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‘Making a Man Out of You’ – Interview with Star of Disney’s Mulan, Chen Tang

On Sept. 4, 2020, Disney+ is set to release the live-action adaptation of one of the most incredible stories of girl power and inner strength ever released by the legendary franchise, "Mulan". In preparation for the impending release, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview one of the stars of the upcoming film. The man set to fill our screens as the sarcastic and hot-tempered, but lovable character of “Yao”, actor Chen Tang.

Let’s talk COVID. "Mulan" was originally supposed to premiere in theaters at the end of March, but we all know what ended up happening there. With that in mind, what are your opinions on Disney’s idea to release the film through their streaming platform, Disney+?

Chen Tang: Hey there! Thank you for having me. Yeah, it was a whirlwind that month. We had our red carpet in LA on March 11, and then some of the cast went to London for the red carpet over there. And literally, a couple of days later, Disney made the decision to shut down the release since the quarantine started in the U.S. at the end of the week. Talk about a huge swing of emotions! My honest opinion on the streaming release is that I’m a bit bummed, but only because the film really is a cinematic experience (and it was actually shot widescreen, Lawrence of Arabia-style, for cinema). But on the other hand, you know, I’m actually pretty happy that tons of people will see it. At the end of the day, this is a health crisis; health and safety first, movies second.  It’s more important that people stay safe. And besides, you never know with these things, and I gotta just trust the will of the Universe in a way. There’s always the possibility they might re-release it in theatres at a later date because let me tell you, nothing can beat a ginormous screen and blasting sound. Things have a way of working out.  

I’m sure "Mulan" was an incredibly demanding set to be a part of, physically speaking, but Yao is considered to be the camp’s “tough guy”. What did you, along with the rest of the cast, have to do in preparation for production?

CT: We had the hardest, most intense physical training program I’ve ever gone through. I’ve been an athlete for much of my life, but this one took the cake. The director and production set up a sort of “training camp” for the “Squad," the name they called Mulan’s soldier buddies in our camp, as a way of bonding and to get us into the feeling and look of being farmer-laborer-soldiers. We trained Monday through Friday, hours and hours a day, the ENTIRE length of the production. Mostly, it was like a real boot camp: miles and miles and miles of running, running up mountains in the South Island of New Zealand, nonstop calisthenics, physical labor (like hauling things and pushing heavy objects for long distances), crawling and carrying each other, etc. Then we went to hours of stunt and fight training, then horseback riding (!), sometimes archery training, and even marching, and learning how to be in ancient army spear and shield formations with the extras. Actually, speaking of the extras, it was the first time I’ve ever seen a production actually audition, do callbacks, and pick a battalion of extras to be a hundred-strong army. Then they were actually sent to their OWN training camp too! By the time we were all done, it really felt like being in an army.  

Of the physical trainings you had to learn in preparation for the film, which ended up being your favorite? Why?

CT: Definitely archery. I can’t express to you how cool it feels to pull back a Mongolian recurve bow and just see how far the arrow can fly. I remember thinking, “this is super addictive, just shooting arrow after arrow at a target.” It’s like playing a game. You just wanted to keep doing it.

"Mulan" is one of, if not the most, inspiring stories of woman empowerment. How does it feel to be a part of the live-action depiction of that?

CT: It is an incredible honor. Honestly, being a part of this film will always be one of the great experiences of my life. Words cannot describe adequately the journey we went on. 

With stories like "Mulan", "Crazy Rich Asians", "Green Book" and "Moonlight" gaining international traction, do you think that Hollywood is finally opening up to inclusivity? What do you hope the future of the entertainment industry looks like?

CT: You know, I really hope so. But no matter what happens, one thing is for certain: the world now is too interconnected to not be open to inclusivity. I think it’s the way of the world, and that change is actually inevitable. Anything else is just not being with the times, you know? I really hope the future of our industry sees more stories actually written and created by the communities and people who have lived those stories. The most personal is often the most creative. Stories like "The Farewellwere so, so personal and detailed in a way that only people who have truly lived for a while in those lives could tell them. I hope that more creatives speak up with their own unique stories, and we can see them from an “insider’s perspective."

What kind of stories do you want to tell in the future?

CT: I’m so drawn to work that demands me to transform--stuff that’s really far from my regular life. I’ve always been drawn to this art form because I’m a sucker for exploring and experiencing different lives and worlds. Being a traveler of the imagination and heart in a way,  I’ve always been attracted to character-driven stories. So pretty much any project that will demand and encourage us actors to dig and really explore our characters’ lives.  

What was your all around favorite part of making "Mulan"?

CT: The SIZE of the whole thing. My favorite scene to shoot was the big battle, where the army all lines up before the enemy. Very epic stuff. Disney did not pull back on this thing. Imagine a hundred-plus strong battalion, horses, archers, drums, flags waving in the wind, mountains and glaciers all around you in the wild and rugged South Island of New Zealand. The drums are beating faster and faster, and it’s FREEZING and windy, and you’re just… there. Everybody had chill bumps, and definitely not just because of the cold.  

What is one thing you want all audiences to walk away with after watching "Mulan"?

CT: I just want people to really enjoy the ride. That’s what movies are for, right? Enjoy the ride! It’s a different feel than the cartoon, but I believe we went with an artistic and creative vision that took risks. But it’s beautiful, moving, and epic like you wouldn’t believe.   

"Mulan" will be available for purchase through the streaming service Disney+ on Sept. 4, 2020 for $30. That’s less than the cost of two movie theater tickets! With that price comes lifetime access to the movie, so long as subscribers maintain their Disney+ memberships. Not too shabby!

Make sure you catch Chen Tang and the rest of the cast of "Mulan" in just four days. 

Charly Taylor

CU Boulder '21

Charly Taylor is a Junior at CU Boulder (SKOOO BUFFS!) and is in her first semester writing for Her Campus! As a Los Angeles native, she is a huge connoisseur of sushi, burritos and avocado toast. When she's not hanging out with her friends, she's probably watching FRIENDS, or listening to My Favorite Murder.
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