"You don't find a girl like that every dynasty." - Emperor
Disney's not the only one to rewrite the legend of Mulan...
It wouldn't surprise me if other Chinese stories of girls in disguise worked their way into Mulan's story over the years. In one legend a girl named Zhu Yingtai disguises as a boy so she can attend school. She falls in
love with a classmate who considers her his best friend. She (as a guy) tells him, "I have a sister who's just like me." Eventually the boy finds out about her and falls in love with her. Sadly, something prevents their marriage and they both die. After death, they turn into butterflies and are finally reunited. Anyway, some versions of the Mulan tale have Mulan fall secretly in love with a fellow soldier, whom she marries after he finds out the truth about her.
The King's Son-In-Law
Yet another Chinese tale has a girl disguising as a boy so she can take an exam at a school. She comes in first place and finds out that her prize is the princess's hand in marriage, which causes all sorts of
problems. Fortunately, the princess lets the girl off the hook.
So in some versions, Mulan is offered marriage to an official's
daughter. The official probably wondered why "the young man" so
A Tragic End
Here's a version I received via e-mail from Moses Chong:
"Mulan was the daughter of a retired Imperial General. When their native land was threatened with war, the Emperor sent for all his trusted and decorated generals. The Imperial Court officials sent messagers to summon these generals. When they came to summon Mulan's father, she disguised herself as a young man and took his place. The messengers had never seen the retired general before and were easily fooled into believing she was the general they were seeking.
Mulan was very much a tomboy and being the only child, she got pretty much what she wanted. She insisted on learning the martial arts though it was improper for a lady to do so. No one knew she was a girl until after she lead her troops to a few victories in battle.
Her story did not have a happy ending, though (as do many stories of Chinese folk heroes). I think she died in a glorious battle...and maybe there was little betrayal by jealous Imperial Court officials."
I have also heard of versions where Mulan commits suicide rather than be forced into an unwanted marriage, although the poem and the film versions I know of make no reference to any type of tragic ending.
I was told of a 300-page novel version written in the late Ming Dynasty incorporated elements from other Chinese legends and added some magic. In one case, Mulan is befriended by a magical monk who gives her the gift of a camel with the spirit of a serpent and supernatural powers. Sadly, I know nothing about any author, publishing, or availability in English. If anyone can verify this book exists and provide more info, please let me know.
Before the 1998 Disney movie, the most famous film version of the Mulan story was the 1960 opera The Lady General Hua Mu Lan, directed by Yue Fung. Ling Buo starred as Mulan and her real-life husband Jing Han appeared as General (not Captain) Li. This movie is available through Tai Seng Video (888-668-8338), and there are some scenes which are similar to the Disney version.
Mulan is something of a tomboy in this film (she's first shown in hunting gear shooting some wild birds for food). From the beginning she wants to fight in the army, partly to save her ailing father from the draft, but more because she's very patriotic. With the help of a male cousin, she convinces her father that she can indeed fight and pass herself off as a boy. Her skills turn out to be superior to the other soldiers. As in the Disney version, she is wounded in battle, but instead of passing out and getting discovered, she throws off her comrades and insists she would rather die than remove her armor. She survives and nobody finds out she's a woman until after the war, and she and General Li presumably get engaged.
The film has a bawdy sense of humor. Mulan and her comrades get drunk a number of times, and at one point a fellow soldier says something like, "Men have all the worries and responsibilities. Women don't do anything." Mulan stands right up and has a big solo (this is Chinese opera, after all) in which she sings about the contributions women make in daily life.
I suspect some of the folks at Disney might have seen this movie. There is a charge scene by the barbarians which is highly similar to the CGI charge with Shan-Yu in the lead, except the soldiers all are on foot and there are NO horses.
The Lady General Hua Mu Lan was based on a 1939 black and white film Maiden in Armor (also known as Mu Lan Cong Jin), directed by Bu Wan Cong and starring Nancy Chan as Mulan.
Several live action films were in various planning stages of production in July 2003. One reportedly will star Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun Fat (both of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame). Another is to be directed by Stanley Tong. More information to come...
A Chinese "soap opera" version called "Hua Mu Lan" aired in Taiwan (circa 1999-2000) and is hitting the Chinese-language stations in the U.S. This report in from a viewer in San Jose, CA:
Of the episodes I've seen so far, it's a neat mixture of slapstick comedy with lots of inside jokes about her disguise. The Kitchen God is in the story as her protector (rather inept, too), and one of the goddesses in the sky is her patron. She is a lieutenant or something (that's what my mom says the equivalent US term is). There is a General Li in the story that she is rather smitten with, and he with her (though he thinks she's a man, and is rather flustered over his feelings). Overall, quite entertaining. I wish I hadn't missed the first 9 episodes, as I'm guessing there are a total of 40 like a typical soap.
Click here for character descriptions and here for a sample episode.
There is also a 20-episode Cantonese TV series about Mulan. More info about it here (click under "Hong Kong Mulan").
And what might have been...
The Disney version of Mulan has an interesting story behind it with a number of storylines and characters getting dropped or replaced along the way. Among the things that never made it into the final film version:
At one point there was a puppet show narration at the opening of the film about the building of the Great Wall. A finished still from this is pictured in The Art of Mulan book.
In an early version of the story, Mulan and Shang are engaged at the very beginning. In some drafts they have never met before they join the army; in other versions Mulan had met him but didn't like him.
Grandmother Fa originally had a bigger role in the movie, but her part was cut back when she was felt to be too cutesy and distracting.
Originally there was a sidekick panda named Moo Goo Gai Panda. This idea was quickly replaced with two sidekick dragons named Yin and Yang, who in turn were ultimately replaced by Mushu. "Moo Goo" survives as the panda who eats Chi Fu's slipper.
At least two songs by Stephen Schwartz were cut from the movie. One was called "Destiny" but felt to be too angry for the character of Mulan. The other was written for the transformation sequence and dropped when the storyboards worked better without any dialogue or song lyrics.
Several attempts were made to give Mushu a song (including numbers called "Trust Me, Babe" and "Keep 'Em Guessing"), but these were all dropped. According to composer Matthew Wilder, these songs were Ray Charles and James Brown send-ups.
At one point a song for Mulan about the tragedy of war was considered, but this was also dropped.
In one version after Mulan is wounded, Shang insists on treating her injury and discovers her identity when her armor is pulled away. Producer Pam Coats felt this was too humiliating for Mulan and the sequence was changed to its current form, with a doctor being the one to discover Mulan's secret.
One version of the finale had Shang and Mulan riding off into the sunset on separate horses.
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