Disney has finally released the trailer for its live-action remake of “Mulan,” the epic story of a fearless young woman who, disguised as a man, joins the Chinese Imperial Army in place of her ailing father.
And who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me?
Liu Yifei, the 31-year-old actress who will be playing Mulan on the big screen, is one of the most successful, famous actresses in her native China.
Here, we’ve pulled together seven facts to answer some questions you might have about the soon-to-be greatest warrior in all of Disney’s China.
She beat out 1,000 actresses for the role
Mulan is one of those beloved films that will, given the opportunity, inspire an online uproar should the wrong person be chosen for the role. This makes sense, given the precedent: big Hollywood studios have a history of making questionable decisions (ie. Scarlett Johansson) with casting for nonwhite characters.
This time, they got it right. Disney’s casting directors scoured the world for their Mulan, visiting five continents and auditioning 1,000 candidates before making a decision. The job description listed credible martial-arts skills, English-speaking abilities, and star quality.
She’s had some trouble with critics
Liu Yifei might be a beloved household name throughout China, but that doesn’t mean she’s loved by everyone. On Doubon, a Chinese film portal that operates similarly to IMDb, Yifei weighs in for an average rating of 5.2/10 for nearly two dozen movies, according to Quartz. Commenters on the site have criticized her for, in their opinion, not conveying enough emotion through her face, and nominated her as the worst actress in China in 2012, 2013, and 2016.
She’s one of China’s most bankable actresses
At just 15 years old, Yifei was admitted to the Performance Institute at Beijing Film Academy — the largest film academy in Asia that, on its website, strictly refuses applicants under the age of 18. Yifei became a star while she was still in school, starring in a number of hit TV dramas before making her big screen debut alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li in “The Forbidden Kingdom”(2008).
In 2009, she was named one of the New Four Dan Actresses in China, a title reserved for the most popular young actresses in Chinese cinema.
She lived in New York for four years
Yifei was born in Wuhan, the capital and largest city of the Chinese province of Hubei. She moved to the United States with her mother when she was 10, settling down in Queens, NY, where she attended Louis Pasteur Middle School 67. Yifei stayed in New York until she was 14, then moved back to China.
She’s been nicknamed “Fairy Sister”
Most of Yifei’s fans would say her breakout into the mainstream was her starring role in the 2005 series, “Chinese Paladin,” a fantasy romance show based on the popular video game, “The Legend of Sword and Fairy.” It might be here that she gained her nickname in China, “Fairy Sister,” which she earned both as a result of her youth as well as her looks.
She’s more than an actress
Yifei started her career young. She began modelling at the age of eight and, since then, has gone on to be the cover star of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, as well as the face of campaigns for huge brands like Dior, Garnier and Pantene in China.
Not only that, she also signed a record deal with Sony Music Entertainment Japan in 2005, and her first Japanese single, “Mayanoka no Door,” was selected as the theme song for “Powerpuff Girls Z,” a Japanese anime series based on the American show. Yifei is a classically trained pianist, too, and her mother, a dancer and stage performer, made sure her daughter learned how to dance.
She likes cats … a lot
Yifei and her mother reportedly have a habit of finding new homes for stray cats. Her Beijing flat was converted into a kind of cat sanctuary at one point — she was harbouring more than 30 cats at the time.