“I think being calm is definitely a superpower.” Given Yoson An’s current trajectory, hearing something like this coming out of his mouth is not surprising. In just a few years, the 28-year-old actor has gone from extra roles to featured performances to today, where he’s about to star in Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan. Originally scheduled to hit cinemas in March, Mulan is just one of the many blockbusters affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. After a couple of reschedules, the highly-anticipated film has finally found its home in Disney’s streaming platform Disney+, where it’ll be available to rent.
An stars as the film’s male lead Chen Honghui, an ally and romantic interest for the brave Mulan. And beside the pushed releases, getting to this point, An explains, was already a hard-fought journey. “The casting process took almost two years,” An remembers. “I was sent an audition tape from my agent back in 2016.” Now that the film is finally ready to reach audiences, An couldn’t be more excited. “It’s such a beautiful movie. Everyone who has worked on it is so proud of it. I hope the world loves it as much as we do.”
While he may be starring in major Hollywood films today, An claims an entry into the acting world was not always what he intended. Among his early acting roles was a high school performance of Yertle The Turtle in Seussical the Musical, a role he remembers as one that set him on the path of being a professional actor. “I kind of fell into it,” he admits. “I was involved in musicals in high school and fell in love with the production process, but never thought of pursuing it as a career. Then in my university years, I decided to pick it up as a hobby and did a couple of student films. One thing led to another, here I am.”
An might be an experienced actor, but preparing for Mulan presented some new obstacles for the 27-year-old. The filming process, he remembers, was a radically different experience to any role he’s taken before. “[It was] pretty challenging,” An says. “We not only had to train in stunts and martial arts choreography daily, but we also had strength and conditioning training on top of that. So it was almost four to five hours of training daily, for five, sometimes six days a week. Because we had to maintain our physicality during the filming process, we also trained throughout the production.” Thankfully, “it all paid off,” An shares. “The film is so beautiful.”
Since the first inklings of a live-action Mulan remake hit entertainment media several years ago, fans have expressed concern about this new adaptation of the Disney classic. An assures that fans of the original animated Mulan — “one of my childhood favourites” — shouldn’t be too concerned about this new iteration’s faithfulness to the 1998 hit. “The original animated movie… was derived from the ancient ballad itself, and the elements that made the movie so special also came from the ballad,” notes An. “Because our film is a live-action adaptation of the ancient ballad, it will carry the same essence of these memorable elements that were also in the animation.”
Speaking of those memorable elements, seeing the first trailer for Mulan was a particularly touching moment for An — and one that left him “speechless”. “I sent the trailer first to my mum, then my friends back home in New Zealand… There are so many spectacular scenes from the film.” Picking a favourite among these ‘spectacular scenes’ is a big ask. “Some of the moments I really loved are when Mulan is with her father, as well as the scenes with the squad of boys — my brothers in arms. [I] can’t wait for the world to see them in action.”
Apart from Mulan, An has another project on his plate: an upcoming series for the BBC Two entitled The Luminaries, which An filmed in his native New Zealand. “Playing Sook in The Luminaries was so much fun, and it opened my eyes up to a dark bit of history that happened in the 1800s,” he says. The series, based on a 2013 novel by Eleanor Catton, explores a turbulent time in New Zealand’s history: the nineteenth-century gold rush. “I sat down with the wonderful writer Eleanor Catton to learn all about the backstory of Sook and what drives his motives. I don’t want to give too much away, but you guys should all watch this series — it’s incredibly emotive and engaging. The lovely [director] Claire McCarthy and the cast & crew were all amazing to work with.”
While An spent his youth in New Zealand, his story truly spans the globe. Born in Macau, he moved to New Zealand as a child, later relocating to Australia to find increased acting opportunities. Through all this, he maintains that staying in touch with his heritage kept him grounded. “I think growing up in a Chinese household has kept the traditional values alive even though I was raised in New Zealand. I’m very thankful for that,” the actor stresses. “As artists, we tell stories from what we know — having access to knowledge of multiple cultures has not only added richness to my life but has also enhanced my appreciation for storytelling.”
Still, such a variety of experiences can change a person. “I used to be an extrovert as a teenager, but now I’m an introvert,” An confesses. Today, maintaining a mental balance is a conscious effort for the actor. “I found that having some sort of daily ritual — morning meditation — has helped with finding my centre whenever things are moving a little fast in life… I [also] like to write, read, workout, meditate, and play video games.”
‘Mulan’ will be available to stream on Disney+ from September 4 for $29.99 in the US, £19.99 in the UK, and 21,99€ in the rest of Europe. The film will be available to all Disney+ subscribers for no extra cost from December 4.
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