Disney’s Live-Action Mulan Ending Explained

Disney's live-action Mulan has a few surprises up its sleeves. Let's break down that epic ending.

Photo: Disney

This Mulan article contains MAJOR spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review here.

Disney just dropped its live-action adaptation of Mulan on Disney+ for “premium access.” Directed by Niki Caro and based on the Chinese legend, the film tells the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who disguises herself as a man in order to take her aging father’s place in the army. The new, live-action version is very much not a shot-for-shot remake of the 1998 animated film, which means, even if you are a fan of the original Disney feature, you might still have some questions about how everything went down in the live-action flick. Let’s break down Mulan‘s epic ending…

Mulan Defends the Imperial City

Mulan leads her compatriots into the Imperial City, which is unguarded thanks to the powerful Xianniang, who possessed the chancellor and instructed them all to gather in one place. Things go sideways fast and the soldiers take on the rest of the baddies. 

Mulan goes looking for the emperor, but he has gone off to confront Rouran enemy Böri Khan, also thanks to Xianniang/chancellor, whom Mulan finds on the imperial throne in his place. Seeing her there, it’s hard not to think that if things were different, she could’ve been on a throne like that, a warrior empress in her own right. She’s certainly more formidable than Böri Khan. 

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Xianniang Dies to Save Mulan

Mulan and Xianniang pick up where their previous confrontation in the geothermal valley before the avalanche. Mulan has clearly revealed her true self, but Xianniang nonetheless finds it “impossible” for a woman to be leading a man’s army, since she has lived a life of exile. She tells Mulan she never wanted to live a life of darkness and destruction, but was forced to by the way she was treated by society. Mulan tries to appeal to the inherent goodness within Xianniang, and the conversation continues over the rooftops of the imperial city, calling back to Mulan’s childhood at the beginning of the film. 

In the end, Xianniang sees more in common with Mulan and seems regretful of her own life, showing Mulan the way to Böri Khan and the Emperor. Xianniang tells her former master that Mulan has done the impossible: a woman leads this army. He dismisses that as impossible and calls Mulan a girl, which Xianniang corrects: “woman.” 

When Böri Khan sees he has been betrayed, he notches an arrow and shoots it at Mulan, using what appears to be his greatest skill (other than catching arrows.) While we’ve watched Mulan use her qi to defy many arrows throughout the movie, Xianniang must know that Böri Khan’s archery skills are too much for her, because she flies to intercept the arrow, falling out of the sky. Mulan catches her in bird form and she transforms back into a person, dying in Mulan’s arms, having sacrificed herself for the woman who could do what she could not. It’s unclear why Böri Khan doesn’t simply shoot another arrow at Mulan.

Mulan Uses Her Qi To Kill Böri Khan

Mulan fights Böri Khan on bamboo scaffolding above some molten lava pits that he created just for the occasion? Sadly, Mulan loses her (father’s) sword, which falls into one of the pits and melts down. Throughout the fight, the emperor encourages her to tap into her qi, and at one point the ancestral phoenix reappears, as it has in all her times of greatest need throughout the film, to help her fight. 

Böri Khan and Mulan fight on a beam high above the ground, suspended by a rope. Mulan eventually cuts the rope, sending the beam and Böri Khan falling to what appears to be a typical Disney bloodless, morally sound death. She quickly jumps onto the rope that holds the beam up, and swings to the emperor’s side, where she frees one of his hands. But Böri Khan isn’t dead after all, and he shoots an arrow at the emperor, who uses his free hand and his qi to catch it. Mulan uses her qi as well and redirects the arrow, to kill Böri Khan, who tries to catch it as we’ve seen him do earlier in the film but fails, dying. It all makes for a rare Disney death where the hero takes an active, direct, intentional role. 

Does Mulan Get in Trouble For Pretending to Be a Man?

Having saved the emperor, Mulan reunites with her fellow soldiers, and while it briefly looks like Cricket has died because he is slumped over and full of arrows, it’s just an illusion. The soldier was lucky after all – it’s just the arrows in his bag, and he was only momentarily knocked down. Mulan, the Sergeant, and all of their soldiers made it through the battle, victorious.

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There’s a huge festival in celebration of the victory. A beautiful woman leads Mulan into the imperial chamber to see the Emperor – it’s the original (speaking) voice of Mulan, actor Ming-Na Wan (Agents of SHIELD), in a cameo. The emperor thanks Mulan for everything, compliments her, and offers her the greatest honor for a soldier, to be an officer in imperial guard. She turns it down because she says she has to make amends with family, and it’s pretty awkward because there’s quite the crowd. 

Mulan’s Love Interest Honghui

Mulan gets ready to go back home, but fellow soldier Honghui stops her before she goes, to say she didn’t say goodbye, and generally be romantic and dreamy. He offers his hand to her and remarks that she’s still afraid to take it, but now that he’s in on her secret, it feels like the context is changed. Rather than rebuffing friendship, it feels like Mulan hesitates because it’s now a romantic offer. She leaves without taking his hand, but there’s a sense that these two crazy kids will see each other again. 

Mulan Returns Home

Mulan arrives home and her sister, who’s made up and pouring tea for the matchmaker instantly knows it’s her– does she have some of that qi power herself? Mulan apologizes to her family but it’s a happy reunion. She’s sorry about losing her father’s sword, especially because she now understands why it means so much to him, and he tells his daughter that she’s a warrior now. 

They’re interrupted by the arrival of the Emperor’s guard, which now includes Sergeant Qiang. Mulan’s father anticipates that he’s there to punish his daughter and says that his old friend will have to go through him, but Sergeant Qiang assures him that’s not why he’s there. He comes bearing a personal present for Mulan, from the emperor, a replacement sword. The three characters from her father’s sword are etched into one side of the blade, loyal, brave, true, with one additional character on the reverse: dedication to family. Sergeant Qiang says that Mulan has brought honor to them all and reiterates the emperor’s offer for Mulan to become an officer in the emperor’s guard. The entire village is overwhelmed by this presence, and the fact that it’s all for Mulan. 

Mulan looks at the new sword she’s earned, and in the reflection she sees her childhood self and the phoenix, and she smiles. The film ends there, but it implies that, having brought honor to her family, her village, and her country by being true to herself, Mulan will now honor her own wishes and accept the offer to join the emperor’s guard and continue to cultivate her qi.