With Crystal Liu in the Lead, “Mulan” Might Be the Best of Disney’s Live-Action Remakes

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Lionsgate)

With Crystal Liu attached, the upcoming “Mulan” remake seems like it might actually be worth watching.

Disney’s insistence on making live-action adaptations of their existing cartoon movies has been paying off recently, with this year’s “Beauty and the Beast” netting the company over a billion dollars at the box office.

A “Mulan” movie was an inevitability, but considering the challenges that Disney experienced in finding an actor of appropriate ethnicity to play Aladdin in his movie’s live action remake, nobody has had particularly high expectations of any of Disney’s live action films that don’t feature Caucasian leads.

There was even a disturbing rumor going around that the “Mulan” movie would be framed through the eyes of a brand new white male Marco Polo knock-off character, who’d join the story as the audience point of view.

How relieving it is, then, to learn that Disney has cast Crystal Liu (also known as Liu Yifei) as Mulan.

Liu is a veteran actor with a lot of strings to her bow, including roles in “The Forbidden Kingdom” and “Outcast”. If her previous work in martial arts films is any indication of what kind of movie “Mulan” will turn out to be, then we’re in for a treat.

Considering the popularity of superhero films at present, it’s kind of weird that more western studios aren’t looking for ways to blend traditional action films with the kinds of well-choreographed fights that appear in martial arts movies.

Perhaps the difficulty in actually plotting these fight scenes makes them difficult for movie studios to want to commit to, when they can just use shaky camerawork to disguise the fact that two actors are wrestling in an unconvincing manner instead.

“Mulan” is perfect for the full-on martial arts movie vibe – it’s a war film first and foremost, and considering the number of one-on-one duels that Mulan has in the original movie, there’s a lot of inventive opportunities for Crystal Liu to face off in unarmed combat against whatever behemoth gets cast to play Shan Yu.

Heck, in the original Disney cartoon, Mulan disarms her opponent using a paper fan! Let’s have a full action sequence built just around that!

If Disney goes in the right direction with “Mulan”, this movie won’t just be a fitting translation of the original cartoon – it could become a perfect jumping-in point for a generation of children who haven’t had “The Karate Kid” and other, similar works to kickstart their love of martial arts movies.

We could really do with a Western renaissance for these kinds of films. If done right, they could be just as popular as superhero films going forward.

“Mulan” is the movie to make this happen, and Crystal Liu has the chops to bring us a compelling, stylish, action-heavy portrayal of one of Disney’s most complex heroes.