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Your walls and armies have fallen. And now it's your turn. Bow to me.
~ Shan Yu to the Emperor.
Shan Yu (sometimes spelled Shan-Yu) is the main antagonist of Disney's 36th full-length animated feature film Mulan. He is the mysterious chieftain of the Huns and a ruthless warlord who is determined to invade and conquer China. He is the reason that Mulan joined the Imperial army in her father's place and also the reason of Mulan getting nearly executed by the orders of Chi-Fu upon discovering her true gender. He also has the falcon named Hayabusa as his pet, and the Elite Huns as his henchmen. He also uses Hayabusa as a messenger and spy.
Shan Yu (in Chinese: 单于, Xiang Yu) is the cruel and manipulative leader of the Xiongnu Huns who successfully climbs over the Great Wall and invades the land to prove his "superiority" to the Emperor.
Like his people, Shan Yu is trained in living off the Earth, possessing heightened senses and a saker falcon as his pet.
His strength is demonstrated many times during the course of the film, such as easily breaking down a barricaded door or effortlessly slicing through a massive pillar with his sword, making him easily one of the strongest characters in the film.
Shan Yu is a truly ruthless and destructive individual who kills without mercy, remorse and, on occasion, as a joke; for example, after freeing two captured Chinese scouts to carry a message to the Emperor, he then comments to an archer, "How many men does it take to deliver a message?" (the archer replies "one", nocking an arrow).
While Shan Yu is clearly heartless and abusive to his foes, he is proud of his army, as shown at the beginning when he thought it was "perfect" that all of China knew that he and his army were there after the signal fire was lighted, and when he flatly blew off one of his men's suggestion to avoid the Imperial troops and instead opt to take them head on, despite knowing that they are the elite of China's armies.
However, despite displaying pride towards his men, he does not care about them beyond a professional level. He shows little regard for their safety and only cares about them for pragmatic reasons. Overall, Shan Yu is a heartless war lord who took joy in the suffering of others.
Like other characters in the film, Shan Yu has a Mongoloid-Asiatic texture, gray skin, glowing yellow eyes, bared fangs, long black flowing hair, a long mustache, and he wears a ragged coat with multiple animal pelts. He is also the only Hun with yellow eyes and is sometimes seen with a hood.
In the film's opening scene, Shan Yu scales the Great Wall of China and leading the Huns in an invasion of China, setting the tone for the rest of the film. When one of the Chinese guards of the Great Wall revealed that he lit the torches and that the Emperor will soon know of Shan Yu's presence in an attempt to intimidate him, Shan Yu's only response was to burn one of the Imperial flags on the torch in front of him before giving a satisfied "perfect", revealing that the Emperor receiving the message of Shan Yu and the Huns' invasion was precisely what he had intended to accomplish.
Later on, Shan Yu destroyed yet another village and exposed two spies sent by the Emperor. He ordered them to pass a message to the Emperor telling to send his best men for battle. Before the two were able to leave, he had his head archer murder one.
Later, while waiting for the Emperor's armies, Shan Yu's pet falcon named Hayabusa acquired a doll from a village in the Tung Shao Pass. After close examination of the doll and traces on it by his five main men, Shan Yu deduces that the Imperial Army is waiting for them. Though one of his archers suggested that they simply avoid the soldiers and continue heading towards the Imperial City, Shan Yu insisted on confronting the Imperial army, as the quickest way to the Emperor was through the pass, before adding "And besides, the little girl will be missing her doll. We should return it to her." with an extremely manipulative and murderous grin.
Shan Yu and the Huns ambushed General Li's army, so they fought against the Emperor's best troops, including General Li, and ultimately won the battle, setting the village on fire on the process. The Huns only suffered minimal casualties, leaving hundreds of troops intact. Unfortunately, only the aftermath was seen in the film. None of the known survivors were discovered by Li Shang's troops. As they headed for the Imperial City, the Hun army noticed them and sneaked up a mountain in the Tung Shao Pass, preparing their fiery arrows. When Mushu accidentally fires a cannon causing their position given away to him and his army, the Huns attacked, casting flaming arrows from the mountains to disintegrate their ammunition.
Shan-Yu then led his entire army to wipe out Li Shang's small battalion. Mulan, however, took control of Li Shang's last cannon, aiming it for a nearby mountain.
This maneuver triggered an avalanche that wipes out almost all of Shan-Yu's army and encases Shan Yu in a thick blanket of snow. At first, it seems like a complete victory, thanks to Mulan. However, it is not so. Following the avalanche and the departure of Li Shang's troops, Haybusa screeched the all-clear and Shan Yu rose from the snow, shaken and infuriated at the loss of his army. A loud yell of anger is all it takes for Mulan to realize that there is still a chance for the Huns; Shan Yu's falcon and five of his best troops had survived the assault. Since the Imperial army are unaware that Shan Yu is alive at this point, Shan Yu and his troops are able to infiltrate Imperial City, though Mulan chooses to pursue them to warn Shang.
While his troops hid within a Chinese lion at the Imperial celebration, Shan Yu lies in wait on top of the roof of the Emperor's palace. At the right moment, Shan Yu's falcon retrieves his sword and his troops sprung into action, locking up the palace and kidnapping the Emperor. As Shan Yu threatens the Emperor to bow to him, Mulan, Li Shang, Yao, Chien-Pao, and Ling infiltrate the palace in an attempt to rescue the Emperor, the latter three being in drag (as a disguise). Mulan, Yao, Chien-Po and Ling defeat Shan Yu's men and his pet falcon is fried by Mushu.
After securing the Emperor, in an attempt to distract Shan Yu from Shang (whom he was about to slaughter) Mulan reveals that it was she who destroyed his army. Pursuing her throughout the palace and onto the roof, Shan Yu's attempts to kill Mulan backfire when Mulan initiates a plan of her own.
Immobilizing the Hun leader by pinning his cape to the roof with his own sword, Mushu aims a large rocket at him. Releasing the rocket, Mushu, Mulan, and Crik-ee escape from the roof as it hits Shan Yu at great speed and propels him through the air into a munitions tower, resulting in a huge colorful explosion that (albeit offscreen) blows him to smithereens. Mulan is then awarded Shan Yu's sword for her success of ridding China of the Huns forever.
House of Mouse
Shan Yu appeared as minor guest character in the House of Mouse, he made cameos in several episodes of the series.
Kingdom Hearts II
Shan Yu appears in Kingdom Hearts II as one of the first Disney Villains that Sora and company can fight in the game. He appears in the Land of Dragons, a world based on Mulan. The game follows much of the film's storyline, except for the fact that instead of having an army Of Huns, he could summon an army of Heartless. He traps Sora and Mulan in a cave full of Heartless, while he destroys the Imperial Army's village.
When Sora, Mulan, Donald, and Goofy, along with the Imperial army, appear at the summit, the scene plays like a similar mountain scene in the film. He then makes his way into the Emperor's castle, but is stopped by Sora, Mulan, and the others. He fights them, using dark energy to enhance his abilities and working alongside his attack falcon, Hayabusa, and a swarm of Heartless. He tends to favor the Rapid Thruster Heartless, creating an army of them to attack Sora and friends on the mountain pass (in the movie it was his Hun army that attacked the heroes on the pass).
During the boss battle he will send three Nightwalker Heartless to try and take down the door. This swarm of Heartless is resurrected when Sora fights a mysterious cloaked man that is later revealed as Riku on the same pass. He is ultimately slain by Sora. Shan Yu was unassociated with Maleficent or Organization XIII, making his role in the game equivalent to that of Clayton from the first game.
The Kingdom Keepers
Shan Yu also appears as "Shan-Yu" in The Kingdom Keepers, where he challenges Finn Whitman and finding that Finn can turn from human to pure light tries to kill him as well as his friend, Charlene.
Nice work, gentlemen. You found the Hun army.
~ Shan Yu to Imperial soldiers.
Stop me? He invited me. By building his wall he challenged my strength. Well, I'm here to play his game.
~ Shan Yu when told the Emperor will stop him.
How many me does it take to deliver a message?
~ Shan Yu before having his archer kill an Imperial soldier.
A little girl will be missing her doll. We should return it to her.
~ Shan Yu
Then you will kneel in pieces!
~ Shan Yu to the emperor of China as the latter defiantly refuses to capitulate.
You took away my victory!
~ Shan Yu to Shang.
It looks like you're out of ideas.
~ Shan Yu's last words to Mulan just before his demise.
He is ranked #18 in the Top 30 Disney Villains.
Surprisingly enough, unlike most of the other characters, Shan Yu never underestimated Mulan, even when he found out that she was a woman.
In a deleted scene, Shan Yu and his men attack a village and burn it to the ground, killing all of its inhabitants, then asking his men if they left anything alive. When all of his men say "no", Shan Yu approaches one who had hidden a canary inside of his coat, taking the bird and letting it go free, only to have it eaten by Hayabusa instead. Shan Yu then stabs the man in the stomach for his weakness, killing him instantly, and tells his men that they are going to do the same to the Emperor. This scene was deleted for being too graphic for a younger audience.
In another deleted scene, it was revealed that he was originally going to have a spiritual connection with Hayabusa.
He may be inspired by Attila. Whereas Shan Yu died by the hands of fireworks, Attila died by suffering a severe nosebleed and choking in a stupor the night that he was to be married to his future wife Ildico. However, Attila never tried to invade China, instead invading the Roman Empire.
Although Shan Yu is the main villain, he has only around 6 minutes of screen-time.
Shan Yu is one of the few Disney villains to have canonically murdered children, as suggested by the doll left behind from the destroyed village. The other three are Professor Ratigan, The Walrus, and Sabor.