Although lesser known in the West, the actress has long been a popular face in China.

By Rachel Yang
July 08, 2019 at 01:02 AM EDT
VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Mulan (2020 movie)

03/27/20
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  • Movie
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Released on Sunday, the trailer for Disney’s upcoming Mulan live-action adaptation has already won over skeptical loyalists of the original film. Fans were especially impressed with Liu Yifei (also known as Crystal Liu), who stars as the titular heroine Hua Mulan. And although she may be a new face to many Western fans, the 31-year-old is already a popular actress in China with numerous credits to her name.

EW has compiled some fast facts to answer burning questions about the budding star:

Liu beat out nearly 1,000 actresses to play Mulan 

Remaking an iconic film is no easy task. Casting directors embarked on a year-long search and saw nearly 1,000 candidates across five continents for the role of Mulan, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The part required an ethnically Chinese young woman to have credible martial arts skills, the ability to speak English, and of course, star quality. Liu certainly fit the bill as a popular actress in China with many action roles under her belt and training from the Beijing Film Academy.

Courtesy Everett Collection

She lived in Queens, New York

Another quality that helped Liu score the role is her fluency in English, as the actress lived in Queens from the age of 10 to 14, W reported. Before Mulan, Liu spoke in English in the 2008 film The Forbidden Kingdom with Jackie Chan and Jet Li, as well as 2014’s Outcast, starring Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen.

In China, Liu was known as “Fairy Sister” and among the “Four New Dan Actresses”

The actress has been nicknamed “fairy sister” (shenxian jiejie) for her ethereal and sweet looks and was grouped among the most successful young actresses in China. “Dan” traditionally referred to male actors who played vibrant young women in Peking opera, but in modern times it describes actresses who fit the same characteristics. Other popular stars who have earned the label include Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Fan Bingbing (X-Men: Days of Future Past).

She’s no stranger to wuxia 

Although not technically labeled as wuxia, the Mulan film has many of the markings of the genre characterized by martial arts heroes in ancient China. Much of Liu’s most popular roles are from Wuxia projects, like the TV series Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (2003) and The Return of the Condor Heroes (2006), as well as films such as The Forbidden Kingdom and The Four trilogy. Many of those movies saw her character break out her best Wugong (martial arts), preparing Liu to take on the daunting task of fighting as Hua Mulan, who disguised herself as a man to join the Imperial Army in China.

Courtesy Everett Collection

She’s had to overcome doubters

When Liu was first announced to play Mulan, the reaction was pretty divided. Even Jin Yong, the author of some of the wuxia novels that became adaptations starring Liu, criticized her by saying she was “afraid to make facial expressions.” On Douban, China’s site akin to IMDb, users nominated Liu as the country’s worst actress for three different years. However, it seems the trailer has made fans of some Twitter users who like the film’s “fresh take” and changed their minds about the lack of Mushu or General Shang from the original animated movie.

She sang the Japanese Powerpuff Girls theme song

Besides acting, Liu has modeled and is formally trained in piano. She also had a singing career and signed with Sony Music Entertainment Japan in 2005. A year later, she released a Chinese-language self-titled album and a Japanese-language album. Her single “Mayonaka no Doa” on the latter was the ending theme to the first 13 episodes of Powerpuff Girls Z, a Japanese anime series based on the popular American show. Although she hasn’t released any albums since 2006, Liu has sung on tracks for many of her own films, including 2017’s Once Upon a Time. 

She once lived with 30 cats

Liu and her mother reportedly work with a non-profit organization to find cats new homes, and at one point she was sheltering more than 30 cats in her Beijing apartment. In any case, it’s clear from her Instagram posts that Liu is an animal lover.

Mulan arrives in theaters March 27, 2020.

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Mulan (2020 movie)

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