Disney Casts Chinese Actress Liu Yifei in Live-Action ‘Mulan’

Disney has enlisted a Chinese actress to star in the title role of its live-action version of “Mulan.”

Liu Yifei, who also goes by Crystal Liu, will play the legendary Chinese warrior in the 2019 epic, Walt Disney Studios announced Wednesday.

Niki Caro, who directed “Whale Rider,” “North Country” and Disney’s “McFarland, USA,” will helm the project, Disney said, and Jason Reed, Chris Bender and Jake Weiner will produce. “House of Flying Daggers” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” producer Bill Kong will be executive producer.

The upcoming film is inspired by the “Ballad of Mulan,” in which a young woman impersonates a man to take her father’s place in the army, and Disney’s 1998 musical adaptation of the poem, which grossed more than $120 million at the domestic box office and $304 million worldwide. Music from the animated film also earned an Academy Award nomination.

Well known in China as a model and singer, the 30-year-old Yifei has appeared in “The Forbidden Kingdom” with Jackie Chan and “Outcast” with Nicolas Cage. She also stars in this year’s Mandarin-language fantasy adventure movie “Once Upon a Time,” which is not to be confused with ABC’s fantasy series that also featured a Mulan character played by Jamie Chung.

The studio searched for a year to find the right Mulan and considered nearly 1,000 candidates for the role, the Associated Press reported.

While several studios have faced stark criticism for whitewashing their films, Yifei’s racially sensitive casting was lauded on Twitter, much like the studio’s casting of a Middle Eastern actor for the lead role in its live-action “Aladdin” earlier this year. Many also voiced support for the diverse, star-studded cast of Disney’s live-action “The Lion King” adaptation, announced earlier this month.

From the Los Angeles Times

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Disney Signs Niki Caro to Direct Live-Action Mulan Movie

Disney’s live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated musical Mulan will be directed by Niki Caro (The Zookeeper’s Wife), according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Caro will be the fourth woman to ever solo-direct a film with a budget over $100 million, joining a very tiny club that includes Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker in 2002), Patty Jenkins (Warner Bros. upcoming Wonder Woman movie), and Ava DuVernay (Disney’s upcoming A Wrinkle in Time). Disney, by merit of hiring two women to direct blockbusters ever in its history, is somehow leading the pack for major Hollywood studios.

Hollywood studios have begun to feel the pressure to hire more female directors for tentpole films, after multiple controversies around the hiring of young, comparably untested male directors for massive projects like Jurassic World and Star Wars, as well as a federal investigation of sexist hiring practices in the industryLucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy was also recently the subject of heated criticism due to her comments about the “search” for a female director capable of handling a Star Wars movie.

Disney has also expressed its intent to hire a woman to direct its first female-led superhero film, Captain Marvel. Caro had previously been included on the studio’s short listalongside Lesli Linka Glatter (the principle director on Homeland) and Lorene Scafaria (Nick & Norah’s Infinite PlaylistThe Meddler), though The Hollywood Reporter suggests this new assignment likely takes Caro out of the running for the 2019 film.

Caro made her breakthrough critical hit Whale Rider in 2002, following it up with the star-studded North Country (Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek) in 2005, but — as is typical for female directors in Hollywood — her career largely idled after that. Since 2005 she’s released only two films: the low-budgetoverlooked TIFF submission The Vinter’s Luck in 2009 and Disney’s moderately successful McFarland, USA in 2015.

Mulan will be executive produced by Bill Kong (best known Stateside for House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and rely on input from Chinese cultural consultants and the large co-production team that Disney maintains with Shanghai Media Group. It will be interesting to see how Disney navigates the more culturally delicate live-action project, particularly considering the fact that it also has a live-action Aladdin on its plate. Big studios have a nasty habit of casting famous white faces in roles that shouldn’t belong to them — see the recent uproar over Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell or Rooney Mara as Pan’s Tiger Lily.

Mulan is set for release on November 2, 2018. It will likely be a treat to watch a young woman perform a live musical number that snarkily defines masculinity around violence and endurance as part of an ongoing dramatic irony bit.

From The Verge