WBI ProfileClassification :: 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)
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.
Notable Actionsaccepting 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.
Big Ideaclever, 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.