Mulan: The Untold Truth Of The Live-Action Movie's Star

Fans were thrilled when it was announced that the hit Disney film Mulan, released in 1998, would be getting the live-action treatment. There was one big concern, though: Who would play the star of the live-action Mulan movie? Many people who were concerned about whitewashing in Hollywood signed a petition demanding that Disney do the right thing and cast a Chinese woman as Mulan (via BBC). Disney delivered by casting a relative unknown (at least in the United States) in the role of Mulan: Liu Yifei.

Liu Yifei may not be a household name in the U.S., but she already has an established acting career under her belt. There's a reason Disney chose this talented actress to take on the iconic role of Mulan, one of many famous people who may never have existed. Just who is the star who is bringing to life one of the most beloved Disney characters of all time? Let's get down to business to reveal the truth about Mulan star Liu Yifei.

The star of the live-action Mulan movie was raised by a single mother

According to since-removed post on Women of China, Liu Yifei was born on Aug. 25, 1987. Her birth name was An Feng, but she changed it after her parents divorced. Liu was primarily raised by her mother, dancer and stage performer Liu Xiao Li. The actress took her mother's family name, changing her name to Liu Qian Mei Zi. Later, when she was establishing her career, Liu adopted the stage name of Liu Yifei. According to IMDb, she has also performed under the name of Crystal Liu.

Heavy reported that the star of the live-action Mulan movie's father, An Shaokang, was a French professor at Wuhan University. After leaving that position, he worked in Paris at the Chinese embassy. In 2017, he became dean of Paris Diderot University's Confucius Institute.

The actress has another interesting connection. She is the goddaughter of one of the richest men in China, Chen Jinfei. According to Forbes, Liu's godfather is the chairman of Beijing Tongchan Investment Group and has an estimated net worth of $62 million. 

Mulan star Liu Yifei started her career as a model

Liu Yifei is multi-talented. The star of the live-action Mulan movie started her career in front of the cameras not as an actress, but as a model. According to HuffPost, Liu started modeling at the age of 8. Since then, she's landed some pretty big gigs, including making it onto the cover of Harper's Bazaar. According to The Hollywood Reporter, some of Liu's high-profile modeling campaigns have included serving as a brand ambassador for big brands like Dior, Tissot, Garnier, and Pantene.

Branching off of her modeling success, Liu Yifei decided to break into acting. In September 2002, at the age of 15, she was accepted at the Performance Institute of Beijing Film Academy, according to a since-removed article on Women of China. Being accepted to the institution was quite a feat, as 15-year-olds are generally not accepted. Liu became the youngest student ever accepted at the school. She graduated from the school in July 2006.

Mulan star Liu Yifei got her first acting job when she was 15

Liu Yifei was just 15 years old and still in school when she began her professional acting career. According to IMDb, her first role was in the 2002 TV series The Story of a Noble Family. Two years later, she landed a role in her first film, Love of May.

In 2016, at the age of 28, Liu told Cosmopolitan Korea (via K Beauty Now) that since she got her start her "acting and mental attitude" had changed quite a bit. "Like most female actresses, I am always aspiring to succeed and become a popular star, and my positive energy never dies out," she said. "And it wasn't until entering my twenties that I began to identify my real dream as an actress. I realized that acting is not all about receiving people's applause or cheer. It is about delivering the right character to the audience and feeling satisfied in who you become on stage." The star of the live-action Mulan movie continued, "Therefore, I try to focus more on the abstract qualities of acting, and I hope to become a better actress throughout time."

Mulan star Liu Yifei is a popular actress in China

While Liu Yifei is not a very well known actress in the United States, she's wildly popular in her native China where, according to The Hollywood Reporter, she is nicknamed "Fairy Sister" for her pure image. At the time of this writing, she has more than two dozen credits listed on her IMDb page, including Mulan.

Entertainment Weekly reported that she is one of China's most successful young actresses and is part of a group known as the "Four New Dan Actresses." The term "dan" traditionally referred solely to male actors who played "vibrant young women in Peking opera," although in modern times it now refers to women. Liu is in good company. Also considered dans are Zhang Ziyi, who starred in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Fan Bingbing, who was in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Given Liu's track record, it's only a matter of time before the actress is just as popular in the United States as she is in China. Starring in the live-action Mulan movie will no doubt help her gain international attention.

Mulan's Liu Yifei spent part of her childhood in the United States

One of the requirements for the star of the live-action Mulan movie was that she speak fluent English. Given that the majority of Liu Yifei's career to date has been in China, some people might be skeptical of her English language skills, but the star is fluent in English. She has even lived in America, giving her ample opportunity to hone her English language skills. According to The Hollywood Reporter, part of Liu Yifei's childhood was spent in the United States. She moved to the NYC borough of Queens with her mother when she was 10 years old. They lived there for the next four years.

Liu Yifei has also acted in English language films. In 2008, she starred in The Forbidden Kingdom with Jackie Chan and Jet Li. In 2014, she was in Outcast with Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen. Liu also starred in the period romance The Chinese Widow. According to Rojak Daily, she speaks four languages in total: English, Mandarin, French, and Japanese. Asia One, however, reported that Liu speaks English and Mandarin fluently and also knows basic Korean and Japanese.

Liu Yifei beat out 1,000 actors for the starring role in Mulan

In order to land the coveted role of Mulan, Liu Yifei had to beat out a lot of competition. After all, the original Mulan changed Disney movies, so who wouldn't want to be a part of a new film? According to The Hollywood Reporter, the search for the star of the live-action film was intense. The search lasted for a year, and Liu competed against nearly a thousand other young women vying for the role. The criteria to be Mulan was quite strict. Not only did the star have to be able to speak English, but they also had to be ethnically Chinese, skilled in martial arts, and have "star quality."

It was far more important to the makers of Mulan that they have the right person to play the role than to have a well-known American star to play the part. The search for Mulan took a team of casting directors to five continents in search of the perfect star to play the part. The meticulous search finally ended when it was announced in November 2017 that Liu Yifei had landed the role.

Not everyone was thrilled with Liu Yifei being cast as the star of the live-action Mulan movie

While it's clear that Liu Yifei is a fitting casting choice to play Mulan in the live-action adaptation of the film, not everyone was thrilled at her being cast. While Liu is one of China's most popular actresses, some people also consider her to be one of the worst. In 2017, after Liu was announced as the star of the live-action Mulan movie, Quartz reported that Liu holds an average rating of just 5.2 out of 10, per data taken from Chinese website Douban, the country's equivalent of IMDb.

The outlet reported that one moviegoer criticized her performance in the 2017 film Once Upon a Time, writing, "Why does Liu Yifei still play every character like someone with facial palsy after so many years of acting." The comment received thousands of likes.

Douban's users nominated Liu for China's worst actress in 2012, 2013, and 2016. According to Sixth Tone, Liu Yifei won a Golden Broom "award" for Most Disappointing Actress in two films in which she appeared in 2017. The Golden Broom is the Chinese equivalent of Hollywood's Golden Raspberry awards (also known as Razzies), which mock poorly received films. Liu is reportedly often criticized for her lack of facial expression.

The star of the live-action Mulan movie has some pretty great singing chops

In addition to her acting and modeling talent, Liu Yifei is also quite skilled in music. According to W magazine, the star of the live-action Mulan movie can play the piano, and she also has an excellent singing voice. Her IMDb bio says that she reportedly landed a recording contract with Sony Music Entertainment Japan in 2005. She has two albums out, at the time of this writing. One is a self-titled album released in China which spans genres and has a little bit of everything from rock to rap. The other was released in Japan and is called All My Words.

While Liu has a beautiful voice, we won't be able to hear her vocal talent in action in Mulan. Unlike the original animated classic, which also admittedly featured some misogynistic '90s movie moments, the live-action Mulan movie isn't a musical. According to Vox, the film features instrumental versions of the original film's soundtrack, but fan-favorite songs like "Reflection" and "I'll Make a Man Out of You" aren't sung by characters in the film.

Mulan star Liu Yifei has extensive martial arts training

One of the things that makes Liu Yifei so fitting for the role of Mulan is her extensive martial arts background. According to Asia One, in addition to being trained in martial arts, Liu is also skilled in sword fighting and does a lot of her own stunts. Those skills were certainly put to good use when filming the live-action Mulan movie.

Liu has showed off her expert fighting skills before, and she has even worked alongside some of the greatest martial arts experts of all time who passed on some of what they know. In The Forbidden Kingdom, she performed alongside legendary martial arts experts Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The two icons gave Liu some tips to improve her own fighting skills. "Jackie and Jet taught me a lot about fighting ... and using techniques, little things to let your action be more real," she told channelAPA in 2008.

The star of the live-action Mulan movie cares more about how well she acts than her looks

While Liu Yifei is a gorgeous woman, her looks aren't very important to her. To Liu, what's more important than her movie star good looks is her acting talent. The world sees Liu as a great beauty, but she looks at things a bit differently.

"Honestly, I think there are many celebrities out there who are prettier than me," the star told Cosmopolitan Korea (via K Beauty Now). "As an actress, it's not only about looking good on camera, but being able to deliver the right emotions for the characters you play. This makes you more attractive on the screen. That's why I focus more on acting rather than my appearance. Sometimes, I don't even bother taking out the mirror to fix my makeup before filming."

Liu's attitude isn't just refreshing, but she also sounds an awful lot like the character of Mulan herself who wasn't too concerned with outward appearances in the original Disney film.

A political controversy involving Liu Yifei led to a boycott of Mulan

While Liu Yifei may appear to have a wholesome public image, she is not without controversy. In 2019, many people called for a boycott of the live-action Mulan film after it came out that Liu supported the Hong Kong police, who, according to CBR, reportedly used excessive violence to subdue peaceful demonstrators in the pro-democracy protests in the "special autonomous region" against the overbearing influence of the Chinese Communist Party. "She supports the Hong Kong police who are notorious for beating, arbitrarily arresting ... and even killing HK protesters," wrote one Twitter user. Another said, "A #Mulan who supports state violence and police brutality is not representing the true spirits of this character: brave, assertive and dedicated. #Disney made a wrong call and now people #BoycottMulan."

Some people came to Liu's defense, though. Skyler Shuler of The DisInsider alleged on Twitter that Liu had been coerced into supporting the Hong Kong police. "Here is something very crazy, I just got word from a certain actor in Disney's upcoming MULAN film that star Yifei Liu was forced by the Chinese government for her support of police brutality," he wrote. "Apparently Liu wasn't the only Chinese celebrity forced."

Liu Yifei, the star of the live-action Mulan movie, considers herself to be "a flexible person"

Actors portray so many different emotions and characters in their roles that it can be difficult to guess what they are actually like in the real world. But Liu Yifei is pretty open about what she is like in real life. According to Liu herself, her personality is multi-faceted. The actress says that her defining personality trait, though, is her flexibility.

"I think there are various sides to my personality," Liu told Cosmopolitan Korea (via K Beauty Now). "However, to simply summarize into one, I am a flexible person. I'm not bound by rules. I enjoy talking to people while standing, and even comfortably sitting down on the ground. I seek comfort wherever and whenever. I have a pretty lenient personality, but sometimes can be aggressive as well. But this is only seen when I am acting on stage."

Again, this sounds like another thing that Liu Yifei has in common with the laid-back Mulan. 

Mulan star Liu Yifei is an animal lover

In addition to her many talents, Liu Yifei is also a huge animal lover. Animal welfare is near and dear to Liu's heart, and the star of the live-action Mulan movie has gone so far as to use her own home as an animal shelter. In 2018, Cfensi reported that the actress had been taking in stray cats for years. Liu feeds the cats, has them spayed or neutered, and finds homes for them. Liu's house reportedly had a brick fence at one point which the actress removed as cats were getting stuck in it.

Toggle reported that Liu's love for animals seems to be a family trait — her mom also loves animals and helps with her cat rescuing and brings the kitties to the vet. Liu has housed dozens of cats at the same time. Fans said that Liu has had as many as 60 rescued cats in her home and in her yard at once. 

Mulan's Liu Yifei travels to think, not to see the world

Most people travel to get away from it all, to escape the hustle and bustle of the daily grind, to relax, and to see the world. While Liu Yifei often has to travel for work, she doesn't really think of herself as a globe trotter. Instead of traveling as a means of escape, Liu has something other than vacation in mind when she hops on a plane.

"Instead of traveling, I tend to think about a variety of things while filming or working abroad," Liu, who may be aware of what really happens to your body when you travel, told Cosmopolitan Korea (via K Beauty Now). "When I play a different role, my perspectives and ideas change each time. There was a time when I filmed ... in Paris and America, and every time my emotions became rich and abundant. My emotions play a huge role in deciding vacation spots and traveling in general."

This may not exactly be conventional, but it's clear that it works for the star of the live-action Mulan movie.