It’s interesting how the universe takes the plans we have for ourselves and twists them in ways we’d never imagine. Like Chen Tang, for example. After graduating from Bartlett High School, he had every intention of enlisting in the military—and he has, in the fictional sense. This Spring, you can catch him in theaters as Yao in the much anticipated Disney live-action remake of Mulan.
“As an actor, I get to inhabit something else for a little while. I get to live through vastly different experiences than my own,” Tang said. “Doing Mulan was one of the greatest experiences of my life because it gave me some of the same feelings of being a soldier— the camaraderie, the brotherhood, and a sense of honoring my country and my people.”
Tang came to the US from China in 1993 and was settled in Bartlett by 2006. When the time can to graduate high school, he thought his career path was immediately going to lead him to basic training. He never imagined that he would have ended up in Miami pursuing a degree in Business.
“I have relatives who have served in the Chinese Army and my grandfather fought in the Chinese Civil War. I just knew I was going to follow in their footsteps because being a part of the armed forces was in my blood. I was told that I could enlist, but not until after I had a degree, so I settled on a BS placeholder for the time being. Like most college kids, I had to earn a fine arts credit and I chose acting as my class. Who would’ve thought I’d be any good at it?”
Tang took to his new-found talents and moved to Boston, then to New York City where he ultimately started pursuing his acting career—from recurring roles in Grey’s Anatomy, Being Mary Jane, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and more.
He’s been an agent, a flight attendant, a deadly hatchetman, to name a few, and can now add Chinese soldier to the list—as he hits the big screen to bring Yao to life, the self appointed leader of the trio including Ling and Chien Po.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m your big, burly, manly man, but it was really fun to be able to tap into his machismo personality. Our director helped us get into character even more by making us train like we were soldiers. Once you have everything on [the makeup and the armor] and you’re trudging through the mud in the mountains after doing heavy labor without rest, you start to believe you’re one of them, and let me tell you, Yao has layers.”
Unlike Disney’s more recent live action movies like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King or Cinderella, Mulan has something to prove as this remake leans more towards its original origin, a Chinese poem “The Ballad of Mulan.” While you won’t see a Mushu or hear songs from the classic 1998 soundtrack, you’ll see an authentic, historically depiction of cultural folklore that many have been waiting for.
“A lot of eyeballs have been on this film, and a lot of people have made assumptions and opinions of what it should and shouldn’t be. All I have to say is, this movie is so important for Chinese people and China. I mean, they three years just doing casting and trying to get it all right. I know y’all want the songs, the talking dragon, etc, but Disney took a creative risk to honor the culture, my culture. The trailer may have gotten everybody talking, but y’all ain’t seen nothing yet.”