Chinese actor Liu Yifei, who is also known as Crystal Liu and by the nickname “Fairy Sister”, is starring in director Niki Caro and Disney’s live-action Mulan retelling. The project is based on a script draft written by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and will largely take inspiration from the Mouse House’s Oscar-nominated 1998 animated movie adaptation of the ancient Chinese legend about a young woman – named Hua Mulan – who secretly took her father’s place in the national army in fifth-century China.
Yifei, who turned 30 this year, first made her name as an actor back in the mid-2000s, with her roles on Chinese fantasy/adventure TV series like The Return of the Condor Heroes and Chinese Paladin. U.S. audiences may be most familiar with Yifei for her supporting role as the Golden Sparrow in the 2008 martial arts fantasy adventure The Forbidden Kingdom, starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Since then, however, Yifei has continued to appear in noteworthy Chinese films like Outcast and IP Man 3 (starring Rogue One: A Star Wars Story‘s Donnie Yen), but hasn’t worked on much – or any, really – major Hollywood productions or American TV series.
Related: Mulan Locks Down Filming Locations
Disney is confirming that Yifei has secured the role of Mulan in Caro and Disney’s live-action rendition of the story. This announcement marks the completion of an extensive casting process for the film that was conducted across five different continents and saw close to 1,000 different actors audition for the title role. In addition to being ethnically Chinese, the officially requirements for the role included someone who has both “credible” martial arts skills and the ability to speak English.
Disney’s live-action Mulan found itself at the center of controversy last year, after it emerged than the initial script draft for the project revolved around Mulan joining forces with a white merchant on her adventure. While Disney and director Guy Ritchie’s upcoming live-action Aladdin retelling has also garnered controversy for adding a white character to its ensemble, it has since been reported that the Mulan screenplay by Silver and Jaffa features a Chinese main cast, as well as a more traditional interpretation of its namesake’s story.
The Mulan backlash is noteworthy all the same, as it no doubt pushed Disney and Caro to take additional steps to ensure that their live-action reimagining is sensitive and reflective of the cultural and ethnic heritage of the original Mulan legend. While the Mouse House ultimately didn’t deliver on its efforts to recruit either an Asian or an Asian-American director for the live-action Mulan, it has followed through on its promise to find a Chinese actor to bring its protagonist to life on the big screen. Yifei ought to shine in the role too, if her previous movie and TV work is any indication.
Disney and Caro’s year-long casting search for the movie’s namesake may also explain why the live-action Mulan was pushed back to an unspecified date in 2019, after having previously been scheduled to reach theaters in November 2018. Although the film is expected to have musical elements (like Disney’s 1998 animated version did), Caro’s Mulan is shaping up to be less of a musical like this year’s live-action Beauty and the Beast and more a proper historical war epic, in the vein of Ridley Scott projects such as Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Robin Hood. Given the extensive amount of time and resources it will take to stage the film’s wartime set pieces and make them memorable, it’s all the better that Disney isn’t rushing this one down the pipeline, either.
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