Tensions were high back in 2015 when Disney first announced its plans to create a live-action Mulan remake. Fans of the 1998 cartoon were anxiously waiting to find out more about the production, and when a rumor started circulating around the internet, claiming that the remake will include a “30-something” white male love interest for the teenaged heroine, there was a huge outrage. The allusion to a possible romance between an underage girl and an older man would have been troubling enough on its own, but having a non-Chinese person play a leading role in a traditionally Chinese narrative just added insult to injury.
After all, Disney’s 1998 film was inspired by the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan – a strong female warrior who takes father’s place in the army and excels at defending her homeland against the invading Huns. The cartoon became a commercial and critical success precisely because it honored the source material. It was both an empowering tribute to women’s strength and a celebration Chinese culture, widely praised for offering an inspiring alternative to the tired “princess in need of a rescue” trope. Adding “a white savior” character to the narrative would have spelled doom for the production.
Needless to say, there was a collective sigh of relief a few days ago, when Disney announced that Mulan will be portrayed by Chinese actress Liu Yifei, also known as Crystal Liu. Furthermore, the studio assured audiences that the remake will stay true to the original narrative and that the rest of the cast (including the heroine’s potential romantic interest) will be portrayed by Chinese actors.
Liu Yifei is the perfect choice for the titular character – she has starred in several high profile films, including The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), where she had a speaking role opposite Jet Li and Jackie Chan. In addition, she will bring star presence to the production – she is hugely popular in China, where audiences amiably refer to her as “Fairy Sister.”
Let’s hope that Disney keeps their word and doesn’t disappoint with the remaining cast choices!
Mulan will be directed by Niki Caro (The Zookeeper’s Wife) and produced by Chris Bender, Jason Reed, and Jake Weiner. Disney is currently aiming for a 2019 release, as the project is still in pre-production. We will keep you updated on any developments!