Disney has really found its rhythm with live-action adaptations. This year's adaptation of the beloved, best-picture-nominated Beauty and The Beast has sailed past a billion dollars at the box office and become the highest grossing film of the year, both domestically and worldwide, for the moment at least. Now, another of Disney's adaptations has taken a big step forward. After a yearlong, worldwide search, Disney has found the actress who will portray Mulan in its live-action adaptation. Liu Yifei, a Chinese actress also known as Crystal Liu, has landed the role of the warrior princess.
It sounds like Disney left no stone unturned in the search for the perfect Mulan. Casting directors visited five continents and saw over 1000 candidates. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio wanted someone with star quality, who spoke English and could appear credible as a martial artist. Disney also strove to be culturally accurate and cast a Chinese woman to play the role. There was initially some controversy and fear that Disney might choose to whitewash the role in the name of marketability as has happened in previous Hollywood ventures. But Disney is no fool. This film has massive potential at the ever more important Chinese box office and in Liu Yifei, they have found exactly what they were looking for.
Liu Yifei is probably best known to American audiences for her work in Ip Man 3 or The Forbidden Kingdom. She is a popular actress in China and has been nicknamed "Fairy Sister" for her innocent looks and image. This summer she starred in Once Upon a Time, which earned $82.3 million at the Chinese box office. This casting shows that Disney has checked every box and found a culturally accurate star to portray Hua Mulan in the upcoming film.
Now that the film has found its lead, hopefully we will get more details as production ramps up. There has been a great deal of back and forth about whether or not the film will be a musical. Beauty and the Beast made the musical elements of the animated film work in live action but the Mulan story has a more serious overall tone so it will interesting to see how they incorporate any musical elements and what balance they strike. The film is in good hands with Whale Rider and The Zookeeper's Wife director, Niki Caro, behind the lens. Of course there is still the Sony Mulan film that will presumably offer a different take than Disney's version.