The much-anticipated The Rebel Princess 上阳赋 which is Zhang Ziyi’s very first drama that she filmed back in 2018 finally premiered on January 9. However, Zhang Ziyi’s portrayal of a 15-year-old heroine when the series opened drew much discussion with some finding her too old for the role. Similar criticisms have affected other actresses in the past such as Zhou Xun who was in her forties when she played the younger version of her character in Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace.
With the show runners seemingly also jumping on the hype, Zhang Ziyi boldly asked the production team and media platforms to stop using her to promote a “girly feel”! She explains that she was 38 years old when she played Wang Huan and will be turning 42 in February, which is definitely not a young girl so she asked to please stop using the topic as a marketing gimmick.
Emperor’s Conquest Author Mei Yu Zhe Voices Her Thoughts
Recently, author Mei Yu Zhe 寐语者 who wrote the novel Emperor’s Conquest that the drama is based on showed her full support for Zhang Ziyi. She says, “Everyone knows what it means to have a 38-year-old woman playing a 15-year-old teenage girl. The easy way out is to shorten the story and simply gloss over it, an even easier way is to use a young actress to play the younger version of the heroine. Either way, it would make things easier for Zhang Ziyi. However, after several back-and-forth discussions and arguments, in the end, the most difficult and thankless method was chosen, it was also the way to preserve the integrity of the story and the characters to the greatest extent. Whether in the book or in the script, Awu’s story as a young woman is not very appealing, the story that follows Awu after her transformation and her eventual team up with Lao Xiao to fulfill their goals is much more interesting. But if the story of the heroine in her younger days is not told, then there would be no foundation for the emotional connections between the characters, the drastic changes in their fates later on and the emotions that will erupt in the upheaval will seem like there was no reason for it.”
Why a Younger Actress Was Not Chosen
Mei Yu Zhe goes on to explain that it’s not impossible to change the actress, but the actress will have a different feel, thus weakening the integrity of the character. In particular, Mei Yu Zhe explains that the story and the character have a unique trait. In the book, many major events in Awu’s life happened before she turned 20 from falling in love to the loss of her mother and child. She says, “If we used a young actress to play the heroine at 15 years old, what about the scenes when she’s 18 years old? If Ziyi started playing the character from age 18, will there no longer be criticisms that her age does not match the role?”
Mei Yu Zhe says that she does not know what went through Ziyi’s mind when she made the decision but if she didn’t love the character Awu then she wouldn’t have had to bear the pressure of playing the role. In the author’s eyes, Zhang Ziyi has successfully integrated the young Awu who will later become Zhang Wangfei into one person.
They should have introduced a new actress to play the 15 year old, make way for a new generation of actresses. Doesn’t make sense to cast her as a 15 year old.
This has been a huge trend lately and I personally really don’t like it. Having much older people playing children or teenagers. You have Li Qin and Darren Wang in The Wolf playing 10 year olds and Edward Zhang as a 13 year old in Qin Dynasty Epic. There have been more on top of this. I have seen some amazing child actors out there and some scenes, like in the Wolf for example, when they go from their child versions to their adult versions, would have been so much more impactful imo and shown the time jump and changes so much better if they had used actual child actors.
Luo Jin played a 20 years old crone prince in Royal Nirvana. Seven Tan twice go head and mayang street played a teen That is a production/actors choice. There are a lot of exemples. There is no good nor bad choice in this case. Replace the actor/actress face with a jounger one using AI?
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way with the casting. As an actor getting to be with the character from youth to old will be an exciting opportunity and experience. As a filmmaker, storyteller, director, every new actor brought into the character will bring a different interpretation. If they wanted less variation and wanted depth with one actress, which was clearly the case; it’s also a valid and respectable approach. You can do makeup for youth and aging. As an actor, the challenge with shifting mindset and showing growth in the character makes a story like this appealing.
I think it is not a matter of young actor or old actor in terms of age. It is whether the actor can carry it off in terms of looks and acting. A person’s face and body goes through a lot of changes from 12 to 18, especially for boys.
It is just too disconcerting for a 40 year old actor to play a 13 year old, no matter how good the acting skills. Not even the audience’s best imagination can swallow that. It’s like watching a grown man throw kid’s tantrums. (I dropped Qin Dynasty partly because of this – almost every one was too old for the characters they played; other than Edward Zhang, there’s also a grown man playing a 12 year old, mid-teens playing pre-teens and others). For people who don’t know any background history or story, the only conclusion is that the man has mental issues or simply stupid. The young can be made up to look old, but the reverse is quite limited. There are plenty of talented actors & actresses in their late teens or twenties. For eg. Ren Min – she is 21 now but she could easily do 15, 18 or 25. Mao Xiao Tong is 32 but she can carry a 16 year old role cos her looks will fit the acting. Zhou Dong Yu, 28, is another good candidate for young roles. In Rebel Princess, even tho’ ZZY is a big name, I don’t find her acting in the early episodes any better than many of the other younger actresses. In fact, I find some of her acting as a teen rather awkward instead of natural. Anyway, it is unfortunate that the discussion seem to be focused on this one aspect now, instead of on the drama itself, which could have been avoided if they had made their casting choices well. I guess it’s just too jarring on the audiences’ senses, too unrealistic. Same goes for Qin Empire.
China is so big, Just don’t get why they can’t find a younger actress/actor to play IMO it’s so distracting no matter how good you are at acting.
I don’t buy the author excuses. In Held in the Castle they sussefully chosen a young actor to play the King’s youth and it was perfect. But in this case, to claim the actress love for the character is enough to bear the age difference well, its not! Its really cringeworthy and pulls me off, it screams “fake” and I think it really damages the actress acting. Also, I found the cast rather ugly, sorry, not visualy appealing at all, I’ll just drop this, unfortunatelly. For me, this drama has good story but is really miscast.
I feel that too. In Held in a Lonely Castle, not only the King; other supporting characters too and they also had a few kids playing the different ages Princess and her favorite enunch. This kind of detail to realism is really impressive. I’m ok if the actors are not good looking. The most important thing is they fit their roles and can deliver good acting performance. I don’t watch poor acting no matter how good looking the actors are. I have watched up to 7 episodes of Rebel Princess and I must say, overall, the acting quality is only average and some characters feels outright artificial.
I don’t see a problem with zhang being a 15yo. Ppl need to understand that a 15yo back in the days is the equivalent of a 25yo in today’s world in term of maturity, thoughts, feelings, and society knowledge. Maybe people are thinking of a 15yo in today’s world who’s witty,immature, and cute. They’re a wife/mom at 15yo for Christ sake , back in the days. Asking Zhang to act as a 25yo equivalence is 100 percent convincible plus the looks. So I think people who are using today’s standard to judge an actress’ age appropriateness is misleading. If a young actor can act in an old age role, vice versa should not be a controversy. Carmen lee acted as a 16 yo xiao long nu, but we all agree she was the more mature looking xiao long nu, but we all loved her nonetheless.
Whether they used the child actor route or not is fine either way. Indeed, there are quite some talented kids china these days.
To your argument… in the same token, isn’t the drama made for the modern day viewers consumption? They are not making the drama for the sensibilities of people who lived a hundred years ago; or even for people in that era – the drama is made for people in this generation to consume. I’ve seen the stills of the drama and considered watching it when I was downright bored; but the drama and lead actress looked so visually unappealing that I decided to pass and play a computer game instead. Using child actors in scenes where child actors are required adds to the believability of the characters as many have said. It does not take away from the audience understanding of the character at all and adds depth to the production. My guess is that many productions are too lazy to use them when required as child actors may need extra coaching, and a study of mannerisms by their adult counterparts to add authenticity to the character that may seem to be too much trouble for the production crew to undergo.
As a product of modern viewers consumption, they can only change so much for viewers. They changed the language, the costumes etc to modern tastes but nonetheless retain certain ancient qualities to keep the theme authentic. As such, yes maybe if they wrote the story to start her off as a 25yo it would be less off-putting, but then it would not go with the ancient political theme lifestyle where political marriage begins at the teen years. If the production adapted modern costume and colors to appeal to today’s viewers, why can’t viewers adapt their mindset from 15yo to 25yo to 38yo? God, just imagine young zhang zi yi back in the days. Don’t let the production do all the visuals work for you. The character is one person, you are one person. Why should 2 ppl be one person? As we all age, were our younger self not yourself? Do some cgi effect on the video if you so wish.
Don’t know why ppl are making this a big deal. Watch it with a grain of salt. Age is only a number. Not a fan of zhang, but just don’t see why she’s targeted.
Rather, can media discuss more on CP chemistry or plotline holes instead?
I couldn’t watch this drama because I thought all the casts were too old looking. Like they have such a mature aura to be playing some youthful teens.
You make a valid point. Most younger actors are so protected they can’t even kiss properly. How can the have the maturity to carry off such a deep and complex role. She does an amazing job, that’s what matters.
Zhang Ziyi’s age didn’t bother me in this drama. In the later episodes after her marriage her character had matured from the somewhat headstrong, naive character from the earlier episodes.
Overall, I found the story line compelling and the production value to be high.
I have felt Zhang Ziyi’s acting has always been spot on – ever since Hidden Dragon, Crouching Tiger. Although it is suspended disbelief that a 40 year can play a 15-year-old, however, her acting is such that it’s believable. Certainly, her looks belied her youth but her characterisation of a youthful, naive, pampered and a spoilt princess is excellent. Yes, she is stubborn and likes to get her way but I didn’t find her annoying because it’s not exaggerated and it’s in keeping with her status and upbringing. She knows when not to push because there are consequences. She understands it clearly. I really like her portrayal. She has delivered and I am very impressed by her acting.
Love her portrayal. Actually I like all the actors. Good quality and good paced.
Actually ZZY’s acting was not impressive at all for an actress of such repute. However, she was not lacking either. She was more in her element after episode 10 . My main grouse is that this is just so slow moving. All the various plotting by the various characters just somehow doesn’t build up any suspense at all. It just feels all over the place. But ZZY and ZYW really look good together. Wish I have a man like too. Haha.
After 11 episodes, I find it ‘s consistent and appealing . The good surprise of January .
Btw is your avatar from Angelique: Marquise des Anges?! If so, I love that series. I’ve watched it many years ago and found the production (although a little dramatic) very good and the French actress Michèle Mercier was gorgeous in it.
I am a fan of the old Hollywood stars, they had a certain glamour, screen presence and star-quality that is still hard to replicate even today.
Yes, iit’s MIchèle Mercier , Angélique Marquise des Anges… My way to paid tribute to her.
The biggest problem is not only the appearance, the actress has no charisma, she is a dead fly.
I absolutely agree that her acting for both the teenage and older years looked boring compared to her film performances which I loved. She looks tired in this drama.
And with the so called ‘controversial’ about Zhang Zi Yi playing a teenager, there were quite a few actresses in their late 30s and early 40s(often seen in Korean dramas) playing teenagers roles & nobody criticized. I really don’t understand what’s the big fuss about it ???
Their acting never disappoints. Zhou Yi Wei as Lord Yu Zhang/General Xiao Qi is SUPER…….CHARISMATIC, MANLY, COOL & CHARMING ????? I am literally in love with him ??? I have not seen such charismatic actor in China dramas until now. He sets the REAL STANDARD of a General cum Lord !!! As for Zhang Zi Yi, always one of my favorite Chinese actress ????? Watches this drama because of her. I have rewatched many times & going to watch again ??? Superb drama ??????????????