The "Legend of Zhen Huan", a Chinese TV drama which depicts the power struggle between the concubines of an emperor, has already been a success in Asian countries. Now, it’s about to land in the US, a positive sign that Chinese TV is increasingly ready to move into the international arena.
The desperate housewives are about to get some competition from the "desperate concubines".
As the most popular Chinese TV series of 2012, the Legend of Zhen Huan has charmed both domestic and foreign viewers.
The "Legend of Zhen Huan", a Chinese TV drama which depicts the power struggle between the concubines of an emperor, has already been a success in Asian countries.
The costume drama centres around Zhen Huan and her rise to prominence in the scheme-filled palaces of the Qing Dynasty.
The 76 episode show will be cut down to six episodes, each lasting from 90 minutes to two hours.
Before marching into the States, the drama has already become a hit in Japan. Here’s some comments from viewers there.
One viewer said, "I like how the show recreates that era. Maybe I’ll watch the Dreams of Red Mansions series."
Another said, "It’s a great show, but some of the Chinese idioms are really hard to absorb."
Why this huge success? For Li Xingwen, a senior commentator at Beijing Youth Daily, it’s both the form and the content.
He said, "The drama offers a unique view into the imperial palace, and it’s from the females’ perspective rather than showing the power struggles between the males. In addition, the storyline is really interesting and accomplished with refined costumes. It literally reproduces that particular piece of history and everybody loves it."
Apart from dramas about history, urban tv shows like "A Beautiful Era for Daughter in Laws" have also stirred up enthusiasm for Chinese TV dramas in Africa.
For China, cultural exchange has always been a crucial link for its quest to become an influential world power. However, despite the olive branch from the US in the realm of television drama, China remains more as an importer, rather than an active exporter.
Take our neighbour South Korea for example: in the field of cultural products led by TV dramas, South Korea achieved an incredible export value of about 700 million US dollars in 2011 alone, with more than half from overseas markets.
That number remains around 100 million for China, with two thirds of its TV programs radiating to Asian countries.
The themes are mostly about love, but as the audience’s taste becomes more diversified, apparently that’s not enough.
Li said, "Top of the list, I think we should be able to incorporate different themes into the industry. Like sci-fi series or medical dramas. We’ve seen too many love themed dramas. The supervising departments should encourage that kind of innovation. And also we’ve been remaking a lot of hit shows from abroad, I think it’s about time we made a hit show ourselves."
But Chinese tv dramas do have an edge: they’re updated daily, which caters to itchy viewers.
Generally, for US or Japanese tv series, screenwriters have to rewrite stories according to the ratings, while in China, producers usually choose popular novels to base their scripts on.
But besides creativity in scriptwriting, translation also poses a major problem.
Nevertheless, the Legend of Zhen Huan landing in the States is definitely a positive sign, and an important step in an uphill battle.