American films

Crystal Liu Yifei: seven things you don’t know about the Chinese actress playing Mulan

With more than 53 million fans on Weibo, the 30-year-old actress is clearly a popular choice to lead the live-action remake set for release in 2019, but who exactly is she and what else has she starred in?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 12:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 3:38pm

Chinese actress Crystal Liu Yifei has been cast as the leading actress in Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan, the studio has announced.

To be released in 2019, the film is being directed by New Zealander Niki Caro, who has stressed the importance of instilling cultural authenticity into the retelling of the legendary Chinese tale about a women who disguises herself as a man to fight for her country.

Liu wrote a short post on her Weibo platform on Thursday night saying how she loves Mulan’s courageous character and boldness. She also thanked the crew at Disney for placing their trust in her.

The casting announcement has been received positively in both China and in the West. Liu’s Weibo fan page was flooded with congratulatory messages. ‘Mulan’ and ‘LiuYifei’ have also become trending hashtags on Twitter. 

Here are seven things you need to know about the actress:

Fairy sister

Liu has been acting for more than a decade. Her breakout role came in 2003 when she played Wang Yuyan in the Chinese television series adapted from Louis Cha’s novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. Three years later, she starred in another adaptation of a Cha novel, The Return of the Condor Heroes, as the female protagonist Xiaolongnu. Since then, she has been nicknamed “Fairy Sister” for her elegant style and angelic appearance, on and off screen.

Disney casts Chinese actress Liu Yifei in live-action ‘Mulan’, bucking Hollywood’s whitewashing trend

One in a thousand

Liu beat almost 1,000 other candidates to win her new role, including Taiwanese actress Hu Ting-ting, who was considered a lookalike of Mulan. Earlier this year there were rumours that other actresses would be chosen, including Jelly Lin Yun, who played the lead role in Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s smash hit The Mermaid (2016), and Natasha Liu Bordizzo, who starred in the American-Chinese martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016).

More than qualified

The casting directors went on a year-long search to find the leading actress, looking for someone who could meet three criteria: English-language ability, martial arts skills and, perhaps the most ambiguous of all – star quality. Liu fits the bill. She speaks fluent English, having moved to United States with her mother at the age of 10. She lived in Queens in New York district for several years before returning to China to enrol at the Beijing Film Academy. 

Liu may not be formally trained in dance (her mother, Liu Xiaoli was a professional dancer with a performance troupe in the Chinese city of Wuhan), but she has shown her flexibility and agility in martial arts films, such as The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), where she acted alongside Jet Li and Jackie Chan. 

International ties  

Liu’s parents divorced while she was young and Liu took her mother’s maiden name. Her father, An Shaokang, was a professor at Wuhan University, where he taught French language and culture. He later joined the diplomatic corps, working at the Chinese embassy in Paris. He is now the dean of the The Confucius Institute of Paris Diderot University.

Box-office poison

Although the decision to cast Liu in the role of Mulan has been well received, it is not entirely without concern. Films Liu has starred in over the past few years have faired so poorly that she has been labelled “box-office poison”. The Chinese Widow , released last month, was a total flop, taking only 26 million yuan (US$3.9 million) versus production costs of more than 150 million yuan. Romance film The Third Way of Love (2015) only earned 73 million yuan at the box office. 

Chinese internet users also point out that Liu may not be the right fit for Mulan, who disguises herself as a man to join the army in place of her father; some says Liu “will still look very much like a woman, even with a beard”. 

Selfie fails

Although Liu looks stunning on magazine covers and in film shoots, she is known for taking unflattering selfies, which she posts on social media without editing or adding filters – something almost unheard of in Chinese social media, especially among celebrities. They are often either blurry, show her from an awkward angle, or are taken in bad lighting, causing her dismayed fans to ask, “why?”.

Cat lover

She loves cats, and often takes in strays. Liu and her mother work with a non-profit organisation to find them new homes. At one point, she had more than 30 cats living with her in her Beijing flat. 

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