Even if you haven't seen Disney's new live-action Mulan, you probably already know the plot, but what if the basic premise of this classic Chinese story reveals a plot twist no one saw coming? That's the idea behind a popular fan theory shared a year ago on Reddit that still holds up today.
Even if you haven't seen the new Mulan, you likely already know the plot. When China is invaded from the north, the Emperor decides to raise an army by drafting one man from each family in the nation. Mulan, who doesn't have any brothers (in the original poem her only brother is too young to fight), takes her elderly father's place by hiding her gender, eventually revealing her true identity and saving China.
But, as Reddit user u/Wash_zoe_mal points out, Mulan may have done more harm than good. As the theory points out, Mulan's father Fa Zhou might not have been in fighting shape (he was already a war veteran and in the new movie, he walks with a limp and wears a leg brace), but he had something else to offer the army: experience.
"As a wise soldier of the last great war, he was supposed to help shape the misfit unit," u/Wash_zoe_mal writes. "He had rank so he would have been put in a leadership role with the unit, helping guide them into being proper soldiers. As a veteran he would have made a great ally for the young Captain on battle tactics and on how to guide young men. Something the Captain could have used."
The live-action Mulan undoes this theory slightly by replacing the young general Li Shang with the more experience with Commander Tung (Donnie Yen), but there's no denying that Mulan's troop is barely battle ready when they finally encounter the Rouran invaders. They probably could have benefited from some expert strategy, courtesy of Fa Zhou.
Of course, ultimately, Mulan's unique abilities are what saves China, but it's interesting to consider that the army really did want her dad. With the 2020 remake in mind, I reached out to u/Wash_zoe_mal (who goes by Zach IRL) to discuss how he came up with this theory and whether he thinks it still holds up a year later.
The following interview has been edited lightly for clarity and brevity.
How did you come up with this theory?
I'm a Martial artist and I come from a military family. When I was training with my wife one day, Disney came up. I joked "Why did they send a top adviser to the Emperor to recruit a nobody like Fa Mulan?" And that got me thinking. I wanted a logical answer. What if Fa Mulan wasn't a nobody but a high ranking solider and a hero from the last "war"?
Why would they want a injured war hero? That's when I came up with the NCO theory. Fa Mulan was invited personally by the Emperor to serve as an non-commissioned officer with experience to help the youthful captain, who was the son of a general, lead a misfit battalion.
How do you think the story would have been different if Mulan didn’t take her father’s place?
I think it would have been completely different in one of two ways.
A. The great dragon is sent with no spirit guardian. If this is the case, the best case, Fa Mulan serves excellently into his role as NCO, the battalion is not sent into the mountains to be ambushed by the Huns, but instead meet at the palace and have an epic battle, not sure which side would be victorious.
B. Mushu is sent. If Mushu is sent, Fa Mulan would probably have ignored him, or tried to help him. Either way to prove his worth, he would get the misfit battalion sent into the mountains, and without Mulan, I don't think they would have survived.
Do you still think it’s correct? Why?
Absolutely. I've yet to see anything that proves it wrong.
Based on the trailer for the new movie, do you think your theory will also work for the live-action version?
From the trailers, I think it still could be true, but that's from trailers. I always let the final product speak for itself.
Are you planning on paying $30 to watch the new Mulan on Disney+?
No, there are too many streaming services just like cable used to be. 1 to 3 was tolerable, now there are a dozen and you can't find anything to watch
Ha, fair enough. So you don't use Disney+ at all?
Haven't used it. I own lots of Disney movies already and beyond The Mandalorian, not much has excited me on Disney+.
Mulan is available now on Disney+.