After first signing Niki Caro (Whale Rider) to direct back in February 2017, Disney’s live-action Mulan is now finally moving towards a production start-date. After a lengthy search for the lead, Liu Yifei (The Forbidden Kingdom) was cast in the titular role in November, and yesterday Donnie Yen signed on to play Mulan’s mentor Commander Tung. Now THR reports that Jet Li and Gong Li have joined the cast as well, with Gong Li filling the villain role in what marks a major departure from the 1998 animated film.
Chinese actress Gong Li is one of the country’s finest actresses with standout roles in films like The Story of Qui Ju and Farewell My Concubine, as well as American productions Memoirs of a Geisha and Miami Vice. For Mulan, Gong Li will be playing the villain of the movie, a powerful witch. This is a major change from the animated film, in which the primary antagonist was Shan Yu, leader of the invading Huns. This suggests a supernatural aspect to this live-action version of the story, and it’ll be interesting to see how this alters the story structure of the film as a whole.
Jet Li, meanwhile, has been a veteran for years with standout roles in films ranging from Shaolin Temple to Romeo Must Die to The Expendables movies. In Mulan, he’ll be playing the emperor of China, who orders the mobilization of troops via the conscription of one male from each household. This is the film’s inciting event as Hua Mulan then disguises herself as a man in order to spare her father from certain death.
Additionally, Chinese-Vienamese actress Xana Tang will play Mulan’s sister in the movie, as casting heats up in anticipation of a filming start date in August. Production will take place in China and New Zealand.
While some were concerned when Mulan was first announced, it very much looks as though Disney is not simply casting a Chinese actress in the lead role, but casting Chinese performers in almost all the major roles. The process isn’t yet done and it’ll be interesting to see if the studio brings in an A-list Hollywood star to play a sidekick or something, but so far this is all very encouraging.
Mulan opens in theaters on March 27, 2020. For a complete list of all Disney’s upcoming live-action remakes, click here.