“Lu Ding Ji,” or “The Deer and the Cauldron,” has disappointed audiences in seemingly every way, most notably with the performance of its lead actor, Zhang Yishan. Many of the angry reviews lambast “Lu Ding Ji” for its derivative plot and stereotyped characters. The show, in fact, has one of the lowest ratings on Douban, of any series released this year at a dismal 2.5 out of 10.
“Lu Ding Ji” is the latest adaptation of a martial arts novel of the same name by the legendary kung fu writer Louis Cha — better-known by his pen name, Jin Yong. It tells the story of Wei Xiaobao.
According to viewers’ online comments, perhaps the greatest flaw of “Lu Ding Ji” is its 28-year-old male lead, Zhang, who previously had a strong reputation as an actor.
Zhang made his screen debut as a child actor in 2003, then earned plaudits for lively performances in the 2004 classic family drama “Home With Kids” and crime thriller “Yu Zui” in 2016.
Before the premiere of “Lu Ding Ji,” many of Zhang’s fans had hoped he would bring his natural charm and charisma, as well as his 17 years of experience in the industry, to the lead role.
But his latest efforts are being panned as “farcical and exaggerated,” as though he’s determined to make his character, Wei, seem comical rather than clever.
The series’ widely noted acting issues appear to stem from poor writing. According to Zeng Yuli, a commentator for The Paper, the series’ “destroyed” all of the appeal of the beloved martial arts novel.
“The original fiction is both a comedy and a tragedy, making readers feel the chill of history and the decay of a bygone era,” Zeng wrote in a recent commentary. “The series seems to eliminate the ‘deep’ side of the story, and we only see Wei Xiaobao gaining power, money, and women — just like a farce.”
Ma Jin, the director of “Lu Ding Ji,” has acknowledged that, while the first few episodes were indeed “messy,” no one actor is entirely to blame.
“Some people say ‘Lu Ding Ji’ is a tragedy, some say it’s a comedy, and some say it’s a serious drama,” Ma told The Beijing News. “I just think of it as a farce based on a very abstract version of Wei’s life and experiences.”