Friday, March 11, 2016

WBI: Shan Yu

Shan Yu is a tricky villain to tackle because he isn’t the main problem of Mulan. The problem is that Mulan is a girl in the imperial army who will die if she is found out. But read on. He’s interesting anyway.

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WBI Profile

Classification :: Φ01578#
Role :: Agent of Chaos (muck up the emperor!)
Motivations :: chaos (dissolution of reigning order), evil (murdering small girls is fun), lifestyle (HUNS), personal/material gain (proving he can muck up the emperor), power/influence (conquering China)
Bonus :: minions (Hun army)

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His Significance to…

The Emperor—Shan Yu’s forces threaten the livelihood and happiness of every man, woman, and child to which the Emperor is accountable. That’s kind of a big deal.

Shang—on the one hand, Shan Yu creates the war that promotes him to captain. And on the other, Shan Yu’s war kills his father and almost his emperor and some of his men. But he meets Mulan, so.

Mulan—the demand for her injured, older father to fight in a war he can’t survive calls Mulan to action. Shan Yu’s threat leads her to become a soldier, enter battles, decimate most of the Hun army, and bring great shame upon her family. Until she saves the emperor’s life. Then no shame.

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Notable Actions

accepting the challenge—Shan Yu’s first “Agent of Chaos moment” appears in the opening scene when he explains that the construction of the Great Wall was an invitation to invade China. The Wall is a defensive structure, but also symbolizes order and strength he feels compelled to dissolve.

killing that child—he regards a doll with a smile on his lips and says, “Besides, little girl will be missing her doll. We should return it to her.” It amuses him to slaughter everyone in that town. He takes pleasure in dissolving the lives of ordinary people, their lives, families, towns, and people. Which is messed up.

plugging on—Mulan destroys the Hun army in a single blow. She reduces what was a group of several hundred men brutalizing the Chinese mountain populations to a group of like, eight. Dang, girl. Despite all that, Shan Yu survives and still almost kills the emperor, because that man is determined.

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Big Idea

clever, but cruel—I like Shan Yu. He’s pleasant in a “I’m secretly raving and about to slit your throat” kind of way. He enlists talented, efficient soldiers. He has a dry sense of humor. He’s good. But also bad, because he likes what he does.

we side with his values—upon learning that the person who saved all their lives is a woman, the Chinese army wants to execute her and actually abandons her. Upon learning that the person who killed his army and saved the emperor is a woman, Shan Yu just accepts it and tries to kill her in revenge. For the army, it’s who she is; for Shan Yu, it’s what she did. How should we feel about a villain who judges our protagonist for the measure of her actions when her own people won’t?

he attacks culture—this is the big one, the crux of his Agent-of-Chaos-ness. We do not see the homes, families, or children of the Huns; they exist only in the realm of war. Though perhaps not a good measure against history, this trait matters because it contrasts the Chinese identity. The Chinese are cultured. The film shows they have customs, practices, and attitudes regarding war, dress, livelihoods, familial roles, gender roles, relationships to children and the elderly as well as one’s ancestors. They’re rich with the traits that make them Chinese—Shan Yu would take all that away. He’d conquer the Great Wall. He’d assassinate the figurehead of Chinese unity and identity. And he wouldn’t stop. Could he rule all China? Probably not. But could the essence of China survive when plunged into the culture-less, war-ridden waste the Huns would enforce upon them? No, not really. If Shan Yu did all he wanted, he’d stop culture and progress in its tracks. He is chaos. He is the end.

Wow, Heather, that was deep. Why do I care?

I’m glad you asked. See, Shan Yu isn’t the only one threatening culture and tradition in this film. The other threat? Mulan herself! She challenges her people’s gender roles, customs, and traditions—a crime so unforgiveable that the punishment is death. But she is absolved and allowed to move forward. The change she incites is worth making. That’s why she goes home with honor and Shan Yu does not. Shan Yu dies, as he needed to. He represents the kind of threat that would not help a culture evolve, but end a culture altogether. And without culture, who on earth would we be?

We should fear Shan Yu. Yes, he takes lives, but he also eliminates the core of what unites us as people. Our traditions, our culture, and our unity. And that’s crazy scary, if you ask me.

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“Congratulations, boys. You found the Hun army.” –Shan Yu, Mulan

Have you watched Mulan? (Have you read the poem? Because Alyssa can hook you up.) What did you think of Shan Yu?


18 comments :

  1. Mulan is one of my favorite Disney "princesses". Unlike most of them, she isn't motivated by a boy or just out to spite her family. (Ok, so that might be a little harsh. But she and Belle are my favorites).

    Shan Yu is a very dark villain. That scene with the doll makes me feel ill every time. But that's another reason why I like Mulan so much.

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    1. Nice! (And yeah, maybe, but if Belle is your favorite princess you've got some good old Stockholm syndrome to round that out, so I wouldn't worry. ;) )

      Yes, he is kind of horrible, but it does add to Mulan's gravity, which is good. Thanks for reading!

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  2. Gosh, I love Mulan. Shan Yu STILL gives me chills, and I love your point that both he and Mulan are challenging the accepted order. Great post!

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    1. Indeed, they make for an interestingly paired duo, no? Thanks for stopping by, Alex!

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  3. Mulan is the best! I think it's a really interesting story and I really like it. I really appreciate your analysis of Shan Yu too :) . When I was in 8th grade, my school did the musical Mulan. My friend Jonah was Shan Yu and he was super scary. (y'know. For an 8th grader) I agree about how both him and Mulan posed different threats to society, but his was destructive while hers was constructive. This was such an interesting WBI!

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    1. My best friend has also talked about the musical of Mulan and I am so curious to see it because apparently it is so great! I'm glad that Jonah was a great scary eighth grader, though. :) Thanks for reading, Shar!

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  4. Woah, Heather, that was deep. I'd never thought about how Mulan and Shan Yu were similar. They're both trying to destroy part of the Chinese culture, but she's moving them forwards and he's moving them back. (And they want to kill both of them? That's slightly less than awesome.)

    Mind=blown

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    1. I don't think Mulan is "trying" to destroy Chinese culture... sorta... I mean, I think mostly she wants her dad not to be dead. But in doing so, that requires some pushback. So there you go.

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  5. The comparisons between Shan Yu and Mulan are really intriguing! I'd never thought of them that way before, with such big similarities in how they affect the story. I haven't watched Mulan in a while but I'll definitely be thinking about this next time I do. Great post, Heather! :)

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    1. Yeah, their roles are like similar but different. I thought it was a very interesting way to contrast the two. Thanks for reading, Jameson!

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  6. I LOVE MULAN! There's a live action version of it that I've been meaning to watch, but I haven't got around to it yet.

    I really enjoyed your discussion of the similarities between Mulan and Shan Yu. The best heroes are also the ones that have a bit of villain to them.

    Really great post!

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    1. Is there? I know that Disney is making one (which... blah. I don't think it will be very good but I guess we'll see). I'm curious of this. I will look it up.

      And the best villains are ones that have a little bit of hero to them, too. Thanks, Sunny!

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  7. Welp. I basically agreed with everything you said but I thought I ought to add a note about the "Huns" attacking Chinese culture.

    Like, in basically all of the dynasties China and the neighbouring countries did not exactly get along well. And I feel like the portrayal of "border tribes" as cultureless warrior people falls into a trope that Chinese history textbooks always fall into. Also, regarding China not surviving such a clash, that is not quite true. This is a historical experiment known as Genghis Khan and the Yuan dynasty. Yeah, it kinda sucked for Han Chinese people, but we're still here. *nods*

    PS: Mulan actually is not challenging Chinese culture that much. We've always had warrior women, even if they are typically subservient to men, which technically Mulan still is since she is going to war for her father. *shrugs* Clearly it was not EASY for women to learn martial arts unless her male family relatives supported her, but I'm just gonna say that it wasn't exactly "against" culture as much as most people think it is.

    PPS: Sorry for the novella comment. I seriously didn't mean to say that much.

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    1. Oooh. I have not heard about that before, and I defer to your knowledge of these things. I guess I would just say that I was sort of thinking about this purely in the movie's context, which inherently means having an American perspective, so it sort of also inherently is ignorant and disrespectful of actual history and actual culture. And I obviously didn't do any research about anything. So, yeah. You also have the better points.

      (And to the PS: Yes. And the movie supports that idea of it being totally against culture, which is the framework where I was working, but again, I trust what you say. It doesn't surprise me that we'd make a movie making a bigger deal about nothing than was or thinking about it from the perspective of a culture that historically prevented women from going to war no matter what. So.)

      PPS: You are always nice about my ridiculously long comments on your blog so why are you even worried. ;)

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  8. I've seen Mulan, but dude that was so long ago, and it was on Netflix so I think I was probably multitasking whilst watching (but aren't we all guilty of the classic multitasking Netflix?). But, what I do remember is that it kind of aimed to be a really inspiring female-powered movie. And I love that.

    I never thought about the connection with Shan Yu, though. Interesting ideas, and I kind of get what you mean when it comes to the whole destroying of the Chinese culture.

    Amy;
    Little Moon Elephant

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    1. XD Yeah, it can be hard to keep track of movies when multitasking; it's something I've tried to wean myself off of lately. It did do that, though, so I agree.

      I think they did their best to make him more than a contrived villain in a story that didn't really need him... I like to think they succeeded.

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  9. I ADORE THIS MOVIE. It’s one of my favorite disney films.

    Also, this was super interesting, especially that last part, about Shan-Yu destroying them as a culture. Like, I’d never thought about it that way, that yeah, he kills people and that’s DEFINITELY sad, but he also destroys their culture, he attempts to eradicate everything that makes them who they are. And that... that idea is pretty intense.


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. It is good, no?

      It is pretty intense. I think Alyssa's comment up there sort of points out some flaws in my thinking, but at least from the perspective of the movie it is very intense. Like camping.

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