Who is Liu Yifei? Why is it a big deal that she’s starring in Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan?
Liu Yifei is a Chinese actress, playing the role of a Chinese folk heroine. It’s a big deal because Hollywood has a history of whitewashing characters. Sometimes Hollywood casts white actors in roles that should be Asian. Sometimes they add white characters to movies that have little or no reason to have any white characters. And when they do cast Asian or Asian-American actors in Asian roles, the average casting director doesn’t care if the actor is Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Filipino, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, or what, so long as the actor is “Oriental” in some way.
The Internet is wild with praise that not just an actress of Asian heritage, but specifically a Chinese actress has been cast as Mulan. As Buzzfeed has pointed out, representation is important.
Who is Liu Yifei? She’s a Chinese actress, singer, and model, also known as Crystal Liu and Liu Yi Fei. In her native China, she’s a well-known, awarding winning actress who has appeared in several wuxia (martial arts) films. She spent part of her childhood in New York City. She’s multilingual, fluent in Mandarin and English, with some French and Japanese.
Liu Yifei has been a regular in four Chinese television shows. One of her most popular TV roles was as Xiaolongnü in Return of the Condor Heroes. She’s been in several movies, including Love of May, The Forbidden Kingdom, Love in Disguise, White Vengeance, Outcast, and The Chinese Widow. She has co-starred alongside such actors as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Nicolas Cage, and Hayden Christensen.
While many Americans think the character of Mulan was created by Disney, it’s an ancient Chinese folk tale, with several variations. The oldest written version of “The Ballad of Mulan” comes from the sixth century CE, and oral versions may be older still. It was first filmed in 1927 as Hua Mulan Joins the Army and there have been multiple movies since then. Disney plans to release the live-action version of Mulan, starring Liu Yifei, on November 2, 2018.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.