A team of casting directors visited five continents and saw nearly 1,000 candidates for the role, which requires credible martial arts skills, the ability to speak English and the most ineffable requirement of all: star quality. In deference to cultural accuracy, the studio focused on locating an ethnically Chinese young woman to play Hua Mulan, who disguised herself as a man to take her father’s army conscription in 5th century China.In Liu, Disney found the complete package. Nicknamed “Fairy Sister” by the Chinese public for her pure and innocent looks and image, she has been one of the country’s most popular actresses of the current generation since breaking out with a series of hit television dramas in the mid-2000s, while she was still a teenager enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy. Liu is fluent in English, having lived in Queens, N.Y., for part of her childhood, and acted in English in both 2008’s The Forbidden Kingdom, alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and 2014’s Outcast, opposite Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen. She also starred opposite Emile Hirsch in Danish auteur Bille August’s period romance The Chinese Widow, which opened the Shanghai International Film Festival in June.