Yao, Ling, and Chien Po are supporting characters in Disney's 1998 animated feature film, Mulan. They are a trio of best friends that were enlisted in the Chinese army during the war against Shan Yu. Though they were initially hostile towards their fellow soldier, Fa Mulan, they would become some of her closest friends over the course of their mission.
According to commentary on the Mulan DVD, the trio essentially represents the entire Chinese army. They presumably were recruited via conscription notice by Chi-Fu, similarly to Fa Zhou. As soldiers in the Chinese army, they are capable of fighting using various methods, including swords, cannons, arrows, and hand to hand combat. Though they each contrast each other in personality, they share a strong familial bond with each other and are nearly inseparable.
Yao (voiced by Harvey Fierstein) is the shortest of the trio and the bruiser of the group. He wears a red uniform and also has one bruised black eye as well as a mustache and thick sideburns. He has a hot temper, which can be cooled by Chien Po's calming chant. He is also sarcastic, referring to Li Shang as "pretty boy" and teasing his macho demeanor. Despite his strength, he can be rather clumsy. Yao initially dislikes Mulan, in part due to a perceived insult (which actually came from Mushu), even threatening to "feed" Ping (Mulan's alias) a "knuckle sandwich" before the formal start of training, but later becomes her friend. Despite Yao's temper, he is incredibly sweet, loyal and cheerful amongst his friends. He even took it upon himself to fill Mulan in on in-jokes during "A Girl Worth Fighting For". Yao is also a natural born leader, as he takes charge of his unit in place of Shang several times throughout the movie.
During training, Yao talks back to Shang, and as a result is picked out as the first to try to retrieve the arrow, deliberately humiliated in front of the other recruits, making him the most aggressive of the bunch. This aspect is furthered by the fact that Yao is constantly seen fighting with others, and his temper is usually the cause of it. Even so, his great strength proves to be beyond impressive, leading to him emerging from his constant scuffles victorious.
In the second film, he wears purple and falls in love with Princess Mei. He is able to impress the princess using his physical prowess. Ting-Ting described Yao as a gorilla, while Mei sees him as a panda bear. He also appears to be fond of Shang's horse because he kisses Shang's steed at one point, much to the horse's disgust.
Ling (voiced by Gedde Watanabe) is of medium height and slender build. He is usually seen in a yellow uniform. He appears to be the clown of the group and often has a joke ready. Like the others, he initially hated Ping largely because of "his" role in instigating a massive fight at the camp, with his even sarcastically asking on the first day of training if Ping was hungry (with Yao proceeding to claim in response that he prepared for Ping a "knuckle sandwich" in an unsubtle threat to her). During training he slyly kicks the support from 'Ping's' rocket, resulting in her becoming charred and Chi-Fu's tent (and Chi-Fu) to be incinerated by the wayward rocket. When Mulan proves her worth, he is the first to intend to start over - unfortunately, this is during her bathing scene. He nearly discovers her secret, but Mushu bites him on the backside, causing a panic among the trio that allows Mulan to get away.
Contrasting Yao and Chien Po, he is somewhat weaker than the two physically, as he knocks himself out during a block breaking task in training (in his lyric of "I'll Make a Man Out of You", he claims this is because he had a habit of cutting gym at school and, as of that moment, regrets doing it). Ling is also rather cowardly and accident-prone compared to Yao and Chien-Po. He tries to compensate his shortcomings by feigning bravado, but his ego is teasingly knocked down by Yao more often than not. Ling does grow more capable, though, as, near the end, he is able to use the move to incapacitate one of the Elite Huns.
In the second film, he wears blue and falls in love with Princess Ting-Ting. His talent at telling jokes helps him win over the princess, though it wasn't easy as she hates her pig-like laugh that he claims is adorable when he first hears it. They even share the same "Chopstick-nose-trick" (putting the chopsticks up one's nostrils, then wiggling the nose for a tacky mustache image), though Ling claims that he invented that gag originally and calls it his signature.
Chien-Po (voiced by Jerry Tondo) is the largest, in both height and size, of the trio. However, he is also very gentle and cares a great deal about food (especially beef, pork, and chicken). He wears a blue uniform. Some of his character appears to have been taken from Buddhist imagery, which makes sense as Chien-Po is the most soft-spoken and zen of the group. When Yao is about to fight Mulan when they first met, Chien-Po successfully calms him down with a relaxing chant. Unfortunately, this did not last long because Mushu counter-insulted Yao when the latter was about to leave Mulan alone. After the camp turns on 'Ping', Chien-Po is the only one of the trio to not try to make life difficult for Mulan, although at no point during the sequence does he show her any support. However, when Yao is about to punch Mulan on the first day of training, he was about to stop him until Shang restored control.
Apart from defending China from the Huns, Chien-Po does not possess a negative bone in his body; when the soldiers tease Chi-Fu's demand for order by asking for food, Chien-Po innocently asks for food as well and shows confusion when the others reveal it to only be a joke.
At times, he seems to demonstrate super-human strength, able to lift and hug Mulan and both his friends combined, as well as pick up his entire army unit while pulling Khan, Mulan, and Shang to safety with no visible effort. This makes him the strongest of the trio, and arguably of all Shang's soldiers—beating out even Yao.
In the second film, he wears green and falls in love with Princess Su. They bond over their shared love of food.
In Mulan, the trio is first seen in the camp. Their interactions imply that they already know each other. While Mushu's advice to Mulan is initially helpful, Mushu insults Yao, who starts a fight believing Mulan said the insult. Since 'Ping' earns all the recruits a harsh punishment, the trio (mostly just Ling and Yao) quickly take a dislike to the disguised Mulan, and continually harass the soldier. Ping is able to win their respect after completing Shang's challenge. One night, they reintroduce themselves, in order to make a new start. However, they do so while bathing, making Mulan very uncomfortable, as she is forced to hide her gender. Due to some quick thinking by Mushu, the three remain unaware that "Ping" is actually a woman. The trio is able to successfully complete their training, and are called off to war with the rest of Shang's troops.
In order to keep up morale on the long march, Ling encourages everyone to begin thinking of girls worth fighting for. Ling dreams of a beautiful girl, pale with eyes like stars. Yao dreams of a girl who will admire his physical prowess, while Chien Po doesn't care what his girl looks like, so long as she can cook well. However, the scene comes to a sharp and bitter close when they come upon a village that has been destroyed by the Huns. The soldiers are sent to search for survivors, but they are unsuccessful. However, Chien Po finds the body of Shang's father, General Li, and sadly brings back the general's helmet as proof.
Shang's troops begin pursuing the Hun army, and they are drawn into battle after their position is given away by an exploding cannon caused by Mushu. When Mulan runs with the last cannon in an attempt to destroy the army, the trio follows when they see Mulan being knocked down by Shan Yu's falcon Hayabusa the Falcon causing her to drop her match. However, they retreat just as quickly to the safety of a rock formation when they see a large avalanche, started by Mulan's cannon, coming. Yao shoots an arrow, with a rope attached, to save both Shang and Mulan from falling off a cliff with the avalanche. Unfortunately, the rope slips through his fingers. Mulan is able to grab the arrow and shoot it back into Yao's hands. The troops attempted to pull Shang and Mulan up but struggle until Chien Po comes and picks up the entire unit and pulls them up.
The trio is later seen pacing while "Ping" is being treated by the medics, and are visibly shocked when the soldier is revealed to be a woman named Mulan. Nonetheless, the trio attempted to halt Shang's attempted execution of Mulan upon this discovery but was stopped by Chi-Fu who then tells them that they knew the law and are in relief when Shang chooses to spare her for saving his life from the avalanche. They are forced to march off to the Imperial City, leaving Mulan in the mountains.
As they reach the city, they are shown to be saddened about leaving behind Mulan because of Chi-Fu's actions against her, despite being welcomed as heroes. When Shan Yu reveals himself, Yao leads a charge to stop him. However, the Hun leader is able to kidnap the Emperor. The doors to the palace are barricaded, forcing the army to try to ram the doors down. Mulan appears and announces that she has a plan. Ling, Yao, and Chien Po choose to follow her, followed by Shang. Mulan is able to sneak herself and the trio into the palace dressed as concubines. The group is able to take out the Hun guards, as the Huns let down their guard around the "concubines", allowing Shang to rescue the Emperor. Chein Po escapes down a line of lanterns with the Emperor, followed by Ling and Yao. However, they are forced to look on as Mulan becomes trapped with Shan Yu. After Mulan has defeated Shan Yu, the trio comes to protect her from Chi-Fu's rantings. They are among the people who bow to Mulan as the hero of China. Afterward, once Mulan is given her rewards from the Emperor, the trio gives a group hug, bidding their newfound friend farewell.
In Mulan II, Yao, Ling, and Chien Po reside in the same town as Mulan. Following the events of the first film, the trio has been amply rewarded for their part in saving China—Yao was bestowed a plaque with an emblem of his face, while a statue depicting the trio was erected in their village in their honor. Despite having most of their dreams come true since the war, they have yet to find love. They visit the Matchmaker in an attempt to find brides that suit their demands. However, the Matchmaker believes this to be impossible because of their sexist view on women, which is now considered inappropriate after Mulan (a woman) saved China. Meanwhile, Mulan and Shang are given an important peace mission and enlists Yao (whose black eye has yet to heal), Ling, and Chien Po for help. Their mission is to escort the three daughters of the Emperor (Ting-Ting, Su, and Mei) to a kingdom where they are to be married to princes in an attempt to bring unity between the two kingdoms.
After an accidental meeting, Yao falls in love with Princess Mei and vice versa. However, Ling and Chien Po remind Yao that Mei is set to be married, thus making their relationship impossible. Eventually, during a rest stop, Ling and Chein Po become smitten with Ting-Ting and Su, creating further problems in the mission. Now, each princess feels the arranged marriage to be a huge burden. This prompts Mei to run away but her sisters stop her. Later on, the group is attacked by bandits and a short battle follows. While saving the three princesses, the bridge they are on breaks, and General Shang and Mulan are left dangling off a broken bridge. Since the rope can only support the weight of one person, Shang sacrifices his life to save Mulan and lets go of her hand, falling into the river. The next day, the heartbroken Mulan decides to marry one of the princes in the princesses' place, not wanting them to abandon their true feelings with Yao, Ling, and Chien Po. Yao, Ling, Chien Po, and the princesses reunite with Shang who reveals himself to be alive. He rushes off to stop the marriage and, with the help of Mushu, Mulan and Shang wed. The princesses are then allowed to marry whomever they please, with the unity between the two kingdoms intact.
The trio plays very minor roles in Kingdom Hearts II. The three appear in their homeworld Land of Dragons. When Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Mulan as Ping join the army and head in line for food, Yao cuts in with Ling and Chien Po following behind. When Sora begins to complain, Yao punches him in the face. A brawl follows between Sora, Donald, Yao, and Ling. When Shang arrives, they all straighten up. Just then, Heartless appear and the trio retreat while Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Ping battle. At the summit, Yao, Ling, and Chien Po complement Sora and the gang on their battle skills, becoming friends in the process. When Shan Yu seizes the Imperial City, the Gang of Three are the only soldiers not to be turned into Heartless. Ling and Chien Po are seen closing the doors to the Emperor's palace to block off Shan Yu while the villain battles Mulan, Sora, Donald, and Goofy. After Shan Yu's defeat, the trio can be found outside the village. They return during the second visit, briefly warning Sora and Mulan about a man in a black hood inside the Emperor's palace.
During the credits, they are seen spying on Mulan and Shang (who are trying to have a romantic moment) in the bamboo thicket until they are discovered.
Yao, Ling, and Chien Po made brief appearances in the park during the promotional Mulan parade that ran during the original film's initial release. In the parade, however, the trio donned their woman disguises in from the film's climax.
The trio can be seen during Mulan's segment of the Disney in the Stars castle show.
- In Chinese, Yao means need to/want to/going to. In Mandarin, Ling is Ning which means "peaceful". Chien Po (in Wade-Giles) means "gold gem".
- The trio was collectively known as the "Gang of Three" by the production team that worked on Mulan.
- Having Yao dress in drag towards the end of Mulan is fitting for a character voiced by Harvey Fierstein, who is famous for his drag queen performances.
- Ling's singing voice in Mulan was provided by Matthew Wilder, who also worked as the lyricist for the movie's songs.
- Gedde Watanabe tried to perform his own singing, but couldn't hit the right notes. However, Watanabe did provide Ling's singing voice in Mulan II.
- Fierstein, Wilder, and Tondo recorded "A Girl Worth Fighting For" together, which is rare for an animated film, as voice actors usually record their lines separately.
- In School of Secrets: Lonnie's Warrior Sword, Yao is said to have a daughter named Yin-Min, who befriends Lonnie—the daughter of Mulan and Shang.