'Mulan' Star Yifei Liu Reveals How Co-Star Jet Li Once Saved Her Life (Exclusive)
By John Boone
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It's hardly a spoiler to say that in Mulan, Disney's live-action adaptation of both their animated classic and the 6th century fable, Yifei Liu's Hua Mulan is the hero who saves the dynasty. But, as she recalled while promoting the movie, when she found herself in a potentially perilous spot on another shoot, it was co-star Jet Li who got down to business to save her.
The movie in question is 2008's The Forbidden Kingdom, which was notable for casting Li and Jackie Chan opposite each other for the first time. One action sequence, however, tasked Liu with performing a horseback riding stunt alongside the former.
"I still remember we had to ride a horse full speed in a line and there was a truck in front of us to [film the sequence]," Liu told ET's Nischelle Turner. "It was really fast. Somehow, I couldn't stop the horse. Even though he was going full speed, he was trying to stop my horse, because this was in a very narrow mountain road."
"I've never heard that story before," co-star Yoson An said in awe. "That's incredible."
"It would have taken me longer to stop the horse -- because I didn't have that strength -- but he was worried. He was thinking, 'Is something [going to happen] to me?'" Liu recalls, adding with a giggle: "I appreciated it!"
That was then. More than a decade later, the two found themselves working together again on Mulan, with Li playing the Emperor of China and Liu the titular warrior who disguises herself as a man to serve in the army in lieu of her father. The role called for a skilled martial artist, archer and, yes, horseback rider, with Liu tasked to train more than she'd ever before.
"My passion for this movie, for this character, I think it pushed me further," Liu said. "The physical training is, you know, cardio and strength and muscle, all that, but in the center is also your inner strength and mental training."
Jason Scott Lee, who stars as the movie's villainous Böri Khan, saw that commitment firsthand. "She just wouldn't let up," he recalled. "You actually had to force her to take a break. I was like, 'She's mazing. She's exhausted, but she doesn't want to stop.' Everyone was like, 'No, no, really, you gotta break. You gotta take some time off."
"She went harder than everyone else," he added. "Harder than the guys! The guys were whimpering training when she wouldn't say nothing. She never complained no matter how hard the task was -- and the training was hard."
Liu is far more diplomatic about who trained the hardest, wanting to make sure her male counterparts are given the proper props. "We all worked very hard," she interjected. "We had different training sessions, and I heard there was one training where they had to carry each other and run. That's crazy!"
"And I carried Ron Yuan. You know Ron, he's a big guy, and I had to carry him. He carried me -- it was nothing for him -- but for me it was tough," An laughed. It was worth it in the end, as he says he had abs for the first time. "It was incredible. I was like, 'Are you sure I can squeeze this out in three months, guys? Are you sure this is possible?'"
To which Liu excitedly exclaims, "You did it, yay!"