Nestled in East China’s Zhejiang Province lies Hengdian World Studios, a vast expanse recognized as the globe’s largest film and TV base. This eminent studio city, pulsating with stories and opportunities, magnetically draws countless young aspirants from various corners of China and beyond, all with the shared dream of gracing the big or small screen.
Some come hoping to replicate the meteoric rise of Wang Baoqiang, who went from being an extra to a celebrated actor. Others arrive with modest aspirations, simply wishing to dip their toes into the world of acting.
Among this influx of hopefuls is Zhang Aiyue, a spirited woman in her 50s, hailing from Harbin in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province. Her perseverance and passion bore fruit when, on the night of October 27, she, alongside three other background actors, clinched the Best Hengpiao (a term for the Hengdian drifters) Actor Award at the Wenrong Awards. These accolades are named in honor of Hengdian World Studios’ founder, Xu Wenrong, and are designed to celebrate and spur on emerging talents, urging them to chase their dreams and hone their craft with unyielding dedication.
The esteemed jury members reiterated that the primary essence of the award has always been consistent: to uplift and motivate the grassroots workforce of the film and TV industry, especially the myriad extras who often go unnoticed.
Zhang’s tryst with Hengdian’s world of movies and shows spanned over six transformative years. Her journey, which she fondly recalls as a twist of fate, began when she accompanied a film crew to Hengdian and then serendipitously landed another project soon after the initial one concluded.
Being immersed in the enchanting realm of films and TV invigorated Zhang. She expressed, “Hengdian is the land of dreams. If you pour your heart into learning, even if stardom eludes you, the dream of becoming an actor is well within reach.”
However, the road to success is littered with tales of those who started with a fiery passion but abandoned their dreams midway, daunted by the colossal shadows of industry giants like Wang Baoqiang. Zhang’s journey wasn’t without its share of doubts. She reminisced, “As a middle-aged individual, I grappled with the prospect of navigating Hengdian’s vast landscape alone. Yet, following my heart’s call, these six years have been nothing short of enriching and joyous.”
In the heart of Hengdian, one encounters a mosaic of talents. There are blazing stars like Wang Hedi and Xu Kai, background actors who’ve spent years without uttering a line on screen, and a host of accomplished actors with solid credentials, albeit lesser-known.
Tan Limin, a seasoned Hengdian actor, shared his perspective, “Everyone arrives with dreams of becoming the next Wang Baoqiang. For budding actors, Hengdian offers a cornucopia of opportunities. But it’s imperative to be resilient, embrace solitude, and relentlessly polish one’s craft.”
Zhang, besides her on-screen commitments, generously imparts her knowledge, offering complimentary training sessions to newbie extras at the Hengdian Actors Guild, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Current data reveals an impressive figure: over 130,000 extras are registered with the guild, with 8,000-plus having made Hengdian their home.
A young entrant, Miao, who recently acquired his guild certificate, encapsulated the spirit of Hengdian, stating, “It’s where dreams are birthed, replete with boundless possibilities. Here, with courage, everyone can be their own hero.”