Chinese actress Liu Yifei, more well-known by her stage name Crystal Liu, has been picked to star as the titular character in Disney’s live-action adaptation of the classic Chinese tale Mulan.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney’s team of casting directors visited five continents and saw nearly 1,000 candidates for the role. The actress needed to possess credible martial arts skills, the ability to speak English and, of course, “star quality”. THR reports that 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.
Disney’s live-action Mulan remake is being directed by Niki Caro, who most recently helmed The Zookeeper’s Wife.
Thus far, Disney has made live-action versions of classics such as Alice In Wonderland, Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. Live-action remakes of The Lion King, Dumbo, Aladdin, Christopher Robin, The Little Mermaid, Snow White, and Mulan are also in the works.