Cecilia Liu Shishi must be thanking her lucky stars that from China's massive pool of doe-eyed starlets -TNP
CHINESE actress Cecilia Liu Shishi must be thanking her lucky stars that from China's massive pool of doe-eyed starlets, she was the one offered the lead role in Scarlet Heart.
The 35-episode romantic palace drama - now airing on Channel 8 on weekdays at 7pm - defied all initial expectations and became one of China's biggest sleeper hits in the second half of last year.
Loved by audiences for its combination of modern-day elements and the mystical allure of the Qing Dynasty, Scarlet Heart's storyline features Liu's 21st-century office-lady character time-travelling into the historical world of suave Manchu princes.
The Chinese production swiftly raced from China across East Asia, including Taiwan and South Korea.
It also propelled Liu, a svelte 24-year-old Beijing native and classically trained ballerina, into television's A-list.
Prior to Scarlet Heart, which co-stars veteran male actors Nicky Wu, Kevin Cheng and Damian Lau, Liu cut her teeth working mostly on martial arts dramas.
Since 2005, she has been a regular - albeit not memorable - face on Chinese television, with supporting roles in The Legend Of The Condor Heroes (2008), Chinese Paladin III (2009) and The Tale Of The Royal Seamstress (2010).
In an interview with entertainment portal Sina.com, where she discussed her nascent popularity, Liu stressed that she was no showbiz newbie who found fame on the strength of a single project.
She said: "I'm not a rookie, I've been acting for the past seven years.
"Without those previous small-screen experiences that I've accumulated, it wouldn't have been possible for me to portray Ma'ertai Ruoxi (her character in Scarlet Heart) convincingly. "It has taken me many small, gradual steps to reach where I am today."
Today, the accolades are flying in her direction fast and furious.
Last year, she bagged a handful of awards in China, including Favourite Actress Among College Students during the 2011 China Student Television Festival and Anhui Television's Most Popular Actress.
Her star is certainly rising, going by her upcoming works.
She plays the lead in new Taiwanese movie The Next Magic, as well as An Angel's Happiness (opposite Taiwanese star Ming Dao), which will mark her debut foray into idol drama territory.
Ever since Scarlet Heart, Liu's face has also graced the covers of publications such as Modern Women and Asia Weekly.
Oddly, while the show has taken large parts of Asia by storm, response from local viewers has been muted.
Nevertheless, local followers tell The New Paper that Liu holds her own next to her older male counterparts.
"I think her looks are appropriate for the part," said planning analyst Kelly Wu, 30, a fan of the series.
"She appears to be smart and modern, not the typical classical Oriental beauty, which makes it more convincing that she had travelled back in time."
Agreed teacher Yang Xiu Ping, in her late 40s, who praised Liu for being "very competent" in her role.
"Admittedly, she's slightly overshadowed by the two male leads (Nicky Wu and Kevin Cheng), as both of them are so handsome.
"I've heard some of my friends comment that she's not extremely beautiful, but I don't think that's important."
However, with fame comes inevitable scrutiny and brickbats, something Liu seems to have taken in her stride in an interview with Sina.com.
When quizzed about online criticism over her "plain looks", "pimples on her face" and speculation that she had gone under the knife, she gave a witty reply.
"I can't force everyone to like how I look, can I? Didn't some netizens comment that I look very plain? If I had gone for plastic surgery and still look 'plain', that's very sad."
Fans absorbed in Scarlet Heart's intense love triangle between the characters of Liu, Wu and Cheng would be surprised to know that off-screen, the actress hardly interacts with her co-stars.
"Seriously, I don't really know them outside of their characters," Liu told Chinese showbiz portal Yule.com.
"On set, I'd just call them Fourth Prince (Wu) and Eighth Prince (Cheng), their names on the show. Even till today, it's the same when I meet them at events. I don't ever call them Nicky or Kevin."
This article was first published in The New Paper.
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