Shan Yu is the evil leader of the Huns and the main antagonist in Disney's 1998 feature film Mulan. He is voiced by Miguel Ferrer in the film, and by Corey Burton in Kingdom Hearts II. He has quickly became one of Disney's most recognizable villains, placing 18th in Ultimate Disney's Top 30 Villain Countdown, and was awarded 48 out of 60 possible points at the Movie Villains Database.
Shan Yu is among the most ruthless and merciless villains ever seen in the Disney universe. He proves that it is not below him to kill his enemies in cold blood to prove his strength. He even makes jokes about it: After capturing two imperial scouts and sending them to deliver his challenge to the emperor, he asks his lead archer how many men it takes to deliver a message. The archer then draws his bow and replies, "One." Ultimately, only one scout delivers the message, implying that the archer killed the other. He is also shown to be merciless even to defenseless individuals, as evidenced by his murderous smirk when he suggests that he "return" the doll to its owner, as well as being implied to have killed the owner of the doll as well as her entire village.
Shan Yu is also supremely confident in both his and his army's strength and superiority, often deliberately allowing his enemies the advantage in order to prove his might. Such examples include his attack on the Great Wall, where he allowed a lone sentry to light the signal fire, sending word to the Emperor and giving him time to mobilize the Imperial Army. Later, he allows one of the Chinese spies to return to the Forbidden City, smugly telling the spy to inform the Emperor to send his best troops to face the Huns. In this instance, he even claims that the Emperor "invited" him. He also decides to head straight for the mountain pass that would lead him straight to the Forbidden City, knowing full well that the entire Imperial Vanguard is guarding the pass and completely rejecting the option to simply go around the mountains and avoid the enemy army. As he and his men was later revealed to have managed to completely wipe out the Imperial Vanguard presumably withough any significant casualties at his end, this confidence may have been perfectly justified.
Shan Yu is a hardened fighter and a lethal combatant, armed or not as shown where he overpowers Shang in a fight. He possess superhuman strength (perhaps second only to Chien Po). He can break down a barricaded door with no effort and simply slice a massive pillar to shreds with his sword. Besides his strength, he also possessed a superhuman amount of endurance, having survived being buried in an avalanche for what is implied to have been for hours with no apparent ill effects, something that only 5 other Huns managed to survive. He is a skilled tracker and survivalist, being able to deduce a doll delivered to him by his falcon came from a village in a nearby mountain pass where imperial armies awaited him by only a few subtle clues found on the doll (white horse hair from an imperial stallion, black pine which grows in the mountains, and the smell of sulfur from a cannon).
The film's opening scene sees Shan Yu scaling 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 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 has destroyed yet another village and expose two spies sent by the emperor. He orders them to pass a message to the Emperor telling to send his best men for battle. Before the two are able to leave, he murders one.
While heading to the imperial city, his falcon recovers a little girl's doll from a village. On the doll is white horse hair from the General's army. Instead of avoiding the army, he and his men plan to go that direction. His armies crush the Emperor's soldiers with ease until they get to a mountain pass where they are cut off by Captain Li Shang's troops. In an act of fierce barbarity, he and his troops also take the opportunity to raze the village from which the girl's doll came, after Shan Yu mockingly suggests they return it to the child, apparently leaving no survivors.
The armies battle by constantly shooting canons. Eventually Shan Yu leads the Huns down to the army to attack. Though the Huns vastly outnumber Shang's troops, Mulan manages to bury them in an avalanche by aiming a rocket at a nearby mountain. Shan Yu nearly escapes but, like his men, is taken away by the snow.
Believed to be dead and defeated, Shan Yu and a group of surviving Huns are able to infiltrate the Emperor's palace and capture him during the victory ceremony.
Mulan, Shang, Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po scale the palace wall and quickly overcome the Hun guards. Just as Shan Yu moves to strike the Emperor down, Shang attacks him and Chien-Po carries the Emperor to safety. Just as the Emperor escapes, Shan Yu overpowers Shang and soon recognizes Mulan as the soldier who caused the avalanche. Mulan lures him to the palace rooftop, where he attempts to kill her, until Mushu aims a firecracker at Shan Yu, which propels him into a tower full of fireworks and is killed in the explosion.
Shan Yu makes several minor cameo appearances. His most notable is where he, Jafar and Hades are seen talking to Mortimer Mouse and making bets. In another episode, Daisy Duck kicks Shan Yu and some other villains out of a table because it was reserved for "someone important".
Shan Yu appears in Kingdom Hearts II as the main antagonist of The Land of Dragons. Instead of Huns, he possesses an army of Heartless at his command. The plot of the world follows the movie faithfully as it could. The only differences are that he hardly spoke, and that unlike in the movie, he, ironically, ended up falling off the balcony to his death.
Shan Yu first appears at the beginning of the world with his falcon, Hayabusa. He had burned down a village and was standing in the ruins, smiling about the destruction he had caused
He next is seen by Mushu walking into a cave outside the village. Sora, Mulan, Donald, and Goofy are in. In order to prove herself to Captain Li Shang, Mulan enters the cave followed by the others. However, it is actually a trap. While the heroes are trapped in the cave battling Heartless, Shan Yu attacks the village, burning it, scaring off the villagers and turning some of the solders into Heartless while subtling having some of them work as sleeper agents.
Once the party sees the destruction, they charge to the summit of the mountain to encounter the Hun. Although he charges with a mass army of Heartless, Sora and company destroy most of them and Mulan's quick thinking sends Shan Yu and the rest of the Heartless over the edge of a ridge in an avalanche.
After surviving the avalanche as in the movie, Shan Yu attacks the Imperial Palace and distracts Sora with a group of Captain Shang's soldiers, who are actually Heartless. He is defeated by Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Mulan in a climatic battle. After his defeat, Sora receives the Hidden Dragon Keyblade. His sword serves as the object needed to open the Land of Dragon's "Gate".
During the release of the original film, Shan Yu was featured on a parade float in the Mulan-themed parade in Disneyland. He was shown being blasted on a firework, referencing his demise.
Cinderella's Surprise Party
In the former castle show at the Magic Kingdom, The Queen plans on taking control and she sends Shan Yu, Jafar and Captain Hook to do away with Mickey and Friends. Mickey calls fourth Mulan, Genie and Peter Pan to defeat the villains. Shan Yu is trapped in a large birthday box with a firework by Mulan and dies in the explosion. He is the only villain to be killed in the show.
The Disney Villains Halloween Party
- According to the writers, the reason why they decided to kill Shan Yu in the manner they did was because they wanted to avoid the typical fall to the death, like how Gaston died.
- Considering the setting and their point of origin, Shan Yu and his Huns could in fact be members of the Xiongnu people, Tuco-Mongol tribes who lived in the lands north of the Great Wall and conquered much of the Central Asia steppe in the 3rd-1st centuries BC. It is thought by many that the Huns that invaded Europe around 375 AD are descendants of those Western Xiongnu who were evicted by the Chinese in Turkmenistan.
- Shan Yu is shown to be very intelligent. Unlike most characters in the film, Shan Yu does not underestimate the powers of women. He also, unlike Chi-Fu, does not silence and belittle Mulan when they converse with each other before his death. When Mulan reveals that she caused the avalanche and came up with the idea to save the Emperor, Shan Yu instantly knows that Mulan is the greatest obstacle in his plans, and goes on to kill her without hesitation, but of course was blown to bits as part of Mulan's plan.
- Shan Yu is one of the few villains to not have their own song, unlike such villains as Jafar, Gaston, Scar, Claude Frollo, Ursula, and Dr. Facilier.
- Shan Yu is the third Disney Princess villain to ride a horse; he was preceded by Gaston and Jafar.
- A "Shanyu" or "Chanyu" was what the Xiongnu leaders were called, much like a Mongol leader would be "Khan."
Characters: Fa Mulan | Mushu | Cri-Kee | Li Shang | Yao, Ling and Chien Po | Chi-Fu | General Li | Shan Yu | Fa Zhou | Fa Li | Grandmother Fa | Fa Family Ancestors | The Matchmaker | The Emperor of China | Sha-Ron | Ting-Ting, Su and Mei | Khan | Little Brother | Hayabusa the Falcon | Elite Hun Soldiers | Hun Army