Disney has found its Mulan for the live-action remake of the 1998 animated movie of the same name. The good news is that it’s a big step towards battling against Hollywood’s whitewashing—an actual Asian actress is playing the role of an Asian protagonist. The bad news is, Liu Yifei is one of China’s worst actress, according to Chinese moviegoers.
Liu will play the legendary female warrior in Disney’s live-action Mulan, set to be released in 2019, the company announced Wednesday (Nov. 29). According to the Hollywood Reporter, Disney spent a year searching for the right Mulan and considered nearly 1,000 candidates for the role. It found Liu a perfect match: the 30-year old Chinese actress-singer has solid martial arts skills, speaks fluent English, and last but not least, has star quality.
True, dubbed “fairy sister” for her elegant style, Liu is a household name in China. And Western audiences might have got a glimpse of her English and martial art skills in American-Chinese co productions like 2008’s The Forbidden Kingdom (which pitted Jet Li and Jackie Chan against each other).
But a big star is not necessarily a good actor—and Liu is a case in point. On Douban (link in Chinese), China’s IMDb-esque film portal, Liu currently holds an average rating of 5.2/10 for nearly two dozen films with her starring roles, as Quartz calculated. In general, a Chinese production with a 7-plus rating would be considered a good one.
Liu’s latest film, Once Upon a Time (2017) has a 4.0 rating, higher than just 3% of all the fantasy romance dramas rated by Douban users. “Why does Liu Yifei still play every character like someone with facial palsy after so many years of acting,”wrote one moviegoer about her performance in the film. The comment has garnered more than 8,000 likes.
In Douban’s annual mock award, which lets users vote for the worst actors and actresses in film, Liu was nominated as China’s worst actress (link in Chinese) for 2012, 2013, and 2016.
Liu’s higher-rated works are mostly Chinese period TV series from her early career. Lots of her roles are innocent, young female protagonists adapted from Jin Yong’s martial-art novels. The 93-year-old writer once commented Liu’s casting as one of his heroines in an interview: “Ms. Liu looks pretty, but she is afraid of being ugly, and she doesn’t dare to make facial expressions.”