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Gong Jun, star of the TV series Word of Honor, which is coming to Netflix.

Word of Honor star Gong Jun on how popular wuxia series was his ‘big breakthrough’, and the work he put into his challenging role

  • Word of Honor, which is coming to Netflix, is a big hit in China, with more than 1.2 billion total views
  • Male lead Gong Jun talks about how his challenging role has brought him new fans and plenty of work

A period drama series with no recognisable stars, Word of Honor is one of the biggest sleeper hit TV series in China this year.

The 36-part series racked up over 1.2 billion views when it was exclusively broadcast on Youku from February to March. The show’s first episode alone has accumulated over 8.7 million views on YouTube; it will next be available for streaming on Netflix. Its success has made its two male leads, Zhang Zhehan and Gong Jun, into overnight sensations.

Gong has 15 million fans on China’s microblogging site Weibo and is the brand spokesman for various brands including L’Oréal, Braun and Roewe. He tells the Post in an interview that his new-found fame has given him a lot more work. “Thanks to Word of Honor, I’ve got a lot more fans,” he says. “I need to work harder to polish my acting skills in return for their support.”

Adapted from online fiction Tianyake by Priest, Word of Honor revolves around the bond of two young and handsome martial arts maestros, Zhou Zishu (played by Zhang) and Wen Kexing (Gong). Word of Honor co-director Ma Huagan said recently that the relationship between the two male protagonists involves friendship and brotherly love.

“Being castaways from wuxia society, they start at the lowest points in their lives. Zhou has only three years to live [after a big injury]. Wen is living in abject misery after leaving the Valley of Ghosts. [As the show progresses], they support each other and grow.”

Gong says Wen and Zhou save each other from those low points. “I listened to the audio version of the online fiction to understand Wen’s character. He is a complex and fickle character. He is gentle and delicate, but harbours hatred due to a childhood trauma. Being the chief of the Valley of Ghosts, he is a ruthless planner and a freewheeling spirit. He displays different character traits in different stages of his life.”

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Gong adds that Wen is a challenging role to play. “The most difficult part is showing his capriciousness. He is very emotional, so there can be many changes in emotion in a single scene. It’s difficult to switch from being ecstatic in one second to being apoplectic with rage the next.”

An acting graduate from Donghua University in Shanghai, Gong, a Chengdu native, made his acting debut in period drama series Sword Chaos (2015). He then played an honest and courageous prince in the period drama series Lost Love in Times (2017).

While he played the male leading roles respectively in the TV series Lust for Gold (2019) and The Love Equations (2020), he became a household name only after Word of Honor gained viral word of mouth for its spectacular visuals and complex characterisations.

Gong Jun (left) and Zhang Zhehan in a still from Word of Honor.

 Gong says playing the role is a big breakthrough in his showbiz career. “I love the role a lot as Wen is a courageous soul who is bent on pursuing what he wants in life.”


Currently in Xiamen shooting Mango TV’s romance TV series Dream Garden, Gong will next be seen in that show as a professional counsellor opposite a relationship blogger played by Qiao Xin.

Gong says he has to study the profession of psychological counselling for his latest role. “I strive to explore the psychology and life experiences of each role I play. My acting teachers taught me to act with real feelings. I always spend much time studying the script. There’s no short-cut to success as it takes hard work.”

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He says his role model is famous Chinese actor Chen Kun, who won best actor at the 2010 Hundred Flowers Awards for his performance in the action-thriller Painted Skin. “I particularly like him and want to work with him. His acting skills and professionalism are admirable and worthy of learning.”

Gong Jun (right) and Zhang Zhehan in a still from Word of Honor.

Gong considers himself lucky to have attained widespread popularity just five years after his debut performance. “Of course there has been some difficult time,” he recalls. “However, the support from the audiences makes everything worthwhile.

“Also, I am always grateful to all the production staff. Doing the wire-flying scenes in martial arts dramas sometimes makes me feel exhausted, but the production staff and martial arts instructors have an even harder time than me. I always remind myself and my team to be humble and serious, and to prioritise work over other things. Only by doing so can we go further in showbiz.”

Word of Honor will start streaming on Netflix on May 28.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: How hard work pays off for ‘overnight’ star of TV drama