Disney’s highly-anticipated live-action adaptation of Mulan is quickly approaching its release date in theaters. The movie has generated a lot of buzz about what isn’t there (Mushu and Li Shang). And last August, its lead actress Liu Yifei, the Chinese-American actress playing Mulan herself, created her own headline-generating controversy. Here, all you need to know about Yifei, why #BoycottMulan trended, and how much training Yifei did to play Mulan.
Yifei is 32 years old and has been acting since 2002.
Yifei has been in primarily Chinese TV and movies, although she is also an American citizen. She has been credited as Crystal Liu in some of her appearances. Yifei has acted alongside some major Hollywood names: She was in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) with Jackie Chan and Outcast (2014) with Nicolas Cage. In China, Yifei is known as “Fairy Sister” for her beauty and talent.
Yifei spoke to Cosmopolitan Korea (in an interview translated on KBeautyNow.com)in 2016 about how she really became dedicated to her craft as an actress in her 20s. “It has been 13 years since making my first debut, and there has been many changes in my acting and mental attitude,” she said. “Like most female actresses, I am always aspiring to succeed and become a popular star, and my positive energy never dies out. And it wasn’t until entering my twenties that I began to identify my real dream as an actress. I realized that acting is not all about receiving people’s applause or cheer. It is about delivering the right character to the audience and feeling satisfied in who you become on stage. Therefore, I try to focus more on the abstract qualities of acting, and I hope to become a better actress throughout time.“
Yifei was born in Wuhan, the “epicenter of the coronavirus.” She has spoken out about the epidemic’s impact on Mulan‘s release.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Yifei explained that although she was born in Wuhan and lives in Beijing, she had left China for Mulan press obligations weeks before the outbreak. She also noted that no family members or close friends had been majorly impacted. When asked about the epidemic’s effect on Mulan‘s release, Yifei said, “It’s really heavy for me to even think about it. People are doing the right thing. They are being careful for themselves and others. I’m so touched actually to see how they haven’t been out for weeks. I’m really hoping for a miracle and that this will just be over soon.”
Yifei came under controversy in August 2019 for supporting the Hong Kong police in China.
Yifei sparked a “#BoycottMulan” movement on social media when the actress posted about her support of the Hong Kong police on her Weibo account (a popular Chinese social media platform) in the midst of the city’s citizens staging pro-democracy, anti-police brutality protests that have been taking place for weeks in summer 2019.
The protests started in response to the extradition bill that the territory’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam (which mainland China backs) introduced in April 2019. That bill would allow people charged with crimes in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial and punishment. Lam put it on hold after the initial protests but has not withdrawn it completely and refuses to step down from her position, despite protestors’ demands for her to do so. Hong Kong (more democratic and a former British colony) and mainland China (run by a communist government) are supposed to exist under a “one country, two systems” policy until at least 2047, giving Hong Kong more autonomy. Read an in-depth piece about the protests and the situation between mainland China and Hong Kong on Time here; there’s a lot to it.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Yifei posted an image with Chinese text on it that translates to: “I support Hong Kong’s police, you can beat me up now. What a shame for Hong Kong.” She added the hashtag, “IAlsoSupportTheHongKongPolice” and a heart emoji. The post was taken down on her page but not before people noticed and took a screenshot.
Disney’s Mulan actress, Liu Yifei, supports police brutality and oppression in Hong Kong.— sean, your (sometimes) friend (@sdnorton) August 15, 2019
Liu is a naturalized American citizen. it must be nice. meanwhile she pisses on people fighting for democracy.
retweet please. HK doesn’t get enough support. #BoycottMulan @Disney pic.twitter.com/FpECIdutH2
Her Instagram account was filled with comments from people accusing her of supporting police brutality. #BoycottMulan trended on Twitter, and her comments made global headlines.
When asked to reflect on the controversy in a February 2020 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Yifei said, “I think it’s obviously a very complicated situation and I’m not an expert. I just really hope this gets resolved soon.” When pressed further, Liu declined to say more other than,”I think it’s just a very sensitive situation.”
Yifei lived in New York City (Queens, specifically) for years when she was a kid and developed her English speaking skills then.
Yifei moved to the city with her mother when she was 10 years old, South China Morning Post reported. She’d return to China five years later (after becoming an American citizen) to attend Beijing Film Academy. Yifei confirmed to Cosmo Korea that she got cast in a Chinese television series at 15 when she went back to attend the school.
Yifei beat out 1,000 contenders for the role of Mulan.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote when it revealed Yifei has been cast in the role that Disney’s casting directors conducted an extensive search to find their Mulan across five continents. They looked to hire a young Chinese woman who had credible martial arts skills, was able to speak English, and had star quality.
During a February 2020 conversation with Awkwafina for Interview Magazine, Yifei had this to say about the challenges of playing the famous character:
Her motivation was love, her love for her father, and her journey of finding out who she truly is. That was my homework, and I would say that it motivated me to prepare myself mentally, but also physically, with a lot of gym stuff, fight training, horse training. But at its core, Mulan is really about the character, the spirit. She is such a famous character, but I also wanted to be myself. It was all about balance and choice. It’s always brave to be yourself.
Yifei sings and performs 90% of her own stunts in Mulan.
Although the live-action Mulan has faced backlash for not including the animated film’s original songs, Yifei will sing in the upcoming film. According to USA Today, Yifei sings a Mandarin Chinese version of “Reflection,” which plays during the end credits following Christina Aguilera’s version. When asked about this, Yifei was surprised to learn her version was included in the film, saying, “You know, I tried to tell them I didn’t have the voice. But it was a fun process.” The actress also revealed that she had once used the song in an audition years ago.
Yifei also rose to the challenge executing the movie’s fight scenes. In an interview with Insider, Mulan cinematographer Mandy Walker said the actress did the majority of her own stunts. “Liu Yifei is incredible,” Walker told the outlet. “Apart from being a lovely person, she’s very professional. She did pretty much most of the stunt work herself—the horse riding, the sword fighting, the martial arts, the battle sequences, the stunts. We always had a stunt person there, but she trained as well, and we would try it with her, and nine times out of 10, she did it.”
Yifei split with her last boyfriend, South Korean actor Song Seung-heon, in January 2018.
Yifei hasn’t shared any photos of who she is dating now, if anyone. But AllKPop.com reported at the end of January 2018 that she and Seung-heon dated for two years publicly; they started dating in 2015 and made their relationship public then. They both acted in The Third Way of Love.
Chinese media insiders said, per AllKPop.com, that “Liu Yifei’s side has already determined that the two have broken up… But because they were together for a long time, it seems they are taking a while to organize their feelings.”
Seung-heon’s label told TVReport that yes, the two ended their relationship: “It’s true they broke up. The exact timing is their personal business so we do not know. Song Seung Hun and Liu Yifei both worked without any break. They couldn’t meet because of busy schedules, so they naturally drifted apart.”
Yifei has a massive following on China’s Weibo (65M+) and also has her own Instagram with 336,000+ followers.
She posts pretty minimally on Instagram, although she did share one shot from her shooting Mulan.
In March 2020, she hilariously referenced her work with Disney, sharing a photo of herself hugging Mickey Mouse. “with my boss ????,” she captioned the post.
Her other Instagrams have included her with cats and her generally posing in nature:
Naomi Scott, who played Jasmine in Disney’s live action adaptation of Aladdin, has been supportive of Yifei.
Yifei posted a video of Scott performing her song “Speechless” from Aladdin on her Instagram and Twitter earlier this year, writing, “Goosebumps ????.” Scott tweeted a response to Yifei, writing, “Girl, I cannot wait for you to slay my life next year.”
???????????????? Girl, I cannot wait for you to slay my life next year. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ https://t.co/vR4ZspvTad— Naomi Scott (@NaomiScott) May 25, 2019
Yifei is a fashion darling.
Yifei has done several fashion campaigns. She posted photos of herself on her Instagram as the face of Emporio Armani’s fall/winter 2019-2020 campaign for the Asian Pacific and greater China. That’s her latest campaign:
She has also attended events throughout the years for brands like Dior and Chanel.
This article originally appeared on ELLE US.