Ben Affleck may be the next Batman, but guess who the next Xiaolongnü (Little Dragon Maiden) is going to be? Producer-screenwriter Yu Zheng finally announced who he’d selected to play the female lead in his upcoming adaptation of Return of the Condor Heroes (神雕侠侣). Amid heavy speculation that the role would go to Angelababy, Guo Biting, or even Yuan Shanshan, Yu Zheng decided on the one name no one would have thought of: Michelle Chen.
The revelation led to much criticism online. Although Michelle shot to fame after starring in the 2011 Taiwanese romance film You Are the Apple of My Eye (那些年，我们一起追的女孩), many netizens feel she lacks the physical characteristics requisite to portray Xiaolongnü. “The string on which Xiaolongnü sleeps will be crushed by her weight,” some wrote.
The hashtag “Yu Zheng, get out of the entertainment industry” soon became a hot topic on Sina Weibo, but like always, Yu Zheng has stuck to his guns. “I dare to guarantee that after Michelle’s costume photos are released,” he said in an interview, “no one will say she doesn’t look like Xiaolongnü.”
Now that the photos have been released (there’s another one behind the cut), you can take a look and decide for yourself. Does Michelle Chen fit your image of one of the most ethereal beauties in the wuxia universe?
According to Yu Zheng, 66 females auditioned for the role, but only Michelle and Angelababy stood out as most resembling Xiaolongnü. Initially, he doubted that Michelle, who was second-to-last in line, would be suitable for the role, but he changed his mind immediately after seeing her in costume. Since Angelababy was already involved in filming another project, the part went to Michelle instead.
“She’s very celestial, as celestial as Liu Yifei,” said Yu Zheng when asked to compare Michelle with Crystal Liu Yifei, who portrayed Xiaolongnü in the 2006 adaptation. “But she’s also not as soft as Liu Yifei, who felt like a younger sister to Huang Xiaoming in their collaboration. Michelle seems both like an aunt [gugu, i.e. what Yang Guo initially calls Xiaolongnü] and an immortal.”
Chen Xiao, who is slated to play the male lead Yang Guo in this adaptation, was in Beijing when the auditions took place, but reportedly remarked, “Very celestial, very pretty” after seeing Michelle’s tryout photos. “The photos I sent to him weren’t even Photoshopped,” Yu Zheng added. “They were all taken with my phone.”
Since Yu Zheng has been known to drastically alter storylines in his adaptations, netizens have also been worried about the inevitable embellishments in his version of Return of the Condor Heroes. As usual, Yu Zheng claims that the changes won’t be big: “The basic structure won’t change. What I’ve touched are the details.”
However, he did reveal that he would be editing characters like Huang Rong, Zhen Zhibing, and Li Mochou in order to flesh out their characters more. Huang Rong, who is beloved in the prequel Legend of the Condor Heroes but usually becomes slightly insufferable in ROCH, will now have a stronger sense of protecting her family, in the hopes that viewers will understand her attitude toward Yang Guo. Likewise, Li Mochou will have an increased number of motives for her villainous acts.
The one change some viewers might not take kindly to is that of Zhen Zhibing, the Quanzhen Sect student who falls in love with Xiaolongnü and later takes advantage of her. Yu Zheng says he plans to make him very stupid, foolish, and adorable, and that the rape scene will give viewers a very different feeling. He is quick to add that of course Xiaolongnü won’t feel anything for Zhen Zhibing, since her heart belongs to Yang Guo and she sees all other people as if they were flowers or trees.
During the interview, Yu Zheng revealed a few of the other roles in the drama, which will be outlined below in a table for the sake of brevity. Lu Yi is also in talks to join the cast, but nothing definite has resulted yet.
|Yang Guo||Chen Xiao||Male lead|
|Xiaolongnü||Michelle Chen||Female lead|
|Li Mochou||Viann Zhang Xinyu||Villain|
|Lu Zhanyuan||Sean Chen Xiang||Li Mochou’s lover|
|Lin Chaoying||Qin Hailu||Founder of Ancient Tomb Sect|
|Wang Chongyang||Yan Kuan||Co-founder of Quanzhen Sect|
|Yang Kang||Li Chen||Yang Guo’s father (guest appearance)|
|Mu Nianci||Zhao Liying||Yang Guo’s mother|
|Kublai Khan||Jiro Wang||Mongol army commander|