Gong Li plays Xian Lang, a powerful shapeshifting witch, in Disney’s latest “Mulan.”

Gong Li: Starring in ‘Mulan’ was more fulfilling than being in a Hollywood superhero movie

Sep 03, 2020

The Chinese star opens up about playing the arch nemesis to Crystal Liu’s Mulan in the upcoming Disney remake.

Gong Li is on a roll this year.

First came Saturday Fiction, an espionage tale in which she plays a master of deception in Japanese-occupied Shanghai.

Next comes Disney’s latest Mulan, where Gong plays a shapeshifting witch and the main antagonist of Mulan. Later comes Leap, a rousing sports biopic directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Peter Chan.

It’s a three-pronged comeback for the 54-year-old star, her first films since 2016’s The Monkey King 2.

“I’m not a very productive actor,” Gong admits. “I don’t think productivity means anything to me. I’m always looking for the character that I really want to play. If there’s no such character, I can wait.”

Understandably, she could not resist the chance to star in Disney’s live-action remake of the 1998 animation Mulan.

(Read more: Who are all the actors in Disney’s latest ‘Mulan’?)

In the film, she plays Xian Lang, who replaces the male villain Shan Yu from the animated Mulan—a move consistent with Hollywood’s recent efforts to increase diversity.

“The witch can turn into a 1,000 birds at the same time, instantly,” Gong says. She “appears to be very bad, very powerful, but in the end … she’s not bad.”

“I don’t like those kinds of superhero movies. From the very beginning, you know they will never die.”

Gong Li

In her mind, starring in Mulan was more fulfilling than appearing in one of Hollywood’s myriad superhero movies. “I don’t like those kinds of superhero movies,” she says. “From the very beginning, you know they will never die.”

Gong Li plays Xian Lang, a powerful shapeshifting witch, in Disney’s latest “Mulan.”
Gong Li plays Xian Lang, a powerful shapeshifting witch, in Disney’s latest “Mulan.”

Earlier this year, the film became one of the first Hollywood blockbusters to see its release date moved due to the pandemic.

With no sign of the coronavirus easing up in America, Disney made the decision last month to skip a theatrical release in many markets.

Instead, Mulan now heads to the studio’s new streaming service, Disney +.

(Read more: The shapeshifting politics of Mulan)

While this comes with its own concerns—namely the potential damage for theaters and what it means for the future of cinema—it will not taint Gong’s memories of working on the film.

“It was a very exciting experience, and I enjoyed it a lot,” she says. “Mulan is actually a legendary hero in Chinese history—and I’m a big fan of Mulan [the Disney animation].”

Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.

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