Rise of a Warrior is a historical fiction film that retells the legend of Hua Mulan from a Modern Chinese perspective.
After the release of Disney’s Mulan, the legend of Mulan began receiving such widespread attention that the Chinese people tool a renewed interest Mulan, as well. However, because the Chinese people did not appreciate an American rendition of one of their most beloved legends, there was a growing desire to see this legend retold from a modern Chinese perspective.
Throughout this film, Mulan struggles to put the needs of the masses ahead of particular people to whom she feels emotionally attached. Within this plot lays a subtle communist message that individual citizens must lay down their own personal interests for the good of society as a whole. This retelling of Mulan’s story differs from many previous versions of the legend in that it does not end happily. Although Mulan meets a man for whom she cares deeply during her time spend serving China, she chooses to place the needs of her country ahead of her personal desire to enjoy a romantic relationship.
In 450 AD, the emperor commands that men be drafted to resist the Rouran invasion. When Mulan’s father, Hua Hu, receives his conscription notice, Mulan is distraught at the thought of seeing her ill father go to his certain death. Despite her pleas, her father is determined to fulfill his duty.
When Mulan realizes that her father cannot be dissuaded, she remains determined to rescue him from his fate. Stealing away in the middle of the night, Mulan disguises herself as a man. Wearing her father’s armor, she slips out with the family horse and reports for duty.
When she arrives at the army barracks, Mulan she introduces herself as Hua Hu’s son. A family friend by the name of “Little Tiger” immediately recognizes Mulan and is appalled to see her joining the army. When Mulan begs him to keep her secret safe, Little Tiger finally agrees to help Mulan learn how to blend in and act as a man.
During training exercises, Mulan quickly demonstrates herself to be highly skilled in martial arts and earns the respect of many men, including Wentai, the assistant commander. However, when the army commander orders a strip-search after a valuable jade pendant has disappeared, Mulan refuses to undress. Unable to explain why she must remain clothed, she finally admits to being the thief in a desperate attempt to bring the search to an end.
Mulan is bound and sentenced to death. Wentai, confident that Mulan is not a thief, comes to visit her in the prison. Mulan reveals her true identity and begs Wentai to burn her body to prevent her femininity from being revealed after her execution. However, when when the Rouran army launches a surprise attack, Wentai releases Mulan and tells her to escape. Upon seeing that her comrades are struggling to resist the assault, Mulan rushes forward to challenge the enemy commander and secures the victory. As a reward for her service, Mulan is pardoned and promoted to serve as assistant commander alongside Wentai.
As the war progresses, both Mulan and Wentai are promoted to become generals. During one battle, Wentai orders his men forward but commands Mulan to remain behind to defend the rear. Mulan suddenly realizes that Wentai is heading straight for an ambush and rushes forward to help, only to find that Wentai and his men are perfectly safe. They return to find that the Rourans have ambushed the rear; Mulan is devastated to discover that many lives have been lost due to her negligence. Wentai urges Mulan to leave her emotions behind when on the battlefield, explaining that a soldier must never neglect his duty, even to rescue his comrades. When Mulan asks whether Wentai would abandon his post to rescue her, Wentai insists that he would let her die if his duty so required it.
Mulan wrestles through her emotions but finally concludes that she is more of a liability than an asset to the army. As a result, she chooses to remain behind the next time the men engage the enemy. Wentai, who is badly wounded in the next battle, decides to fake his death in hopes that this will teach Mulan how to emotionally distance herself from the battlefield. When Little Tiger returns to report that Wentai was killed in action, Mulan is devastated and takes to drinking. Because there is no general to command the men, the army remains idle for weeks until Little Tiger threatens to destroy the only token Mulan has from Wentai, accusing her of caring more for the dead than the living. Mulan finally realizes that if she does not press on and become a hardened warrior, Wentai’s death was in vain. After Mulan musters all her strength, she leads her men to a series of decisive victories.
Meanwhile, the Rouran chief suffers such devastating defeats that he is about to recall his troops. However, his son Mendu is so bloodthirsty that he murders his own father to ensure that the war will continue. While the Rourans are launching a massive attack against the Chinese, Mulan and many other soldiers are injured. Before they can retreat, an enormous dust storm arises and engulfs both sides. When Mulan regains consciousness, she is reunited with Wentai. Although she is overjoyed to discover that he is still alive, there is no time for celebration. A massive army of fresh Rouran reinforcements surges onto the scene, forcing Mulan to retreat. In their haste, the Chinese are left with no choice but to leave their wounded behind because it is better to sacrifice a few wounded men than to compromise the safety of the entire army. When Mulan discovers that Little Tiger is among those being abandoned, Mulan forbids her men from rescuing him. She has finally succeeded in becoming an unemotional warrior who places the welfare of the entire army above the needs of a few men.
Although Mulan and her men flee to a safe location, they are trapped with no provisions. The water supply quickly runs out. Wentai approaches the Rouran army unarmed and asks to speak personally with Mendu. He produces a jade pendant as proof that he is the seventh prince of Wei. If the Rouran army promises to retreat, Wentai will become the Rouran’s prisoner.
Mendu, confident that he will be able to extract a large ransom from the emperor, agrees to the plan. When Mulan and her men discover Wentai’s disappearance, the men propose a rescue mission, but Mulan insists that she must go alone. Sending her men home, Mulan disguises herself as a Rouran woman and sneaks into the enemy camp. She enters the tent of the Rouran princess and discovers that the princess has a strong desire to see the war come to an end. Mulan, the princess, and a loyal servant work together to assassinate Mendu.
Mulan rescues Wentai and returns to the emperor to announce that the war has ended. However, the emperor fears that peace will be short-lived. For this reason, Wentai must marry the Rouran princess to ensure that the two countries will remain allies. Mulan appears before the emperor and reveals her true identity as a woman and asks to be pardoned for joining the army. The emperor not only grants the pardon but offers any reward Mulan desires, but she only asks that she be allowed to return home to care for her aged father.
After Mulan has been reunited with her family, Wentai comes to visit. He confesses that he has strong feelings for her and begs Mulan to run away with him. However, Mulan knows that peace can only be guaranteed if Wentai agrees to marry the princess. Even though she also cares deeply for Wentai, the two of them must put the good of China ahead of their own emotions. After the two of them share a long embrace, Wentai departs and never sees Mulan again.