Although Nirvana in Fire 2 wasn’t the ratings hit that it should have been (yes, I’m biased), it was still heavily discussed online by those who loved it. Though there were still a good chunk of people who felt that Liu Haoran was too young – the Chinese audience is way too used to seeing thirty year olds play twenty year olds – his performance as Xiao Pingjing was largely praised. In late January (right as NiF2 was finishing its run), there was a discussion topic in the NiF2 group on Douban that basically asked: Which other Chinese actor could have successfully pulled off the role of Xiao Pingjing?
So I thought it would be fun to share some of the netizen comments from that discussion thread. It was supposed to be a “just for fun post” but most of the comments that replied took it very seriously so it turned into a “why LHR is the perfect Ping Jing” discussion. The netizens who commented on this are by and large fans of the drama, not LHR (or they were converted to LHR fans because of the drama).
Disclaimer: This isn’t meant to put down any other actor – just translating comments.
Translated this chronologically so you could see the discussion flow. I filtered out obvious hate comments on other actors, fangirl comments, and off-topic discussions. This is not meant to step on the other young actors mentioned. There were also about a million “I still pick Liu Haoran” comments so I didn’t include every single one. Surprisingly, I didn’t see any posts saying LHR was wrong for this role, so these aren’t cherry-picked just to make him sound good!
Should be fairly obvious (hopefully) but (*) is a standalone comment and (-) means a reply to the comment.
Qi zhi: aura/presence. I prefer to use the Chinese term because there isn’t really an English word that quite fits. But it essentially means the feeling that someone gives off. It’s a word that is used a lot with Haoran because almost everyone says he has a special qi zhi.
Topic: Let’s discuss – who else could successfully pull off the role of Xiao Ping Jing?
* Because I’m already into it, it’s not easy to think of other names.
* Zheng Yecheng (The Journey of Flower, Love O2O), Niu Jun Feng (Battle of Changsha, Love O2O), Zhang Yijie (Untouchable Lovers) (T/N: These three get mentioned a lot in discussions like this because they’ve all been in the industry for a long time and everyone wants them to succeed, but they are still very much unknown to most people. As several netizens stated, Niu Junfeng is probably one of the better actors under 30, but alas, how well you fare in the industry is also very, very dependent on luck. Something to keep in mind for this post when it comes to Haoran – he’s been so, so blessed.)
- Zheng Yecheng and Niu Junfeng are pretty good. Zheng Yecheng fits appearance-wise, and his acting is okay. Niu Junfeng has no acting issues, but his face and head are too small. I’m already too used to Liu Haoran’s big head, haha. Maybe it’s because bigger heads feel like they have more presence? Zhang Yijie doesn’t have that presence and his acting needs to improve. (T/N: She’s not insulting Haoran – he kept saying in BTS clips that his head is really big lol)
- Niu Junfeng has great acting skills, but he doesn’t have the aura of a martial arts master, and his physique/figure isn’t as good as Liu Hao Ran’s. Zheng Ye Cheng is a good actor, but his resources aren’t good. He and Niu Jun Feng are both dependable but are lacking in resources.
* Aside from Haoran didi, it’s difficult to think of someone else who has both that youthful spirit and a grounded maturity. The only one that I can think of is Bai Jingting (Rush to the Dead Summer). Haoran didi leans a bit warmer, and Xiao Bai is a bit cooler.
- I feel like Bai Jingting doesn’t look as upright as Liu Haoran appearance-wise. Xiao Bai exudes more of a clean feel.
* Liu Hao ran fits the role too well. It feels like no one else could be Xiao Pingjing
*I still would want Liu Haoran in this role. His acting is pretty good, has that youthful vibe, and has the aura of a wuxia hero. I really can’t think of anyone else. And it seems like in this age group, his acting skills are considered to be better than most.
* Shouldn’t the obvious answer be Wu Lei (Leo Wu) (Nirvana In Fire, The Whirlwind Girl)?
- Even though these two are always mentioned together, I feel like they are very different, from the outside appearance to qi zhi. Wu Lei just doesn’t quite feel like Pingjing.
- I also thought of Wu Lei, but while his youthful aura is strong, he doesn’t have that maturity yet. Plus, he was already Fei Liu in the first NiF so the directors wouldn’t consider him.
- Wu Lei looks too young. Pingjing’s age at the end is close to thirty. Last night when I was watching with my mom she asked me if Liu Haoran was very young. Wu Lei looks even younger.
- Wu Lei is good, but his face is way too thin. The role’s age transition is also very big and Wu Lei is still too young. He wouldn’t be able to hold up the appearance of the older Pingjing.
- Even if Wu Lei didn’t play Fei Liu, he wouldn’t be able to play Xiao Ping Jing. There are issues here: 1) he’s way too young. Ping Jing’s age in the second half was about twenty four or twenty five, maybe even twenty seven, twenty eight. Wu Lei has no way of pulling that off. You would have to choose two actors and have Wu Lei play the first half and an older actor for the second half. 2) In terms of crying scenes, Wu Lei would probably have performed better than Liu Haoran in the beginning. But the problem is because he’s been a child actor for over a decade, he has a lot of the performance habits and traits of a child actor.
* I’m already biased because I watched him first and I also have rose tinted glasses on as a fan, but I can’t think of anyone else either. Before I was just a fan of his projects, but because of Xiao Ping Jing I am now solidly a fan.
* If you were to consider the age, acting, and popularity requirements, it would still be Liu Haoran. His acting is good; his youthful aura is strong; he has good body proportions and he’s coordinated so the martial arts scenes looked great. He has both the bright and lively side as well as a more mature, reliable qi zhi. I really can’t think of anyone who would fit better. Of course, it could be because I watched him first.
* Liu Haoran is the most suitable, but I just thought of another possibility. Yang Xuwen (The Legend of the Condor Heroes 2017 remake) and Liu Hao Ran are actually pretty similar appearance wise, both in terms of their figure and qi zhi. I’ve seen the new Legend of the Condor Heroes and his acting is decent, especially when Guo Jing becomes a general later on. It’s quite similar to the later Ping Jing. The only thing is that he isn’t as expressive as Liu Haoran so he doesn’t look as smart. (T/N: Several people echoed this recommendation, but Yang Xuwen ran into some trouble right around the time of this post, so the thread got sidetracked into a discussion of that)
* I think Zhang Ruoyun (Sparrow, Novoland: The Castle in the Sky) or Qin Junjie (Summer’s Desire, Noble Aspirations, Listening Snow Tower) would be good.
- I like both Zhang Ruoyun and Qin Junjie. They are good actors, but it’s very difficult to imagine them being able to pull off the childish, lovable, and spoiled youthful Pingjing in the first half.
- If you were to move the age up a little, Zhang Ruoyun would be good. But because of the age of the character, Daylight Entertainment probably had a basic age requirement. Plus Zhang Ruoyun is filming The Fated General – that’s also about a young military general! Zheng Yecheng’s webdramas are pretty good quality, and he has some acting skills, but his height is average and he has no resources. He can be the male lead in a webdrama, but for a show like Nirvana in Fire 2, Daylight Entertainment still has to consider your status in the industry.
* The biggest challenge with Pingjing is that it requires a huge range as he goes through his transformation. Especially the personality in the first half – if you had a somewhat older actor, you would probably want to hit him. Even Haoran didi got a little criticism and the only reason people were more forgiving is due to his age (T/N: What she means here is that the role itself was incredibly young – not acting related). And later, even though Pingjing is more mature, it’s because he forced himself to grow up and become a young general. As soon as he left his position, he was back to playing staring contests with Ce’er. These characteristics all basically decided the fact that despite the big transformation, the actor for Xiao Pingjing has to lean younger and not older, but he also can’t be too young. Liu Haoran at that age is probably the youngest that you can go – he was even younger than Pingjing by a couple years. So when you consider all of that, I feel that Daylight Entertainment’s decision to pick him was a stroke of genius.
– Looking at the setup of the character, the decision to cast Liu Haoran does seem to make the most sense. Acting-wise, he’s a little green but he’s a hard worker and has a lot of potential. Resources wise, he has the best among the post-‘95ers. The industry wants to support him and he has been able to take advantage of the opportunities given to him. The fact is, in mainland China, there just aren’t a lot of young male actors in their twenties who have fame, status, acting skills, and a good physical appearance. You don’t have a lot of options. Among those born after 1995, the first name that comes to mind is Liu Haoran – and he’s the only name as well (since Nirvana in Fire 2 changed out all the leads, Wu Lei was probably automatically eliminated from consideration by the production team). If you were to look further into the pool based on acting talent among the post-95’ers, there’s Hou Minghao (Cambrian Period, When We Were Young). Out of the non-ke ban (bachelor’s degree) actors, his acting is good. Of course, he doesn’t really fit Ping Jing.
- My impression of Hou Minghao is pretty good. However, out of the post ‘95’ers, the only one who doesn’t look like a child, who can be both rough looking and handsome, is Liu Haoran. Some of the other young actors, even if you gave them a beard, they wouldn’t look older. I read a comment on Liu Haoran before that I think is really good. He debuted at 16 in Beijing Love Story, but despite being a teenager, he didn’t remind anyone of a child as his youthful vibe is so strong. From this point alone, his potential, just strictly appearance-wise, is already very high, higher than most.
* Daylight Entertainment really knows how to pick their leads. Now that I think about it Haoran didi must have been the first choice, and he brought this character to life. You are right, Pingjing was forced to mature, and despite the pain in his heart, he had to put on a strong act. His personality, however, was still free spirited and mischievous. Liu Haoran balanced this very well.
* Has nobody mentioned the student from the neighboring class, Steven Zhang (Zhang Xinchen)? (T/N: Steven Zhang plays Lin Yang in My Huckleberry Friends, who would have attended the same fictional school as Liu Hao Ran’s Yu Huai from With You)
- Even though I really like his Lin Yang, I don’t think he would be suitable for Xiao Pingjing.
- Steven’s acting skills are good, and is also the top ranked in his class at the Central Academy of Drama. But he’s not very well known yet.
* Before I watched, I felt that anyone could do it. Now, I think no one could replace Liu Hao Ran.
* I really want to compliment Liu Haoran. The carefree, happy-go-lucky young prince in the beginning to the serious, commanding, and conflicted young general – he was able to show it all. Especially in the second half, the burdens and regrets in Pingjing’s heart – he was able to express that feeling really well. Liu Haoran’s performance really made me feel the passage of time and the fact that people change – it wasn’t just the captions that told me it was “two years later”. It’s really difficult to imagine who else could play Xiao Ping Jing.
* The mere fact that he was selected by the director proves that he was the most suitable actor among his peers. He has acting skills, popularity, and a good reputation within the industry and can help carry the drama.
* The main issue is that even though the young martial arts master in the beginning can be guided and taught by the director, the Pingjing in the second half is too difficult to portray. If you can’t hold up the character, the whole drama collapses.
– I think Director Kong himself didn’t even think Liu Haoran could complete the role so well. This was his first period drama after all. There were no prior works to reference to, so the director’s decision (to cast LHR) was very daring. And because they made the controversial decision to bring in Huang Xiaoming in as Xiao Pingzhang, it took some of the heat off Liu Haoran and allowed him some breathing room. I don’t think the Xiao Pingjing in the first half was that great. It was adequate. But the second half was a surprise. The scenes with Sun Chun were very good, and the scenes with Zhang Huiwen got better and better. I really can’t think of who would be more suitable, because I don’t know very many of the actors who were born after 1990.
– I think the performance of Ping Jing in the beginning had good and bad moments. In the slice of life scenes with his father, brother, and Lin Xi, there were some micro facial expressions and movements. Liu Haoran is a very expressive actor. When he was bragging to his brother that he had lured Tuo Bayu to join the fight with Duan Tongzhou – his smile and his eyebrow movements! When he was pouting to Lin Xi about his injury his expressions went through many changes. And when he was scolded by his father, he looked so pitiful. I think he had some issues with some of the more emotional scenes, especially the crying scenes. But you could see an obvious improvement in the second half. But overall, it’s just like what Director Kong said. He was able to show different sides of Pingjing. In the second half, he was much more serious and the way he talked, walked, and expressed himself all showed a lot of his inner conflicts.
* Everybody’s forgotten about the young Lin Shu in the first Nirvana in Fire. Zhang Zhehan played him. He acted really well there, so he’s the best candidate for Ping Jing. Kind of like the spirit has been passed on and the character has been reincarnated.
* From age to acting skills, Liu Haoran is the most suitable. He is also a little bit more well known and has played male leads before. The only other possibility I can think of is Little River God Li Xian (Tientsin Mystic, Only Side By Side with You)
- Little River God is weaker at crying scenes. Of course, after being mentored by this production team, it’s very possible that he could improve a lot.
* Before I watched the show, aside from Detective Chinatown, I had not seen any of this di di’s other works. So I wasn’t very optimistic. But after watching, it has to be Haoran didi. He just really appeals to me right now.
* Liu Hao Ran is Xiao Ping Jing. No one could replace him.
* A lot of people have a deep misunderstanding of what “youthful vibe” means. Do you think this is something all young people have? Please! If you aren’t careful, your performance can easily get out of control. If you play it too innocent, you come off as stupid. When you pout and act cute, the audience will either think you’re adorable or want to smack you. It’s very difficult to find a balance and it really tests the director and actor. It’s not just the serious scenes that require acting ability.
- I actually think what you said makes a lot of sense. I used to think that Liu Haoran didn’t perform that well in the beginning, so I was actually quite worried about the second half for a while. I need to go back and review his earlier performance. But from Liu Haoran’s debut through now, his ability to express the youthful spirit of his characters have always been quite natural.
- I don’t think the youthful vibe is purely related to how young you are. The way to bring the audience into the scene is by making them think of you as the character, not that you’re just acting in the role. The earlier Pingjing’s weakness was in the more emotional scenes, but you can see a lot of improvement later on. It’s kind of like the actor and character are growing up together, no?
- Liu Haoran’s appearance and qi zhi are both very upright. He’s young so has the youthful spirit in spades, but he also has a very masculine side. Among his peers, it feels like this kind of qi zhi is rather unique.
- I strongly agree. Liu Haoran’s performances have largely been well received. Bai Long, Su Yu, Detective Chinatown, he’s given good performances every time
* Pingjing in the first half is a little similar to The Disguiser‘s Ming Tai, except even Hu Ge’s performance (as the younger Ming Tai) wasn’t as natural as Haoran’s. So it’s very difficult to cast for roles that require such a huge transformation.
* The reason why Haoran di di’s youthful air is so special is because it’s refreshing. Even when he smirked as he took his shirt off in front of Lin Xi, it won’t make you feel uncomfortable. In fact, you’ll think it’s cute. If it was a different actor, that scene might come off a little creepy. And his performance just got better and better. I don’t really know how to put it into words, but when I review the first half again, it feels surreal – like that many years have actually passed by.
- Yes, that’s exactly it. His face is just so pure. When he was faking his injury and when he took his shirt off on the boat – it’s really easy for that to come off really greasy. Xiao Pingjing’s earlier image is really memorable. Even though people kept complaining about the earlier him, when he grows up, you’ll feel so much compassion for him.
* Liu Haoran is good but Director Kong Sheng should get most of the credit! If you changed the actor and not the director it would still be good!
- Kong Sheng is great, but I don’t agree with your statement that just anyone could be mentored.
- It still depends on the actor. Even if you’re someone who really knows to guide actors, acting skills are still a basic requirement. The last couple of years, even when Daylight Entertainment used actors with liu liang (popularity) as leads, they’ve chosen the ones who have a lot of potential and some acting skills. If you were to choose another actor, Director Kong might not even be able to save it. Of course, my opinion is that in this drama, the director should get about 60% of the credit for the performance due to his success in teaching.
* Based on just the youth element, I don’t think there are other options.
* I thought about it for a long time and I really can’t think of any others who could play the role. The carefree, spirited youth who grows up to become the steady, mature, loyal Pingjing who lives on Langya Mountain – only Liu Haoran can pull off this growth arc. My feeling is that his head is just the right size. A lot of male celebrities now have heads that are too small, so they wouldn’t be able to pull off the general’s helmet later on.
* There isn’t anyone. In my heart, Liu Hao Ran is Ping Jing, just like Hu Ge is Mei Chang Su. Only them.
* I think Qin Junjie could do it. In 2016 when this was filmed he was 25, so you might lose a bit of the youthful feel. But in The Glory of the Tang Dynasty he played a carefree nobleman who also became much more serious later on. Among the actors who were born after 1990, his acting is excellent.
- Qin Jun Jie could play Xiao Yuanqi. I think he would have been better.
- Qin Jun Jie can’t play Pingjing. In The Glory of the Tang Dynasty, the younger, lively him was awkward to watch. His performance as the older, more mature version of his character was excellent. There’s been so many names mentioned, but aside from Haoran di di, I can only think of Steven Zhang.
* The Xiao Pingjing in the first half isn’t easy to act either. The youthful vibe is helped by age, or else when you try to act cute it would seem really ridiculous. The names mentioned in this thread so far are not suitable. Plus, even the happy-go-lucky side requires acting skills. It’s not just dependent on age. Liu Haoran’s acting isn’t greasy. It’s natural and relaxed. At least for me, I loved the Xiao Pingjing in the first half.
* As far as I am concerned, there are no others. The sword dance under the moonlight and the steadiness shown when testing Yuan Qi – I really can’t think of anyone else.
* After watching episodes 47 and 48, Liu Haoran is Xiao Pingjing, and Xiao Pingjing is Liu Haoran.
* The Hu Ge from ten years ago. His Li Xiao Yao is very memorable.
* Zhang Yi Shan (Yu Zui, Shall I Compare You to a Spring Day, A Seven Faced Man)
- He doesn’t have that youthful feel..
* I didn’t know who Liu Hao Ran was before. His performance in the second half was very good, and a bit inspirational. The first half was basically reliant on his own natural self.
* Shawn Dou (Princess Agents, Tribes and Empire: Storm of Prophecy)
- He would be great in the second half, but the early, spirited Pingjing…If he tried to play cute in front of his older brother, I would want to enter the TV and hit him!
* There aren’t any other possibilities since Liu Haoran has already played the role, and exceeded expectations. When I first heard they were going to make NiF2, I thought, “This is going to be a disaster!” so I didn’t watch until after thirty or so episodes had already came out. Ever since then, I’ve been addicted. And Liu Haoran’s Xiao Pingjing has been the biggest reason I’ve been chasing this drama!
* The Hu Ge from the Li Xiao Yao days
* I’ve watched up until episode 48 and I feel like Liu Haoran has brought Xiao Pingjing to life. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role.
* Niu Junfeng or Steven Zhang. Lin Yang’s warm smile is also too memorable, so it might pull you out of the scene in the second half. So, it should still be Haoran didi.
* Just looking at age, you can go one of two ways with a role like Xiao Pingjing. 1) Someone who is older but has a youthful appearance and qi zhi, like when 26 year old Zhou Xun played a 14 year old or when 25 year old Tan Songyun played 16 year old Geng Geng. 2) Someone who is younger and naturally has that youthful vibe, but has mature acting skills and can play heavier roles. I thought about all the candidates and the only two that come to mind are Liu Haoran and Steven Zhang. But Steven doesn’t quite have Liu Hao Ran’s ability to be commanding and domineering and you have to have those traits to seem like Chang Lin estate’s second young master!
* I suddenly thought of Zhang Zhehan, who was young Lin Shu. Also I think Deng Lun (Princess Agents, Because of You) could do it.
* He is one with the character now. There are very few actors who have the looks, acting skills, and the bright youthful spirit. I thought about Li Xian, but he still wouldn’t be as suitable as Haoran didi.
* I tried to picture the suggested names in the role, but none of them fit really well. Xiao Pingjing has both a noble and righteous air. He has to stand out from others, and goes through a lot of life events that impact him greatly. There is also a pretty big time span. The actor’s height, age, acting skills, looks, and qi zhi are all important – he can’t be lacking in any of these areas. He also needs to be somewhat well known. In the first half, Pingjing is a young prince from a noble family who is also a young martial arts master.
In the second half, he is a commanding young general. The spirited, spoiled Pingjing can’t be portrayed as a brat or too naive. The intelligent and studious Pingjing can’t seem like a child pretending to be a grown up. Even if you were just to pick one of the Ping Jings, it would already be difficult to find a suitable actor. I actually think the earlier Pingjing is more difficult to portray. With a perfect older brother at his side, it’d be difficult not to compare the two and shake your head at Pingjing’s antics.
Actors older than Liu Haoran wouldn’t look natural in the scenes where Pingjing is acting cute and pouting. Actors younger than Liu Haoran would be suppressed presence-wise by the veteran actors. So Daylight Entertainment’s decision to cast Liu Haoran isn’t a coincidence. It was a decision made after considering a lot of different factors.