Aarif Rahman rules as 'most handsome emperor'

Hong Kong actor Aarif Rahman visited the tombstone of Emperor Gaozong after he was done with playing the role. -- PHOTO: TVB
Hong Kong actor Aarif Rahman visited the tombstone of Emperor Gaozong after he was done with playing the role. -- PHOTO: TVB

Actor Aarif Rahman plays Emperor Gaozong in his first TV role and admires him for his devotion to Empress Wu Zetian

Netizens have bestowed upon Hong Kong actor Aarif Rahman the title of the "most handsome emperor" for his role in TV period drama The Empress Of China.

The 28-year-old plays Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty in the drama that drew flak from the authorities in China for the cleavage-baring costumes of female characters.

The much talked about series, which follows the rise and love life of China's only empress, Wu Zetian, has boosted the actor's exposure in the region.

After eight months of filming ended, Rahman visited Emperor Gaozong's tombstone in Xi'an, China.

"It may be a TV drama, but it's based on history. We tend to forget that these characters were once alive.

"They are real people and have made a huge impact on us. He was a king. It's only right that we pay our respects," says Rahman, whose mother is Hong Kong Chinese and father is a mix of Chinese, Malay and Arab ancestry.

He was speaking at The Empress Of China's regional press conference in Hong Kong last month.

Also present were his co-stars - Hong Kong actress Kathy Chow and Chinese leading lady Fan Bingbing, who plays Empress Wu.

The drama was pulled off the air in China in December due to "technical reasons" and returned a week later with close-up shots of the actresses, sans the display of bosoms.

China's TV regulator later explained that the re-edit was needed because of "some unhealthy images for minors", among other problems.

Singapore and Hong Kong audiences will get full view of the outfits, albeit with digital fabric added to cover up the women's bosoms.

So far, only Taiwan has aired the series in its original form.

StarHub is showing the Hong Kong version here because the drama is airing on Hong Kong channel TVB First (StarHub TV Channel 860).

When a female reporter asks if it is a pity that the costumes had to be digitally altered, Rahman shoots back in Mandarin: "Are you so eager to see the cleavages? Don't you have it too?"

He later adds: "It's pretty interesting that people back then had a higher tolerance for revealing clothes as compared to now."

Rahman is just grateful that the series is able to see the light of day. After all, it marks his small-screen debut.

He recalls how he was a bundle of nerves on the first day of the shoot.

"I've never been so nervous, I was shaking and I couldn't say my lines. The pressure was so great," says the actor, who has starred in movies Bruce Lee, My Brother (2010) and Cold War (2012).

He says he is moved by the depth of his character's devotion to Empress Wu.

"I hope I can be a man like my character. I feel that he is perfect and really great," he says.

"After filming a period drama, I've come to realise that people in the past were more selfless. They lived for others.

"Nowadays, people are more self-centred."

nggwen@sph.com.sg

The Empress Of China airs on demand on TVB First (StarHub TV Channel 860).