While some might say that the biggest winner at the box office over the Chinese New Year holidays was Battle at Lake Changjin 2 – the film has already grossed over Rmb2.5 billion ($393 million) – others made the case for another victor.
Young actor Yi Yangqianxi starred in two films released during the holiday period. In addition to his role in Lake Changjin 2, he was also the lead in Nice View, which scored the second biggest ticket haul during the period, raking in as much as Rmb600 million.
The success of the two movies means that, as of midnight on February 2, the cumulative box office of the five films in which Yi has starred has exceeded Rmb10 billion, making the 21 year-old the youngest actor in Chinese film history to have reached that milestone.
The Hunan-native made his screen debut at 12, becoming one of the three members of the group TF Boys, along with Wang Junkai and Wang Yuan (they are unrelated). With upbeat music (they sang mostly about studying hard and serving the nation) and a wholesome image, TF Boys became the hottest boyband in the country.
By 2019 the three were getting too old for ‘boy bandom’ and they each went it alone with their own show business careers. Yi pivoted into acting, while the two Wangs have stuck with singing. Yi’s breakthrough role came with the lead part in the historical TV drama The Longest Day in Chang’an. Audiences complained that his acting was robotic, but Yi was undeterred. He later appeared as the lead in the drama Better Days opposite actress Zhou Dongyu. His quiet performance in that film (about school bullying) started to establish him as a serious actor.
In the first and second instalments of Lake Changjin, Yi plays a soldier in the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA), fighting American forces during the Korean War. The first film in the franchise toppled Wolf Warrior as the highest grossing movie of all time in China, reaching Rmb5.7 billion and Yi reprises the same role in the sequel.
He gets to show more range in Nice View, which tells the story of Jing Hao, a young man in Shenzhen. After his mother dies and his father disappears, Jing is left to raise his little sister, who suffers from a congenital heart disease.
The young man makes a living as a mobile phone repairman, living paycheck to paycheck. He later finds out that his sister requires expensive heart surgery. Jing uses the little money he has saved (and borrowed) to acquire a batch of second-hand mobile phones, thinking he can fix them up and then flip them for a profit. The plan backfires when the local government announces a crackdown on reselling of smartphones. But thanks to help from his friends and his own determination, Jing manages to turn things around.
The film is reminiscent of another drama My Sister, which followed a plotline about a sister who gives up her future to raise her younger brother (a choice that is forced upon her, and explores gender expectations in China). But in this instance, it is purely the love for his sibling that keeps Jing going.
Director Wen Muye, who previously directed the 2018 dark comedy Dying to Survive, says the film conveys the message that miracles – which also happens to be the Chinese name of the film – can happen and that people who work hard can get their fair share of good luck.
“In the film, audiences will be impressed by how the characters face up to the difficulties in life and never give up,” he told local media.
The movie has received positive reviews for depicting the everyday struggles of ordinary people. But it is Yi’s performance as Jing that’s drawn some of the biggest reaction, with plenty of appreciation for his acting, which has been described as “mature” and “moving” to watch.
“The current Yi Yangqianxi is like a diamond in the rough. Every filmmaker is dying to work with him, hoping that this young man with enormous potential will have his next breakthrough in their own film. And besides, who doesn’t want all the internet traffic, attention and box office? Yi is the hottest commodity in show business: he has a huge fanbase, a great image and more importantly, almost no negative media coverage,” concludes Jiemian.
Yi’s squeaky-clean image also makes him hugely popular among advertisers. He now endorses a wide selection of brands that include luxury carmaker BMW, Tiffany’s and domestic beverage brand Genki Forest.
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