The second career of Chinese diver-turned-actor Tian Liang has so far been received tepidly, but his latest role has sparked a big debate in China. Tian, a gold medalist in platform diving at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and a bronze medalist in Athens, has been chosen to play Lei Feng, a soldier held up by Mao as an example of selflessness for all of China to follow. The choice of Tian for the role has angered a host of Chinese netizens, who basically argue that Tian is too self-centered, materialistic and publicity-loving to play Lei Feng. Tian was kicked off the Chinese diving team ahead of the 2008 Olympics for too enthusiastically pursuing commercial activities.
China Daily entertainment columnist Raymond Zhou has jumped in and tried to sprinkle a dose of reality on the debate, with a long piece called “It’s only make-believe.” Zhou is not a fan of Tian’s forays into acting thus far, but he defends the choice of the diver to play the role, and reminds readers that casting directors are not interested in their help.
Zhou writes: “…if whoever plays Lei Feng has to live up to the character’s moral standard, that essentially precludes the selection of any entertainment personality, or almost all urban youth of today.”
Zhou goes on to speculate as to why objections have been so strongly expressed:
“I wonder why some people show inordinate enthusiasm for film casting. One of the reasons might be to compensate for their lack of voice in decisions in which they should indeed have a say. A child who is constantly shut up by his parents tends to yell louder when he grows up. If they can control the things that affect them, they may not have the yen to influence filmmakers.”