Moving forward, Chinese dramas are pushing actresses to portray women who are modernized in attitudes and mindsets, even when they are supposed to depict women set during ancient times, and without time travel involved. Actresses are getting harder times if they are portraying a weak girl. It is the least favourite type of character these days. They are considered too dull and boring.
I believe, what people ask to see most in female characters is, first she should be a warrior, or if not, then she should at least be brilliant. If she’s not a warrior and not smart at the same time, then she better be energetic and funny, or cute like a bubble.
But what if, a female lead character isn't strong, smart, or bubbly at all?
Has there ever been any successful actress portraying a physically and mentally weak girl who is also not funny or fun? Are they really dull and boring? Are they annoying?
Let’s take a step back and restudy some of the movies and dramas made in the ’90s.
1. JOEY WONG
A long time ago, Hong Kong actresses such as Joey Wong, Sharla Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Chingmy Yau, Brigitte Lin, etc. used to be very popular. It is tough to argue about who is the best because all of them are equally the best!
But among them, one person has a more special weakness in everybody’s heart. Because her sweetness is considered the most gentle and delicate, that person is Joey, the person with teary and small sparkling eyes that are so enchanting like magic.
No matter what a versatile actress Joey was, almost all the actresses of her time were all equal in talents and beauty with her. They were all proven with the ability to portray any type of character as much as she could. It should be a very challenging time to get noticed. One of the many reasons that made her stand out from the crowd of talents was her ability to portray a weak young girl, with a type of innocence and sweetness, unlike anyone else.
She epically played as a spirit or ghost so many times that I lost count already. Usually, her ghostly characters are feeble and weak. She would be poised and elegant with a mark of maturity. She would also simply be a beautiful woman with a pure, kind heart, nothing else, and that is more than enough for anyone to fall in love with her. She did not have to be funny. She did not have to be a fun person. She did not have to be powerful. She did not have to be smart. Sometimes, not that brave either. She brought men more trouble than happiness, and their life would be easier without her. To save her, it would even cost them their lives. But she is loved because she is herself.
The redundancy of her roles never bothered me. She’d played tons of other roles too, but people seem to not get enough of her fragile ghostly characters, the most. Till this day, nobody had ever surpassed in replaying her classic roles as Nie Xiao Qian.
2. SHUI LING
- Tears in Heaven
If you heard of the famous Taiwanese author, Qiong Yao, I would be listing quite a few of her drama-novels below because she tends to write very female-centric novels, but lots of the main girls are still huge damsels in distress. Are they really boring?
This drama starred the famous Athena Chu from Stephen Chow’s A Chinese Odyssey: Pandora’s Box, and the ever so beautiful Shui Ling whose sweetness is so gentle like water (just like what her name translates). Athena Chu and Shui Ling must look after their younger siblings after their father died from an accident caused by Vincent Jiao.
Shui Ling’s character in here plays as the gentle and nice lady. I know she is unique the first moment I saw her. But if I analyze her character, she is very ordinary and nothing too special. I am not annoyed one bit by her that she is a fragile girl. She’s beautiful and delicate as a vase, if I’m a man I would fall in love with her too, just the way she is, and want to protect her also. What if she’s ugly? Would people be nice about her flat character if she is actually ugly?
I got to admit that she is beautiful and that it might be why I like her. After all, this drama is also a perfect portrayal of, the hero loves the beauty, and the beauty loves the hero.
Does anyone think it's probably easier to play strong and funny women? Because people will only pity the damsels in distress if their beauty is exceptional enough?
Honestly, Shui Ling’s character did not even involve any character development, and again, there is nothing else besides that she is pretty and sweet at the same time. She isn’t revengeful like Athena’s character. She's not that brave or courageous. She isn’t smart or cunning. She isn’t fun to be with too. Both mentally and physically, she is weak. She is only a very traditional, mature and elegant ancient woman. What makes me care about rooting for this type of female lead? How come she is not dull? Maybe it’s her acting that I liked. Just because she only knows how to be kind and nothing else, doesn’t mean she isn’t human and doesn’t have feelings. What’s excellent about Shui Ling is, she knows how to act like a human, and there is human blood running through her veins. She is so convincing when her character feels hurt. She emotes all sorts of feelings so well. When she’s on screen, it always feels like watching something real, so you don’t get bored.
Also, Qiong Yao is a great writer, and I just want to see where the story will lead Shui Ling. This show is really story driven!
3. VIVIAN CHEN
- Plum Blossom Scar
Another drama where the hero loves the beauty and the beauty loves the hero. Some people might not find Vivian pretty enough, maybe because of annoying roles she’d done in some other dramas. She did pull off a very innocent look in this show, and she looks pretty to me. Instead of being street smart, Qiong Yao wrote her as another super weak woman like Shui Ling’s character from Tears in Heaven. There isn’t anything particularly special about her besides that she is beautiful and has a kind heart. Was she annoying or boring in this show? No, at least not to me. I still think it’s still quite a beautiful love story and nice drama overall. Her character isn’t that interesting, it’s not fun, not cute, and cries so much because her life is full of sadness, but I still root for her. Like Shui Ling’s role, there isn’t any character development in her either. I guess Qiong Yao is just such a good writer that her stories are always interesting enough; the characters can be ordinary people and don’t need to have peculiar attitudes and aspirations.
4. YUE LING
- Ghost Husband
This is another Qiong Yao’s story-driven drama. I don’t think there is anything special about actress Yue Ling too in this show besides that her face is lovely and pretty, and her character is very kind-hearted and loyal. She isn’t smart or fun, but she glows with a sweet maturity and poise. She cried so much, probably even more than Vivian and Shui Ling. But she doesn’t come off as annoying or boring at all. I like her the way she is too. Shui Ling, Vivian Chen, and Yue Ling played almost the same type of character, but they don’t give me any déjà vu effect like I see something get copied and pasted over and over. They are so lively that they are their own person.
5. LEUNG SIU BING
- Hitman Chronicles
Leung Siu Bing played a dual role in this movie. One is Yin Niang; her master brought her up as an assassin to help her revenge. The other is Ying Ying, a sweet girl from a wealthy family.
Ying Ying is weak, not that smart, not funny either. But, I guess I’m breaking the rule this time because she can be fun since she is playful! I’m trying to find those weak female characters that are empty. I’m looking for those who should only be beautiful and sweet and nothing else. They should be dull because of how characterless they are, but they did not turn out very dull in the end. Ying Ying is beautiful, friendly, and playful. And playful is the opposite of what makes you dull. Ying Ying is obviously not boring and annoying.
She likes playing tag, hide and seek, sight-seeing, swinging, flying a kite, catching butterflies, etc. Those things might not be what people consider as fun in today’s view, because she is so simple-minded and restricted that her only accessible hobbies are a little childish sometimes. I wouldn’t say she is overly naughty and bubbly; she is only smiley and a delighted girl. There is still a more mature mark on her than being a little girl; she’s very elegant and poised overall.
Her laughs alone make her special, not her talents and abilities because she doesn’t really have them. She played the perfect weak woman who is highly likeable because of her smile.
6. RUBY LIN
Ruby’s portrayal of princess Zi Wei is another perfect weak woman that isn’t hateful. She is smart, but not a tricky person. She’s kind, and she understands what is right and wrong. I might be breaking the rule here again because even though she is physically weak, she can be mentally strong. Lots of ladies I mentioned earlier are mentally strong in their own ways, too, but it isn't super apparent. For Zi Wei, there aren’t any other qualities besides nice and brave. I don’t think she is that fun to be with unless you are Er Kang and likes poetries. She is not funny or too playful, either. She is another one of those Qiong Yao’s elegant and poised ladies. And she isn’t boring just because she is so mature. Definitely not annoying either. Her gentleness is what makes her attractive; at least that is how people’s taste is like in the old days.
I really don’t want to mention the big mess done to HZGG in 2011. But since I already brought up Zi Wei, it might be a good comparison between modern actresses and veteran actresses. I think the new actresses portrayal of weak women are all wrong because they tried too hard to be extra weak. They don’t play their characters like sensible people that can practically exist in real life. If people like them really do exist, something is wrong with their heads because they are a bunch of abnormal cry babies. When people say anything to them, that’s nothing offensive, and they will just cry. I consider the new drama as some comedies or funny parodies to mock ancient women. It's hard for modern people to correctly comprehend ancient women now, and they would go to an extreme.
Maybe people no longer want to watch weak women, because this misinterpretation that ancient women always cry, is way too overly done.
Sorry if this article is overly long, thank you if you happen to read the whole thing.
Personally, I love most of the veteran actresses. They can act very gentle in a more natural and non-pretentious way. They make it look convincing that being weak women is a valuable virtue in history.
I’m not fond of new actresses portraying ancient weak women. I think they are better off being warriors or hyperactive bubbles. Luckily, I like to watch female warriors more so I can still survive C-drama land.
- Do you guys also think this theme of “weak women” actually once worked pretty well in the past?
- Does it still work today too?