Finally, Disney has announced its long-awaited live-action remake of Mulan will be released across the Chinese mainland.
We will see Liu Yifei’s rendering of the famous female warrior in the Northern Dynastyon Spet 11. I feel a bit excited about it.
In 1998, through the animated film Mulan, Disney retold the Chinese household legend to Western audiences. Now, the new live-action version is reportedly adapted from The Ballad of Mulan, a poem created during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-581).
From the very beginning, Disney made it clear that the casting of Hua Mulan, the main protagonist, was crucial for the movie. Producer Jason Reed once said the film would flop if audiences cannot love and respect the role of Mulan.
So, the studio launched a worldwide casting campaign, considering more than 1,000 dancers, martial artists, actresses and singers for the lead. With her outstanding performance, Liu won the role. Most of the other major characters are played by Chinese stars, such as Donnie Yen for Commander Tung, Jet Li as the Emperor, and Gong Li portraying the witch-like powerful Xianniang.
Earlier this week, I interviewed Liu and Yen online.
Recalling her casting for Mulan, Liu says the process was a big challenge despite having similar experiences before.
“The (audition) atmosphere felt brutal. You could be recognized when you impress them. If you cannot, you will lose the chance forever after you leave the room,” she says.
Before doing Disney’s audition in Los Angeles, Liu took a 14-hour flight and hadn’t rested well for several days. The audition consisted up of five scenes, with each containing five-and-a-half-page dialogues. Following the performance, Liu was tested for her physical fitness by a coach for other 90 minutes.
In the three hours, Liu recalled how she had to push herself into the world of Mulan, despite having to perform alone without wearing makeup or the role’s costumes. Approaching the end, director Niki Caro gave her a thumbs-up. “I felt relaxed and walked out of the room in a happy mood.”
After she was officially signed to lead the film, Liu trained for three months. Every morning she woke up at 5 am, taking an hour’s ride to take her first training program, which lasted for two hours on endurance and strength. Then, she took another one-hour ride to a racecourse to train in horse-riding before she got lessons on dialogue-speaking and martial arts skills. The daily training took around seven hours on average.
Besides, she had to follow a strict diet mainly consisting of protein for muscles. Despite not being a picky eater, Liu says after having the same dinners for several weeks she really felt like the food was tasteless.
Nevertheless, Liu says she still cherished the training experience, which helped her prepare for the character in terms of everything from mentality to physical aspects, helping Mulan come to life in her mind.
Speaking of her understanding of Mulan, the Chinese household heroine who takes the place of her ailing father to join the army, Liu says: “She (the character) is so well-known to generations of Chinese. But I don’t want to just take her as a great hero. I wish I could find her inner strength wrapped in outer struggles.”
When I was interviewing Donnie Yen, the action giant sat in a finely decorated room with a giant piano behind him.
Speaking about the film, he reveals he was on board mainly for his daughter, who had watched the animated film Mulan more than 100 times at a young age. One of Yen’s impressive parenting moments was to sing the classic song of the 1998 Mulan for his daughter.
Interestingly, Yen reveals that his daughter’s first question was to ask if her father would sing for the new Mulan film after hearing the news that he was casted. Don forwarded the request to Disney’s producers. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to sing for the new movie. “I felt a bit sorry that I couldn’t satisfy my daughter’s wish.”
In December last year, the finale of the biographical martial arts franchise Ip Man, starring Donnie Yen, was released. During the Beijing promotional event, Yen had revealed that the film would be his last kung fu movie. But in the new Mulan film, Yen’s character Commander Tung shows off his dazzling sword techniques in one scene. Director Niki Caro once marveled at his martial arts skills, saying that her eyes couldn’t follow and discern the rapid movements of Yen when he was wielding the sword.
Relying on his statement that Ip Man 4 would be his last kung fu film, Yen explains that he thinks Mulan should not be classified as a kung fu film.
He sorts actions-studded movies into three respective categories: kung fu movies which require actors to be real martial artists, such as the Once Upon a Time in China franchise; martial arts films — which use wires and stand-in stuntmen — like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and cops and robbers films, such as Flash Point.
“For kung fu films, the Ip Man franchise marks the peak of my career. So I wish I can draw a period in terms of kung fu films with the Ip Man finale. I will focus more on shooting modern action films, which is also my favorite. And I have joined Mulan mainly for my daughter, and I also hope I can help promote Chinese culture through the film,” adds Yen.