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After a yearlong worldwide search, Mulan has been found.
Chinese actress Liu Yifei, also known as Crystal Liu, is set to star as the title woman warrior in Disney’s live-action adaptation of the classic Chinese tale.
A team of casting directors visited five continents and saw nearly 1,000 candidates for the role, which requires credible martial arts skills, the ability to speak English and the most ineffable requirement of all: star quality. In deference to cultural accuracy, the studio focused on locating an ethnically Chinese young woman to play Hua Mulan, who disguised herself as a man to take her father’s army conscription in 5th century China.
In Liu, Disney found the complete package. Nicknamed “Fairy Sister” by the Chinese public for her pure and innocent looks and image, she has been one of the country’s most popular actresses of the current generation since breaking out with a series of hit television dramas in the mid-2000s, while she was still a teenager enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy. Liu is fluent in English, having lived in Queens, N.Y., for part of her childhood, and acted in English in both 2008’s The Forbidden Kingdom, alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and 2014’s Outcast, opposite Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen. She also starred opposite Emile Hirsch in Danish auteur Bille August’s period romance The Chinese Widow, which opened the Shanghai International Film Festival in June.
Liu, who has served as a brand ambassador for Dior, Tissot, Garnier and Pantene, most recently starred in the fantasy romance Once Upon a Time, which earned $82.3 million in China this summer. Her other credits include 2012’s The Assassins, which earned Liu her first major acting award (at the Macau International Movie Festival), Never Gone and The Four trilogy. She recently signed with WME and continues to be repped by Chinese manager David Chen.
Niki Caro, who most recently helmed The Zookeeper’s Wife, is directing Disney’s live-action Mulan, which is being produced by Chris Bender, Jason Reed and Jake Weiner and eyeing a 2019 release. The 1998 animated version, voice-starring Ming-Na Wen alongside Eddie Murphy and B.D. Wong, earned $304.3 million worldwide as well as Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.
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DePaul University’s School of Cinematic Arts