Disney’s live action MULAN, directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), isn’t having any trouble finding the top Chinese talent for roles. After yesterday’s announcement that martial arts and Rogue One star Donnie Yen was joining the production, both Gong Li and Jet Li have been cast in key roles, the Tracking Board confirms. The unrelated Li-s are considered two of China’s biggest stars after decades of films.
Jet Lis is in final negotiations to play the emperor of China who creates an army by taking one male from each household, and the film’s title heroine Hua Mulan, played by newcomer Liu Yifei, poses as a man in order to spare her elderly father.
Gong Li will play a new character, a powerful witch who is the main villain of the movie, which departs from the main antagonist from the original animated feature.
Obviously, Disney realizes how important it is to make sure a live action Mulan has an all-Asian cast, but with the casting of Yen and the two Lis, they’re also making sure that the movie will make a boatload of money in China, which is having a huge boom of moviegoers in recent years.
Born in Beijing, Jet Li started out as a martial arts star in his native country with a number of franchises before making his Hollywood debut in Lethal Weapon 4, released the same year as the original Mulan. He went on to star in Romeo Must Die, Zhang Yimou’s Oscar-nominated Hero (having a great fight sequence with Donnie Yen) and in the Expendables series for Lionsgate. Li is represented by Current Entertainment and Bloom Hergott.
Gong Li also has worked quite extensively with Zhang Yimou, making her first appearance in 1988’s Red Sorghum, followed by The Story of Qiu Ju, for which she won a number of awards, Raise the Red Lantern, Curse of the Golden Flower and 2014’s Coming Home. Other films on her resumé include Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine, Wayne Wang’s Chinese Box and in Hollywood films Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice and Hannibal Rising. She is repped by Artist International and Ponte Media.
Also joining the cast is Chinese-Vietnamese actress Xana Tang as Mulan’s sister, an original character for the movie. The New Zealand actress has appeared in the series Filthy Rich and Australian series The Letdown and Dead Lucky. Tang is represented by Cunningham Escott and Gail Cowan Management.
Caro will begin shooting the film in August in locations in China and New Zealand in order to make Disney’s planned March 27, 2020 release date.
The stars’ attachment was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor