Liu Yifei is Disney’s Mulan in the live action adaptation directed by Niki Caro
Disney gets it right this time. After a yearlong search across five continents and 1,000 candidates, the film has casted 30-year-old Chinese actress Liu Yifei as the titular role of Mulan, a fifth-century Chinese woman who disguised herself as a man to take her father's place in the army. A graduate from Beijing Film Academy, Liu (also known as Crystal Liu) meets the requirements laid out by the film's casting agent: She's fluent in English (having spent her teenage years in Queens, New York) and knows basic martial arts. Most importantly, she's ethnically Chinese.
It's a round of applause for a non-Asian/Western film company when it gets casting right. By right, we mean ethnically accurate — because representation matters. In recent years, we've seen the likes of Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone fill in roles with obvious Asian roots... was no one from Asia available? The excuse always played like a broken record: Nobody who's Asian was bankable enough to lure audiences to the cinema.
Well, they've hit the nail by choosing Liu to attract the growing Chinese market. She's China's Emma Watson of sorts. Not only does she share Watson's honest-to-goodness image (she's nicknamed "Fairy Sister" in China) and big brand endorsements (Dior and Tissot), she's one-upped her by also being a singer. Liu had a recording contract with Sony and even released two albums in Chinese and Japanese. Apart from her Chinese language roles, she's also dabbled in English language films. She acted alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li in The Forbidden Kingdom and worked with Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen in Outcast. You can also see her in The Chinese Widow, which opened this year's Shanghai International Film Festival.
Fans of the 1998 animated version can look forward to Mulan's release in 2019. Helmed by New Zealander Niki Caro (The Zookeeper's Wife), it's in line with Disney's live action conversion of other animated classics, such as Aladdin.