes to the camp, pretending to be ping, and she’s a little bit less lost but things still go as they go. she’s educated and trained, so it’s not hard for her to pass as ping. shang is keeping a special eye on her, thinking that she’s the son of an advisor, one of his father’s friends. and he sees how easily she excels, how quick thinking and smart she is, and starts giving her more and more responsibilities. by the time they’re called out, shang considers ping ie mulan to be his right hand man, and possibly his best friend.
he’s also a little bit in love with ping, and he’s long known he’s attracted to both genders, so he watches ping laugh and smile and the crease between his eyes when he frowns and does his best to let his feelings chase away the best soldier he has. every time shang looks at ping his heart clenches and he things to himself: i wish i could have you, i wish this was a time and a place where one man could have another, i wish you were a girl, is wish i was a girl - i wish we could be together. he’s literally a step away from doodling ‘li ping’ with little hearts over his battle plans.
so the battles happen. shang and ping lead their men together, respected and loved. they each get promoted, and promoted, and promoted. it’s been years, and it comes to a point where they’re both generals in their own right. they trust each other, care for each other. and are both secretly in love with the other.
mulan is so conflicted. because she wants this war to end and to go home and settle back into life and become ping’s wife, so she can have an easy life spent studying and learning with her family taken care of. that’s what she’d wanted. but now what she wants is shang, her best friend, her brother in arms, her fellow general. she wishes to be everything to him, aches to be the woman on his arm and in his bed, but knows it’s the one thing she can never be.
then that final battle happens. mulan’s quick thinking saves them all and ends the war - but she’s injured.
shang finds out the ping has been a girl all along. he demands explanations - so she tells him everything, that she traded places with ping to save him, to become his wife.
and the lies should sting the sharpest, but they don’t. she’s still the same person, after all. it’s that she’s promised to another man, for one second he’d thought he might have her, but no. so he agrees not to reveal her but he’s furious and furious at himself for being furious and they’re not the same now, broken and splintered and neither of them know what to do.
the war is over. they leave. mulan returns home, and thanks to her ping is now known as a respected general. she’s done her part and survived, and now she gets her reward - ping’s hand in marriage.
but she sees ping for the first time and flings herself into his arms and starts crying. she tells him everything, because he’s still her friend, her very best friend besides shang, the man whom she lied to and betrayed and loves. and ping listens and takes her by the shoulders and says - i’ll uphold our bargain, if that’s what you want. you can be my pampered wife, you’ve more than earned it. but if you want to go to shang, i won’t blame you. you deserve your happiness.
and mulan goes back and forth, but ultimately she decides she has to try. if shang rejects her she’ll return and marry ping and uphold her family honor. but if shang wants her - he’s not as high up as ping, but he’s high up enough to satisfy her family, and also she would love him and want him if he was no more than a farming peasant so it doesn’t matter much anyway.
she rides to the capitol. she finally meets ping’s father, running into him while looking for shang. “ah mulan,” says this man who was never supposed to know of her until she became his daughter-in-law, “i didn’t expect to see you here. how fortuitous. walk with me.” she does, wary, and that’s how she discovers - he and the emperor had discovered her deception a year in, but at that point she’d already proven herself too skilled and valuable to lose. he tells her that he will uphold his son and wife’s deal and gladly welcome her to his household - but that she’s earned her rank as general, and that he and the emperor have no problem with letting her keep it.
she says thank you, shocked and joyful, but that she has to talk to someone first. “ah, yes, young general li,” he says, eyes twinkling, “i do believe he’s around here somewhere.”
she has no idea how he seems to know everything, but she finally tracks down shang who’s ecstatic to see her and hates himself for it. she confesses - says she loves him, that she’s engaged to ping but willing and able to break this engagement for shang. who is dumbfounded and elated and says yes, of course, finally and forever.
and mulan accepts her rank and marries shang, and they become the literal power battle couple of the general li mulan and general li shang. ping becomes a scholar and marries a very nice young woman who loves reading and is happy to read aloud to her husband with his failing eyes.
I was astonished that for the Mulan Golden Book, they didn’t give it the Mary Blair treatment. So I did a painting of what I wish it looked like. I love it so much I think I might make this a three-panel series like in Chinese privacy screens.
THR reports that casting directors visited five continents to find the right actress for the role. In addition to having “credible martial arts skills, the ability to speak English,” and “star quality,” the directors were specifically looking for someone who was “ethnically Chinese” to play the title character, Hua Mulan.