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Top 5 Chinese TV Dramas Summer 2017

Not a day goes by without television dramas becoming a trending topic on Chinese social media. Some Chinese hit TV drama’s took over 17 years of preparation, others have over a billion views – this is an overview of the five dramas that are trending this summer.

Manya Koetse

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Not a day goes by without television dramas becoming a trending topic on Chinese social media. Some Chinese hit TV drama’s took over 17 years of preparation, others have over a billion views. This is an overview of the five dramas that are trending this summer by What’s on Weibo.

The popularity of Chinese television dramas continues to grow – not just within China, but also internationally.

Xinhua News recently featured a story about Vietnamese youth getting hooked on dramas from the PRC. But many people from other countries outside of China are also getting more addicted to Chinese television dramas. On various online video platforms, such as Viki.com, thousands of drama fans volunteer to subtitle dramas to make them accessible to people who don’t understand the language.

A continuing trend over the last decade is the huge popularity of Chinese costume dramas. What is noticeable is that TV dramas relating to the Sino-Japanese war, previously one of the most popular historical genres, now seem to have become less popular.

Based on the popularity charts on Weibo, Sohu TV, and Baidu, these are the five hottest Chinese TV drama this summer.

 

#1. Princess Agents 楚乔传

Drama origin: Mainland China
Genre: Historical drama, romance, action
Broadcast start: 27 December 2016, Hunan TV
Episodes: 58
Starring: Zhao Liying aka Zanilia Zhao 赵丽颖/ Lin Genxin aka Kenny Lin 林更新 / Dou Xiao aka Shawn Dou 窦骁 / Li Qin 李沁 / Wang Yanlin 王彦霖 / Niu Junfeng 牛骏峰

The recent popularity of Princess Agents in China is enormous. Not only is the series constantly in the top trending lists on Sina Weibo, it also received over 2 billion views on Youku alone this month.

Princess Agents (楚乔传 Chu Qiao Chuan) is adapted from a novel written by Xiao Xiang Donger (潇湘冬儿). The story takes place during the time of the Western Wei (535-557), a period of chaos, where ordinary citizens are kidnapped and turned into slaves.

One of these slaves is the young and rebellious girl Chu Qiao, played by the pretty Zanilia Zhao. The story starts with Chu Qiao, suffering from amnesia, finding herself in a group of young female slaves who are used for entertainment for the rich lords. Dropped on a field exposed to a group of wolves, they become hunting targets in a rich man’s game.

After a bloody battlefield, in which she puts up a fight against wolves and arrows, the fierce Chu Qiao is the only one to survive. She is brought into the powerful family of Yu Wenyue (Lin Gengxin) as a maid. Her sister already serves in this household, and Chu vows to rescue her sister and flee from the situation.

The story follows Chu throughout her brave journey to keep herself and the people she loves safe from harm, and to destroy the injustice that is taking place in the world around her. She will do anything to reach her goals – even if it means becoming a spy.

Princess Agents has everything fans of Chinese dramas usually like; it is a story full of love, action, and conspiracies, in a historical setting with lush costumes and a lavish set, along with plenty of special effects that make the scenes more spectacular.

On Weibo, the topic of Princess Agents has received over 4.8 billion views. Many netizens praise Zanilia Zhao for her acting skills, and the fact that a fierce woman has the main role in this drama is something that many drama lovers seem to appreciate.

Available for viewing on YouTube with English Subtitles.

 

#2. Midnight Diner 深夜食堂

Drama Origin: Mainland China, previously also released in Japan and South-Korea.
Genre: Human drama, comedy, food
Broadcast start: 12 June 2017 (network Beijing TV, Zhejiang TV)
Episodes: 40
Starring: Huang Lei 黄磊 / Zhao Youting aka Mark Chao 赵又廷 / Hai Qing 海清

Midnight Diner previously came out as a Japanese TV drama in 2009 (Shinya Shokudo), and later was remade in South-Korea. Now it is time for China’s adaptation of the drama, which revolves around the happenings at a special restaurant that is only open in between midnight and 7am. The restaurant owner, played by famous actor Huang Lei, does not like to talk much – but he does love to cook while his customers share their personal stories.

The series is a popular topic on Sina Weibo, where netizens have heated debates about it. They compare the drama to the previous adaptations, and share their own restaurant stories and recipes from the Midnight Diner kitchen.

Despite its popularity, the drama is also receiving a lot of criticism for its “exaggerated acting” and “awkward lines.” Many fans say that the restaurant owner in the Chinese version is making weird food choices and they also complain that the show is not ‘Chinese’ enough.

 

#3. Rush to the Dead Summer 夏至未至

Drama origin: Mainland China
Genre: Romance, Youth drama
Broadcast start: 11 June 2017
Episodes: 46
Starring: Chen Xuedong aka Cheney Chen 陈学冬 / Zheng Shuang 郑爽 / Bai Jingting 白敬亭 / Xia Zitong 夏梓桐 / Chai Biyun 柴碧云 / Pang Hangchen 庞瀚辰 / Wang Yuwen 王玉雯 / Chao Zhang 张超 / Zhengge Huizi 郑合惠子

Rush to the Dead Summer (夏至未至) is a TV drama based on the novel by Guo Jingming (郭敬明) that follows a group friends during a time span of ten years as they go from their highschool life and each start their own life in society.

Many fans have been waiting a long time for this TV drama to come out, as its airing was already announced in the summer of 2016. By now, its official Weibo account has well over 1.6 million followers.

The theme song of the TV drama (video above) is also very popular. The song, titled “First Memory” (最初的记忆) is by Taiwanese singer Lala Hsu.

 

#4. White Deer Plain 白鹿原

Drama origin: Mainland China
Genre: Contemporary historical drama
Broadcast start: May 10 2017, Anhui TV, Zhejiang TV
Episodes: 85
Starring: Zhang Jiayi, He Bing, Qin Hailu, Liu Peiqi, Li Hongtao, and more.

The preparation and production of White Deer Plain was certainly not rushed; it reportedly took 17 years before this TV drama finally went on air. The drama plot is based on the award-winning Chinese literary classic by Chen Zhongshi (陈忠实) of the same name from 1993.

This work’s success in China has previously been compared to that of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. White Deer Plain was previously also turned into a movie (2011).

The historic epic follows the stories of people from several generations living on the ‘White Deer Plain,’ or North China Plain in Shanxi province, during the first half of the 20th century. This tumultuous period sees the Republican Period, the Japanese invasion, and the early days of the People’s Republic of China.

The drama has received an 8.9 star review from netizens on Douban.

 

#5. The Legend of Dragon Pearl 龙珠传奇

Drama origin: Mainland China
Genre: Costume, romance, idol drama
Broadcast start: 5 May 2017, Anhui TV
Episodes: 90
Starring: Yang Zi aka Andy Yang 杨紫/ Qin Junjie 秦俊杰/Shu Chang aka Jennifer Shu 舒畅

The Legend of Dragon Pearl (龙珠传奇) is the second palace drama in this top 5, which shows that the genre of traditional drama, particularly costume drama, is still very popular – arguably even more popular than before.

This Chinese television drama tells the story of the unlikely romance between the Princess Zhu Yihuan (Yang Zi), a martial arts talent and the last princess of the Ming dynasty, and Emperor Kangxi (Qin Junjie), who is the young emperor of the Qing dynasty. Their love story is not without hurdles, because the Kangxi court is actually hated by Zhu’s family as the Ming dynasty, by the Han people, was overthrown by the Manchurians who established the Qing Dynasty.

This love story gets even sweeter when you know that main players Andy Yang (Yang Zi) and Qin Junjie are also a couple in real life.

On Youku, the drama has received a total of over 2.2 billion views by now. Many fans on Weibo share their favorite scenes and share their drawings and other art works based on this successful drama.

By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Social Media Reactions to The New York Times Bad Review of ‘Wandering Earth 2’

A New York Times bad review of ‘Wandering Earth II’ has triggered online discussions: “China’s gonna save the world, the US can’t stand it.”

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This Chinese Spring Festival, it’s all about going to the movies. After sluggish years for China’s movie market during the pandemic, Chinese cinemas welcomed millions of visitors back to the theaters during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday.

Much-anticipated new movies attracted Chinese moviegoers this festive season, including Full River Red by Zhang Yimou, the suspenseful Hidden Blade, or the animated Deep Sea by Tian Xiaopeng.

But the undisputed Spring Festival box office champion of 2023 is Frant Gwo’s Wandering Earth II (流浪地球II), the sequel to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (2019), which also became the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

The narrative of the follow-up movie Wandering Earth II actually takes place before the events of the first film and focuses on the efforts by the United Earth Government (UEG) to propel the Earth out of the solar system to avoid planetary disaster. This so-called Moving Mountain Project – which later becomes the Wandering Earth Project – is not just met with protest (the majority of Americans don’t believe in it), it also bans the Digital Life Project, which supports the idea that the future of humanity can be saved by preserving human consciousness on computers (backed by an American majority). The film is all about hope and resilience, human destiny, and geopolitics at a time of apocalyptic chaos.

Outside of China, the sequel was also released in, among others, North American, Australian, and UK cinemas.

Although the film, featuring movie stars Wu Jing and Andy Lau, received an 8.2 on the Chinese rating & review platform Douban, a 9.4 on movie ticketing app Maoyan, dozens of positive reviews on Bilibili, and was overall very well-received among Chinese viewers, a bad review by The New York Times triggered discussions on Chinese social media this weekend.

Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) initiated a Weibo hashtag about “The New York Times‘s completely sour review of Wandering Earth II” (#纽约时报酸味拉满差评流浪地球2#, 6.2 million views at time of writing).

The New York Times review of Wandering Earth II, titled “The Wandering Earth II Review: It Wanders Too Far,” was written by Brandon Yu and published in print on January 27, 2023.

Yu does not have a lot of good things to say about China’s latest blockbuster. Although he calls the 2019 The Wandering Earth “entertaining enough,” he writes that the sequel is a movie that is “audaciously messy” and has lost “all of the glee” its predecessor had:

“(..) the movie instead offers nearly three hours of convoluted storylines, undercooked themes and a tangle of confused, glaringly state-approved political subtext.”

The topic was discussed on Chinese social media using various hashtags, including “The New York Times Gave Wandering Earth II a 3″ (#纽约时报给流浪地球打30分#, #纽约时报给流浪地球2打30分#).

Instead of triggering anger, the bad review actually instilled a sense of pride among many Chinese, who argued that the review showed the impact the movie has made. Some commenters pointed out that the movie is a new milestone in Chinese cinema, not just threatening America’s domination of the movie industry but also setting a narrative in which China leads the way.

“We’re gonna save the world, and America just can’t stand it,” one commenter replied.

That same view was also reiterated by other bloggers. The author and history blogger Zhang Yi’an (@张忆安-龙战于野) argued that The New York Times review was not necessarily bad; it actually shows that Americans feel threatened by the idea of China’s important role in a new international world order, and by the fact that China actually will have the capacity to lead the way when it comes to, for example, space technology innovation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Zhang argues that if a similar movie had been made by India as a Bollywood blockbuster – including exploding suns and wandering earths – The New York Times would have been more forgiving and might have even called it cute or silly.

But because this is China, the film’s success and its narrative plays into existing fears over China’s rise, and it clashes with American values about what the international community should look like.

Zhang writes: “The China in the movie doesn’t boast itself as the savior of the world, but in reality, China really is capable of saving the world. The United States is no longer able to do so (电影里的中国没有把自己吹嘘成救世主,现实中的中国真的有能力做救世主。而美国却已经不能了).”

One popular Film & TV account (@影视综艺君) also summarized the general online reaction to the bad review in the American newspaper: “Whenever the enemy gets scared, it must mean we’re doing it right. Our cultural export has succeeded.” That post received over 120,000 likes.

On Zhihu.com, some commenters also attached little value to the review and showed how the overseas reviews of Wandering Earth II widely varied in their verdict.

Meanwhile, a state media-initiated hashtag on Weibo claimed on January 28 that Wandering Earth II has actually “captured the hearts of many overseas audiences” (#流浪地球2海外上映获好评#), and that the film’s “imaginative” and “wonderful” visuals combined with its strong storyline were being praised by moviegoers outside of China.

On IMDB, the movie has received 5.9/10; it has gotten a 70% Rotten Tomatoes score. The Guardian gave it 2/5. Meanwhile, on Weibo, one reviewer after the other gives the film 5/5 stars.

Weibo blogger Lang Yanzhi (@郎言志) writes: “Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attacks and slander directed at the China-made science fiction movie Wandering Earth 2, especially coming from Western media and pro-Western forces, because the film’s “Chinese salvation” narrative made them uncomfortable. This was already the case when the first film in the series was released. It is very clear that Wandering Earth is not just a movie: it is a symbol of great influence.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Zilan Qian

 

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China Arts & Entertainment

Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala

The first-ever ‘mini film’ of the Spring Festival Gala struck a chord with viewers for its strong storytelling and authentic production.

Manya Koetse

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This precious and powerful short film by Zhang Dapeng has touched the hearts of Spring Festival Gala viewers. But there is more to the short film than meets the eye. Here’s the noteworthy story behind the 7-minute Spring Festival Mini Film.

On January 21, 2023, China’s Spring Festival Gala, hosted by China Media Group, kicked off the Year of the Rabbit. The annual show, which featured forty different acts and performances, lasted over four hours and attracted millions of viewers worldwide (see our liveblog here, and see a top 5 highlight of the show here).

Traditionally, the Spring Festival Gala always shows several short public service ad films in between the performances, but this year was the first time the Gala featured a “mini-film” or “micro film” (微电影).

Titled Me and My Spring Festival Night (“我和我的春晚”), the 7-minute film was praised among viewers. On Weibo, one hashtag dedicated to the short film received over nine million clicks (#我和我的春晚#).

The film was directed by the Beijing director Zhang Dapeng (张大鹏). Born in 1984, Zhang is a Beijing Film Academy graduate who previously attracted wide attention for directing the Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year movie and the brilliant ad campaign that came with it. Titled What Is Peppa, that short ad film featured a grandfather living in rural China who goes on a quest to find out what ‘Peppa’ is. The promotional video became an absolute viral hit back in 2019 (see/read more here).

Still from ‘What is Peppa.’ 2019.

This time, Zhang’s latest Chinese New Year film is about a hard-working former military man from China’s countryside named Zhang Jianguo (张建国), for whom coming on the show to play the trumpet has been a dream for many years. By featuring his story, the film takes us from the Chinese 1980s, 90s, 00s – as we see him change jobs, move around, and start a family – up to the present.

The main idea behind the film was to honor all the ordinary viewers who have written – and are still writing – to the Gala ever since it first aired in the early 1980s, and to tell a story inspired by these personal letters and ordinary viewers.

Short Summary of “Me and My Chunwan”

At the start of the film, we see Zhang Jianguo dusting off his military honorary awards (光荣军属), putting on his jacket, grabbing his thermos flask and trumpet, and setting out on a journey in the midst of winter.

Riding an electric tricycle in the icy cold, his driver (actor Huang Bo 黄渤) asks him where he is going. “Can you keep your mouth shut?” Zhang replies (“你嘴严实不严实”). “I can,” the driver says, and Zhang then says: “So can I.”

The voiceover narration, a first-person narrative by Zhang himself, explains that he has always been busy: “I never had time for the Spring Festival Gala. My Spring Festival fate is all because of something my captain said.”

The film jumps to a scene showing Zhang as a young military man during the Chinese New Year’s Eve, working outside while people are watching the Spring Festival Gala on a small black and white television inside. As his commander (played by Wu Jing 吴京) hands him his trumpet, he says: “Go and play your trumpet on the television.”

“If the leader asks me to go on the Spring Festival Gala, it’s a task I must complete,” the voice-over says.

But in the military scene itself, duty calls and Zhang has to blow the trumpet to announce dinner time.

In the years that follow, Zhang is always busy during the Spring Festival Gala. Working in the factory, getting married, working on a train, farming cattle, taking care of his family, and always cooking. His trumpet is still there with him, to announce dinner time or hanging on the wall as a memory of times past.

As the years pass by, Zhang realizes that he has gradually forgotten about his commander’s words. Time moves fast. First, he had a son, then his son grew taller than himself, and then his son had his own son. “And I still had never been to the Spring Festival Gala.”

With his captain’s words back on his mind, Zhang, now an older man, sets out on his journey without telling anyone. By foot, by electric tricycle, by bus, and by train, Zhang travels all the way to the famous Beijing Studio 1 to perform at the Spring Festival Gala after being “too busy” for forty years.

Backstage at the Spring Festival Gala, Zhang sits down with famous Chinese Spring Festival Gala performers (Ma Li 马丽 and Shen Teng 沈腾). While unpacking his lunchbox, he tells them he was finally not too busy to come on the show: “I wrote a letter and here I am.” “It’s that simple?” Ma Li wonders.

The producer then rushes to come and get Zhang, who bravely walks towards the stage with his old little trumpet.

A female voice-over then reads out a message, while we see various scenes throughout the years showing Zhang – from young to old – writing letters to CCTV from wherever he is.

The female narrator says: “Dear Uncle Zhang, we’ve received your letter regarding your hopes to realize your cherished stage dream. In this age of emailing, and knowing that you’ve been writing us for 39 years, we’re moved and feel guilty. Our reply may be late, but not our sincerity..

Meanwhile, we see a flashback to a mailman pulling up to old Zhang’s home (the mailman is the actor Wang Baoqiang), and the old Zhang finally receives that much-anticipated letter from CCTV at his remote rural home.

The female narrator continues: “This year, we proudly invite you to be a guest at the Spring Festival Gala and to “ring the dinner bell” [play the sound announcing dinner]. Sincerely, the Spring Festival Director Committee.

In the final shot, we see Zhang blowing the trumpet at the Gala, with flashbacks showing him blowing that trumpet in all those decades before. He has finally made it to the big stage.

A Noteworthy Story

While Me and My Spring Festival Night received a lot of praise on Chinese social media, the story behind the film was not immediately clear to many viewers celebrating the Chinese New Year, but it was explained in several articles and interviews with director Zhang Dapeng.

During the live-televised Spring Festival Gala itself, the airing of Me and My Spring Festival Night was directly followed up by a shot featuring a person (a veteran) in the audience standing up and actually playing the trumpet.

Directly after, the song “Goodmorning Sunshine” began, representing multiple people from all kinds of professions and social groups. About one minute into the song, the camera turns to another audience member: the person who plays ‘Uncle Zhang’ in the mini-film. Later in the song, we can see he is wiping away tears, visibly moved.

Why was he so moved? The older man in the audience, the main ‘Uncle Zhang’ actor in the film, is Jin Changyong (金长勇), and he actually is not a professional actor.

Somewhat similar to the character Zhang Jianguo, Jin Changyong or “Uncle Jin” (金叔) is a hardworking veteran from Hebei’s Huailai County in Zhangjiakou.

Jin Changyong is a 63-year-old farmer who is also active at the Hebei Tianmo Film and TV Park doing security and logistics-related jobs. He served in the army for four years from the age of 19, as, among others, a military chef.

Director Zhang Dapdeng came across ‘Uncle Jin’ one day while shooting another film at the studio. While Jin was busy doing kitchen work, director Zhang saw him and, as he later recounts, was struck by his face that showed he had “lived through many changes” (“这种饱经沧桑的脸”).

Zhang later invited Uncle Jin to star in the movie, and he also made sure Jin’s own story played a role in the script.

Director Zhang Dapeng, image via CCTV.

This makes this short movie all the more special, something which has since been discussed on Chinese social media (#春晚微电影的主演是普通农民#).

The surprising twist in the story is how Zhang Jianguo tells other people he has just always been “too busy” to attend the Gala, while he had in fact already written to the show for 39 years with the hope of one day being invited.

Another noteworthy aspect of the film is how Zhang Dapeng chose to cast some of China’s most celebrated actors as supporting roles to lift up the main character and actor, Jin, who was inexperienced and learnt from his fellow players.

In an interview, Jin expressed that the entire experience of playing in this short film left his overcome with emotion. After the filming had ended, he told reporters that he had sleepless nights because he had not received an actual invitation to the Spring Festival Gala yet, something which he so very much hoped for. Just one week before the show, that invitation finally came.

The fact that Jin, in a way, played a man like himself in the short movie has added to the film’s popularity.

“I was sincerely moved by this film,” one commenter wrote, with others saying: “This was the best program I’ve seen on the Gala over the past decade.”

While some people also remarked that the short film seemed to have been influenced by The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, others praised it for its originality.

“This was just the best part of the night,” several commenters said: “It made me cry.”

“Zhang Pengda – a name to remember,” others wrote.

You can watch the short film on Youtube here.

By Manya Koetse 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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