Five Actresses Who Could Play Live Action Mulan


In this series, we speculate on what actors would be the perfect choice to play an upcoming character, or what type of character a particular actor is best suited for. Feel free to unilaterally agree with all our picks voice your opinion in the comments!

Wow, Disney is making all the money ever. Between the Marvel universe, Star Wars, and their deal with Pixar, the House of Mouse could easily start printing their own money and using it as currency… oh, wait. They’ve been doing that for decades. It’s only legal tender inside the cartoon-Vaticans they’ve set up around the world, but still.

Lots of folks forget that Disney already had a real license to steal with their prestigious lineup of in-house animated fare. And while the transition to 3D computer animation was a painful one for them, some enterprising folks in their offices have found a way to wring more money out of the old 2D art cells: live-action adaptations. We’ve had a Casting Call for one of these already, but the trailer for Jon Favreau’s very action-y Jungle Book film has brought about a great realization that these films might make for great family-friendly action.

So, while Maleficent and Cinderella tried very hard to take romantic fairy tales and turn them into fantasy epics, there are other Disney properties that are better suited to the crowd-pleasing adventure flavor. The first that comes to mind is the historical war epic Mulan. And Disney, naturally, has already announced that a live-action take on the story is in development. But who would be the ideal actress to play the ancient Chinese hero?

If there’s one thing the Internet has recently agreed on (via petitions and outrage at the rumor of Scarlett Johansson taking the role), it’s that Mulan should be played by an actress of Asian descent, so here are my picks.

Fan Bingbing

1. Bingbing Fan

Award-winning actress and recent producer of her own television series, “Jintai-Pan,” Fan has been transitioning to mainstream Hollywood work the last few years. She was featured prominently in the Chinese cut of Iron Man 3, and had some cracking action sequences in X-Men: Days of Future Past as the short-distance teleporter Blink.

As Mulan, Fan would be very comfortable in period costume as well as filling the shoes of a national legend. She’s played the famed ancient beauty Yang Guifei twice, and her reputation for groundbreaking garb around the world would ensure she could handle the traditional women’s garb as easily as full battle armor. To boot, she’s even a talented singer should this version carry over the fantastic songs from the animated original. Her Mulan would be extremely beautiful, but undoubtedly dangerous.

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2. Constance Wu

One aspect of Mulan, the character, that mustn’t be lost in the shuffle toward action and adventure, is her humor. Her misfit nature and the Shakespearian disguise comedy demand an actress capable of landing jokes and giving the character a big, definable personality.

Wu is currently enjoying success as the breakout character Jessica on “Fresh Off the Boat,” and has shown a great amount of energy and precision with comedy with spots on “Children’s Hospital” and “Spooked.” Admittedly, she hasn’t had much action experience, but it seems like the smarter move for a production to craft an action star out of a good actor than vice versa. Wu could be 2017’s Chris Pratt!

Arden Cho

3. Arden Cho

Best known as the sword-swinging Kira on MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” she has also crossed into video game performance territory as Lara Croft’s friend Samantha “Sun Queen” Nishimura in the Tomb Raider reboot. If Mulan is going to be primarily an action hero, Disney should definitely consider Cho.

If the film were to take a somewhat Ang Lee-style approach, we can be sure that the color palette will be striking, the editing will be kinetic, and the star will have to endure quite a bit of stunt work. And Cho comes with experience! She even had a small job as a stunt performer and acted as a Korean sniper in Olympus Has Fallen.

Arden Cho - London Comic Con Oct 14 - Teen Wolf panel (15627812962)

4. Ming-Na Wen

The online outrage at the very whisper of race-bending or whitewashing the role came with a small yet fervent addendum: why recast at all, when the original Mulan would be perfect in live action as well? Since voicing the character in 1998, Wen has cultivated a really impressive resume as a voice actor and on-camera. Her professional relationship with Disney continued as she just voiced Mulan for the Infinity series of games/overpriced statuettes and a recurring character on “Phineas and Ferb.” She’s also had prominent roles on a number of sitcoms, she was Finn’s mom on “Adventure Time,” and most notably she’s been one of the lead characters on “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” since the pilot.

There’s comedy. There’s action. There’s the fact she’s been playing Mulan already for almost twenty years. And there’s a big fan demand for her to continue. While it stands that she is probably too old for the role in live action, no one can deny her talent as a performer and an action star. There are definitely more ridiculous ideas out there… I told you about the Scarlett Johansson thing, right?

Zhang Ziyi Cabourg 2014 2

5. Ziyi Zhang

When most filmgoers think of Chinese period fantasy action, they are thinking of something Ziyi Zhang has done in the last ten years or so. She has done fantastic, physical roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Jet Li vehicle Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and… er, Rush Hour 2. She also has tugged at heartstrings in such dramatic movies as Memoirs of a Geisha and Dangerous Liaisons. She’s also a singer, contributing to several soundtracks.

Clearly her name should be near the top of any list that may exist. She’s an accomplished action hero with the dramatic chops to pull real pathos out of the big moments of the story. When Mulan leaves her family to go off to war, imagine Ziyi Zhang cutting off her hair and donning a cracked and aged set of her father’s armor. It’ll bring down the house!

Agree? Disagree? More ideas? Let us know in the comments.


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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.