With many criticisms about Disney’s “Mulan,” the 2009 film “Mulan: Rise of a Warrior,” tells a more realistic version of the legend of Hua Mulan.
Like other tales and re-enactments of Mulan, the main plot is about a young woman who disguised herself as a man so she can join the military instead of her ailing father. Set during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (4th to 6th century A.D.) where there were a series of invasions from the Rourans tribes in central Asia, the story revolves around how Mulan endured the harsh military training, dealt with the politics within the ranks of soldiers, and became a general later in the war campaign.
The cast and crew are almost entirely Chinese, with actress “Vicki” Zhao Wei playing Mulan, Jaycee Chan as Mulan’s close friend who keeps her secret, Chen Kun as Mulan’s romantic interest, Yu Rongguang as Mulan’s father, and Hu Jun as the antagonist Prince Mendu of the Rouran tribes.
Russian singer and actor Vitas also plays a small but significant role as the Rouran chieftain’s loyal, personal servant.
Hong Kong director Jingle Ma, who directed and co-produced “Mulan,” said in 2009 that Zhao “is perfect for the role of folk heroine Hua Mulan” because she possesses the qualities and features that he had imagined for his film.
Zhao also had previous roles in historical action films, including “Red Cliff” (2008), “Warriors of Heaven and Earth” (2003), and “Painted Skin” (2008), which gives her more credibility to portray a historical figure.
Unlike these films, however, “Mulan” focuses more on character development and the evolving relationships between Mulan and her allies and duties than action. But there are still plenty of battle scenes that show how Mulan and her allies overcome their enemies.
It also lacks the fanfare of special effects and fantastical elements that the Disney’s “Mulan” portrays. Thus, the 2009 version gives a more realistic “feel” than the 2020 version and sticks closer to the original tale of Hua Mulan.