Donnie Yen and More Join Disney’s Live-Action ‘Mulan’: What We Can Expect

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

We first heard about Disney’s plans to make a new version of their animated film Mulan just over three years ago. The project is picking up speed now with the announcement that three major stars have been cast in key roles. What can we expect from the live-action Mulan?

Why could this be especially important for Disney?

In March 2015, we noted: “It’s a fairly standard retelling of a classic Chinese story about a young woman who hides her identity, enrolls in the army and becomes an unlikely warrior, icon and hero. But it’s that last part that could easily make this a huge movie for Disney.”

“International box office matters more and more in this day and age, and one of the most important markets in the world is China. So a big budget Disney movie about a Chinese legend already has a big, big advantage.”

Who will star as Mulan?

Forbidden Kingdom

A global casting search was launched in October 2016 to locate an actress to play the lead role, which finally bore fruit in November 2017 with the announcement that Liu Yifei (also known as Crystal Liu) will star.

She appeared in The Forbidden Kingdom (above), starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li, back in 2008. Last year the actress starred in the fantasy Once Upon a Time and the war drama The Chinese Widow.

Who has just joined the cast?

Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, top) will play Commander Tung, according to Deadline. He’s described as Mulan’s mentor and teacher; it’s not clear yet if he’s intended to be the equivalent of Captain Li Shang, a military commander and possible love interest in the animated film, or another role. Yen has enjoyed a long career as a big star in Asia; he recently appeared in xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

The Expendables 3

Jet Li (The Expendables 3, above) is in final talks to portray the emperor of China, per THR. In the animated film, it’s a key supporting role. As noted above, he previously appeared with Liu Yifei in The Forbidden Kingdom. He remains a huge star in Asia, though his career in Hollywood never took off as it should have, especially in view of his physical and dramatic talents as showcased in dozens of films over more than 30 years.

Curse of the Golden Flower

Gong Li (Curse of the Golden Flower, above) will play the villain of the piece, per THR. The role is that of a “powerful witch.” That is a departure from the animated film, which featured an invading army led by a powerful male warrior. Li first came to notice in the 1980s as the star of several films made by the critically-acclaimed Zhang Yimou, with whom she’s continued to work. More recently she’s costarred in Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice and Hannibal Rising; she has also continued busy acting in Asian films.

Xena Tang has also been cast as the sister of Mulan. Though the character does not appear in the animated version or in the original poem that served as its inspiration, Mulan became “sworn sisters” with a fellow female warrior in a 17th century story that drew from the original poem.

Who will direct?

McFarland USA

Niki Caro. Her credits includeWhale Rider, McFarland, USA (above) and The Zookeeper’s Wife, all critically well-received films. The latter title, starring Jessica Chastain, was a fine period drama that develops into a suspense thriller, which is similar to the arc of Disney’s animated version of Mulan and could conceivably serve as a template for the new Mulan.

Caro said that she intends to make “a big, girly martial arts epic. It will be extremely muscular and thrilling and entertaining and moving.” So don’t expect to hear Eddie Murphy reprising his voice role as Mushu, the miniature dragon.

When can we see it?

We have to wait until March 20, 2020 before Mulan opens in theaters, almost exactly 22 years after the animated version.