Disney is moving full speed ahead with their efforts to remake their classic animated musical canon in full-scale live action epics. In case you missed the announcement from last week, their much anticipated Mulan remake now has a target release date for November 2018. They also said they were launching a global casting campaign to find a Chinese actress to play the title role.
Many fans were nervous that the live action Mulan might fall prey to Hollywood “white-washing” or “interchangeable Asian” trends. It’s arguable that Disney shouldn’t have to make a point of casting a Chinese actress to play a part inspired by a quintessentially Chinese figure of legend. On the other hand, while these problematic trends exist, Disney making a deliberate public effort to avoid them is commendable and encouraging.
So, with profound respect to Rinko Kikuchi and Jamie Chung and their fans, Screen Rant has put together a list of Chinese actresses each of whom we could see as a young woman who takes her father’s place in ancient China’s imperial army. Here are 15 Actresses Who Could Play Disney’s Live Action Mulan.
15 FAN BINGBING
American moviegoers probably recognize Fan Bingbing as the actress who played Blink in X-men Days of Future Past. Blink was one of several mutants with really cool powers who ended up being relegated to supporting character cannon fodder in the bleak sentinel future world. Fan Bingbing’s fame actually extends much wider and much farther back. In 1998, Fan starred in the Chinese television series May Fair Princess, which made her a household name in Hong Kong and other South East Asian regions.
In the 2000s, Fan received many Chinese Cinema awards nominations for films like Feng Xiaogang's Cell Phone, A Battle of Wits and Lost in Beijing. She even started her own studio in 2007. She’s also taken on Chinese martial arts films like Shaolin and The Founding of a Party and much heavier dramatic fair in Double Xposure. If Disney wanted to really capture international moviegoers’ attention with their live action Mulan, casting Fan Bingbing in the title role would be a great choice.
14 KATIE LEUNG
Katie Leung made quite a high profile acting debut as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter Films. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire she caught Harry’s eye repeatedly and Harry even asked her to be his date for the Yule Ball. Alas, she had already said she would go with the other Hogwarts Tri-Wizard Champion, Hufflepuff pretty boy Cedric Digory. Cho Chang did give Harry his first kiss in the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Nothing like first loves when you’re part of a banned school club.
Katie Leung has stuck to stage and smaller screen roles since the Potter Movies wrapped, while also continuing her education in art and design. If she were inclined to take another high profile role, a live action Disney Mulan would certainly qualify. Leung was spotted filming scenes for an upcoming action thriller The Foreigner, which also stars Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. We’ll have to see what her action chops look like whenever the film is released.
13 MALESE JOW
Malese Jow has made herself known in the realm of Geek fandom in the recurring role of Linda Park on CW’s The Flash. In season 2 she also played the Earth-2 evil Metahuman counter park of Linda Park, Doctor Light. As an episodic villain, she was dispatched to Earth-1 by Zoom to kill the Flash.
Jow has already had a considerable career in TV even before being cast in The Flash. She stared in the Nickelodeon sitcom Unfabulous as Geena Fabiano, the middle school best friend of the protagonist Emma Robert’s Addie Singer. She’s had several guest star appearances in Nickelodeon and other non-kids network shows like Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, Leverage and Castle. She also appeared in the first season of CW’s The vampire Diaries as a teenage vampire. She’s got experience in TV level action at least and might be more recognizable to millennial Disney fans who also grew up watching Nickelodeon.
12 CONSTANCE WU
Constance Wu may play a mother in ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat but that should hardly matter for a jump to Disney’s live action Mulan. For one thing, we don’t yet know exactly how old the live action Mulan will be and for another Hollywood doesn’t shy from casting older actors for young parts. Besides, if Disney were looking for a Mulan with a bit of comedy experience, Wu has starred in Fresh Off The Boat for 37 episodes so far.
Before Fresh Off The Boat, Wu made several TV guest star appearances in shows like Law and Order: SVU, Torchwood and Covert Affairs. Wu also starred in the Netflix sci-fi flick Parrallels where she played a more experienced traveler of different dimensions accessible by this one office building.
11 CELINA JADE
Celina Jade Made her film debut in the Hong Kong action film Legendary Assassin. Wu Jing, who also directed the film, played a mysterious martial artist who becomes the prime suspect of a murder for small time cop Holly, played by Jade. Jade is also the daughter of American kung fu action star Roy Horan, who starred in Game of Death II and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Jade has made herself known to American audiences through a supporting role in RZA’s The Man With the Iron Fists. She also played the recurring role of Shado on the CW’s Arrow.
Jade has also had a distinguished career as a singer and model, releasing her first self-written album in 2012. So if Disney wanted to include songs in the live action Mulan (who wouldn’t want to see a Hollywood live action “Be a Man” training montage?), Jade has got the voice and the action experience for the part.
10 GEMMA CHAN
Chances are you’ve seen Gemma Chan on TV if you’ve been watching BBC in the last few years. This London-born daughter of Chinese and Hong-Kong parents has made episodic appearances in BBC shows starting with Doctor Who in 2009, in which she appeared alongside David Tennant and Lindsay Duncan for the Special The Waters of Mars. Since then she’s appeared in Sherlock, The IT Crowd and Fresh Meat.
Chan had a recurring role in the first series of BBC One’s Scotland set crime drama Shetland in 2013. In 2015 Chan had a central role in the AMC urban sci-fi drama Humans. She played an android “synth” unit purchased by a middle class family of London suburbanites who was also secretly a self-aware synth prototype, vital to an underground resistance of synth-rights advocates. Chan hasn’t yet had the chance to take a major swing at action on film, making only a brief appearance so far in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, but she certainly has the dramatic range for a live action Mulan.
9 CRYSTAL YU
A Hong Kong born actress, Crystal Yu immigrated to London at age 11 when she was offered a place at the prestigious Elmhurst School of Dance and Performing Arts. Yu works with the Royal Academy of Dance and the Jack Petchy Foundation to help bring dance programs to Secondary Schools, Special Education Needs schools and Pupil Referral units. Such a competent dancer could reasonably have the physical conditioning to play and action role like Mulan.
Crystal Yu is also well known for her portrayal of registrar Lily Chao on the long running BBC medical drama Casualty (or Casual+y). Lily Chao is consistently portrayed as ambitious and capable but lacking any sort of “bedside manner”. This could also make her suited to play Mulan since that character awkwardly tries to blend in and achieve with her fellow recruits. It would depend on how closely the live action film characterizes Mulan to her animated counterpart.
8 GRACE HUANG
Grace Huang is actually an Australian Actress of Cantonese descent. Like Celina Jade, Huang also appeared in RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fists, and its sequel, in which she played the blade wielding Gemini Female. Most recently she played a female technician in Independence Day: Resurgence named in some sources as Lin Tang, even though the character isn’t named in the credits.
Huang has appeared in several different genres of Hong Kong cinema. She starred in the action films Cold War with Aaron Kwok, Andy Lau and Tony Leung Ka Fai and Overheard with Daniel Wu, Michael Wong and Sean Lau. She also starred in Love in Space, a Hong Kong comedy romance film. In 2011, she showed off some gritty action skills in the short film Bloodtraffick. Huang played a female vigilante on the hunt for her missing sisters in a world torn by war between vampires and angels. How cool is that?!
7 LI JUN LI
Li Jun Li has so far made her TV career out of shows with law enforcement and or criminality of some kind. Even during her earliest American TV appearances in 2010, she had a guest starring role in an episode of Blue Bloods. She played Maggie Huang in the finale season of FX’s Damages, appearing in 12 episodes total. She also appeared in The Following on FOX. Her character, Meghan Leeds, was a captive held by the cultists following the serial killer Joe Carroll.
In 2015, she started taking on roles that let her enforce the law and hunt down the criminals. She played the crime-scene technician and support partner Akeela for the Metro Police Department in the 2015 Minority Report TV series. She also played Iris Chang in Quantico and is playing Julie Tay in Chicago P.D., becoming the beat cop partner of Marina Squerciati’s Burgess. Li’s experience playing characters in law enforcement could serving well playing Mulan, who has to fit in with the male dominated military of ancient China.
6 STEPHANIE HSU
Perhaps Stephanie Hsu doesn’t have the conventional heroine look to her but then again Mulan is a character that’s fundamentally about challenging a convention to do something selfless and heroic. Hsu has mostly starred in comedic TV series, shorts and movies featuring situational comedy sketches. Starting in 2013 Hsu has appeared as one of the main characters in the MTV candid comedy series Girl Code, playing herself, nonetheless. The show sets out to be a modern how-to video guide to help women deal with everything from the profound to mundane in relations, self-care, and personal and professional lives.
Hsu has also taken on the more dramatic role of Joy in the Hulu exclusive show The Path about a reclusive cult community struggling with relationships and faith. She stars alongside several big name actors including Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan. If Disney is looking for a new fresh talent to launch into a superstar, Stephanie Hsu could play the part as a surprise pick.
5 JUJU CHAN
Not only has JuJu Chan gained significant fame in recent Hong Kong kung fu action films, she’s also had a distinguished career in real life martial arts competitions. Chan has also dabbled in producing, singing and publishing her own nonfiction books. In 2014 she became a 46KG WMC One Legend Thai Boxing Champion in Hong Kong. Some of her fans have called her the next Michelle Yeoh or even call her a female Bruce Lee.
Chan started appearing in action roles around 2009 when the starred as the title character in the Web series LUMINA. In 2011, she even played the kung fu-savvy sister of Bruce Lee in a film titled The Young Boxer in English. Her most recent action film credit is from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny for the part of Silver Dart Shi.
Few other young up and coming Chinese actresses would seem more physically capable for the part of live action Mulan than Chan.
4 JULIA LING
You’re sure to endear yourself to Joss Whedon fans everywhere when you make your first TV appearance in a 2003 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, especially as one of the potential Slayers. Ling had a number of other guest starring roles on other popular TV staples of the 2000s including ER, House, The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy.
In 2006 and 2007 Ling had a recurring role of Kim Tao on NBC’s well received series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. She’s probably most well-known for the role of Anna Wu on Chuck between 2007 and 2010. Wu, like Mulan, had to deal with expectations of a traditional Chinese family, presenting herself more to their liking whenever they were around. She’s also among the best martial artists of the show, even impressing Adam Baldwin’s Colonel Casey.
Ling hasn’t had a lot of roles since Chuck, but if she felt like making a major return to the lime light she could be a fine fit for Mulan.
3 MICHELLE ANG
Michelle Ang started in Australian television. To Australian audiences she’s best known for the role of Lori Lee in the Australian TV soap opera Neighbors. She played the major role in 2002 and 2003 and made a guest reappearance in 2004 in the same role. In 2003 Ang was nominated for the “Most Popular New Talent” Award at the Australian Logie Awards for playing Lori Lee. She also starred in the Australian post-apocalyptic kids drama The Tribe.
Ang has also been a guest star in a few American TV shows as well, including Grey’s Anatomy, Rizzoli and Isles and NCIS: Los Angeles. As early as 2001 she appeared in a 2-part episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. Most recently she starred in the web series lead up Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462. Her character of “Alex” was caught on the passenger flight caught in the middle of the walker outbreak, and she went on to appear in the main AMC show Fear the Walking Dead. Ang has had plenty of experience playing characters is physically and personally tough situations to play Mulan.
2 LIU YIFEI
This “Fairy Sister” from Hubei Province is widely considered one of the most beautiful actresses in China today. Liu Yifei was offered roles in Chinese TV programs almost immediately after her acceptance to the Beijing Film Academy when she was 15 in 2002. In 2003, she starred in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils based on the novel of the same name by Louis Cha. Her role of Wang Yuyan earned her the nickname “Fairy Sister”. Her fame in China also grew thanks to her role of Zhao Ling’er in Chinese Paladin, which was an adaptation of a popular RPG called The Legend of Sword and Fairy. Does that remind you of anything?
Liu has since starred in numerous Chinese and American martial arts films, making her Hollywood debut in The Forbidden Kingdom. Starring as a live action Mulan could add an interesting new dynamic to Liu’s career. As an actress well known for her stunning looks, it could make an unexpected turn to play Mulan, who has to eschew expressing femininity to pull of her masquerade in the army. And she’s had plenty of action experience to boot.
1 ZHANG ZIYI
Zhang Ziyi is still one of the most famous Chinese actresses in the world. Her star-making performance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon coincided with a new surge in the popularity of contemporary Chinese-International Kung-Fu films in the new millennium. She went on to star in several more films in the same vein including Hero and House of Flying Daggers.
Zhang also won critical acclaim for her performance in the film adaptation Memoirs of a Geisha, even though it was a Chinese actress playing a Japanese role. She has continued to appear in films and TV, recently staring in another martial arts showcase The Grandmaster with Tony Leung.
If Disney decided that they wanted an established, capable, recognizable star to play Mulan in live action, we couldn’t think of an actress that would better fit the bill. It may be a safe choice, but it would still be a great choice.
Are there any other Chinese actresses you think could play Mulan that we missed? Let us know in the comments!