Liu Haoran’s star is rising faster than he can age, but it’s not just because his popularity and public recognition are at an all time high. In an era where actors are often weighed more for their looks than talents, Haoran’s much traditional approach (CAD student, low profile, almost all positive comments), coupled with the fact that he debuted in two commercial box office hits (film has a wider audience) has been considered refreshing. (This is not a criticism on anyone – just stating that this is why Haoran was able to make a name for himself early on).
It’s gotten to the point where Haoran’s name will be brought up without being asked – he’s become an industry darling of sorts. So we thought it would be fun to share a compilation of what prominent people within the C-ent industry – fellow actors, MCs, producers, authors, and directors, etc. – have said about Liu Haoran. Most of these are from 2018 when he had three works that aired back to back to back and blew up with Detective Chinatown 2.
Since most of the names will be unfamiliar to the international audience, I also wrote a short intro on each person to show the weight they carry in the industry.
But honestly? The biggest industry recognition that Haoran has speaks for itself – he is the youngest Best Actor nominee in the history of the Hundred Flower Awards (one of the three most prestigious mainland film awards). He was nominated in October 2018 for his performance as Qin Feng in Detective Chinatown 2 against nominees who all had more than a decade on him in age.
Haoran is also one of only four mainland Chinese actors under 30 (counting Jing Boran who is 30) who have been nominated for mainstream Best Actor awards in film (the other two are Dong Zijian and Peng Yuchang).
(T/N: You’re going to see the phrase “little fresh meat” (小鲜肉) here a couple of times – if you are unfamiliar with the term, it basically refers to young, good-looking male celebs – typically those under 30. I despise this label, but everyone uses it in the entertainment industry, though in the past year or so this term has had a pretty negative connotation within the industry.
You will also see “younger generation/new generation” used a lot – note that depending on the age/experience of the speaker, it can mean anything from those born after 1990 to everyone under 35. Considering that LHR is a 97’er, which is at the end of both spectrums, it’s impressive either way. Also Hao Ran di di means little brother Hao Ran – di di is just an affectionate term that people – usually women – use for guys younger than them.)
1. Yin Hong, Professor of Film and Television Studies at Tsinghua University, Vice-Chairman of the China Literature and Arts Critics Association, and has served as a panelist for the Huabiao Awards, Golden Rooster Awards (one of the three major film awards), the Flying Apsaras Awards, and the Golden Eagle Awards (aside from the Magnolia Awards, these are the other two mainstream TV award shows) – basically, this professor is a huge deal in the industry
Interviewer: Which actors and actresses have caught your eye the most?
Professor Yin: Caught my eye the most?
Interviewer: Or the ones that you like the most.
Professor Yin: The ones I like the most…there’s a huge age range here! I like Chen Daoming, because his aura is the closest to what I hope to see. And among the younger ones…recently I’ve been watching a lot of Liu Haoran and I’ve really liked what I’ve seen. In the new generation of actors, he’s stood out as I think he has the potential to take on a variety of roles. That’s pretty good, because in the future, for his generation, you can’t just rely on your good looks to get by. You have to be able to rely more on your ability as an actor. For actresses, I like Zhou Xun and Tang Wei (T/N: hilariously, these two are Haoran’s favorite actresses).
2. Chen Kaige, director of the The Legend of the Demon Cat, a member of the jury at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival and the winner of the 1993 Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival (he is widely considered to be one of the top three or four film directors in China)
Interviewer: You chose to cast Huang Xuan and Liu Haoran for this film. They are both considered to be actors with great popularity. When you were going through the casting process, aside from deciding whether they fit the part or not, did you also consider their popularity?
Chen Kaige: It was the first time I had worked with this casting director, and he brought several pages worth of popularity data to me, saying that we should have the casting discussion based on that. However, I wasn’t really willing, and I told him, “Read the script first, then let’s discuss. Whoever fits the best gets the part.”
When I look at Liu Haoran, he gives off this really fresh and pure energy. It’s hard not to like him. There’s something about his face and spirit – it just sucks you in, and I felt that really fit Bai Long.
(He also talks more about Bai Long in a different interview – translating this part because this shows Bai Long is a character near and dear to his heart)
Interviewer: Does Bai Long love Yang Gui Fei romantically?
Chen Kaige: In my films, there will always be one character who stands up and says “no”. In this film, it is Bai Long. I don’t believe that he loves Yang Gui Fei – what does a teenager know about love? He is a rebellious and hot blooded youth, who dares to say, “You are all wrong”. So the heart of the film lies with Bai Long, as he unifies everything.
Interviewer: Usually creators will have one character in their work where they project their own thoughts and feelings. Who was that in this film?
Chen Kaige: It would still be Bai Long. Some people have said that all of of my films have one thing in common – that the heart of the film always lies with an orphan, and that does seem to be the case. They strive to find a sense of family, a sense of belonging. Thus, Bai Long’s never-changing youthful, heroic spirit is quite important to me.
(Update: So this was back in December 2017, and in April 2019, Chen Kaige casted Haoran to star in his part of the anthology film My Motherland and I, which is one of the most important films of the year and personally very important to CKG as he was commissioned by the government to lead 6 of China’s best filmmakers to film this. So that’s probably the biggest compliment CKG could give Haoran for his The Legend of the Demon Cat performance.)
3. Kong Sheng, co-director of Nirvana in Fire 1&2; holds an executive position at highly esteemed Daylight Entertainment and has been nominated for and won numerous times for his achievements in drama directing, including the 2019 Magnolia Award for Best Director in a Drama. Widely considered one of the best directors in dreamland.
“Liu Haoran and Zhang Hui Wen – the two young actors both really surprised me. It was the first television drama for both of them, but not only did they have great attitudes, they also showed continuous improvement throughout the filming process – they are two very good young actors.
“When we were in the casting process, we took particular note of the actors’ attitude towards performance, and whether or not they could hold themselves accountable. This was something that was really important to us, so I feel very pleased by the results.”
“The second half of the drama was very reliant on Haoran’s ability to hold up the story. We were also a little worried on whether he could do it, but not only did he complete it well, he completely exceeded our expectations. You will see a completely different Xiao Ping Jing later on. He took on a task that neither his brother nor his father could complete. And you’ll think, this child is incredible.*”
*Pretty sure he is referring to Ping Jing here but for some reason media outlets have used this quote for LHR
(He also praises LHR in another interview – this is one of my favorite scenes in the drama so I’m excited Kong Sheng loves it too)
“In the scene where Ping Jing returns from his victory in war, he walks down the long hall to his elderly father, who is sitting in the room, watching him. When Ping Jing finally reaches his father and falls to his knees – the two actors are absolutely fantastic in that scene. Ping Jing has a lot of burdens on his shoulders and is feeling all sorts of conflicting emotions, and Hao Ran did a great job showing that.”
4. Zhao Lixin, veteran film/TV/stage actor; part of the judge’s panel for the 2018 Magnolia Awards
Interviewer: Among the younger generation of actors, who do you think has the most potential?
Zhao Lixin: They’re all good – they are healthy and they look good. They have enviable lives as their futures are so bright and they already have a solid foot in the industry at such a young age. However, I haven’t seen a lot of their works and I don’t judge anything that I haven’t seen. But I’ve worked with Liu Haoran for Great Expectations – it hasn’t aired yet. Does he count as a little fresh meat? In that case, I think sometimes the “little fresh meats” aren’t deserving of their bad rep.
Liu Haoran is someone who takes performance very seriously. He is very passionate about it, and will constantly ask himself, “Who am I? What am I doing?” to try to grasp the concept of a scene. A lot of people don’t want to think about these questions, nor do they want to answer them. So the impression that Liu Haoran gives me is that he’s an actor who just wants to perform well, but he accidentally earned the love of so many. And because of that, he wants to do even better.
5. Han Han, popular author/film director/blogger/screenwriter (It might just be one short sentence, but Han Han is notoriously critical of everything under the sun and is definitely not known for complimenting people)
“I am very impressed by Detective Chinatown 2 as they were able to deliver such a high quality product after a very short filming and post-production period. Normally, I’m not someone who likes exaggerated performances, but Wang Baoqiang and Liu Haoran’s pairing works very well. The film was also able to hit several important points – there was depth, the pacing was comfortable, and the camerawork was fluid. Among the new generation of actors, Liu Haoran is excellent.”
6. Andrew Lau, award winning Hong Kong director most known for the Infernal Affairs trilogy; director of The Founding of An Army (fun fact: he couldn’t get over the fact that LHR was only 19 at the time of filming and would drag LHR in front of different cast and crew and exclaim, “He’s really 19!”. Andrew Lau also appeared in LHR’s 20th birthday video).
“Liu Haoran is only nineteen years old, but he has a deep understanding of what kind of person Su Yu was. And because Liu Haoran’s father was in the military, he really treasures this role.”
7. Gordon Chan, award winning Hong Kong director/producer/screenwriter best known for Painted Skin; served as Chairman and Vice Chairman on the The Board of Directors for the Hong Kong Film Awards for multiple years (He actually didn’t say anything directly, but he reposted a Weibo comment from film critic Huang Fei Yu and gave it a thumbs up. Gordon Chan – as far as I know – has not worked with LHR before.)
“Actors should rely on their performances to do the talking for them, particularly in film. When I watched Detective Chinatown 1, I couldn’t believe that among the so-called little fresh meats, there was someone like him. Later, The Founding of the Army and Detective Chinatown 2 proved that my instincts were correct. Among the younger generation of actors, the one who is most likely to win an award for Best Actor in the future is Liu Hao Ran!”
8. Huang Jianxin, award winning (Golden Rooster) director/producer; executive producer for The Founding of An Army, Happiness is Coming (Haoran had a cameo), and My Motherland and I – he adores LHR and is the one who contacted LHR’s company about the role of Su Yu
“Liu Hao Ran has one of those naturally pure and innocent faces. So when he is fired up, you feel hope.”
(He also appeared in LHR’s birthday video with a message)
“Hao Ran, we first met you in Beijing Love Story. And now, you’re already twenty years old. These past few years, we’ve seen you grow up, seen you improve, and we’re so happy for you. We love you very much.”
9. Sun Chun, award winning (Golden Rooster) veteran actor and our beloved Lao Wang Ye in NiF2
“Liu Hao Ran is very intelligent. In my scenes with him, he is able to catch the important points. This child has a great understanding of the character that he is playing. “
(Another quote, because Sun Chun gushed a lot about LHR – and also helped him a lot. LHR dedicated an entire section to Sun Chun in his book. This one is provided by Tong Liya, though Sun Chun has also said something similar himself)
Tong Liya: Sun Chun said to me, “Yaya, your* Haoran has really grown up. There was a scene where I watched him walk towards me from far away and my tears just naturally fell. In that moment, I suddenly felt that this child has grown up.”
*as in, your family’s Hao Ran – which is really cute haha. TLY is in the same company as LHR (her husband Chen Sicheng owns the company) and has always treated LHR like a little brother
(Another Sun Chun quote)
“You look at Liu Haoran – he’s tall and thin, 180+cm – so when he puts on those robes and has his hair up, he looks like a child that has walked out from a Japanese manga. Every time he approached me in costume, when I looked at him, I felt natural affection for him. And it’s like our characters’ relationship – as the lao wang ye, I would naturally love my child very much.”
10. Liu Ye, one of China’s most famous actors and has won both the Golden Rooster and Golden Horse for best actor; played Mao Zedong in The Founding of An Army
“There was a scene where you needed to show a lot of enthusiasm. Liu Haoran was considering the historical context of the scene and his character’s personality in his performance. Later, I told him to not think too much – just consider how a young person would react. Even though the eras are different, the spirit and excitement that young people have are still the same, and Liu Haoran did a great job in his performance as Su Yu.”
11. Liu Jun and Mei Ting, aka the Emperor and Empress in NiF2; Mei Ting has both been nominated for and won several mainstream film and television acting awards
Liu Jun: We were in the palace filming a group scene so there were tons of people in the room. Mei Ting quietly said to me, “Look at Haoran. There are so many people here, but he just catches your eye. When you look at him, his qi zhi* is just so different from everyone else’s.” She used the phrase yu shu lin feng** and I think that is the perfect way to describe him.
*aura, or presence
**literally means “a jade tree in the wind”, which is used to describe a young man who stands out due to their looks and talent
12. Liu Chang, director of With You
“Out of the three main characters’ casting, we were the most sure about Liu Haoran. Because when we talked to him, we realized that Liu Haoran isn’t the Yu Huai in the script – he’s the Yu Huai from the novel. His looks, his qi zhi – it’s like Ba Yue Chang An (author of the novel) met Liu Haoran first, and then wrote the novel. So we never doubted the decision to bring Liu Haoran onto this project.”
13. Feng Gong, actor/director/comedian best known for his skits on CCTV’s annual Chinese New Year’s Gala – even my 85+ grandparents know who he is; LHR had a guest appearance in Feng Gong’s film Happiness is Coming (this translation is going to sound kind of sarcastic but it’s the way Feng Gong talks – he’s a xiang sheng performer by trade and old habits die hard)
“He has all of the good points of a millennial and none of the bad points. He has inherited all the good things about the entertainment circle, and none of the bad things. To me, Liu Haoran is someone who is both talented performance-wise and possesses great moral integrity*. I strongly recommend this child.”
*The phrase Feng Gong uses here is 德艺双馨 (de yi shuang xin) – you’ll hear the interviewers laugh in the video when he says this because 1) it’s a term rarely used and usually only by older, traditional performers, and 2) it is high, high praise
14. Yin Shanshan, teacher at the Central Academy of Drama (she is not one of LHR’s professors and doesn’t actually know him personally)
“So from a teacher’s perspective, how do we predict if a student can not only achieve fame, but also be able to have a long acting career? Appearances are important – that goes without saying – and you should like reading. And you have to be serious about performance and want to delve deeper into it. Not only should you be able to pull off the role you are given, but you should also understand the background of your character and the context that you are being put in. I’ll give you an example.”
“Among the little fresh meats, there exists someone called Liu Hao Ran. I think very highly of his future, because I think he’s got great potential. From what we know of him, he is like the golden boy. He’s still studying at our school, and there’s no doubt that he’s a good looking child. In terms of acting, in Detective Chinatown 1, we’ve already seen proof of his skills, right?”
” The other thing is, according to my colleagues and from what students have told me, he is a very studious student. He has great attendance in classes, and when he isn’t in class, he’ll take the subway to filming sites. And he loves to read. I believe that not only has he been blessed with good looks, he also has the heart of a true performer. Teachers will like this kind of actor, as will fans – and the film and television industries will be lucky to have him.”
15. Fei Wo Si Cun, popular romance web novelist (many of her novels have been adapted into dramas, like Too Late To Say I Love You, Siege in Fog, and of course, Goodbye My Princess/Dong Gong)
“Let’s talk about something happy. I went to watch Detective Chinatown 2 today – Haoran di di is so good looking in it! He’s such a refreshing youth who has already developed his own special characteristics and acting skills. His future is boundless! When he gets a little older, he might be able to win a best actor award. If I can get tickets today, I want to catch another one of the Chinese New Year films – I’ve heard there are several good ones. Knowing that such great people and films exist definitely gives me hope and motivation in this new year!”
16. Sandrine Pinna, Taiwanese actress who played Yang Gui Fei in The Legend of the Demon Cat
“I love Haoran didi. After my first meeting with him, I told my agent that I think he is a great kid. He’s polite, sincere, willing to learn, and has a good sense of humor and jokes around with me. He also invited me to eat hot pot! Little Bai Long is a great actor and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for him.”
17. He Jiong, co-MC of Hunan TV’s Happy Camp and one of the most well known and liked celebrities in China – think China’s Yoo Jae Suk (He has essentially watched LHR grow up in the industry as LHR’s very first variety show appearance was on Happy Camp in 2014 and is very close to him in real life)
“Liu Hao Ran has the personality of a gege (older brother). I sometimes feel like he is even older than me.”
“He honestly is probably the most intelligent young man I have ever met. When we filmed Who’s the Murderer together, I felt like I was with a real detective.”
“There was one time when Liu Hao Ran posted in the Moments section of WeChat and said, ‘I think I’ve been wasting too much time here. So from today on, I am going to close my Moments.’ For young people, it’s natural for them to be curious and want to spend time there – it’s hard to resist temptation. So the fact that he can be so disciplined – or to put it another way – self-aware – I think that’s a very valuable trait.”
His co-MC Xie Na, who is the most followed person on Weibo at 100 million+, also posted the following when she was still on maternity leave and Detective Chinatown 2 was killing it at the box office in early March. It was a bit random since most of her other posts then were about her newborn twins, but I think she was feeling sentimental after seeing LHR’s popularity blow up – and of course she had to include this video, hahaha.
“Shortly after Liu Hao Ran first debuted, he made his first Happy Camp appearance. Teacher He Jiong predicted at the time, ‘Liu Hao Ran, one day you’re going to be hugely popular, and you are going to regret today’s performance!’. (So, do you regret this performance now?)”
18. Zhang Shaogang, well known MC and Assistant Professor at the Communication University of China – he really likes LHR a lot and was the MC at his 20th birthday fan meeting despite a leg injury
(Context of this: Famous Chinese director Feng Xiao Gang heavily criticized the little fresh meats in the industry in early 2017 during a director’s panel and Zhang Shaogang was on a talk show with CCTV’s Sa Bei Ning (another famous MC who you might know from Who’s the Murderer) discussing the topic)
“I want to talk about a little fresh meat that I know – his name is Liu Haoran. Out of all the little fresh meats that I’ve worked with, he’s the freshest. The impression that he gives me is that he’s always humble, polite, and asks a lot of questions. I love people who ask a lot of questions. Before an event or filming, Liu Haoran will always do a lot of prep work. I’ve worked with him several times, and there has never been a time where he didn’t show up an hour beforehand. So I don’t think we should just label these kids.”
Saved these two for last, because they have a special relationship with Liu Haoran as they are essentially his guardians in the industry. Chen Sicheng discovered him via an open casting call and signed him to his company – and the couple have treated him like a younger brother and not an employee.
19. Chen Sicheng, actor and director of Beijing Love Story and the Detective Chinatown series; LHR’s boss
Interviewer: How would you describe Liu Haoran’s growth and development in the past couple of years? Since you have watched him grow up.
CSC: I feel like he has grown up incredibly fast, especially after entering college and getting some stage experience. And now, his aura, his presence have changed drastically. Because I am also a drama school graduate, I know how important presence is to stage acting. When you stand there on stage, with the audience looking on, you have become the central focus. It’s a great way to build your confidence up in a very short amount of time. Hao Ran has had two years of drama school studies now, and he’s also filmed a lot of projects, including films with great directors like Director Kaige and Director Andrew Lau. As a result, he’s very confident now.
He just turned twenty years old, and has had greater experiences and opportunities than most – so he already possesses a maturity level and presence that other young actors his age don’t have yet. He has been extremely lucky to have received such great opportunities that have brought him to the position that he is in today. I have told him to not lose his way, to not forget the person he was at the beginning. And the good thing about Hao Ran is that he feels the same way. He has a rather pure heart, and he doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on fame and celebrity. The child is in this industry because he truly loves acting, so I think that’s great.
20. Tong Liya, 2016 Golden Eagle Best Actress co-winner; Meng Qian Xue in NiF2; LHR’s boss’ wife
Interviewer: You had the chance to work with Haoran didi again (for Nirvana in Fire 2). You’ve watched him grow up in the past few years – how has he changed?
TLY: He is a child who works extremely hard. Even though he is already twenty years old, he is still a child in my eyes. This was his first period drama – and his first television series as well, so he struggled a little bit in the beginning trying to get a grasp on his character. Because the first Nirvana in Fire was so successful, he felt a lot of pressure. When he was frustrated, he would come to chat with us, asking how he could give a better performance.
The directors, production team, crew, and the veteran actors – they all spent a lot of time talking with him. They advised him to put aside his worries and frustrations, and just try to experience the character. So later on in the filming process, he was a lot more comfortable. There was a time when I didn’t have many scenes so I didn’t have to come in, but when I arrived on set again, the director said to me, “Your Haoran is amazing – he’s improved so much.” Other members of the cast and crew also said similar things to me, so as a big sister, I’m very happy.