A team of stuntmen from Central Asia features prominently in a new big-budget Disney film scheduled for release next March.
Mulan is the story of a young female warrior in Han Dynasty China who saves her country from northern invaders. A remake of the 1998 animated adventure that became a byword for whitewashing, the new film aims for greater cultural authenticity, director Niki Caro told The Hollywood Reporter. Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei plays the eponymous lead and the film features an all-Asian cast.
Disney launched the trailer this week. It garnered more than 175 million views in the first 24 hours.
Almaty-based Nomad Stunts is behind many of the action shots. Founded in 2000, the group specializes in equestrian stunts, fight scenes and acrobatics.
“A dream to work with Disney has come true! Also as an actor! Hope this film turns out great,” wrote Nomad Stunts founder Zhaidarbek Kunguzhinov on Facebook. Kunguzhinov has previously worked with Hollywood heavyweights including Keanu Reeves, Sylvester Stallone and Natalie Portman.
Nomad Stunts manager Evgeniya Lee told Eurasianet that 13 staff – 10 from Kazakhstan and three from Kyrgyzstan – worked on the Mulan stunts. Kanat Kudyarov doubled for one of the main protagonists, actor Jason Scott Lee, and Zhandos Aibassov doubled for another lead character. In addition to his stunts and horse training, Kunguzhinov played a small part as a tribal military commander.
“The work of a stuntman is dangerous and has plenty of risks, but they are usually behind the scenes,” Lee said.
In 2017, Kunguzhinov was nominated for a Taurus World Stunt Award in the United States. Taurus awards men’s and women’s stunts, stunts with cars, and more. “A whole community exists and all the stunt actors know each other. They play a big role in action films but they don’t intend to get in the shot. For them, challenging stunts and elaborate fight scenes are satisfactory,” Lee said.
Nomad Stunts spent six months working on Mulan in New Zealand. “A stunt actor rehearses scenes up to the smallest details, such as when he or she has to hold a metal sword and it needs to be switched to a plastic one,” Lee said. “All of that prep work ensures that a movie is shot efficiently.”
Aliya Uteuova is a Kazakh journalist.