The Eye of the Storm is more than two years old now, and it’s fascinating when you read his interviews in chronological order and see how his thoughts have changed along with circumstances. This chapter especially gives us insight into Haoran’s very real and personal thoughts at the time.
As a reminder, he wrote the book when he was approaching his 20th birthday (it was published in October 2017). This is also when you begin to see the fatigue and pressure start to get to him, in the context that he was just a regular high school student whose career began and suddenly took off at 17.
(His VogueMe interview from April 2018 is probably a good companion read to this.)
These feelings would intensify in 2018 with the toughness of Novoland: Eagle Flag filming and the huge success of Detective Chinatown 2, but thankfully, he was able to slow things down a bit and find a better balance in 2019.
Wherever you may be in the world, stay safe and stay home (when/if you can). Much love and rooting for us all. – admin
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Chapter 1: Thawing
- Chapter 2: Dandelion
- Chapter 3: Tomb Sweeping Day
- Chapter 4: Scene
- Chapter 5: Cold
- Chapter 7: Transform, Touch and Open
- Chapter 8: Inner Strength
Chapter Six – The Gate of Heaven
Waking up in the midst of training, no longer satisfied by being pushed along by the wind. I start to move my own body, to catch the wind, to control it. Hope I can find my footing in the wind, to be my own person.
Different winds means you’re being pulled in different directions. Have you found your direction?
Making Ends Meet
During the film festival (Shanghai International Film Festival), everyone was incredibly busy, so there wasn’t really time to play or to meet with friends. Was just continuously working. Every day when work ended, I’d go home and fall into bed, and then continue work the next morning. That’s how it was for the two or three days.
This is my normal working state when I’m done with filming for a project now. To be honest, I’ve recently felt like I’ve entered a period of exhaustion, and have been in a place where I don’t really want to work.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been spending so much time exposing myself to the audience, to directors, to others, so I no longer have time for myself. When this goes on for a prolonged period of time, I’m not used to it, and will have a guilty conscience.
Everyone has a limit to what they can do. If you are always continuously giving (parts of yourself), over time, you’ll feel empty inside. And when you add in my age…I don’t have much life experience to support all this to begin with.
To raise a simple example, when I’m doing a magazine shoot, I can put on some good poses and expressions. Or to put it another way, I can present myself in the best condition. When you’re doing one, two, three magazines, it might be okay, but you can’t continue use the same poses for every shoot.
I’m well aware that a lot of my expressions are the same, and I’ll begin to feel frustrated. On one hand, I’m not satisfied doing it this way, but on the other hand, I truly can’t find – and don’t know where to go – more expressions and poses. I’ve already given everything I can think of.
Maybe for those who are older, who have more work or life experience, they have more sides of themselves that they can present. But at my age, I only have had this much experience, and I’ve already given it all. It’s like when you’re earning little, but spending a lot.
Whenever I feel really down, when I feel that I can’t keep going with just what I’ve learned, I want to stop, to go back to studying, to recharge myself, to become “heavier”. As a public figure, I hope that everything I give in front of the camera has a weight (T/N: importance/significance) to it.
I also hope what I’m passing along is positive energy, and that this energy can encourage others to constantly remind yourself to stay true to your roots and your heart.
Going to Japan for Training
I pleaded with my company for a long time, and with great difficulty, made some time to go with my classmates to Japan for group training. The fifteen days were for classes, for training, and for the first time in a long time, putting down my identity as actor Liu Haoran to go back to studying.
At first, I thought it would be fun, as I didn’t realize how tiring it would be. In the fifteen days, we would be trained in the art of noh performance.
Noh is the most important classical theater art in Japan. Compared to other theater arts, the training is very focused on an actor’s ability to control their body. There is a very unique way of movement and footwork. The focus of the performance is emphasizing the beauty of the body’s movement patterns.
Our training sounds very simple, the most important requirement was for the actors to master control over their body under an extreme scale of repeated exercise. To put it more simply, usually, when you feel tired, you will naturally sigh without realizing it, but our teacher required us to control our breathing.
When you walk normally, your actions are fluid, your head will move with your body. But in class, we will be asked to use special footwork – to hold our leg at a 90 degree angle, and then step down. And as we’re moving our body, we must keep our head still. This is when body control is extremely important.
Our 15 days of training would in no way allow us to really get to know the art of noh, but through the exercises, we became more aware of how to control our bodies and movement.
It was easy to pick up on these exercises, but hard to execute. A lot of practice was needed everyday, to find techniques, to figure out how to put just the right amount of pressure as you put your foot down. Because these movements didn’t come naturally, you have to continually adjust.
Normally when we use strength, our body tightens up. But through the training, as we tried different methods, we needed to rely on our abdomen. This way6, when you exercise, that’s the part of your body that’s carrying the pressure, so you can ensure that your head doesn’t move.
Japanese people are very detailed, and the members of a noh theater group aren’t like us students who are in our teens, twenties. They are older grandpas in their 50s and 60s, aunts in their 30s and 40s. Many are also moms.
The training took place in a theater village in Japan, which Tadashi Suzuki spent 40 years building. The village is occupied by members of the theater as well as villagers who have always lived there. There is a theater and a training area in the village.
The only place you can spend money is a vending machine, which is restocked every four days and has ~20 kinds of drinks. To get down the mountain, you have to drive an hour, and there are bears there. You can only eat in the cafeteria.
Even though training was tiring, every day when we were done, us guys would gather together to drink some sake and play Mafia or cards. The air in the mountains was great. Sometimes, in the evenings, I’d take my camera and take pictures of the stars. I could clearly capture The Big Dipper, which I rarely get to see.
If you walk for 20 minutes away from the village, there is a natural hot springs.
Our most relaxing time was going there after training, our towels slung over our shoulders, a speaker in our hands, and yelling with excitement as we rushed up the mountains. My heart was at peace, I didn’t have to think about anything. I was comforted as I was surrounded by nature and darkness.
In those fifteen days spent in the village, I felt like all of my classmates got better looking. In the short half a month we spent living together, the guys became more handsome, the girls were gorgeous. The attractiveness comes from working hard on something with focus.
When we were done with the training, we returned to our dorms. The guys stayed on the floor with tatami mats, two people a room. The girls were on the second floor.
If we went on this trip right when we first began college, it’s very possible many would’ve started relationships there, but everyone knows each other too well now. It was more like returning to elementary school, as young students without those stories. We learned more about each other, and were very relaxed.
Looking back, those days were quite romantic. Not the romance between a couple, but being able to spend every night with everyone on the deck to chat, to drink, and look at the stars together – that kind of romance.
In my memories, I’ve only ever done that as a child. After starting school, there was never a moment like that again. So being able to be in that kind of setting, and seeing a different side of everyone, it really was very comfortable.
The training was for 15 days, six hours a day. This type of training, where you pour in your heart and soul, is exhausting, but even so, I was in a relaxed state. I determinedly told my company that I would not take a single day off (of training), and that I would always be punctual. I wanted to completely engross myself.
I’m proud to say, when our class summary came out, I was standing in the very middle. I also had a good relationship with the theater’s teachers and actors. They also complimented me, saying that they had been afraid I’d be more impetuous due to already working as an actor.
But I am very self-aware – I had just finished filming several big projects at that time (The Founding of An Army, Legend of the Demon Cat, Nirvana In Fire 2), and felt I really needed some time to learn. My feelings were that my natural talent, or whatever my strengths were, was not enough at that point.
At a time when I felt stuck, I suddenly felt very happy that I have the opportunity to return to my identity as a student. My studies are my own. I don’t have to give it up for a role, don’t need to show it for others. I just need to do my best. And most importantly, I’m continuing to absorb and accumulate.
I know how important this training was for me. I hope next year, if there is time, I can go again. I also hope that as I throw myself more and more into work, I can also take time to study and learn. My wish is to have more time and opportunity to do so.
Hopes and Ambition
In terms of creating and acting, at this stage of my life, I probably lean more towards acting. When I’m dealing with a role with my current lack of experience, I’d rather have the director lead. I’ll listen to the director’s thoughts, what he wants to see, what he thinks this character is like.
And then I’ll execute it. And as I’m in the process of acting out the character, I’ll slowly add in my own thoughts. Learning and acting at the same time.
When I’m choosing my roles now, the idealistic part of me wants to pick more challenging roles, ones that I’ve never played before. From Beijing Love Story to Detective Chinatown, and later With You, the truth is, these roles all overlapped in a way.
But I hope that these characters, with Liu Haoran as the foundation, will have growth, a continuity. When one day I’m unable to do that, I will restart and adjust, go back to learning, and recharge.
I hope that I have the courage to try different types of roles, and not just stay in my comfort zone. After With You, many projects in the youth genre reached out to me, but after discussing with my team, I decided I wanted to put it aside for a while.
I actually really like this type of role, but also think if I keep going with the sunshiny youth image on the screen, audiences will get tired.
I hope that when I have the ability to choose, and when I have enough momentum, I can try out all kinds of different roles. It’s only after trying will you know your limitations and possibilities. You’ll know what roles you can do well in; roles that you might not be able to take on yet. You’ll know your strengths, your weaknesses.
I know there are roles that I can’t do well at my current age and experience level. I am also aware of those that I have an advantage in, that are perfect for the age that I’m currently at. Even if I don’t act well in a project, I hope that audiences can forgive me based on the fact that I lack experience.
And that they will give me more chances, so I can learn early on where I need to improve. But of course, I will do my best with every project.
I’ve been warned that if an actor has failed too many times, the state of his mind may no longer be suited for acting. If you are constantly doubting yourself, and facing criticism daily for your last performance, can you still do a good job with your current role?
If you constantly think this way, then you’re allowing a self-fulfilling prophecy to happen. Because actors need a significant amount of confidence. In order to act well, you have to first believe you can do it.
At 20, if I can clearly know what I’m good at, what I’m not good at, I’ll have time to work on my weaknesses – isn’t that our biggest wealth as an actor at this age? I’m willing to experiment, and willing to welcome the greater possibilities in life.
Even if I fail when experimenting, I at least will know why I didn’t do well. I can look back and think over it. If I wait a few years, or when I have more/sufficient life experience, I can complete what I wasn’t able to do before.
Right now, there are some scenes where I can’t quite reach there emotionally, such as when a relative passes away, or experiencing a deep love and marriage. Because I have no experience, I can only force myself to rely on my imagination. But actors who are lacking in real emotional and life experience will ultimately not be able to perform well.
To me, the love and pain that I’ve experienced isn’t enough. Whether it’s relationships, marriage, or even interactions with people, you need time to experience them. It’s something an actor must go through.
These are my wild but hopeful thoughts. But every time I think about it, I also feel quite excited, as I realize just how amazing it is to be an actor as a career.
The Attitude You Have When Completing Tasks
Whenever I’m by myself, my mind is like a runaway train and I can’t stop thinking. What I hold in my thoughts is infinitely more than what comes out of my mouth. There are many things that I think about over and over. I may think I’ve understood, but I haven’t.
In my daily life, I’m lazy when it comes to little things, but not the big ones. I’m actually someone who works in extremes. If it’s something I believe to be important, I will definitely do it well. For other things, I’ll weigh the importance to decide its priority.
First, I’ll think about whether I like it or not, and secondly, if it’ll impact me later on. Because up until now, I honestly haven’t really experienced any significant failures, so I have a lot of trust in myself. Because my choices in the past have been pretty good, then I want to continue to believe in my decision making. If one day something goes wrong, I’ll stop and reflect.
Here is how I operate: after you tell me what the rules are, I will use my own way of thinking to complete the task given, but my methods won’t break the rules you have set. It’s just changing the process to a more efficient and convenient way.
For example, if I’ve been told I need five days to complete something, then I’ll think, is there a way to finish it in three? That way I can rest for two days! Really, it’s all because I’m lazy, any chance I can get for additional rest is worth it.
This is actually pretty apparent when I’m on reality shows. I have a lot of curiosity, so when I get assigned a task, I’ll first try to see if there are any faster solutions so I can rest earlier. Hahaha, I really don’t know how “lazy” I am!
Independent and Competitive Personality
Whether it’s in work or in life, I hope that my best to achieve perfection, to do something to the best of my ability. But in the process, I’ll also constantly wonder if there are areas where I could’ve done better in.
I constantly have these conflicting thoughts, and set my targets very high, but I also put myself very low.
If we apply this to acting, I definitely want to do the best I can in bringing a character to life. Even as I’m going through the process, everyone else, including the director, may say I’m already doing a great job, but I’m still not satisfied, and will think, can I do better?
For the me who’s constantly in self-conflict, I think way more than I do, and say less than I think. This is also probably another form of laziness. Even though I like to logically think things through, I don’t like to say much. It’s always like this – what I have in my heart is more than what I say.
Relationship with My Team
When I first started filming variety shows, I didn’t like to talk, but I’m getting better at this. Even though I have a lot of work, I don’t usually have many people around my age to talk to. So most of the time, I’m just thinking, and therefore don’t say much.
In the beginning, I think I would count as an artist who was very obedient. When I first entered the company, I didn’t know anything, and didn’t really have any thoughts of my own. But as my company slowly taught me, and I saw and understood more, I started to find my own way.
I started to make my thoughts known, and make my own decisions. My company doesn’t really suppress my desire to express myself, and they will help guide me in making the correct choices. So slowly, I began to change from a youth who was a completely white sheet of paper to the Liu Haoran today.
I actually don’t talk a lot to my agent. We have more of a working understanding of each other. And after I had a team, I slowly began to realize, the way they do things are pretty much aligned with me. It’s not because we communicate a lot, but because we get each other.
As we’ve worked together over an extensive period of time, they are very clear on what kind of person I am. So the decisions they make are often made based on thinking from perspective, on whether or not I’d want to do something. They’ll think through ahead of time, we have a lot of respect between us.
Our company’s team, from its creation through now, has slowly expanded. From when we first came together to today’s mutual understanding, it’s been a journey of encouragement and support. They’ve helped me grow from a regular youth to someone who’s getting more and more attention now.
Because of their existence, I can comfortably experiment and try the things I want to do without worrying. I know I’m not battling alone, that I have a strong team behind me. They are my biggest source of strength when working.
My team is a lot of fun, and loves to be playful. We are a group of chaotic young people.
I guess you could say I entered the company in 2014. Before that, I had a different agent. It was probably when I was recording It Takes A Real Man that I started working with my current agent. The jiejie in charge of promotions joined us last year, and there’s a new assistant jiejie too. We are all quite familiar with each other now.
Also, due to my family’s request, my cousin began helping me out, starting from last year. He’s the son of my oldest uncle (on mom’s side), and used to be in the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force. He’s now the dad of two, and when I’m filming, he’s the one who’s always with me. He is a very reliable person, and takes care of many of the details for me.
Even though we are often so bogged down with schedules we can’t breathe, we’ll still try to find any tiny sliver of time that we can to have fun. One time, when were in Shanghai and were stuck in traffic, someone pulled out a little shark toy. We would take turns pressing in the shark’s teeth – whoever got bitten by the shark would have to issue a red envelope (of money) in WeChat.
The amount of money wasn’t large, but we got crazy playing the game.
The Memory of Having Tissue Stuck Up the Nostrils
I had seen this question on the internet, “What is it like to eat canned herring (kippers)?” There was an answer that said, “This is the stinkiest smell in the world! It’s the smell of revenge on society!” I was dying of curiosity, and talked to my team about it. Just how stinky would it be?
When we went to Hangzhou, I actually found a friend who helped to bring a can over. This group of people (my team) wanted to open it right in my hotel room! I’m not stupid, I still needed to sleep there.
So I pushed past them to go outside to open it. When I got downstairs, I asked the front desk if they had a can opener and utensils. The hotel staff asked right away, “Is it canned herring?” Hahaha, why does everyone know? Have a lot of people done it before and negatively affected the hotel?
We were staying in a park, one similar to the Beijing Olympic Park. This group of people are quite dramatic, and pretended to be on a walk in the park, and found a place where no one was around to secretly open the can.
Even now when I think about it, I can’t stop laughing at the image. On a dark evening, a group of “giants” suspiciously looking around as they huddled together, each of them with tissue stuck up their nostrils, pushing at one another to open the can. I was trying to hide between them, but still got pushed out to open it (of course, I also had tissue in my nose).
They took several steps back, and after I opened it, everyone was in shock! Even with the tissue, the sour, rotten smell jolted our brains. Afterwards, when we were trying to describe it, I realized we all smelled something a little different. For me, it was like rotten Chinese leeks. To me, that’s the scariest smell in the world.
Afterwards, we were playing around and said we’d give 500 RMB to whoever dared to take a bite. Eventually, we convinced my manager to try it. He just licked it slightly, and then threw up.