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How The Cast Of Mulan Got Ripped With The Help Of Special Forces - Exclusive

Disney's 1998 animated classic Mulan offers up one of the all-time coolest training montage sequences, set to the rousing lyrics and infectious melodies of "I'll Make a Man Out of You." The creative team behind the 2020 live-action remake of the film, however, had a slightly greater challenge in terms of turning its cast into a fighting force — or, at least, a reasonable facsimile thereof — what with actual humans being a lot harder to whip into shape than cartoon characters.

Fortunately, they had help from a source that knows a thing or two about soldiering. For the inside scoop on how Mulan remake director Niki Caro got a group of young actors into fighting form, Looper spoke with one of the cast members involved: Chen Tang. As the face behind the wise-cracking Yao, Tang was a part of the main crew accompanying Liu Yifei's Mulan, and therefore got to experience first-hand becoming a part of the Imperial army ... on screen, anyway.

Here's what Chen Tang had to say about Mulan's training regimen.

The Mulan cast finds the fire within through an intense fitness regimen

Tang, who's no stranger to physical activity, still found himself experiencing a bit of shock when plunged into Mulan's military training. 

"You know, I grew up playing sports all my life and I don't think I've ever had physical training that intense. We got there in New Zealand, and within a few days, they were like, 'Get into the van. We're going to boot camp,'" says Chen, whom you may recognize from his roles in Fresh Off the Boat, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Escape Plan 2: Hades. "So, we went to boot camp, and our trainer was an ex-Serbian Special Forces guy who also worked for the English premier league as a trainer. He's a magnificent trainer, his name is Bojan, and Bojan basically said, 'You know what? We need to turn all of you little, soft actors into farmer, laborer, conscript soldiers in the sixth-century A.D.'"

So, how did Bojan get his troops in shape? Tang says it was a combination of standard fitness and period-specific work to transport the cast — and, eventually, the viewer — into the movie's historical period. 

"First off, it was non-stop running, hours a day, every single day. Non-stop running, and then a lot of calisthenics," Tang recalls. "A lot of what felt like just manual labor stuff — moving heavy objects, bringing them out, bring them back in, picking each other up, running with each other. Just constantly, no rest. That was every day, and then we also had horseback riding, we had army marching, spear and shield fighting, fight training, [and] even things like Chinese archery, because [some] of us had to be able to shoot a bow — just to get us into the world, you know?"

Who made the most of Mulan's military training?

According to Tang, there was a great deal of camaraderie among the core members of what he calls the "squad" — the central brothers-in-arms who join Mulan in her campaign in the war against those coming to invade China. Still, when asked who took to the trial-by-training the best, Tang says there's a clear answer: Yoson An, who portrays Mulan's love interest and ally Chen Honghui.

"I think every single one of us was pretty gung-ho about it, but I have to probably single out Yoson An, because this is our leader amongst men," Tang tells Looper. "Honghui is the love interest, obviously, but I saw him grow from this boy — and find that strength within himself through the training, through all the camp, through all the camaraderie with us — into just like, 'Oh yeah, this is somebody I would follow into battle.'"

An's work, apparently, paid off. As Tang shares, "We all got into fantastic shape — probably the best shape of all of our lives. But he was, I think, the only specific one that had it like, 'I don't care how it happens, but you need to look this particular way.' Because he had those shirtless scenes, and he's just this sexy love interest, and so he kind of went down the rabbit hole with that. There were days where he was pretty dehydrated, really going on that diet."

You can see Yoson An's abs, Chen Tang's fighting skills, and the rest of the squad in action in Disney's Mulan, available to stream today — Friday, September 4, 2020 — on Disney+.