He’s trained in karate, kickboxing, and winning our hearts.
Yoson An has a black belt in karate, knows how to kickbox, and can lift Olympic weights.
No wonder he was cast alongside Crystal Liu in Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan.
“I actually did most of my stunts in this film,” the actor says, “except for the really dangerous stuff which I leave to the professionals.”
An, who kayaks and rock climbs, says his sports background helped him grasp the movie’s fight choreography.
The 28-year-old plays Honghui, a fierce warrior who fights alongside Mulan and becomes her most important ally.
With most of the shooting done on New Zealand’s South Island, where he lives, An was one of the first actors on the film to start training for it.
“I had to train three to four hours a day with stuntmen and martial artists.”
“I had to train three to four hours a day with stuntmen and martial artists,” he says. “For five days a week, I needed to do high-intensity interval training to maintain my physique throughout the shoot.
“I also did a lot of horse-riding and archery,” he adds. “I had never ridden a horse before this production.”
It took him two years to land the role
An first auditioned for the Mulan role in 2016, when he sent a self-audition tape. “I didn’t hear anything back for three months, so I thought I didn’t get the role and moved onto the next project,” he explains.
(Read more: Who are all the actors in ‘Mulan’?)
But a year later, his agent told him Disney wanted to see him again for the role. Two weeks later, he flew to LA from his home in New Zealand to meet with Niki Caro, the film’s director, for an in-person audition.
“I didn’t hear anything again from Disney for another nine months after that,” he says. “So the casting process was close to two years.”
He grew up in New Zealand
Born in the city of Zhuhai in southern China, An studied at an international school in Macau before moving to Auckland when he was 7 years old.
Growing up, An says his mother would recite Chinese poems, including the “Ballad of Mulan.”
His movie career grew from pursuing musical theater as a hobby in high school.
“I didn’t think [I would become an actor] when I was a kid,” says An, who speaks fluent Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. “But that musical theater hobby eventually turned into a passion.”
After college, he landed bit parts in films including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016), Mortal Engines (2018) and The Meg (2018).
His first breakout role was in the Australian police drama Dead Lucky, where he played the male lead Charlie Fung.
Working with Crystal Liu and Donnie Yen
An says he enjoyed working closely with Liu on Mulan.
“I grew up watching The Forbidden Kingdom when I was 15 years old,” he says of the 2008 Hollywood film starring Liu. “We had a lot of fun hanging out together as a group. She’s probably one of the most humble and focused actors I know. That aspect of hers has inspired me to be even more diligent and dive deeper into my craft.”
Besides Liu, working alongside superstars such as Donnie Yen (who plays his commander), Gong Li (who plays a powerful witch in the film) and Jet Li (playing the emperor of China) was a surreal experience for An.
“I grew up watching all their movies. I had a lot of respect for them. All three of them are incredibly nice people.
“Whilst we were shooting in the South Island, I lived with Donnie for over a month under the same roof,” he says. “We had dinner every night and played pool together, so we got to know each other pretty well both on and off the set.”
On Asian representation in Hollywood
With a production budget of $200 million, Mulan distinguishes itself from most other Hollywood productions with its all-Asian cast.
An says the increasing representation of Asians following the success of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and The Farewell (2019) in the United States is an important industry change.
“It distorts the perception of who the Asian community are,” says An of Hollywood’s past practice of typecasting Asian actors. “In this age, we need more love, acceptance, and compassion. I believe authentic storytelling can be a medium to bring these values to [the audience].”
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.