“Mulan” made a villain out of Jason Scott Lee.
The actor, long known for his hero roles, including as martial arts icon Bruce Lee, enjoyed playing the central antagonist in Disney’s new live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated classic.
“It’s fun because you can break through a lot of the barriers of having to play the hero,” Lee, 53, said. “There are some darker places and some deeper areas that you want to play in that you don’t get to when you play the hero. ... Putting on that mask of being the villain and carrying it through was exhilarating.”
Like the original, the new movie follows the courageous Hua Mulan, who, disguised as a man, joins the Chinese military to spare her ailing father from having to serve in a war against invaders.
Lee’s character, Bori Khan, is the leader of those opposing warriors. The character replaces the hulking Shan Yu, who was the primary bad guy in the 1998 movie.
Lee – who played the title character in 1993’s “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” and Mowgli in 1994’s live-action “The Jungle Book” – wanted to bring a fresh identity to his “Mulan” villain, and introduced a complex character who’s motivated by the death of his father.
“For me, Bori Khan was about representing his culture. ... It was a culture that was kind of being stomped on by the Chinese Empire and being pushed out from their native lands,” Lee explained. “For me, Bori Khan’s quest was not only to avenge his father, but also to avenge the land that was taken away, and reviving and empowering his own people.”
The new film, which stars Yifei Liu as Mulan, had been scheduled for release in March, but due to the coronavirus pandemic debuted Friday on Disney+ for $29.99, which enables unlimited viewing of the movie.
Lee remembers hearing the “Ballad of Mulan” – a centuries-old narrative that the films are based on – before the animated movie came out. He’s now excited to be part of a new iteration that he can share with his three children.
“Knowing that it was ‘Mulan’ and Chinese culture ... I was begging to do it, actually,” Lee said. “Just knowing the legacy of some of the live-action remakes, I wanted to be a part of that.”
The visually stunning film, directed by Niki Caro, doesn’t follow the same musical format the animated “Mulan” did, and elevates the iconic story of love and war to epic proportions.
Lee was delighted by the film’s integrity and the strength of the familial relationships depicted in it – and the opportunity to wreak havoc on the screen.
“My character really is the motivating factor for a lot of the action that takes place,” Lee said. “Without Bori Khan pushing the issues, they probably wouldn’t have anything to rub up against. I like the fact that he’s key in that process.”