Gong Li And Donnie Yen Add Star Power To Disney’s Live-Action ‘Mulan’

The two big-name Chinese actors will play new characters in Disney's upcoming film based on the hit 1998 animated musical film.

Gong Li at the 2016 Cannes Festival opening premiere
Thibault Camus / AP Images

The two big-name Chinese actors will play new characters in Disney's upcoming film based on the hit 1998 animated musical film.

Gong Li, one of China’s best and most celebrated actresses, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story star Donnie Yen are set to play new characters in Disney’s live-action Mulan.

The two stars will join Chinese singer-actress Crystal Liu Yifei (from TV’s The Return of the Condor Heroes) who, after an extensive worldwide search by Disney, was cast in the titular role of the legendary Chinese female warrior. The classic story tells of a young maiden named Hua Mulan who disguises herself as a male soldier in order to enlist on her ailing father’s behalf when ancient China goes to war with the Huns.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Gong Li will play a new villain in the form of a powerful witch. The character is not only a departure from Disney’s hit 1998 animated version – in which the main villain is the menacing Hun leader Shan Yu – but also from traditional Hua Mulan stories (where the protagonist is primarily the Hun army) that date as far back as to the fourth century.

The luminous Gong Li first made her name in the late ’80s and early ’90s with a slate of critically acclaimed films by famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou such as Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, and The Story of Qiu Ju. She would earn further international acclaim with her standout role in Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine. Hollywood films that the 52-year-old has starred in include Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice, and Hannibal Rising.

The heroine of Disney's 'Mulan'
The legendary heroine as seen in Disney’s ‘Mulan’ (1998). Disney

Action Superstars In Disney’s Live-Action ‘Mulan’

Meanwhile, martial arts star Yen – whose role as the blind, staff-welding warrior Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One has become a fan favorite among Star Wars fans will also play a new character named Commander Tung, who is described as a mentor to Mulan. Famed for his martial arts film series Ip Man, Yen’s last Hollywood outing was in xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

And as if Gong Li and Donnie Yen aren’t stellar enough, another Chinese action superstar lined up to add more star power to the live-action Mulan is Jet Li (Shaolin Temple, Lethal Weapon 4). According to THR, the kung fu actor is in final talks to play the Chinese emperor, the man who issues the imperial decree that one male in every household in China has to be drafted for an impending war.

There is no announcement as yet on who will play the likely new love interest Chen Honghui, described in a 2017 casting call as one of Mulan’s fellow cadets and chief rival in Commander Tung’s unit. (This new character replaces the role of Captain Li Shang, Mulan’s love interest in the 1998 animated film.)

Disney’s 1998 Mulan grossed over $304.3 million worldwide and earned Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score.

Starring the voice talents of Ming-Na Wen (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) as Mulan and Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor) as the protector dragon Mushu, the film is also much loved for its radio-friendly soundtrack that boasts a string of catchy tunes including “Reflection” by Christina Aguilera, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” by Donny Osmond, and “A Girl Worth Fighting For” by the ensemble cast. Disney has yet to confirm whether key songs from Mulan, just like it was for last year’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, would feature in the live-action version as well.

To be directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), the live-action Mulan is set to begin shooting this August in China and New Zealand. Once scheduled for 2018 (to tie in with its 20th anniversary), the film’s release date has since been moved to March 27, 2020.