Based on a famous Chinese legend that promotes filial piety, the film shifts its focus to the resistance of foreign invasion, a befitting theme to the historical context in which the film was produced.
During the Northern Dynasties (386-581, A.D.), the northern tribes invaded China. An old soldier, Hua, was in poor health, but was urged by the government to join the service. Hua’s daughter, Mulan, who had been practicing martial arts with her father, disguised herself as a boy and joined the army in her father’s stead. In time, Mulan demonstrated her extraordinary qualities and was promoted to sergeant. During an enemy attack, the commanding Chinese general was shot by an arrow. Before he was taken away, he authorized Mulan to take over his position. Under Mulan’s leadership, the Chinese troops launched a counter attack and drove the enemy into retreat. Mulan’s best friend, Liu, discovered Mulan’s true gender identity, but kept it a secret. At the victory celebration, the emperor rewarded both of them with promotions. But Mulan declined her appointment and asked to be retired so that she could take care of her aging parents. Liu requested that he be sent to attend to the wounded general. After the emperor granted their requests, Mulan resumed her feminine identity and married Liu. —chinesecinema.ucsd.edu