"Well, I don't know what to prepare for; I don't know what to expect," An laughs. "It's a new experience for me. It's like trying to prepare me to drive a car when I've never been in one. I can learn about it but I would just have to flow with it, I guess."
Being part of Mulan 2.0 is no easy feat. After all, this is the only animated Disney classic based on an Asian legend, voiced by a largely Asian cast (Ming-Na Wen provided the voice of the film's lead, with Lea Salonga taking on the musical numbers), and gave us the much-loved theme song 'Reflection'. Inherently, the film is the first Disney production to feature a strong female lead, one who isn't portrayed as a typical Disney princess.
Yes. There's a lot riding on this retelling, especially on the nostalgia front. And as evident from initial reactions to previous Disney live-action remakes (think back to last year's Aladdin and 2015's Cinderella), ardent fans can sometimes be too harsh even before seeing the final product.
"I think people need to understand that the animated movie—which is one of my favourite childhood films—was introduced to the Western world through Disney and it's originally an ancient ballad. And what we've done with this film is that we went back to the ancient ballad and created a new adaptation of it," An explains. "There are going to be similarities—the memorable elements that people loved in the animated original will still be in this film."
One of the major changes that had fans riled up was the decision to not include Mulan's love interest and captain in the army, Li Shang, in the retelling. Instead, the animated character is split between An's and Donnie Yen's characters in the film. An plays Chen Honghui, the reimagined love interest who's a fellow recruit, while Yen takes on the role of Commander Tung. It was a decision, according to producer Jason Reed, that came to be in light of today's #MeToo era—having a commanding officer who's also the love interest—that the power dynamic could be taken the wrong way.
Thankfully, An's big Hollywood debut will not be on the heels of that potentially awkward 'scandal'.
The story goes
"I didn't really plan on being an actor," says An when asked what drew him to acting. "I remember performing in musicals in high school and I really loved it. But I went to university and I think like a lot of kids, I just didn't know who I was. So I picked subjects that my friends would take, like business science and whatnot, to see what would interest me. Some of them were really interesting but I didn't have a passion for them."
An and his family moved from Macau to Auckland, New Zealand when he was around seven years old. Growing up, he gravitated towards a lot of cartoons, anime and video games. "I learnt a lot about characters and storytelling from them," he shares.
His main passion is storytelling, sparked from those early childhood years and further magnified through his work as an actor. An is by no means an industry beginner. He's been at it since 2012, acting in small independent projects and mini-series, including one for HBO Asia called Grace, which was a Singaporean production. Thereafter, his credits include small roles in Netflix's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (starring Donnie Yen), The Meg and Mortal Engines.
In between, An exercised his storytelling skills by writing and producing his own shorts. Between the Parallel tells the story of two female protagonists (played by the same actress) in two different worlds but sharing the same struggle for freedom, albeit in different capacities. Part of it was done in Mandarin and was reminiscent of period Chinese movies that he grew up with, complete with magical special effects.
"I wrote something, gathered a few friends together and made something. And my project ended up winning a few awards. That was pretty cool and it's definitely something that I'll keep pursuing and aspire towards doing more," An relishes.
How would he define himself as a storyteller? An says that it's difficult to tie himself to just one category. What's important to him is the human element when it comes to any story.
There's no doubt that being part of Mulan has started to open new doors for An. One of them was the opportunity to work alongside some of Hollywood's greatest Asian icons—Yen, Gong Li and Jet Li.
"Being able to be on the same set and doing the same scenes with them, I had to pinch myself a few times," An fondly recalls. In fact, he spent a month living with Yen on New Zealand's South Island, where "we had dinner every night together so I got to know him very well".
Then there's also his first visit to New York ("I love that people are so real and raw in New York."), attending New York Fashion Week for the first time for the autumn/winter 2020 season. He made his rounds attending shows the likes of Victor Li—who custom-made a suit embroidered with magnolias, the literal English translation of 'mulan'—N.Hoolywood and Todd Snyder.
An tells us that he has potential projects in the works, but nothing that he can divulge yet. When asked if he's moving to Los Angeles full-time, An hints that he could see himself living there.
What's for certain though is that An really wants to be part of a video game. "I won't disclose anything but I visited one of the studios that makes one of the biggest Sony games last week. And I got to see the process of them creating a scene for the next upcoming game, which I'm so excited about. I'd love to be in a video game; just putting it out there," he expresses.