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What Niki Caro’s Mulan does that no other Disney remake has is take a number of creative liberties to separate itself from its animated classic. The iconic heroine is transported into an action epic that replaces Hun warlord villain Shan Yu, among other changes. The 2020 version enlisted two villains for Mulan to face off against: Jason Scott Lee’s Bori Khan and Gong Li’s Xian Lang. But crafting these new characters was not without some shifts to the script throughout the production process.
When speaking with Jason Scott Lee for Mulan over a video call, I asked the actor, famously known for portraying Bruce Lee in 1993’s Dragon, if there were any scenes regarding his character that didn’t make it into the final version of the film. Here’s what he said:
Actually, there were quite a few, and the script changed as well. There were a lot of changes made when Gong Li came on, and I think a lot of changes she wanted restructured, so that was a big shift in the screenplay. A lot of stuff that we shot and choreographed that we never shot or didn’t make it into the film.
It’s no secret many big-budget films often make adjustments during their lengthy productions as they go along, and 2020’s Mulan, which was made available for Premier Access on Disney+ on Friday, had a few key script changes behind the scenes. Lee explained that Curse of the Golden Flower’s Gong Li, who is a high-profile star of China, had some say in the direction of the film when she was cast as the powerful witch Mulan must confront.
Lee was clear that both villains of Bori Khan and Xian Lang were already in the Mulan script when he and Gong Li were cast, continuing with these words:
I was kind of the final casting on it because all the other actors were already there. Gong Li showed up after me, but her character was already written in. I think there was a scene where Mulan is going to recruitment camp and she came across Gong Li’s character tangled up in these trees. In that scene, Mulan unties her and saves her in a way that didn’t make it in. But yeah, there was a lot of stuff they had to rework around the script – maybe they didn’t feel flowed well or something like that.
It can be a balancing act when there are two main villains and each of them serves a different purpose within the story, which is based on an ancient folktale. And this is all on top of the movie telling the story of Mulan disguising herself as a male soldier in the Imperial army to spare her father from going to war again in his old age. It is especially interesting to hear that Gong Li specifically had an effect on the writer's room.
Lee touches on an additional scene with Xian Lang in which Mulan may have actually saved the witch somewhere in the film. During Mulan, there’s an interesting dynamic between the two women because Xian Lang sees herself in Mulan and warns her against how unforgiving the world of men is to women with power. Now, I’m curious as to where the script was going prior. There may have been intentions to make Xian Lang a more lighthearted character and make Bori Khan the even bigger baddie? Can’t wait for deleted scenes down the line!