Li Shang is dead. The hot warrior in Disney’s animated classic Mulan didn’t survive the transition from animation to live-action, but there’s a new love interest for Mulan, Chen Honghui. In the live action Mulan, instead of falling in love with her commander Li Shang, the heroine finds romance with a fellow soldier. But, other than a change in name and rank, there isn’t that much difference between Honghui and Li Shang. At least not according to Mulan producer Jason Reed and Honghui actor Yoson An, who spoke to Bustle during a visit to the film’s New Zealand set.
The decision to eliminate Li Shang wasn’t meant to antagonize fans of the original film, but rather to bring the story of Mulan into 2020. "I think particularly in the time of the #MeToo movement, having a commanding officer that is also the sexual love interest was very uncomfortable," Reed explains. In an effort to remove the power imbalance in the Mulan-Li Shang relationship, writers split the character in two: Honghui, her fellow soldier and love interest, and Commander Tung, who serves as Mulan’s mentor.
Similar to his animated counterpart, Honghui meets Mulan’s male alter ego, Hua Jun, at training camp. (As fans of the story know, Mulan enlists in the Chinese army as a man, in order to take the place of her ailing father.) His relationship with Mulan also evolves pretty similarly to that of the animated film, in that it’s far from love at first sight. "They start off on the wrong foot," the actor says. "As they progress through the trainings together, they kind of have this unspoken bond about it because they recognize each other’s warrior spirit."
As far as Li Shang’s reputation as a bisexual hero, Yoson is ready to inherit that title with pride. In the years since Mulan’s release in 1998, Li Shang has been embraced by the LGBTQ community for falling in with Mulan when she is still pretending to be a man. It was his status as a bisexual Disney icon that initially led to some backlash when fans found out Li Shang wouldn’t be part of the live action reboot. But they shouldn’t have worried. Reed confirmed that Mulan and Honghui’s relationship would "play the same as it does in the animated [film]," though he noted that it wouldn’t be any more overt than in the original version. And, when asked if he was ready to become an LGBTQ icon, Yoson answered with a very confident, "Yes I am."
While Honghui kept mum about how the attraction between his character and Mulan evolves as her gender identity is revealed, he did say that the script respected Li Shang’s perceived LGBTQ identity, albeit subtly. But the admiration Honghui has for Hua Jun shines through. "The other boys may pick on Hua Jun because they think of him as this scrawny kid. [But] I notice something about Hua Jun that they don’t, which is were our relationship really kicks off," he says.
Mulan hits theaters on March 27, and tickets are now on sale.
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