As Disney fans eagerly await the theatrical release of the live-action Mulan, some wonder how this version will hold up compared to the animated classic without its heartthrob Li Shang. When fans noticed Captain Li Shang’s name was absent from the casting notices for Mulan, an avalanche of displeasure made its way across social media, calling the decision “dishonor on you.”
General Li Shang was not only a key character in the animated film, but he stole our hearts with his good looks, sick martial arts skills, a catchy song, and status as a bisexual icon. His character helped drive the story forward, pushing not only Mulan but the rest of his troops to be their best and rise to a massive challenge. We also saw the devastation of war through his experience of losing his father.
Li Shang’s bond with Mulan’s male alter-ego Ping speaks volumes for the LGBTQ community, so why isn’t Li Shang in the movie? According to producer Jason Reed, we’ll actually still have Li Shang in the new Mulan—sort of.
“We split Li Shang into two characters. One became Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) who serves as her surrogate father and mentor in the course of the movie. The other is Honghui (Yoson An) who is [Mulan’s] equal in the squad.”
Reed cites #MeToo movement as an influence on their decision to rework the character
“I think particularly in the time of the #MeToo movement, having a commanding officer that is also the sexual love interest was very uncomfortable and we didn’t think it was appropriate.”.
This decision removes the power differential, but how will Mulan and Honghui Chen’s dynamic play out? Reed and his team used the animated movie as the model for that level of relationship.
New Zealand actor Yoson An who plays Honghui describes his character as very still, honorable, and observant, and talks about his and Mulan’s initial dynamic
“They start off on the wrong foot, really. As they progress through the training together, they kind of have this unspoken bond about it because they recognize each other’s warrior spirit. That’s how they kind of build their friendship up to begin with, through the training and acknowledging each other.”
While remaining tight-lipped on the LGBTQ aspect of his character, An talked about how he drew his inspiration for Honghui,
“I see this film as a different variation from the animated version and the original story of The Ballad of Mulan. I kind of took a different angle from Li Shang’s character. I can’t really say to a lot of how that will come across but there is a multi-dimensional layer to him and the audience will be able to see that when they watch the movie.“.
Li Shang will always have a special place in our hearts and we’ll see for ourselves how the dynamic between Mulan and Honghui plays out on March 27th when Mulan hits theaters. Tickets are on sale starting today.
For more of my set visit coverage, check out my rundown of the biggest differences from the animated film and why the characters won’t be breaking out into song.