Sina Ent. Reporter on Xiaozhan:
I never thought, that it would all be fate.
The first time I knew what Xiaozhan looks like was the day I met him in person.
That day at noon our reporter department was having a meeting, when suddenly there was a commotion outside of the meeting room, it turned out that Wang Dalu was here for a visit. Then I heard that Xiaozhan and Wang Yibo would be coming later too. As someone who never followed boy groups or watched The Untamed, I only knew that they were popular lately, but I didn’t know anything about them at all.
Purely out of curiosity, I walked out of the meeting room to take a look, and took a picture. My first impression was that this guy is tall and skinny. Later he walked into the meeting room and sat on the other end of the table by himself. I took a closer look, and he was handsome in a boy next door way.
His appearance caused a huge commotion among my colleagues, so acting out of a rebellious nature, I left him in the meeting room and went outside to see Wang Dalu.
Later, us six reporters left without turning back. I was thinking, it’s dinner time, time to get off work, very cool, I don’t follow celebrities.
A few days before seeing him in person, a friend had recommended me The Untamed and Xiaozhan. Before I had come across that slowed down gif* of Xiaozhan being hit with the whip, so I rejected my friend coldly: the acting is bad, I’m not watching, I said.
*Antis spread an intentionally slowed down gif of the scene where Xiaozhan as Wei Wuxian was whipped by Madame Yu to make it seem like Xiaozhan’s acting is exaggerated and bad.
Because I have to write an article, on July 11 I started to watch The Untamed, and I watched 20 episodes in one night. At first it was because of work, but gradually I came to look forward to Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
I really spoke too soon.
The reason I became addicted to “The Untamed” was simple, Wei Wuxian is really my favourite male role in the past few years. I’m a huge fan of Jin Yong, I love Zhao Min and Huang Rong, and to me Wei Wuxian was like a combination of Zhao Min + Huang Rong + Ling Huchong’s highlight reels.
The MoDaoZuShi story is good, Wei Wuxian’s character is good, and Xiaozhan’s acting is even better.
I’m really happy, I came to know Xiaozhan not because of his pretty airport pictures but because of his work.
After recognizing his acting skills, I suddenly understood when I was interviewing Xiaozhan Bot, why they stay up every night to defend him against antis. If not because of work, I might not have watched The Untamed, and my impression of Xiaozhan will just be that one gif.
The first time Xiaozhan shocked me was in Ep. 26, on Jinlingtai, when he said, “I trust that everyone knows, I don’t have good patience, I’ve already wasted much time with you here, now I’m only going to give you the count of three, three, two, one!”
Very manly, I like it a lot.
In episode 32, the scene on the roof in Buyetian where he was laughing and crying, that was legendary for me. In August I wasn’t in a great mood, but when I watch this repeatedly, I feel like I’ve been healed.
Last month I wrote a piece regarding The Untamed statistics, and found that most audience watching The Untamed are attracted to Wangxian’s scenes together. But when I followed the drama, I found that I’m a Wei Wuxian fan, I really like Laozu’s solo highlight moments, and I liked how he took in the younger ones under his wing and taught them lessons.
Wei Wuxian and Xiaozhan, I think they’re a case of mutual fulfillment. I’m grateful to Xiaozhan for bringing a fictional character to life; I’m grateful to Xianxian for letting Xiaozhan be recognized by the audience.
The last time a male actor stunned me with both visuals and acting was Bosco Wang in 2014, it’s really been too long.
Even though I’m clearly a fan of the character, how did I start paying attention him as a real person?
I thought back to it, and it’s probably because of a few moments that really struck me at opportune times.
The first time I liked Xiaozhan outside of the drama was watching his guest appearance on Produce 101. I really liked that dance part, and the upperclassman style really suited him. I watched this stage repeatedly on Bilibili, and I must thank Hu Yanbin for writing such a good song, because if the song was bad, I wouldn’t have been able to listen to it 1005 times. — This is a visual attack.
Then I watched cut scenes of Beitang Moran and Fang Yexu on Bilibili, “versatile drama face” is real. — This is having professional skills.
When I watched him use triangle theory to stand the coke cans on their edges and other clips of him playing games, I realized that he’s really smart. — This is reliable intelligence.
When Douluo Content finished filming, what was he thinking of as he watched the fireworks with tears in his eyes? I don’t want to just give my own interpretation, but I know he is an emotional person, and other emotional people will be moved by the sincerity and light in his eyes. I remembered when one day I came across a scene of Xiaozhan trying not to cry during their Hangzhou concert. I was just about to send it to my friend, but at the same time she sent me the same thing, my friend doesn’t even know the backstory of ‘Satisfied’, but she also felt it. “Satisfied’ is his fans’ gift to him, and his “Goodnight, I’m here” in “Secret Garden” is his response, such mutual protection is real. — This is being caring.
“Who cares about the afterlife when you’re alive? Just live out each day one after the other! I’m fortunate to have met you, Wei Wuxian.”
Two identical Weibo posts last year and this year, I like this kind of ritualistic farewell.
“I’ve left him there, and returned him to the person he loves the most.”
Only someone who really loves a character to an extent can say something like this.
The Untamed is very important to him, but during the interview on September 10, I know he has long since moved on. After all, since The Untamed, he’s already filmed three other dramas.
With how much I like Wei Wuxian, I thought it would a very long time before I can remove myself from the drama. But unexpectedly, I’ve also moved on just the third day after it finished, and wholeheartedly became a fan of Zhang Xiaofan.
With “Jade Dynasty”, I had an opportunity to interview him for the first time after “The Untamed”.
In August I constantly saw predictions about Jade Dynasty’s box office, some people were convinced it’s going to tank, others had unreasonably high expectations. If not for Xiaozhan’s sudden popularity, this movie wouldn’t have anywhere near this much attention.
That month, a headline found its way into my brain – “Xiaozhan, Welcome to the Cruel Entertainment Industry” (another article this author wrote).
Of course, when he was a nobody, he experienced a different kind of cruelty; but after his explosive popularity, the love and hatred were magnified many times over. The movie industry is a real financial test, and there were many people just waiting to see him make a fool of himself, even though the achievements of a movie should not fall all one one actor’s shoulders.
Our film team’s male colleague watched an advanced screening of the movie, he said Xiaozhan’s acting was good. He didn’t watch The Untamed, and he didn’t know Xiaozhan previously. After watching the movie, he asked us, “is Xiaozhan originally so dumb and dorky like this?”
After that comment, I knew that his performance in Jade Dynasty definitely wouldn’t be bad haha. Of course, I’m confident in his acting in the first place, not to mention this was filmed after The Untamed.
Later I also went to an advanced screening of the movie, and as a casual fan who has high professional standards, I raised a lot of questions and flaws.
Actually it was difficult to predict the box office then, I quietly thought 150 million would be good, 200 million would be worth being happy about.
During the interview on Sep. 10, I asked Xiaozhan if he had watched the movie, and he said he only watched a rough cut. I don’t know if he’s satisfied with Jade Dynasty, and in the interview I asked him, does he want box office or good reviews? When he said he wants both, I was shocked, I couldn’t believe he would dare to say that! After I added, the achievement of a movie cannot be decided by one actor, I guess I wanted to help take the pressure off him. But its success later showed me that my initial worries were unnecessary.
400 million box office, even though there were voices of dissent, but what I can tell you guys is, a lot of people in the film industry inquired about Xiaozhan because of Jade Dynasty, and this movie did bring him the attention of a whole different circle.
When it comes to Xiaozhan, I’m always looking forward to his next role.
Because he said he wants to take the actor’s path, he’s continuously improving.
During filming for The Untamed, he said after filming he wants to work on his voice acting, and he really did that.
I looked through my WeChat chat log, and I found that the name Xiaozhan first appeared in my life last year on Oct. 12, back then I was doing a piece about acting training, I contacted Yang Xu teacher and wanted to listen in on a course.
Teacher Yang’s side told me “currently he’s doing a 1 to 1 private lesson with the actor Xiaozhan, so we cannot arrange for a listen in.” Back then I didn’t even notice this name.
When I checked, Jade Dynasty filming started last year Oct. 17. So between these two works, he was working to improve himself.
Yang Xu is quite strict, and in an interview last year he criticized another one of his students who started taking all kinds of roles as soon as he was accepted to the Central Academy of Drama, didn’t study well and wasted his talent.
When I interviewed teacher Yang again this year, we spent an hour talking about Xiaozhan. Some of his praises for him are not included in the previous article, because Xiaozhan doesn’t want people to put him on a pedestal, so I’ll just leave it here.
“My first impression, is that he’s a kid with a strong desire to learn. My impression of him is that he has a high level of focus, and when I give him any instruction or question, he will respond immediately. And I can feel that he has high standards for learning, for acting, and a passion for learning. More than anything, I felt that he is a sincere person, and back then I told him honestly, when you have this level of sincerity, you already have the basic requirement of an actor, because this is what’s most important in being an actor. That’s why his acting comes across as sincere.”
“He cares a lot of about the characterization of each of his roles, that’s a good point about him. Some actors don’t really care, they act like, ‘I’m already here, doesn’t matter how I act, the audience isn’t seeing me anyway.’ But Xiaozhan really cares about acting out each role and each scene well.”
“Everyday I talk to him about his thoughts and feelings on the day, and I give him encouragement and confidence, because actors are actually fragile, especially since he cares a lot about his professionalism. So on the one hand I give him instructions, but mostly I help him have the confidence to complete it. The reason I didn’t stay long on the set of “Oath of Love” is because I could feel he’s growing, he’s maturing.”
“He’s definitely an actor with a lot of talent, I keep telling him, ‘you’ll definitely become a good actor. You must work hard and refine your skills.’”
For the role of Tang San, Yang Xu accompanied Xiaozhan the whole way. According to him, Xiaozhan’s acting improved a lot during filming for this drama, let’s look forward to Tang San.
Outside of acting, what kind of person is Xiaozhan really?
I’ve only scratched the surface by meeting him, and through the descriptions of other people in the industry, I’ve tried to put together pieces of the puzzle and understand the real him.
A senior who worked with him said, “he’s very humble and friendly, even If he has certain thoughts, he doesn’t want to cause trouble for others and is willing to resolve them himself. He cares a lot about other people’s feelings, most people I’ve met are quite selfish, a sincere and honest young person like him is rare, so that’s actually why he’s well liked and recognized by people in the industry.”
An example which I can’t go into too much detail, essentially, a staff’s error caused trouble for Xiaozhan, but Xiaozhan only just smiled and encouraged the person, then went into a corner himself to release the tension and emotions. I thought about that image, it’s kind of cute.
Yang Xu also shared an example, “sometimes I’m watching him act on set, he will come over and say, ‘teacher I was filming the whole time just now and didn’t know you were here, I didn’t take care of you, if you need anything or any help please let me know.’ He will always think about my feelings, and that’s really touching.”
On Sep. 10 during the marathon of interviews for Jade Dynasty, I communicated with Xiaozhan for the first time, and what I felt was that interacting with him is really comfortable.
After 5 years in this industry, I’ve interviewed over 100 celebrities. Some people are closed off, and resist or are standoffish in interviews. There’s not a lot like Xiaozhan, who is personable, and has done the preparation to share and express himself. From the conversation, he can be in a top ranking of interviewees; he’s honest and gives meaningful responses, that’s even more difficult for a popular young star.
When I published that article, and executive of another media company shared it, in her friends circle she said, “Xiaozhan is amazing, his media and audience reputation increases proportionally. No one in the last generation of top celebrities could do that.”
Really, it’s just a matter of sincerity for sincerity, if reporters feel sincerity in the interviews, they will be willing to repay that with articles written from the heart.
After our interview, I complimented him, he kept saying thank you; I asked for a picture together, actually his team refused but Xiaozhan himself said ‘I can do it’; in the end because of lack of time he couldn’t autograph, and he apologized, saying ‘I’m sorry, today’s schedule is a little tight.” Back then, I felt that even though I was rejected it was comfortable, he was polite, and he responded to every word I said.
Later I interviewed his staff members, and I understood how difficult things are for him. After exploding in popularity he doesn’t want people to think he’s lost himself just because he got popular, so he’s even more careful in how he deals with people.
On the day of the Jade Dynasty press conference, director Cheng Xiaodong saw Xiaozhan again and teased him, ‘you’re really popular now!’ Xiaozhan immediately said, ‘no no!’. Cheng Xiaodong told me, he thinks Xiaozhan hasn’t changed one bit, he’s still so polite and humble.
Some coworkers who added him on WeChat when he was unknown said that he still replies to every birthday wish, he doesn’t stop responding just because he’s famous. Popularity didn’t cause him to lose himself, that’s how he will go far. And in the first place, he’s a smart person.
Later I watched the tens of interviews he did on Sep. 10, and I realized that he’s really different from all the interviewees I’ve been in contact with in the past.
Usually these interview marathons will have repeated questions and repeated answers. But Xiaozhan, based on different media outlet types, gave everyone different newsworthy answers. For example, in our Sina Ent article, he highlighted the sasaeng issue; and for the more cultured outlet One, his answer was more detailed and life-oriented.
If he always maintains such high IQ and EQ, life can be a little stressful. So when I heard stories of him being polite but clearheaded, gentle but not without temper in private, I feel happy.
After the interview on Sep. 10, I learned that he declined some pretty good drama invitations, and I understood that he lost some opportunities because he went straight to filming after gaining popularity, and I worried for him.
So I asked him, “do you feel regretful about losing some opportunities?”
Actually Xiaozhan just wants to act, but he does have to fulfill some prior work commitments, some important schedules or activities he can’t decline.
During The Untamed fan meeting in Thailand press conference, he is visibly tired. He arrived in Bangkok in the middle of the night, worked for the entire day, then flew to Milan as soon as it ended. This kind of work schedule is the price of popularity.
But in front of fans during the fan meeting, he still showed his best side, he performed Qu Jin Chen Qing for the first time, it was completely live, and very stable.
I learned that two events invited him to sing, and he requested to sing live for both. I respect this kind of responsibility and attitude towards the audience.
Since Jade Dynasty, in this month of following Xiaozhan I feel like I’ve gone through a level up adventure with him. We passed through the box office level, but there was still the fashion level to come.
That day in a Bangkok bar, when we saw the Milan Fashion Week picture, a friend said he looks “lost and helpless”. I put down my drink and made a post on Weibo, the message of it was, I trust in his learning ability and I know that he will improve.
But later when I saw the gifs from that day, I got a different feeling – he’s just someone who isn’t embarrassed about showing his nervous, unconfident side, and it’s because he’s always so straightforward and honest that he’s able to deliver such sincere performances when acting.
Before he was famous, he excitedly shared with his fans his first time taking the bullet train, his first time being in a hotel room with a big bathtub; and after he got famous he can still openly say that it’s his first time going to Europe.
He is not materialistic and doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not. That’s really hard to do, I think only growing up in an environment with enough love would allow him to have this level of emotional security, so that he doesn’t feel the need to hide or decorate himself. His so-called “feeling of youth” may also stem from this.
So looking back on it, Milan and Abu Dhabi, having the opportunity to look at the world during his work, was a good experience. Even though it wasn’t perfect, it was a part of his growth.
I think the interesting thing about following Xiaozhan is that he might not be perfect and flawless on his first try, but he will always show us growth and improvement.
On 1005, I replied to his Weibo post with the bowl of noodles, and I was immediately buried in 140,000 other comments, it seems like only then did I suddenly realize just how popular he is.
I followed his fans’ efforts and events for Jade Dynasty’s box office, and I saw the support LED screens that fans bought for him in 28 cities. I really think that his fans and his fan union are professional and wholehearted. In the places he can and can’t see, his fans are quietly loving him. In the places he does and doesn’t know, people in the industry who admire him are helping him.
Right now there is a lot of slander about him on the internet, and fans have messaged me asking about a variety of thing. I’m sorry that I will not just say anything I know about him, and I trust that the people in this industry who are actually close to the celebrities will not randomly reveal things on Weibo, as for those who are barely in this industry and trying to start something, just don’t pay them attention. Don’t worry or be upset, at this stage there’s a lot of opportunities he’s turning down, so trust in his choices and watch for his next performance.
Of course, the path of an actor is set to be a difficult one. Many actors have said in interviews, this is an industry where a lot is out of their control, you need skill, but you also need luck and connections.
When filming “Battle Through Heavens” as a youngster, his seniors already told him how difficult the path of an actor is, but he still chose it, so I trust that he’s prepared himself.
A colleague told me, she likes Xiaozhan because of his acting, the kind of acting where he offers up his whole life really stunned her. In my opinion, Xiaozhan’s innate talent and versatility is hard to come by.
During the interview on Sep. 10, I finally had an opportunity to tell him in person that his acting was good, “this summer myself and a lot of people around me began to like you because of your acting, we think you’re a talented actor and we hope that you can continue acting and not waste your skills.”
When I said this, he said “thank you” many times, and at the end he said, “I want too to, who doesn’t!”
In this industry, he’s destined to face all kinds of complicated battles.
In this industry, the most important is not to be weak-hearted, his seniors have stressed this to Xiaozhan.
That buried birthday wish, I’ll put it here —
I came to know you a bit late, but I want to be here for all your growth going forward. I hope that in this industry, you can avoid being tied up by those complicated people and things, and always be happy and free. Listen to what your heart is telling you, and continue toward your bright future without turning back.
After the interview, I was depressed for a whole day and a half, because I feel like I didn’t do a good job.
Maybe because I had pre-planned the main topic of becoming popular, my questions were too focused on this and loose, and his answers were too succinct, even though these were the questions I wanted to ask the most at that time, when I look back, I really didn’t prepare enough.
That night I went to dinner with a fellow reporter who interviewed Xiaozhan before, neither of us had much of an appetite, and she told me that she wasn’t happy with her performance then either and took a month before she got over it.
My article was ultimately saved by two side interviews, it was lacking in his perspective, so that was unfortunate. Especially when later, I saw him say in another interview, “you guys do these interviews and can write an unique article, attract more listeners and readers – that’s your value,” and that shook me. Youqian (Xiaozhan’s nickname) gave us pressure, and I gave him pressure too in the article!
Back then I spoke with my friends in the industry, and we talked about the reasons we admire Xiaozhan, aside from acting the fact that he’s a shachiku/corporate slave is also very relatable. That post “Recording Xiaozhan’s corporate slave moments” was how I first began to understand Xiaozhan.
Back then I joked with friends, he’s not just running by himself, he’s carrying the hopes of all corporate slaves to fly high, and I included that in my article. Haha, I think he saw that.
This “corporate slave”, to me that’s not a characterization, it’s experience, it’s relatable, and it’s part of everyday life. After becoming a famous star, I hope he can maintain that.
Or more accurately speaking, I’m a career casual fan, and I genuinely hope that his career will progress better and better.
My first interview with him had its regrets, and I’m looking forward to the next time. I’ve already thought of the headline, it’s _______.