Ever since the first footage of Disney’s dazzling live-action take on Mulan debuted, fans have been head over heels for the star portraying the titular warrior.
Chinese-American actor Liu Yifei has stepped into the boots of Hua Mulan to bring us a breathtaking new look at one of the most influential characters from the ever-growing cadre of Disney princesses.
Who is this new face that Disney fans may not be familiar with? Aside from being a popular actress in China with an abundance of TV and film credits to her name, she’s a talented individual — and pop star — who’s bound for big things after making her American feature film debut in Mulan. Since she’s about to light up theaters across the globe as one of the most popular Disney characters ever, it’s high time we got to know her.
Name: Liu Yifei (Crystal Liu, birth name An Feng)
Birthplace: Wuhan, Hubei
Liu Yifei is a Chinese-American actress who’s been working in the entertainment industry since 2003, when she made her Chinese TV debut as Bai Xiuzhu in The Story of a Noble Family. From there, she’s appeared in a number of films and television shows, many of which fall under the wuxia genre, or “martial heroes” sect of Chinese fiction. For Western attempts at effectively channeling the genre, think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, or House of Flying Daggers.
She’s no stranger to action, drama, or romance, and has the acting skills to back up just about any role she’s placed in. With her snagging the role of Mulan, she’s only about to get even bigger on the international stage.
She’s considered one of the most successful young actresses in China
“Four Dan actresses” is a Chinese phrase that refers to the most popular and lucrative young actresses from China in the early 2000s. The term “Dan” refers to a male actor who portrayed a female character in a Peking opera, with “Four Dan” first brought to fruition in the 1920s to four Dan actors of the time. Used in a Guangzhou Daily editorial in July 2000, the term stuck.
Starting in 2005, actresses have been selected to represent this hallowed title, with 2009’s class including Huang Shengyi, Wang Luodan, Yang Mi, and of course, Liu Yifei. Liu’s success and recognition here can be traced back to The Return of the Condor Heroes, which she starred in alongside Yang Mi.
She beat out around 1,000 actors for the role of Mulan
How do you know an actor’s uniquely qualified to play someone in a film? You go through an inordinate amount of them to find the perfect match. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney’s search for the best Mulan they could possibly find brought them hopefuls from five different continents who could bring believable martial arts skills, fluent English, and that certain pizazz to the table.
Liu happened to tick all of these boxes and then some, mostly thanks to her wuxia genre experience and the fact that she lived in Queens, NY for a brief period of time. She ended up being chosen, and the rest is history.
Acting isn’t her only strong suit
Though Liu is already blowing us away with the first (painfully brief) glimpse of her as Mulan, it’s important to remember she’s more than just a talented actor. She’s also a recording artist who just so happens to be able to bust a move — a real triple threat.
The 31-year-old performer has released two albums over the years, including the popular song “Mayonaka no Door,” which ended up being used as one of the ending themes for the Powerpuff Girls anime adaptation Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z. After signing with Sony Music Entertainment Japan in 2005, she went on to release her debut album Liu Yifei, which included the single as well as a mixture of genres, including rap, pop, and soft rock. So, had Mulan gone the musical adaptation route — it didn’t — Liu would have been prepared.
Her nickname is “Fairy Sister”
Liu has been cast in several television series, like the 2003 period romance The Story of a Noble Family, which drew critical acclaim and satisfied viewers. Following her success on that drama, she appeared as the character Wang Yuyan in the TV adaptation of Louis Cha’s wuxia novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. During its broadcast in Taiwan (subsequently becoming the highest-rated Chinese drama there), Liu earned a dedicated fanbase, who began referring to her as “Fairy Sister,” or “shenxian jiejie.”
With all that said, you’re probably eager to see Fairy Sister come into her own as Hua Mulan, right? While there’s still a bit of a wait before we can see her blossom into the Disney heroine, hopefully this guide encourages you to check out some of her past work in the wuxia genre.
You’ll be able to see Liu come to life as the savior of China when the live-action Mulan confidently gallops into theaters on March 27, 2020.