Megapost Q&A: Haoran and His Resources

This was requested by quite a few people, so figured we could do a comprehensive dive on Haoran’s resources since there’s a lot of curiosity, because Haoran’s entire career trajectory so far has been quite unique.

Primarily will focus on film/drama resources, but will touch a little on his fashion/commercial resources as well.

Yes, this somehow became more of a career analysis for Haoran, haha.

Disclaimer: This is solely about Haoran’s resources and what his resume looks like (aka an analysis of his career thus far), because it’s all tied together.

Great resources/resume does not mean I think he’s “better than so-and-so”– have said this many, many times, but a major part of success in any industry is luck and opportunity, and it’s played a huge part in Haoran’s career thus far, something he and fans are very cognizant of.

But also, this is not to belittle his own hard work and talent – everything has been a factor into what he’s accomplished so far. Just thought it was interesting info and have been asked about it before.

This post is to help provide context for his career, especially since his main arena is film, which isn’t covered as much by English c-ent sites, and to also explain why media and netizens think very highly of him and his future.

Will add again: I’m not saying he’s the only one who has great resources, nor even that he should be. Everyone has their own path to walk, and as long as Haoran continues to walk steadily, that’s enough.

THIS IS SUPER LENGTHY. To help you navigate this monstrosity of a post, I’ve gotten slightly more tech savvy and figured out how to add a table of contents!

Your TLDR for this post – Haoran has great resources across the board 😊

What are “resources”?

“Resources” is a literal translation of the word 资源 (ziyuan), which is a fandom term that refers to pretty much everything an artist comes in contact with for their career as a “job” – that includes dramas and films, as well as endorsements, fashion-related resources like magazine covers, brand affiliations, etc.

Events, MC opportunities, variety shows are all seen as “resources” as well, though usually applies more to those who are just starting out in their careers. As an artist progresses in their career, they can gradually be more selective about what they take on, particularly in these three categories. 

For actors, obviously drama and film resources are seen as the most important, but everything else plays a crucial part in reflecting your relevance in a super competitive industry. Of course, if you have great drama and film resources, that usually means you’re not going to be lacking in the other fields either. Film resources, especially, are regarded more highly due to how hard it is for younger (under 35) actors and actresses to get into.

There’s a misunderstanding at times that saying someone has good resources in c-ent is derogatory, implying that they only have connections and nothing else – that is not the case in the context that netizens usually mention this in (Zhou Dongyu, Huang Xuan, and others are all considered to have great resources as well). It’s more of a statement of fact, and should not be used to wipe away one’s hard work and natural talent.

How are resources evaluated?

There are two ways you can look at film/drama resources. By definition, a resource should be evaluated before we know what the final product looks like – so specifically, a project is evaluated based on its director, production team, production companies, rest of the cast, and the genre/topic (i.e. is it an existing popular IP?).

While script is really probably the most important aspect of a project (particularly in dramas – it matters less in film as films are much more the director’s art), it’s almost impossible to tell ahead of time how this will go, even for the artists themselves. Rarely do they they get to see a finished or even halfway finished script when they are first approached for a project.

The general idea is if you work with a well known director or proven production team, there is a much better chance the final product will be higher in quality and more likely to succeed. This, of course, is not a guarantee, but it is how projects are evaluated – or as netizens call it, “饼”, which can be best translated as “pie”.

A “大饼”, or a “big pie”, is one that everyone wants to “eat” (get casted for). A “毒饼” is a “poisonous pie” that is considered “bad” for whatever reason.  

Of course, because we are human beings, we also tend to look at things in retrospect, and this is the argument that you’ll constantly see regarding Haoran. Did he really start out with good resources, or do they just seem to be great resources after the fact because they were successful?

There isn’t a black and white answer here, but personally would say in Haoran’s case specifically, it’s honestly impossible to not look at his resources both ways – and really, we’re primarily talking about Detective Chinatown here because that was the start of everything.

In that same vein, how do we evaluate endorsements as resources? Endorsements, which are contract based, will come and go, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to put to much weight or emphasis on it, but there are ways to see if someone has a “good” one.

The primary factors are probably 1) pay (which we wouldn’t know), and 2) the “treatment” of the spokesperson or ambassador. By that, it primarily means the extent of marketing campaigns that feature the spokesperson in question, because more physical billboards/ads/Weibo, WeChat ads, etc., means more exposure for the artist to the general public as well.

Luxury brand endorsements are a big deal, especially if you are able to land a brand spokesperson or brand ambassador (assuming there’s no spokesperson) title. One of the key reasons being – there are only a handful of these titles, so the competition is fierce. As it currently stands, Haoran has two luxury brand endorsements with Tiffany & Co. and Tod’s.

For fashion, it’s about a couple of things – mainly luxury brand affiliations (not just endorsements, but do you always have clothing to wear to events? how is your treatment?) and magazine covers.

Are Haoran’s resources considered good?

Processed with MOLDIV

Haoran’s resources are considered near the top for those under 35 and under, and that’s factoring in everything – films, dramas, magazines, endorsements, luxury brand affiliations, etc. (the last three categories have really, REALLY picked up the last year and a half) – and the age at which he received these resources. This part is always forgotten – he just turned 22.

His calling card is his film/dramas, particularly in film – and really, this (in combination with his image) is the prominent reason why his other resources are good to great. He is one of the stars of a very successful film franchise in the Detective Chinatown series and has now been in Chen Kaige’s last three films, two as a main lead.

His resources doesn’t stop and end with Detective Chinatown either – he belongs to a film production company and it’s very clear at this point that his (not just his company’s) main network is rooted in the mainstream film industry.

To put that into context, for many of the Chinese male movie stars we know of now, most just started acting around this age, and didn’t really get into the film industry until years, sometimes decades, later.

That’s more of an indication of how times are a-changing overall, but male actors, who generally have a much, much longer career than actresses, don’t usually hit their stride career-wise (meaning landing leading roles in commercial/big director films) til mid to late 30s/40s.

Seeker, which is an entertainment industry data collection company, has had Haoran #1 in their quarterly “potential rankings” for male celebrities since Q4 2017, which is when they first started producing this report. This chart isn’t about “who is better” or “more popular”, and I’m absolutely not saying that.

It’s based on a variety of data points, but primarily quality of to-be-aired projects (aka resources – commercial/big director films will get higher points because more exposure and potential to do well box office-wise) and reputation/feedback on previous projects.

Of particular note – during second quarter 2018, the only “next project” he had listed was Novoland: Eagle Flag – but he still ranked first, because everyone knew DC3 was coming. That’s how powerful of a resource it is.

An added element of why Haoran’s resources are considered great – with the exception of Twins, his projects are almost never delayed in airing (in terms of non-production reasons). Actually, even Twins – it’s the only Korean-Chinese joint production that has been able to air so far since the Hallyu Ban first began.

Novoland: Eagle Flag did have its initial premiere canceled, but was only delayed by a month and was the last historical drama to air on TV this year, a year where it’s been particularly difficult to get historicals on TV, period – that in itself is a huge win.

Haoran joked about how disappointed he was when the four projects he filmed in 2016/2017 aired within months (or days) of each other, as he had hoped they’d be more spread out so he could rest longer, but one of the understated parts of working with well known production teams or directors is that you (usually) have a higher chance of getting your project to air (and past NRTA/censorship).

Timely premieres = more exposure for an actor, which is always important (particularly for young, rising ones).

How are his non-Detective Chinatown resources?

If Detective Chinatown was what gave Haoran his high starting point, the three projects that he took on in 2016 are probably what really established him as a serious actor in both the eyes of the industry and audiences. While Detective Chinatown 2 is what I’d say was a turning point in his career, it was also boosted by these three projects, which aired right before it.

The three projects I’m referring to: The Founding of An Army, Legend of the Demon Cat, and Nirvana In Fire 2.

You might look at the first two and say, he just had a supporting role! He was also just 18 when he accepted those roles, and was in talks for them before With You even aired. These two in particular were crucial – partly because they would be films that everyone in the industry would see, and partly because of networking.

The Founding of An Army was the third in the government commissioned “The Founding of…” series, and was produced by Huang Jianxin, an extremely well respected director and producer who personally called up Haoran’s team to ask him to take the role of Su Yu.

Government commissioned films are serious business in the industry, and everyone considers it an honor to be asked to take part, regardless of screentime or role, as it means two things: 1) you’re considered a good role model or public figure in the eyes of the government, and 2) the mainstream industry has noticed you.

The trilogy in particular was a very highly regarded project, and as it happens, Su Yu also had the second most screentime among the younger cast.

(Huang Jianxin was also the producer for My Motherland and I)

Also – networking, which is SO important to going far in the film industry and will be touched on extensively later.

Commemoration films are generally co-produced by several of the largest film production companies in the business, and this one in particular was helmed by director Andrew Lau (of Infernal Affairs), who is a prominent director in Hong Kong and has strong ties to Bona Film Group.

As for Chen Kaige’s Legend of the Demon Cat, well – it was a great resource at the time (Haoran lost 20 jin because he wanted the role so badly), but its importance has skyrocketed since then.

Chen Kaige is one of the top two directors in mainland China, and there really aren’t many who’d even consider this debatable (the other is Zhang Yimou) – not just because of Farewell My Concubine, which remains the only Chinese language film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but also his influence and importance in the industry.

There are only a handful of big director films every few years, so to even land a supporting role is considered a big deal. Especially for young actors, because most big films won’t have important young roles, or they’ll use older actors to play the part.

Moreover, for anyone who watched Legend of the Demon Cat, you’d know how crucial the role of Bai Long was, even in limited screentime (if you were on Weibo last week, you might’ve been shocked, like me, to discover just how popular this performance was with netizens as a whole). This was the role that truly showed a different side of Haoran, and his potential in terms of the type of roles he could play.

And big director films, like commemoration films, are also watched by almost everyone in the industry. You could consider both as giant auditions – if you perform well, people will remember.

But most importantly – it allowed Haoran to meet Chen Kaige, and would become the first of three projects that they’d work on together.

But probably the resource that’s been the most impressive has been Daylight Entertainment’s Nirvana In Fire 2 for one primary reason: it was in dramaland. Great film resources doesn’t always convert to great drama resources (and vice versa), as the circles are very different. While A-listers can have their pick of dramas, young actors will have a harder time landing leading roles in great productions.

Daylight Entertainment has solidified itself as one of the most coveted production teams to work with in the last decade or so and it’s considered an immense honor to work with them. Kong Sheng, who was one of the co-directors of NiF2, is also their best director, and one of the best directors in dramaland.

So when the just-turned 19 year old Haoran was announced as one of the leads for the drama, alongside Huang Xiaoming, it was a huge surprise (you can see A Virtual Voyage’s article here about it).

Because of the synposis, everyone knew Huang Xiaoming was just a main lead in name – Pingzhang’s fate was described very clearly, so it was no secret that Haoran would be relied on to carry the second half. Even with his high start in film, he was still relatively unknown to the GP at the time.

He also had no prior TV drama experience (With You was a webdrama at the time), and limited acting experience in general. And he was much, much younger than the typical Daylight Ent male lead – the production team has historically had no problem using much older actors for younger roles. He was actually even younger than Pingjing’s age (PJ was 22 in the first half, and in his mid/late twenties in the second half).

To this day, we aren’t quite sure how Haoran landed the role. Rumors are that he was recommended to the Daylight team to come in for an audition, and was impressive enough that they made a quick decision to cast him. But whatever the reason, it happened.

Haoran’s non-Chengya resources post-2016 are a combination of the network he’s built up and the result of his performances in these resources. Haoran was asked by Jiang Nan and Linmon Pictures to star in Novoland: Eagle Flag, which had an impressive production team and one of the best ensemble casts we’ve seen in recent years.

My Motherland and I and Flowers Bloom In the Ashes (or Youth) are both Chen Kaige projects, and the former is also a 70th anniversary of the PRC comemmoration anthology film which featured a star studded cast. We can assume Chen Kaige reached out directly to Haoran, based on what’s been hinted at.

In My Motherland and I, Haoran and Feiyu were the youngest leading actors by far, so it was a fantastic opportunity for them, as it would once again be a heavily seen film (and was surprisingly a huge box office hit). As for Youth, we’ll get more into it once it’s officially announced, but a main lead in a Chen Kaige feature film is an amazing addition to a 22 year old’s resume.

What does it mean when people say that Haoran had a very high starting point?

You’ve probably seen it a couple of times – Li Guangjie mentioned during Novoland: Eagle Flag promotions that Haoran had a very high start to his career (and lived up to it), Huang Xiaoming’s said something similar, Chen Sicheng’s approached the topic head on.

Not to mention the discussions across all the different forums, Weibo, Zhihu, media articles, etc. In the VogueMe April 2019 article, he’s talked about in parallel to Zhou Dongyu in terms of starting point, and she’s a Yimou girl (actress discovered by director Zhang Yimou), which is possibly the highest starting point you can have as a Chinese actress.

The short gist of it is that it’s because he made his debut as a lead in a box office hit. This would apply to either “debut” – both Beijing Love Story and Detective Chinatown were box office hits, relative to their budget and box office expectations.

It’s true, back in 2015, no one knew how Detective Chinatown would turn out. Chen Sicheng was still a rookie director, and even though he did have the beloved Wang Baoqiang on board, plus a gang of familiar faces, there was no telling if audiences would buy the fusion of wacky humor + mystery. CSC also, obviously, would have had no idea how well a future sequel would do.

However, no matter which way you slice it, for a young, basically rookie actor who was almost completely unknown to audiences (even most who saw Beijing Love Story wouldn’t recognize him as Song Ge until later) to land a comedy-mystery buddy film (complete equal screentime) with an A-lister in a decidedly commercial film – that’s one heck of a starting point.

It’s extremely rare for rookie (male) actors to make their debut through a commercial film as a main lead. Art or lower budget films, yes – that is how Haoran’s good friend Dong Zijian emerged – but not only is it rare that there are starring roles so young in a commercial film, it’s also very unlikely directors, producers, and their investors are willing to gamble on using a new face as box office is the goal.

(This does not apply to films by big name directors like Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Stephen Chow, etc. – the selling point for their films are the directors themselves. The Wandering Earth is also a notable exception as director Guo Fan noted that they specifically sought out newer actors – though they were not rookies – who wouldn’t be as expensive so that they could use most of the budget on other parts of the film. They also had Wu Jing to headline, even though it was a special appearance)

Why is this important? Because there are only a handful of box office hits every year, and chances are, if a movie is getting good buzz, a lot of people, including those in the entertainment industry, will go and see it. Movies are also shorter and much more accessible to those who don’t have time to watch dramas.

Even for Beijing Love Story, several big name directors, including Chen Kaige, have said they saw the movie when it first came out, and actress Shu Chang posted on her Weibo after watching back in February 2014, “In the film, the sunshiny little actor who brought us warmth, his performance was very real, sincere – he acted very well!”

Also, the mainstream film industry circle (meaning the well known directors and producers) is notoriously difficult to get into – there are many dramaland stars who are still struggling in landing supporting roles. It’s an extremely tight knit circle, and film directors are more likely to use known names (to them) and recommendations from other directors or actors – networking is super, super important.

Haoran’s debut in film, and subsequent success even as early as 2016, meant that he already had a foot in that circle since the beginning.

As someone who was open casted (open casting for a starring role in film is quite rare nowadays) before he entered acting school, who comes from a small city in Henan province (one of China’s more rural provinces) and a lower middle-class, single-income family with no industry connections, this was an incredibly high start and is why VogueMe called his Beijing Love Story opportunity a “lottery ticket of life”.

In what continues to be a theme in his career, Haoran simultaneously strengthened his high start with two things that came out of his own hard work:

1) His acting was praised in both films (this was important, for more reasons than one), and he picked up a string of Best New Actor nominations to go with them, and

2) He opted to go “ke ban” (applying for the Central of Academy to major in acting) after he made his acting debut.

Both added to his reputation substantially as people’s first impression of him became “a little fresh meat who is serious about acting”, which he’s built on since.

How was Haoran’s high starting point reflected in the early part of his career?

In other words, Haoran was in (or near) the spotlight from the moment he “officially” debuted in 2015, even before Detective Chinatown came out. Not in terms of popularity, but exposure.

You could even say it came earlier than that, when he was one of the guests invited on Happy Camp’s Children’s Day special back in 2014, when the show as the undisputed ratings king. Netizens still go back and marvel at the magic of that episode sometimes – other guests included TFBoys, Ouyang Nana, and Zhang Zifeng, before any of them broke out.

That opportunity helped him build a relationship with Hunan TV and its core MCs, as they loved him (that was the episode where He Jiong famously predicted that Haoran would be big one day). And in late 2014/early 2015, Haoran was approached by Hunan TV for their big budget, high profile military reality show It Takes A Real Man, which would be his first very first variety show as a fixed cast member.

The official reason that was given on why the show casted a basically unknown rookie actor (I watched this show as it was airing back in 2015 and remember being utterly perplexed about who this child was – but he very quickly won me over) was that Wang Baoqiang recommended him (which is true).

The unofficial reason is that Hunan TV also invested in the first Detective Chinatown film, so had an interest in promoting Haoran, to help him gain exposure, as the film would start production right around the same period. But of course, it’s also because Haoran was a great fit for the show – he had a keen interest in the military, was highly intelligent and mature for his age, but also had a youthful charm.

His line delivery has improved infinitely since then, but even on the show, many were drawn in by the youthful power and enthusiasm that rang in his voice as he was the narrator for the majority of the show.

As such, he would go on to guest on several episodes of Hunan TV’s two most popular shows that year – Happy Camp and Day Day Up, and would make appearances at several events as well.

As a freshman at CAD, he also guested on an episode of Hunan TV’s Grade One: University with Chen Sicheng (to promote DC1). The show revolved around promoting acting students at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, a class that ft. Song Yanfei, Xing Fei, Tong Mengshi, Zhao Shunran, Zhang Yuxi, and more (for several of them, they had yet to officially debut as actors then).

Of course, the environment of the industry then played a part as well – there weren’t as many opportunities to emerge (from the pack) in the industry back then as there are today, so the few who did were pushed constantly, and netizens really took to Haoran and Wu Lei that year, given their sunshiny youthful images, which were considered refreshing (TFBoys were already very popular at this time).

The early exposure to the public and the media has been an advantage to this day, as people – media included – naturally have a deep attachment and fondness for these five post-95er stars in particular, as they’ve seen them grow up right in front of their eyes (and they’ve maintained, and in fact expanded on, their good reputations).

Adding on, Haoran’s other resources also started out very strong. His first fashion magazine cover was for one of the 10 major magazines in China – the December 2015 cover of Bazaar Men China (with Chen Sicheng and Wang Baoqiang).

His first luxury brand affiliation came in early 2016 with Chanel (he flew to France with Ouyang Nana for a Chanel x ELLE China collaboration promo), a partnership which would continue until mid 2018.

And his MCing opportunities were big as well – he co-hosted the 2016 China Film Director’s Guild Awards (attended primarily by, as you can guess by the name, the industry’s prominent film directors and producers) with good friend Dong Zijian, and also the 2016 TMall Double Eleven concert, which is one of the largest events of the year.

What company is Haoran signed with? What does having his own studio mean?

From late 2014 through 2019/2020 Haoran was signed with Chengya Entertainment, whose official English name is Shanghai Shine Asia Movie & Culture Media Co. It was a small film/drama production and talent management company that was started by actor turned director Chen Sicheng in 2012 in preparation for his venture into film directing.

In 2020, however, Chen Sicheng started a new company called As One Production, and signed several new directors and scriptwriters. Chengya is seemingly no longer in existence, and judging by the follow statuses on Weibo, he has effectively moved his artists to the new company as well. The biggest difference is that the company is no longer under Wanda, but it doesn’t change anything for Haoran.

Film (and maybe drama) production is the company’s main area of focus, and will most likely continue to be going forward. Artist management is not an area they’re particularly concerned with – they have only have six signed artists, and only two of them are known names: Tong Liya, who is Chen Sicheng’s wife and hence a boss of sorts, and Haoran.

Aside from Kiko in the DC franchise, and Chen Hao who goes along with Yaya when she films, the other artists are really not pushed very much.

Chengya’s first film production was Beijing Love Story, co-produced with Wanda Pictures, and in 2015, Wanda Pictures became Chengya’s biggest stakeholder (think they own about 60%).

The other works co-produced by Chengya: Detective Chinatown (1, 2, and the upcoming 3rd film), the Great Expectations drama, Li Yifeng’s Republican drama Fearless Whispers, and crime film Sheep Without A Shepherd. The list isn’t long, but it’s extremely solid.

In other words, one of Haoran’s biggest advantages has always been that his company – specifically, his boss – CREATES their own resources, and good to great ones at that. There was a time when many used this against him, saying that he only had Chen Sicheng, but it quickly became very clear that as an added bonus, Haoran has great outside resources as well.

But it doesn’t just stop there – Chen Sicheng is going after becoming more than just a film director, similar to good friend Ning Hao and his Dirty Monkey Films studio. With his new As One Production, he’s signed more than twenty screenwriters (or so the rumors say), and four rookie directors who were handed the Detective Chinatown webdrama (and if the film franchise continues, they will be the ones likely to take over – he just said again recently that the third DC film will be his final as director).

One of the directors, Sam Quah, will be directing his first feature film Sheep Without A Shepherd (with Chen Sicheng as producer), which is a remake of Indian crime film Drishyam and premieres December 20. (You will see As One Production listed as one of the production companies for both Detective Chinatown 3 and Sheep Without A Shepherd).

(Note: Sheep Without A Shepherd ended up being being very successful and was a surprise box office hit, pulling in about 1+ billion RMB despite the fact none of the leads are big stars and that it’s by a rookie director).

All of this means possibly even more opportunities for Haoran just from in-house alone. As netizens put it, his own company “makes their own pies”.

But clarification on a couple of common misconceptions:

1) Wanda Pictures was a major shareholder in Chengya, but they had nothing to do with Haoran’s outside resources. The only Wanda projects Haoran has ever been in are the Chengya ones.

The Founding of An Army and Flowers Bloom In the Ashes (Youth) are both produced by Bona Film Group, Legend of the Demon Cat was a Xinli film, Nirvana In Fire 2 was Daylight Entertainment, Novoland: Eagle Flag was Linmon Pictures.

For that matter, his drama resources also aren’t tied to a particular platform (iQiyi, Tencent, Youku, MGTV).

If anything, Haoran has proven that his (outside) resources don’t lie with a particular company.

2) Whether it was Chengya or the current As One, the company itself is very, very small in the talent area and is particularly limited in endorsements and fashion resources. Haoran has good/great commercial and fashion resources primarily because of his own image and success as a film actor.

3) One of the many great coincidences of Haoran’s career is that he didn’t sign with a big and experienced company, but it ended up working out perfectly. He was with Chengya and Chen Sicheng from the beginning, when they were just starting out as well.

Hence, as Chen Sicheng put it, they’ve all grown together, and it’s really amazing that all three have found such great success. This is why Haoran’s path isn’t something that can be easily replicated – it really is the perfect blend of luck, opportunity/timing, hard work, and having good people watching over him from the start.  

Within Chengya/As One, Haoran also has his own studio. In C-ent terms, this means he has a team of his own that’s dedicated to managing his daily schedules and have an official account to keep fans updated, along with other responsibilities, including looking over scripts for him in a preliminary review.

As was revealed by the Central Academy of Drama in 2019, the studio is directly registered under Haoran’s own name and not his company’s, which is why he qualified for CAD’s entreprenuership program.

Though it is not known how many people are actually on his team, the company seems to take care of him well in that regard. Haoran’s agent – the one who negotiates his resources and contracts – is not his day to day manager and is the one who oversees all of As One’s artists.

Chengya/As One may be small, but Haoran’s direct team is known for being quite professional and enjoyable to work with (something he noted himself in his book).

As you’ve probably seen, he’s well cared for – aside from his cousin, who is his day to day assistant and accompanies him almost everywhere, Haoran also almost always has an entourage of people with him for official events.

And ever since Haoran’s popularity and public recognition skyrocketed to another level in February 2018, Chengya has made sure that they’ve arranged for proper security (which is sadly too common of a problem with young Chinese stars).

Aside from the first couple of airport appearances where Haoran was overwhelmed, he almost always has bodyguards or security accompanying him now at airport arrivals and events, particularly in Shanghai.

What’s unique about the way Haoran is managed is that he has always had a lot of freedom to make his own decisions, while simultaneously having wise people to go for guidance if and when he needs it.

Haoran has been able to decide on his own projects –whether it’s film/dramas, endorsements, or even variety shows, though Chen Sicheng has historically had the final say.

However, if Haoran truly wants to do something – like with Season 1 of Give Me Five and Novoland: Eagle Flag (which he stated was the first project that was completely his own decision), Chen Sicheng will let him make the final call.

Who are Chen Sicheng and Tong Liya? How big of a role have they played in Haoran’s career?

It’s pretty much impossible to mention Haoran’s career thus far without bringing up these two, as they are, in essence, both his bosses and guardians in the industry. They share an extremely tight bond with Haoran, deeper than your typical boss-employee relationship, because they met him when he was just a regular high schooler and have witnessed his growth as a person, as an actor.

Haoran at age 15 with Ouyang Nana, Chen Sicheng, and Tong Liya on the set of Beijing Love Story

Likewise, Haoran has been with them since the beginning of their marriage (his very first overseas trip was to attend their wedding in Tahiti), and the last few years have seen all three of their careers growing and thriving, both because of each other but also independently.

Haoran at Chen Sicheng and Tong Liya’s wedding in 2014

Chen Sicheng is the founder of Chengya Entertainment, and essentially Haoran’s boss – and also Haoran’s benefactor, as he’s the one who discovered him, brought him into the industry, signed him, and mentored him since. He’s an actor himself, who transitioned to directing after a pretty rough career.

From the beginning, he’s been both boss and mentor for Haoran. He has been very adamant that Haoran prioritize quality over money making and quantity, and hence doesn’t treat him as a cash cow. Even after Haoran’s popularity exploded in 2018 after DC2, he allowed Haoran to spend months hidden away from the public eye.

Because of his own experiences, he’s said before he knows what’s most important for an actor in the long run are the projects they take on, and the performances they leave behind.

When Haoran was younger, he and the rest of Haoran’s team would step in to help reject high paying projects that appeared low in quality – they didn’t want the money to tempt Haoran, nor to put him in a position where he’d feel like he couldn’t say no.*

*Source: Haoran himself

He also is very, very aware of the fact that Haoran has had a very smooth career so far, and better opportunities than most his age, which is why he has been very vocal in his reminders to Haoran to not forget his roots (at the same time, he’s also expressed his confidence in the fact that Haoran is in the industry because he loves acting first and foremost).

Tong Liya (widely called Yaya by netizens and those in the industry) is his wife – an actress who has also worked her way up and has also seen her own resources steadily improve over the last few years. She and Haoran share a very close relationship, and she affectionately refers to him as “our Haoran” when talking about him.

While it would be an exaggeration to say they are the direct reason why Haoran has gotten his resources, it really cannot be emphasized enough how important of a role they’ve had in his career, even putting aside the fact that they gave him a high start.

Firstly, they’ve watched over him and protected him from the ugly side of the industry – according to Haoran himself, he’s never seen it, which has helped him to “grow up organically”, as he puts it.

Have mentioned this before, but Haoran is one of the very few young actors where family members (not counting his assistant/bodyguard cousin) have not been involved in his career at all.

That shows the immense trust they’ve had in the couple, who have carefully guided and advised Haoran over the years, from letting him enjoy life as a college student in his freshman year at CAD, to his project choices, to discussions on the type of person and actor he wants to be.

The other aspect of the couple’s involvement in Haoran’s career is their network. While neither would be considered A-listers or influential enough to land roles for Haoran (especially back then), they’ve been in the industry for a very long time, and both have extensive social circles.

Since the beginning, they haven’t hesitated in bringing Haoran around to meet actors, producers, directors, and other people in the industry.

Haoran at the premiere screening of Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain in December 2014 (Yaya had a supporting role in the film) – with director/producer Huang Jianxin – yes, that HJX – and Leon Lai

As such, it not only allowed him to meet many people in the industry at a young age, it also taught Haoran the importance of networking from very early on, and is something he’s become quite good at himself, as we’ll go into later.

Also shoutout to Wang Baoqiang, who is also considered a benefactor for Haoran as there aren’t many A-listers who would willingly take on a movie where a rookie actor would have equal screentime and the more standout/likable role.

Who is in Chen Sicheng and Tong Liya’s network?

Before getting into Haoran’s personal network, it’s particularly interesting to dive into Chen Sicheng and Yaya’s, because they’re entwined, and is another example of the pure coincidences that have come with Haoran’s career.

As mentioned above, Haoran has had a foot in the film circle from the beginning, and a large part of it is because his boss has surprisingly become one of the major players in the new generation of directors – and happens to be friends with the other prominent members as well.  

(This is really just more for fun and isn’t directly Haoran related – feel free to skip – but I know a lot of people have wondered why Haoran seems to know everyone, especially seniors, to a certain degree.)

Lu Yang, Ning Hao, Xiao Yang, Chen Sicheng, and Guo Fan in 2014

In 2014, China’s film bureau sent a group of rookie/young directors to Hollywood as part of a project to develop the domestic film industry and a new generation of directors. Chen Sicheng was one of those selected for the program, along with Ning Hao, Guo Fan, Lu Yang, and Xiao Yang.

The experience, and the directors’ common ambition in making their mark in the industry and to play an important role in the development of Chinese cinema, has created a special friendship between them. And as it happens, since the trip, all of them have found success in their fields (Xiao Yang has had immense success this year as an actor).

Ning Hao is the founder of Dirty Monkey Films and you might recognize him as one of the directors in My Motherland and I. While he’s had great success with his own films, particularly the Crazy… franchise, his most significant contribution to Chinese cinema so far has been his “72 Transformations Film Project”, which was announced in 2017 with the ambition of launching and encouraging young filmmakers to make 48 genre films over an extended period of time.

Among the directors and films to have come out of Dirty Monkey Films: Lu Yang’s Brotherhood of Blades II and most famously, Wen Muye (who is the favorite student of fifth generation director Tian Zhuangzhuang) and his 2018 box office hit Dying to Survive.

Lu Yang had previously found success with the first Brotherhood of Blades film, and is also the director of the upcoming Assassin In Red (which Haoran was widely rumored for last year). Haoran fans will also recognize Xiao Yang’s name, as he’s had important roles in the DC films, and while he’s found success as an actor (he’s also the star of Sheep Without A Shepherd), he’s a director himself.

And Guo Fan is, of course, the director of mega-box office hit The Wandering Earth, as well as romcom box-office hit My Old Classmate.

From the 2019 Tokyo International Film Festival – Chen Sicheng reuniting with old friend Guo Fan

Also good friends with this group – actor/director Xu Zheng, who rose to prominence through his collaborations with Ning Hao, and later directed his own successful Lost In… film franchise, which also helped to launch Huang Bo (who has starred in every Ning Hao film to date) and Wang Baoqiang to (further) stardom.

He also was the producer of How Long Will I Love U, which starred Lei Jiayin (who won critical acclaim in Lu Yang’s Brotherhood of Blades II and is the star of Zhang Yimou’s newest film) and Yaya. If you’re thinking we’re bringing up the same names over and over again, you’re right – it’s a very tight circle and unlike in dramas, directors and producers have a much stronger personal reign over casting and the filming process.

In the middle of this web is also Beijing Culture, which is quickly becoming one of the most recognizable film production companies in the industry, as they have a long term collaboration agreement with Ning Hao (they co-produced Dying to Survive; Xu Zheng both starred in the film and was also a co-producer), Wu Jing (co-produced Wolf Warrior 2), and produced Guo Fan’s The Wandering Earth and Lu Chuan’s upcoming Bureau 749.

Their CEO is Song Ge, who is Wanda Pictures’ former CEO – and yes, was the one who made the decision to invest in Chen Sicheng and Beijing Love Story (Haoran’s character being named Song Ge – the exact same characters – is probably not a coincidence).

Add in another interesting twist of fate – Beijing Culture’s largest individual shareholder right now is the 25 year old Dong Zijian (one of Haoran’s closest friends), whose mother Wang Jinghua is one of the most powerful agents in the business.

As Chen Sicheng has risen in the industry and won respect for what he’s achieved as a young director, his circle has continued to expand and also is not specifically tied to Wanda. He’s participated in many director forums, including one recently at the 28th Golden Rooster Hundred Flowers Awards with Xu Zheng and Peter Chan as they all have commercial films coming on Chinese New Year’s.

In Japan during Detective Chinatown 3 filming, the DC3 team also had dinner with acclaimed director Cao Baoping and part of the cast for his upcoming The Wrath of the Sea (starring Zhou Xun and Huang Bo). Andy Lau also dropped by on set, as he is currently working with Xiao Yang on a new film. A-lister Wu Jing also swung by for a visit.

On Yaya’s front, her network has always been more individual actors than those who behind the scenes, but she has many friends in the industry and specifically has been longtime friends with Lei Jiayin, Guo Jingfei, Li Guangjie, Yuan Hong, and others – all of whom she introduced to Haoran very early on, as both Lei Jiayin and Li Guangjie have said they’ve known Haoran since before he officially debuted.

What about Haoran’s own network?

One of the supremely underrated reasons for Haoran’s success thus far is his likeability – both as an actor and as a person. As such, his network isn’t restricted to his boss’, and at just 22, he’s already naturally building his own. (This is a great thing – for those of us in the workforce, you’ll know just how important it is to build networks in your respective industry).

His relationship with the Hunan TV MCs, for example, especially He Jiong, was forged very early on (from his first Happy Camp appearance), and Xie Na even made a post reminiscing over the past when Haoran’s popularity exploded in February 2018 (when she was still on maternity leave). To this day, Haoran is extremely close to He Laoshi, who is very fond of Haoran and is a key reason why Haoran agreed to guest on Who’s the Murderer in 2018.

Huang Jianxin, who is a very influential producer and director, met Haoran early on in his career and personally asked him to take on the role of Su Yu for The Founding of An Army in 2017. They remain close – in 2019, when My Motherland and I hit 2.2 billion at the box office (on Haoran’s 22nd lunar birthday), Huang Jianxin specially made a post to congratulate him (for both).

In late 2018, a bunch of big industry events also gave us a glimpse into Haoran’s extensive network. At the Hundred Flowers Awards, when he was nominated for Best Actor, he was spotted quietly chatting with Better Days and Soul Mate director Derek Tsang before his famous “I have to go to the bathroom” interview.

At the 2018 iQiyi Scream Night, throughout the night, he was visited by iQiyi execs, one of the Huayi brothers, acting coach Liu Tianchi, and chatted with Daylight Entertainment CEO Hou Hongliang (and won praise from netizens for reminding and taking his CAD junior Hu Xianxu to greet Hou Hongliang).

He was also seen at a meeting and dinner with directors Guo Fan and Lu Yang in December 2019, which doesn’t really indicate much, but does show he knows the two directors well. His birthday picture for Dong Zijian was presumably taken at Lu Yang’s studio.

And of course – Chen Kaige. Though we don’t know the details, we can gather that Chen Kaige liked Haoran enough from working with him in Legend of the Demon Cat to reach out to him again in 2018 to star in the film Flowers Bloom in the Ashes (Youth), and later in 2019, for My Motherland and I.

Through Chen Kaige and My Motherland and I, Haoran met director Tian Zhuangzhuang for the first time, who has been very vocal about how much he likes Haoran, and the two were spotted grabbing lunch together in Beijing back in October 2019.

Most recently, during the 28th Golden Rooster & Hundred Flowers Film Festival, Haoran was also invited to several film industry events, specifically Cultural Investment Holdings Night (Wanda is a major shareholder in Cultural Investment Holdings), which was largely attended by film industry execs and investors, and Filmmakers’ Night, which was a small gathering held after the 32nd Golden Rooster Awards and was hosted by Bona Film Group and Alibaba Pictures (they didn’t allow pictures, but staff accounts say Haoran was there, though he arrived later).

While building your reputation and proving yourself as an actor is important, personal networks are also incredibly crucial in the film industry and it’s clear Haoran has already built a strong foundation there, and continues to win love and make new friends with more projects and events. You can read more on what the industry thinks of Haoran here (I need to update it).

How are Haoran’s fashion resources?

(This is a condensed version because it was getting way too long – if people want to see a full post on fashion, let me know)

Though Haoran’s endorsements have really taken off in the last year and a half, Haoran’s fashion resources have always been quite strong. This is mostly because the fashion industry and film industry are tightly linked together, and those who emerge in film will in general be quite loved by brands and magazines.

Specifically, Haoran’s magazine resources have always been very strong.

As mentioned earlier, Haoran’s very first fashion magazine cover was one of the major men’s magazines – the December 2015 issue of Bazaar Men, with Chen Sicheng and Wang Baoqiang for Detective Chinatown.

The December 2016 cover of Esquire China (there were 12 in total) – ft. Jackie Chan, Deng Chao, Zhang Yimou, Yang Yang, Liu Haoran, rock musician Cui Jian, table tennis legends Ma Long and Liu Guoliang, novelist/scriptwriter Liu Zhenyun, entrepreneurs Han Kun and Li Ruigang, and more.

In 2016, at 19 years old, Haoran was selected for the Esquire China’s annual group cover, which is their anniversary issue and their most important one of the year, as it coincides with their “Men of the Year” Awards. The cover is usually comprised of household names such as great athletes, entrepreneurs, directors, writers, A-list stars, and a young, new face.

This was Haoran’s first “top tier” cover (Esquire, GQ + the women’s Big 5 are considered first tier), and the first indication (aside from his resources) that the industry thought highly of his future going forward.

Since then, Haoran has built up a very impressive magazine resume, and to date, has been on 8 of the 10 major magazines. The only two he hasn’t been on are Vogue – impossible at this point in time because Angelica Cheung is very, very picky about who she lets on the cover – and ELLE, which hasn’t featured a male star on the cover in two to three years.

But they’ve done what they can for him – Haoran has been on the cover of the anniversary issue of VogueMe (essentially AC’s way of allowing younger stars on a sister issue of Vogue) for two years straight, and was the cover star for the inaugural issues of both SuperELLE and ELLE idol.

Haoran also has built a great network within the magazine world, particularly with (now former) ELLE China editor-in-chief Xiao Xue, who adores him and has known him for a long time now. He’s also close with Vogue China editor-in-chief Angelica Cheung and GQ China’s Paco Tang, as well as others.

At the Tod’s celebration dinner that they threw for him in March 2019 (when he was named ambassador for footwear), Xiao Xue, Paco Tang, and other magazine editor-in-chiefs and prominent beauty bloggers were in attendance
Haoran and Xiao Xue, March 2019
Haoran and Xiao Xue at a big Louis Vuitton event, October 2018

What about Haoran’s endorsement deals?

As mentioned before – an endorsement’s value primarily lies in two things: 1) how much you’re paid, and 2) treatment aka how much exposure you’re getting through ads and marketing by the brand.

Though we have no insider knowledge of how much Haoran is paid for his endorsements, we can say that one thing they have all in common is that none of the brands he currently endorses hold back in Haoran-themed marketing.

It’s pretty likely, walking through a city in China, you will see Haoran’s ads up in a lot of places – on subways, in subway stations, on buses, the outside of malls, on billboards, in the parks, in elevators of high rises, and more. As such, Haoran’s endorsements are in general great win-win deals for him.

One of the great things about Haoran’s endorsements is that brands aren’t asking him to endorse to 割韭菜 (literal translation is harvesting Chinese leeks, which is fanspeak for taking advantage of fans’ and their wallets). They’re in it more for his image, and a longer term relationship in which both benefit.

This is also another area where Haoran has proven to be wise beyond his years – he said after DC2 exploded, he hid out in Xinjiang while filming for NEF, and didn’t accept any endorsement deals in that time period. He didn’t want to give them false expectations, as he knew popularity would decrease over time, and wanted to wait until things were more “level”.

(Funny thing is, his endorsements have really taken off even after that “cool-off” period, especially this year)

Though we will always preach to not hold endorsements in too high regard due to the contract nature of the relationship, it’s been great to see Haoran’s resources thrive in this area as well as everything else!

Has Haoran lived up to his high start and great resources?

He’s not only lived up to it, he’s risen much faster than anyone could have ever imagined, both as a star and as an actor (but you don’t have to take my word for it – the whole reason The Eye of the Storm exists is because Haoran had a lot of thoughts and insecurity around how fast his career is going). He may only be 22, but he’s already an actor that’s considered to have 实绩 – which is fandom/netizen speak for tangible achievements is an artist’s given field (i.e. box office, Douban ratings, award nominations, etc.). Aka we can fill up this grid very nicely.

Project NameTypeFilming AgeRoleProject NotesActor Notes (Awards – not counting popularity awards)
Beijing Love Story (2014)Film15Song Ge (lead)Anthology film; 405 Million RMB (box office)21st Beijing College Student Film Festival – Best New Actor Nomination
Detective Chinatown (2015)Film17Qin Feng (lead)824 Million RMB (box office) – top 10 for 2015 films20th Huading Awards – Best New Actor Win;
Shanghai Film Critic Awards – Best New Actor Nomination;
19th Shanghai Intl Film Festival – Best New Actor Nomination
With You (2016)Webdrama (TV broadcast in 2018)18Yu Huai (lead)8.9 Douban Rating; picked up for two primetime runs two years after webdrama broadcast
The Founding of An Army (2017)Film18Su Yu (supporting)Govt commissioned commemoration film; won Outstanding Picture at the 34th Hundred Flower Awards
Legend of the Demon Cat (2017)Film19Bai Long (supporting)Directed by Chen Kaige
Nirvana In Fire 2 (2017)Drama19Xiao Pingjing (lead)Daylight Entertainment production; 8.5 Douban Rating; nominated for Best Drama at the 24th Magnolia Awards
Detective Chinatown 2 (2018)Film20Qin Feng (lead)3.396 Billion RMB (box office); 2nd highest grossing Chinese film of 2018; top 10 highest grossing film in China of all time; nominated for Best Picture at the 34th Hundred Flowers Awards34th Hundred Flowers Awards – Best Actor Nomination (youngest nominee in the history of the category)
Great Expectations: Twin Dragons (2018)Mini webdrama19Huo Zhenxiao (lead)Mini webdrama spinoff for Great Expectations
TwinsFilm18Li Ping (lead)Was heavily delayed/revised due to the Hallyu Ban (Korean director/production team)
Novoland: Eagle Flag (2019)Drama20Asule/Lv Guichen (lead)Broke the ratings record for Zhejiang TV’s 10pm slot; also holds highest single episode ratings for a ZJTV 10pm drama; broke the record for TV ratings of a drama that aired online first, then TV
My People My Country (2019)Film21Wo Dele (lead)Anthology film; govt commissioned commemoration film (Chen Kaige’s part); 2.91 billion RMB (box office); top 10 highest grossing film in China of all time
Detective Chinatown 3 (2020)Film22Qin Feng (lead)Comes out Chinese New Year’s Day 2020 (January 25, 2020)
Flowers Bloom In the Ashes (Youth) (2020)Film21TBA (lead)Chen Kaige film; has completed filming but not officially announced yet

Haoran has four box office hits under his belt (to put that into context, his total number of films in which he had a starring or supporting role, not counting cameos, is 7), and had a leading role in all four films. Two of the films are currently (as of November 2019) in the top 10 for highest grossing films in Chinese box office history.

He is one of the faces of a very successful film franchise in Detective Chinatown, and has worked with a 大导 – big director – in Chen Kaige three times, two as a main lead. He is one of five mainland actors under 35 who have been nominated for a Best Actor award at one of the big 5 film awards, and also the youngest.

And he’s 1.9 billion RMB (as of today) from being one of a just a handful of actors (only five so far) to reach 10 billion RMB in box office gross – and that’s just going by Maoyan calculations, which doesn’t include The Founding of An Army or Legend of the Demon Cat.

But probably most importantly – he has impressed and continued to improve with every acting performance. He said before in an interview that, “Every role that I take on is an audition for the next,” and it’s incredibly true – we can even trace it through his filmography.

Chen Sicheng said he was watching Haoran with a careful eye during Beijing Love Story, with the thought in mind that he could potentially play the role of Qin Feng (the script for Detective Chinatown was already complete then).

There are some who think Haoran got the role of Qin Feng because he’s in CSC’s company, but let’s be clear – Haoran signed with Chengya because he got the role of Qin Feng. Chen Sicheng didn’t owe him anything – he chose Haoran because he saw there was something special there.

Haoran took the role of Qin Feng and made a strong impression in the industry during a time when little fresh meats were heavily criticized and unfairly stereotyped as bad actors, which also helped him emerge faster.

His three 2016 resources at least partly came because of that performance, and Jiang Nan, author of the Novoland: Eagle Flag novels, has said that he wanted Haoran for the role of Asule because he had seen Detective Chinatown.

As for My Motherland and I and Flowers Bloom In the Ashes (Youth) – you can’t get a higher compliment from a director, and a top one at that, than two followup collaborations in a leading role. It means Chen Kaige was thoroughly pleased with Haoran’s performance – and maybe more importantly, his attitude and personality – as Bai Long.  

Haoran even had a followup opportunity to his voice dubbing for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – in October 2019, he was asked by Universal Studio Pictures China to be part of their reveal campaign, along with Steven Spielberg, Zhang Yimou, and Li Bingbing, for their new Beijing Resort (launching in 2021).

But it’s also not just his accomplishments as an actor – his performances have helped him to build stardom. Historically, it’s been difficult for film actors to gain popularity in terms of fans and with netizens, but Haoran was just the second person ever (after Wu Jing in 2017 for Wolf Warrior 2) to top the Vlinkage star ranking charts (factors in online “traffic” data and discussion) for a film (Detective Chinatown 2).

DC2 was also when we saw a huge jump in his fandom size and public recognition, but it wasn’t solely the reason.

Legend of the Demon Cat, which came out right before that, was when Haoran’s Douban followers jumped exponentially, and Xiao Pingjing (Nirvana In Fire 2 finished its run right when Detective Chinatown 2 was about to come out) remains cfans’ favorite Haoran role (he also topped the Vlinkage charts for NIF2 as well).

For My People My Country, he was the “most discussed actor” on Weibo among all three National Day films, based on official data gathered by Sina. And most recently, he once again impressed netizens with his improv clip for the New Actors Plan at the Golden Rooster Hundred Flower Awards.

Haoran isn’t where he is solely because of Detective Chinatown, nor is it his only representative work(s) – Qin Feng gave him his start, and he’s continuously maximized and earned every great opportunity he’s been given.

As veteran actor Zhao Lixin put it, “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.”

2 thoughts on “Megapost Q&A: Haoran and His Resources

  1. I just want to say that Joan Chen was the mom in Sheep Without A Shepherd and she’s huge!

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