No, not the Disney blockbuster. Matchless Mulan (无双花木兰) is a Chinese film that tells a more authentic, bloodier, and not family-friendly, version of the story. Obviously shot on a much lower budget and without the star-studded cast, can this homegrown version compete with the international blockbuster?
During the Northern Wei Dynasty, the Rouran army crosses the border into China. All men with military training are called back into service. Mulan (Hu Xue Er) realizes her father’s health is not up to it. So, she disguises herself as a man and goes in his place. It’s not a great disguise as several men from her village recognize her. Proving herself in battle after most of her unit is killed, she and the other survivors are sent on a mission to rescue Prince Shuo (Wu Jerry, Chinese Paladin 5).
But the Rourans are determined to take the city by any means, including the use of dark magic. When a sudden plague of rats destroys their grain stores the enemy launches a surprise attack. Mulan and her comrades have no choice but to make a stand against overwhelming odds to let the inhabitants escape.
I haven’t seen, and don’t plan on seeing the Disney version so I can’t compare them. But I can say there’s no way Disney would make a film like Matchless Mulan. While not overly bloody by Western standards it’s violent enough that it would never get a PG-13 rating either.
Sympathetic characters meet very unpleasant ends. The Rourans behead one as a warning to the city’s defenders. Another rather graphicly gets an arrow through the neck and chokes on his own blood. The last act in general is grim and depressing as the heroes are killed off or die of starvation until the final trio suddenly finds the energy to launch a bloody counterattack.
And, as if that isn’t enough, Matchless Mulan ends on a very ambiguous scene. Are we seeing reinforcements arriving to save them? Or are they being carried off to the Chinese equivalent of Valhalla? History, or at least the source material says one thing, the film’s tone another.
The action scenes can’t compare with big-budget wire-fu performed by Jet LI, Donny Yen and Jason Scott Lee. But it’s actually fairly well done. There is a bit too much use of slow motion and other stylized photography at times. But the battle scenes do deliver the action with plenty of swords, pikes and flying feet. The expected blood flies everywhere as well, even if it is CGI.
To put it another way, Matchless Mulan is the version Roger Corman would have bought the rights to and sent around to the drive-ins and martial arts theatres. After dubbing it into English and finding a way to splice in some bare breasts of course.
Fans of Chinese historical action films should enjoy Matchless Mulan. Especially those who like the older ones from the original wave of martial arts films. This has the blood and violence these films had before they became family-friendly epics like Disney’s Mulan. I couldn’t find an official trailer, with or without subtitles. But there is a fan-made one.