AFTER CONDUCTING an international search and auditioning a thousand actors, Disney settled on who would play Mulan in their live-action telling of the Chinese tale.
Liu Yifei isn't a household name (in the U.S., anyway) but she's one of China's most popular actresses.
The upcoming film, directed by New Zealander Niki Caro, is based on Disney’s 1998 feature telling the story of a woman disguising herself as a man to fight against an invading army, saving her elderly father from getting drafte in the army.
Picking a Chinese actress to play the heroine Mulan allays the fear among Asian/Americans that the movie might get white-washed and have a white actress play the pivotal role.
But Disney has been adament to do the right thing in casting, much in the way the voice actors, all of whom were Pacific Islanders, were picked for the animated hit Moana,
In Liu, Disney has found someone who checks all the boxes:
- Chinese descent: Check. She was born in Wuhan, China.
- Speaks English: Check. As a child, she lived for a time in Queens, NYC.
- Martial arts: Check. Several of her Chinese movies featured swordplay and fantastic choreographed fight scenes showing she can be a badass.
- Singer: Check. Is there anything this actress can't do? On top of modeling and acting, she is also noted as a pop singer. Liu released her self-titled debut album in 2006 with Sony Music, and has more recently sung covers for soundtracks. Her ability to sing may mean that the live-action Mulan will feature some of the songs made famous in the animated version. The director at first said that the film would not be a musical but she now says she is open to making the project a musical. Listen to one of Liu's hits - in English!
- Acting experience: Check. While most of her films have been made in China for Chinese audiences, she acted in English in 2008's The Forbidden Kingdom, alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and 2014's Outcast, opposite Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen. She also starred opposite Emile Hirsch in Danish auteur Bille August's period romance The Chinese Widow, which opened the Shanghai International Film Festival in June.
- Beautiful: Check, check, check and check. She is nicknamed "Fairy Sister" by the Chinese moviegoing public for her innocent looks. If a picture can say a thousand words ...
The rest of the cast hasn't been named yet. I can't wait to find out who will play Li Shang. The movie is scheduled for a 2019 release.