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Villain Overview
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 because he believes that the Chinese emperor who built the Great Wall as both an insult and a challenge. As a violent warlord, Shan Yu leads his horde of Huns to invade, savoring when China knows he is there. 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 Hun Soldiers as his henchmen. He also uses Hayabusa as a messenger and spy.

In the 1998 animated film, he was voiced by the late Miguel Ferrer, who later played Big Boss in 20th Century Fox/Blue Sky's Rio 2, and Deathstroke in Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. In Kingdom Hearts II, he was voiced by Corey Burton, who also played Captain James HookCount Dooku, Onus in Disney's Treasure PlanetJones in Disney's Tarzan, and Quint in the Disney animated series Timon & Pumbaa. In the 2020 live action remake, he will be portrayed by Jason Scott Lee, who also played Caine 607 in Soldier.

Personality

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.

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Shan Yu charging into battle.

Like his people, Shan Yu is trained in living off the Earth, possessing heightened senses and a saker falcon as his pet. Shan-Yu is a formidable army leader. Without any human feeling, he leads men who seem just as cruel and vengeful as he is.

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. But Shan-Yu is not just a thick brute. And his stature and power are not his only strengths. The villain has a formidable reputation. He is known, recognized and above all feared all over China. No one is ignorant, in the Middle Kingdom, of this enemy, who is attacking the country, who burns the villages, murders civilians, women and children, and annihilates whole garrisons. All the soldiers crossed on the invasion road confirm that Shan-Yu is formidable and feared. And the fate he holds for them only reinforces this threat. Shan-Yu is an assassin. Everyone knows it and he plays it perfectly. And if death is never shown in Mulan, it is strongly suggested. Smile to the lips, Shan-Yu believes himself to be indestructible, unbeatable and delights with death. One of the two soldiers sent to warn the emperor will inevitably be killed by one of his archers. And the village in the mountains, still smoking, shows the heroes and spectators that the villain does not make quarters. Without mercy, he spreads death wherever he goes.

Perfectly demonic, Shan-Yu seems to be a man of wit. Every word is reflected, weighed, chiseled. Shan Yu does not speak to say nothing. His words are carefully chosen. His sentences are pungent, terrifying. He speaks calmly, does not hurry. He leads his conquest calmly and when he meets the Emperor's soldiers, he phlegmatically informs them of his motives and plans. He even makes humor by asking one of his comrades-in-arms how many men it takes to deliver a message. Preparing his bow, the latter replies "one" with slyness, announcing the death of one of the two poor soldiers released. And when he got his way, during his face-to-face encounter with the Emperor, Shan-Yu savored what he thought was his victory without ever ostensibly triumphing. But soon, the situation escapes him and his demeanor changes. He loses his temper and becomes this "animal" that he never ceased to be. Prisoner in the palace and encircled by a crowd determined to do battle, he can not restrain his cries. And when he discovers that the soldier at the origin of the destruction of his army, in the mountain, is none other than a woman, he totally loses control. He becomes brutal, acts quickly, violently, gesticulates, no longer controls himself. Knocking down doors and ceilings, he finds himself on the roof of the palace, trapped. He finally rushes himself to his own loss.

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. The emperor dead, the audience is unaware, however, whether Shan-Yu will take his place or not. The leader of the Huns does not speak, it is true, never clearly to take power. His only job seems to have the sole purpose of showing that the Great Wall, a superb military edifice, is not capable of arresting a people he thinks is unbeatable.

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.

Appearance

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.

Biography

Mulan

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.

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After close examination of the doll, Shan Yu deduces that the Imperial Army is waiting for him.

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.

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Mulan firing the remaining cannon at the mountains, wiping out most of the Hun army.

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.

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Shan Yu horrified when he sees a rocket heading straight towards him.

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

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Shan Yu in 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.

Quotes

Animated 1998

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.

Trivia

  • 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.
  • Shan Yu's black eyes may be a procedure known as scleral tattooing, in which tattoo ink is injected into the whites of the eye. This procedure is traditionally done in certain cultures and is still sometimes practiced today.
  • 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, but he invaded the Roman Empire instead.
  • 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 RatiganThe Walrus, and Sabor.

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