Actor Ron Yuan on the Live-Action “Mulan” and Asian Representation in Hollywood

Actor, voice actor, martial artist, stunt choreographer, director, producer and more, Ron Yuan is as versatile as they get. His body of work spans film (ranging from “Marco Polo” on Netflix to “Sons of Anarchy” and more) and even video games. And soon, we’ll see him in one of the most talked-about movies of the year, “Mulan.”

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DA MAN had the opportunity to do an intercontinental interview with the multihypenate actor about the movie, his upcoming appearance in indie film “The Paper Tigers,” Asian representation in film and more.

DA MAN: Hi, Ron … awesome to have you with us and thank you for taking the time to do this interview. How are you doing?
Ron Yuan: I’m great. thank you for having me

DA MAN: So, it goes without saying that a lot of people here in Indonesia are excited for the live-action “Mulan.” Fans of the original animated movie are obviously familiar with the story and most have an idea what to expect from the trailers. How would you describe 2020’s “Mulan,” though?
Ron Yuan: This 2020 “Mulan” live adaptation will be a very special viewing experience. From what I saw and absorbed on set, it will feel more epic and dramatic in tone, wight light, fun moments on one end while pulling our heartstrings on the other. I think audiences will appreciate the story arc and stunning visuals and that it’s not a shot for shot remake.

DA MAN: What was the most enjoyable part of being part of this movie for you?
Ron Yuan: Well, aside from working on a timeless Disney classic, just being on set you can feel the passion and the focused energy from both cast and crew. We all became a family on a mission and it was a very special journey which was led by our director, Niki Caro. Niki was our Mulan behind camera. She led by action and you felt the love and support for her vision from producers Jason Reed, Liz Tan, Barry Osborne and our great DP [Director of Photography] Mandy Walker. From training to rehearsals to filming, Niki set up a world for all of us to bond so our characters could thrive and do our thing.

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DA MAN: On the flip side, were there any aspects of working on “Mulan” that surprised you or became a bit of a challenge?
Ron Yuan: For me, personally, I enjoyed all aspects of “Mulan.” Training was hard but we all loved it. Niki had her trainer Bojan—ex Serbian special forces—kick our butts into shape in Boot Camp. The cast as a whole bonded because of it. When you know that your director, producer and DP and other department heads were training at 4 to 5AM every day, you better give it all you got. That, along with working with a great stunt team, horse trainers, dialect coaches to our incredible costumes, Niki created an environment for all of us to easily transition into our characters.

DA MAN: The new “Mulan,” we think, faces a unique double challenge: A lot of people want it to be faithful to the 1998 animated film and it also needs to be respectful of the original folklore. Do you think that “Mulan” manages to do this?
Ron Yuan: Absolutely … which is why I think this version is so special. I think the direction that Niki and Disney went in will satisfy true “Mulan” fans while also paying tribute to the original folklore. Look, I know fans were upset when news first broke out that there was no Mushu or singing, but it’s nice to see after the official trailer came out, that those same critics are jumping aboard for the ride. As you can surmise from the trailer, an Eddie Murphy Mushu wouldn’t fit in this version. The tone is different. In my opinion, this version is more grounded in reality, which in turn will make it even more heartfelt than the animation. Niki and the writing team did an incredible job in making this version honest and heartfelt … you’ll see.

DA MAN: All in all, what do you think will audiences around the world take away from the movie?
Ron Yuan: Family; empowering yourself to do the right thing; anything is possible when you put your heart and mind into it.

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DA MAN: It seems you have quite a lot on your plate this year other than “Mulan.” One in particular caught our attention: “The Paper Tigers.” And with Yoshi and Peter Sudarso in the cast, we believe it will gain quite a bit of attention here in Indonesia. Can you give us a brief intro to the movie?
Ron Yuan: “The Paper Tigers” is about three dysfunctional brothers. While reckless kung fu prodigies in their youth, 25 years later they are all out of shape with 9-to-5 jobs. When they get news of their master’s death, they have to set aside their differences to figure out the culprit. We play the older, current version of the Sudarso brothers. I love Yoshi and Peter—they’re great guys. I play Hing who’s like the comic relief of the brothers. I also gained close to 60lbs because Hing is also the most out of shape out of the three leads. Absolutely loved my experience on this film. Every actor should have an indie experience like this … and there has never been a comedy, heartfelt, action film quite like this to come out of the U.S.

DA MAN: Despite its hilarious premise, “The Paper Tigers” also tackles a much more serious issue, which is the portrayal of Asian men and culture in Hollywood. What’s your take on the issue of representation of Asian culture in mainstream films?
Ron Yuan: For most of my 30-year career as a character actor, it’s been heavily under-represented on both the big and small screen. With the recent phenomenon that was “Crazy Rich Asians,” it’s showed other studios that Asian-American themes and Asian-American male actors can be funny, sexy and profitable. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been a slow climb in general and I’m so proud of friends and peers on different shows kicking butt. “Fresh off the Boat” was a huge landmark in the TV world for Asian-Americans. I loved “Always be My Maybe” for Netflix and had an incredible experience on “Marco Polo” for Netflix as well. I am excited for “Shang Chi.” The real test is when we see Asians in every genre, not just specific Asian or martial-arts-theme-centered projects. Certain studios have to realize that the Asian-American experience is also an American experience and not only can it appeal to the U.S., but to other parts of the world as well.

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DA MAN: Back to the lighter side of things, besides “Mulan” and “The Paper Tigers,” what else will be the highlights of your career in 2020?
Ron Yuan: Well, currently, I’m having fun doing character arcs on two shows: One on Fox called “Deputy” where I play a detective and the other for CBS’ “Blood & Treasure” where I play a baddie who thinks he’s the reincarnation of Genghis Khan. I also directed “Step Up: Year of the Dance” which is coming out in theaters and streaming platforms all over Asia.

DA MAN: Now, not many people might know this, but you’ve also lent-your voice to a lot of video games, including AAA titles like last year’s “Mortal Kombat 11.” How did you end up doing voicework for this industry?
Ron Yuan: When I first moved to California to pursue acting, I worked at a restaurant called Mr. Chow. I met Grammy-winner Herbie Hancock who came up to me told me I should do voiceovers. That was the first seed. So, I got in touch with a commercial voiceover agency. It’s a hard clique to break into when you don’t know anyone and you have no credits. I just lucked out when one of the VO agents happened to see a film I acted in called “Art of War” for Warner Bros and realized I performed a rap song on the closing title of the film. She immediately had me put down something for “Def Jam” and I booked it. After that I booked a big Lucas Arts/Star Wars campaign and the work eventually just kept coming.

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DA MAN: You’ve also done a lot of behind-the-camera stuff like doing fight choreography and also directing. Is this something you will delve deeper into in the years to come?
Ron Yuan: Yes, I love being behind the camera. I love working with other actors and I love telling a story in the visual forum. I think all the experience I have from theater to film as an actor and my experience with designing and directing action for different films as well as writing, producing and directing award0winning shorts helps me be more well-rounded for different areas of filmmaking. So, yes, I plan to do all of the above.

DA MAN: And our final question—which might be a bit of a cliché—is: What is your biggest New Year’s Resolution and what do you think are the chances that you’ll make it?
Ron Yuan: Constantly remind myself to sometimes step back, take a deep breath and enjoy life.

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PHOTOGRAPHY Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
STYLING Lisette Mora
GROOMING Robert Bryan