Memphian Spotlight: Chen Tang and Mulan 2020

As the saying goes: “If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going…” Starring in the live-action remake of the Disney hit Mulan, Chen Ying Tang may have been born in Japan, but he knows where he got his soul…

“I’ve had many people—many people—mention that about my work, [that’s it’s] just got soul. I tell them, ‘I’m from Memphis’ and they say, ‘Oh, that makes sense.’” Chen Ying Tang, the Japanese born, Memphis raised, Chinese-American actor, is bilingual in both English and Chinese, but there’s no mistaking his natural southern accent. “Something’s in the water. Everybody’s got, like, soul.”

Like a room without books, a life without a soul is a life not worth living. After graduating from Bartlett High School, Chen expressed interest in joining the military, but his mother convinced him to head to college where he got bit by the acting bug. He moved to Boston, and then later to New York City where he began his acting career on stage, in television, and independent films. Then he made his way to Los Angeles to pursue this newfound passion in front of the camera. 

Often praised for his “rare, chameleon-like ability to transform,” Chen has made a name for himself by choosing roles that appear, sound, and feel very distinct from each other. Along with starring as “Yao” in this year’s Disney live-action remake of Mulan, Chen has had recurring roles in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Bosch, Grey’s Anatomy, and Being Mary Jane, among others.

The effects of his diverse travels and background are evident in his role choices. Born in Kobe, Japan, but having spent his childhood in Guangxi, China, Chen Tang belongs to the Zhuang ethnic minority group from Southern China. His parents were trained as medical doctors in China. There were also among the first government-sponsored international students to leave Mainland during the re-opening of China in the 1980s. While his parents were away pursuing their doctorates in Japan, Chen was raised by his grandmother back in China. Chen has worked alongside stars like Tina Fey and Sylvester Stallone, but it’s Mulan, the Chinese folktale tale he grew up with that he’s most excited about at the moment. Mulan tells the story of a young Chinese maiden who disguises herself as a male warrior to save her father.

His pride in the movie shows as he describes it, “It is beautiful like you could not believe.” In the film, Tang plays one of a trio of wise guy soldiers named Yao. “It’s going to look and feel like ‘CrouchingTiger Hidden Dragon’ meets ‘Lord of the Rings.’”

After being cast in Mulan, Chen was cast in the role of Hong for season 2 of Warrior, “I’m a somewhat eccentric, march-to-the-beat-of-my-own-drum, happy go lucky, child-like guy who also happens to be a ruthless, deadly hitman for the local tong gang… It was just fun to be given so much free rein to create and do what I felt was right for my role, and have them give me the freedom to meet me halfway in the writing, stunts, everything.”

Mulan is currently set to open March 27, 2020.  Given the CDC Recommendations as of 3/15/20, we recommend you avoid any mass gatherings and public spaces (such as a movie theatre). Enjoy Mulan when it’s available via streaming services or check-in with our own Summer Quartet Drive-In to see if they’ll be showcasing this beloved tale!

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