Haoran was recently named the image ambassador for the 35 Hundred Flowers Awards, which will be held September 24 through September 26 in Zhengzhou, Henan, and will be in attendance for the entirety of the film festival. This year’s Hundred Flowers Awards (which is one of the three biggest and most important film awards in mainland China – as you may recall, Haoran was nominated in 2018, becoming the youngest Best Actor nominee in the history of the awards) is particularly meaningful, as theaters in China are finally open and the industry is still trying to recover from the huge damage of COVID-19. There’s a lot of emphasis on this year’s Golden Rooster & Hundred Flowers Film Festival for that reason – it’s being used to also encourage the revival of the industry.
This year’s awards also happens to be held in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, which is Haoran’s home province. It’s a large part of why he was chosen as the image ambassador, despite being so young (most of the image ambassadors in the past have been veteran, well known actors), as part of his duties are also to promote Henan and Zhengzhou for tourism and cultural education purposes. (You may have seen on Weibo, but his Hundred Flowers posters are literally everywhere in Zhengzhou right now).
Haoran recently sat down with the Zhengzhou Evening News to reflect on his unique path as an actor, from accidentally stumbling into the Beijing Dance Academy and into the entertainment industry, to his growth as an actor, and his recent and upcoming film projects.
Admin note: Apologies this took so long, and for any uneven translations – for some reason, this was particularly difficult to translate, due to some parts of the original article not being clear even in Chinese or some phrases/sentences not really having an English equivalent.
(Original article released 9.13.20)
This is the 23 year old Liu Haoran. The youthful spirit has not faded in him, but the door to adulthood has long been opened to him. He is lively with a boyish air, and simultaneously also knows how to calmly hide himself as appropriate.
In the beginning of 2020, Detective Chinatown 3, which Liu Haoran stars in, had to postpone its premiere due to COVID-19. Around the same time, Moses on the Plains started filming. In June, he got his diploma from the Central Academy of Drama. At the end of August, he became the image ambassador for the 2020 Golden Rooster & Hundred Flowers Film Festival. In June, he’s already filming another project (1921).
This was college student Liu Haoran’s busy Spring semester, and also his last one. He has gone from a student to a newcomer in society. Although the borders between the two weren’t very clear before, the boy who is still “Haoran didi” in audiences’ hearts, has concluded the last long break of his school era.
The Liu Haoran who moved to Beijing from Pingdingshan at the age of 11 never imagined his 23 year self would be like this – living on set day and night, his road to fame covered with flowers, and always surrounded by nonstop (camera) flashes. At age 11, he was in the sixth grade, 28th in his grade. His spare time was spent learning ballroom dancing, and he dreamed of going to Beijing for his doctorate, “To become a financier or architect, to study science or math.”
The change in the winds of fate came by chance when a teacher from the Beijing Dance Academy came to Pingdingshan to look for potential students. He hadn’t learned dance for long, and (auditioned) with the “impure motives” of “getting to take a trip to Beijing”, and “having a Beijing hukou would make it easier to get into good colleges*”.
*Haoran’s VogueMe interview in 2019 goes a lot more into his unique “accidental” journey to becoming a performing arts student, and how he fell into acting. But to quickly touch on the importance of hukou: it’s essentially where you’re registered, and it can have a great impact on your chances of getting into a good school, a job in a bigger city, buying a house, etc. A Beijing hukou is especially coveted, as opportunities are a lot greater in Beijing and for those with Beijing Hukou. It is normally very difficult for people who weren’t born in Beijing to obtain Beijing hukou, but the Beijing Dance Academy is one of the few institutions that can offer it to students, which is why it was seen as such a great, life-changing opportunity for Haoran and his family, given that he’s from one of the poorer provinces (Henan).
In his callback audition, he sang “让我们荡起双桨” (super rough translation: Let’s Go Rowing – it’s a children’s song), and placed fourth among males for the performance (singing and dancing) major. But because he still wanted to go the academic path, he almost resigned from the school on the very first day. Though in the end he still entered the Beijing Dance Academy, everything was like an unexpected storm. He stood in the middle of it, letting destiny flow over his feet.
His very first role also came by chance. In 2014 (2013 – 2014 was when the film premiered), when Liu Haoran was 17 (should be 16) and in his second year of high school at the Affiliated Secondary School of the Beijing Dance Academy. he received a call to audition for Beijing Love Story. After several rounds of auditions, Chen Sicheng had 20+ girls and boys play “Truth or Dare” together, and then vote on their favorite person of the opposite gender afterwards.
Most of the participants were girls, and they all voted for Liu Haoran. From this, Chen Sicheng believed that audiences would naturally have an affinity with Liu Haoran, and so the bicycle riding Song Ge in the blue and white uniform appeared in front of us.
Liu Haoran talks about the books and biographies he liked to read as a kid, believing that “all destinies will come together in a reasonable manner”, but for him, the gifts and costs he’s encountered in his destiny are seemingly all accidental.
Getting into the affiliated secondary school of the Beijing Dance Academy, debuting in Beijing Love Story, placing first in both yikao and academics (at the Central Academy of Drama), working with the top directors in China, becoming an outstanding representative of young actors…they’re all “arranged by fate”.
He is humble, grateful for the Best Actor nomination he received in 2018 at the Hundred Flowers Awards. He shies away from mentioning his ambitions in film, believing, “the things that actors can decide are very few”. Compared to peers in his age group, “(my advantage) is probably that I started filming very early on, so I have been able to more directly observe what it’s like on set, working with great teams and directors, learning a lot.”
But behind the calm surface, there are tens of thousands moments of self-measurement that are hard to speak about. When he was 20, he wrote in his book The Eye of the Storm, “I’m the type of hard headed person that won’t turn back once the arrow leaves the bow, the type who will play a game until the level has been cleared. If I started down a path, I’ll stubbornly walk until it’s dark.”
When he was 18, Liu Haoran needed to prepare for the gaokao (college admission exams), film variety show It Takes A Real Man, and film movie Detective Chinatown. The rookie youth embraced the wind that would hold him up, as his schedule became packed.
Qin Feng, which would become a very important role to him, was completed in the summer of 2015. During filming, he was also preparing to take on the gaokao. The beautiful Thailand scenery was packed full of Chinese, math, and English practice exams, “When everyone else was drinking, chatting, and eating seafood outside after we wrapped filming, I was doing practice exams. When everyone else was having fun and getting massages, I was doing practice exams. When we got a rare opportunity to sleep in, I was doing practice exams. When the team got a day of rest, they visited the temples as one big pack – I was doing practice exams.”
He was spinning like a top, but as he looks back on that time, he doesn’t it so much as a hardship, more like “mixed in to lively amounts of red and neon green, amidst fast snippets of a comedy film”.
“On one hand, I was full of excitement about the new role, the scenery of a foreign country, a storyline that was wacky and bizarre. On the other hand, I wanted to use every bit of time available to give my high school era a satisfactory and proper conclusion. It was the first time where I felt that all of me was being filled by the massive (existence) of the known and the unknown. It was also the first time where I felt I was using every minute of the 1,440 minutes in a day. wiped so clean that it was sparkling.”
20 years old, keyword was Chen Kaige. Before he was confirmed for the role (Bai Long in Legend of Demon Cat), he met with the director twice. “The first time I saw the director, he said I was too chubby. The second time I saw him, he said I was still chubby.”
In the end, for Bai Long, Liu Haoran lost 20 jin (12 kg). He understands the deep meaning behind the character, “This is a role where I needed to be very skinny, thin to the point where it would bring out my spirit, my youthful frame.” The heavy weight of Legend of the Demon Cat. After a short time spent in the previous dynasty, Liu Haoran’s white crane youth had accumulated 30 years of burning love and hate, shouldering both sincerity and cruelty with his thin frame.
Liu Haoran has appeared in Chen Kaige’s last three consecutive projects. The last actor to be so utilized by Chen Kaige was Gong Li.
He has had both luck and chance. He also possesses the temperament and spirit of a stubborn person determined to see things through until the end.
Within China, there probably isn’t an actor who can define “youthful feel” more than Liu Haoran. This label, which has been popular for almost five years now, started out on Liu Haoran and can’t be more fitting. He is the image of youth, possessing both innocence, naiveness, cleanness, and a pure imagination.
He is the young first love who passed by swiftly on his bike, the genius young detective who can’t speak eloquently, the intelligent desk-mate in your student era who you missed out on. The young general who carried the (burden) of national enmity and hate (from his family being broken), and yet still wanted to practice his pure ideals.
Liu Haoran himself is in sync with these characters. He has a totally natural sunshiny innocence, so acting in youth films comes very easily at him. But he doesn’t wish to keep spinning in the youth genre. The 2015 comedy-suspense film Detective Chinatown was his coming-of-age ceremony, and every two years, he meets “Qin Feng” again. It’s the harmonious polyphony between the actor and his role. The film tells of the bizarre adventures of a genius youth, and outside of the film, one level at a time, Liu Haoran is progressing from youth to maturity.
In 2019, through a My People My Country still where his styling seemed almost “crazy”, he refreshed audiences’ familiarity with him. He can still fit the textbook definition of youth, but now, he has expanded the room for expression. Creation (of art) precedes beauty and ugliness, it’s the role that completes the actor. He’s not afraid that the way he looks will affect his “liuliang” (traffic data), and believes in audiences, “They definitely know how to differentiate between the role and the actor. This is also the fun part of being an actor, you can use different roles to experience a more enriching life.”
Earlier in 2017, he played General Su Yu in The Founding of An Army. This National Day, he will be appearing in My People My Homeland and Coffee or Tea?. He treasures these films, because they “are tightly tied to China’s development”.
He makes the distinction between the three recent works, “The purpose of the roles are very different. For example, in My People My Country, I was a target of poverty alleviation (campaigns). I can’t reveal much on the other two, but I hope I can let audiences see the differences, to help them understand the characters.” Because of this, in a short span of time, he gained weight and then lost it. He acknowledges his positive, upright image as a public figure, and is willing to spread messages of “positive energy”.
In the first half of 2020, Moses on the Plains wrapped up filming. The original novel, written by Shuang Xuetao, writes about the gloomy skies and the people of Dongbei (Northeast China), whose minds and bodies are thrown into turmoil due to the reform (economic reform). Both Liu Haoran and his team believe this is a project that marks a turning point towards a mature (actor). In the film, he plays a young detective who is investigating an old case. In many of the behind the scenes pics, his face is flushed from the burning flames.
Nobody is a youth forever. Liu Haoran desires to try “types (of roles) that I’ve never acted before”. He is in charge of ordering dishes (with his family), gloating about his new car to Zhang Ruoyun. This is another side of maturity, of becoming an adult.
At the end of August, Liu Haoran became the image ambassador for the 2020 Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival. Before, this very important film award for mainland China had image ambassadors that included Yao Chen, Wu Jing, Jackie Chan, Carina Lau…all are seniors with good reputations (as actors) and (representative) works. Only Liu Haoran is so young.
For his image ambassador role, he did it all – he went to Zhengzhou for the poster shoot, recorded videos, and got up early in the morning for the promotional film. He visited many places that he’s never been to before, to the shores of the Huang River and the Shang City wall, filmed the sunrise on Zhengzhou’s famous JIngliu Road. The director of the promotional film praised Haoran for being very “professional, dedicated, very quick to understand the intention of the shoot”.
This young man who stands up tall and straight, paired with the Henan’s long history and culture (3,000 years), old and new, light and heavy – all of it is covered.
But before getting the official title, he has long been “Pingdingshan’s wild spokesperson” in the hearts of netizens. When we ask him about this strange nickname, Liu Haoran breaks out into laughter, “To be a spokesperson for my hometown, I”m proud! If I can get more people to know and understand my hometown, I’ll be very happy.”
“Hello everyone, I’m Liu Haoran, from Pingdingshan, Henan.” The 17 year old him introduced himself this way when he made his first Happy Camp appearance. This year, the gaokao featured a geography question (about Pingdingshan) that puzzled many test takers. Liu Haoran tagged the topic on Weibo, “Climb Pingdingshan with me?” No one is more familiar with Pingdingshan memes than him.
He misses the breakfast shops on the streets of his hometown, and is happy about the changes in recent years, “We didn’t have a high speed train before, now there are high-rise buildings everywhere.” Early on in the COVID-19 situation for China, he couldn’t help but be happy as everyone was praising Henan. “Henan is where my roots are.”
T/N: Henan was widely praised for how well they handled COVID-19 from the beginning, the education they provided for their citizens, and how well everyone cooperated. Videos of grandpas who are village heads in rural parts of Henan went viral, as they would often be on the loudspeaker reminding their residents to stay inside and take precautions.
When we talk about why he was chosen as the image ambassador for the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Awards, he can’t hold back his laugh, “A pretty important reason is that I’m from Henan,” and then he adds, “As someone from Henan, it’s an honor to be the ambassador. In a way, I’m doing something for my home province, and I’m honestly very happy. Being able to do something for my home province is something I’ve always wanted, so am very grateful I was chosen by the Golden Rooster & Hundred Flowers (committee).”
If you search the question on Zhihu, “What’s it like to be Liu Haoran’s classmate or friend?”, you’ll find 111 answers, including replies from fans, classmates’ friends, friends’ sisters, classmates in elementary school. They write about Pingdingshan from over a decade ago, about the Liu Haoran as a child who was shy and didn’t talk very much, on how he visited his sister in college when he hadn’t debuted yet. When it gets to Chinese New Year’s annually, it’s like all of Pingdingshan is waiting to run into him.
This is what’s particularly appealing about Liu Haoran – you can seemingly touch him, see the handsome him (in person) – he’s not distant, not someone that seems thousands of miles away.