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.