Two TV dramas, Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace and the latest online series Story of Yanxi Palace, tell different stories about the court life of the same group of women. Ironically, however, the controversy the two dramas have created has led to their success. In particular, Story of Yanxi Palace indicates the progress of China's entertainment industry has made.
Using industrialization as a subdued theme to cater to the audience's taste, the drama is set during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It has drawn praise both for its storyline and the tough personality of a protagonist, who is the best behaved woman in the palace but does not bat an eyelid before getting back at anyone who hurts her, and climbs up from the lowest-level maid to become a high-powered princess.
Targeted at young urban women with increasing consumption power, Story of Yanxi Palace has become a big hit with those female white-collar workers who face severe competition at the workplace.
But unlike their Hollywood counterparts, why can't even hit Chinese films and TV dramas gain popularity overseas?
Since 2011, several Chinese TV dramas have been telecast overseas. That Chinese films and TV dramas are being screened outside China and accepted by some foreign audiences is in itself a big success. But the "export" of Chinese pop culture still has a long way to go.
As a matter of fact, manufacturers usually have to invest more than 200 million yuan ($29.08 million) for a single movie or TV drama to survive in the market. However, many quality-oriented producers, even the mainstream ones cannot survive the competition.
Besides, domestic viewers have a common complaint — the poor quality of a majority of domestic movies and TV series. Given this fact, how can they become popular overseas?
Last year, Chinese films overseas accounted for just 1 percent of the global box office returns, according to the Beijing Normal University's annual report on the international influence of Chinese movies.
For instance, Legend of Zhen Huan, one of the most popular Chinese TV dramas at home in 2011, received high ratings in many Asian countries which have cultures similar to that of China. But it failed to draw Western audiences' attention.
As China's economic rise continues, some Chinese film producers who intend to develop the overseas market are seeking to co-produce movies with major studios overseas. However, their poor box office returns and international influence suggest investment is not the main constraint to the globalization of the Chinese entertainment industry.
Take The Great Wall, a film co-produced by China and US producers, for example. Such commercial Chinese movies, despite adopting Hollywood production techniques, still invite a lot of criticism at home. So, despite using Hollywood-style storytelling and advanced techniques, Chinese film producers cannot gain universal appeal by sacrificing their culture.
An accurate analysis of the target audience and the use of standardized production techniques will make the Chinese entertainment industry more competitive in the international market.
Similarly, based on a survey on local cultures and people's interests of the countries along the Belt and Road, Chinese filmmakers could crack the code of creating stories that can work both in China and foreign countries.
In addition, besides romance, Chinese film and TV drama producers should also make efforts to diversify the storylines of their films and TV series — such as the anti-corruption series — to meet the different needs and tastes of the people overseas. Perhaps that's why Netflix has shown great interest in Day and Night, a detective series, and made its first purchase of a Chinese online drama.
The author is the director of Contemporary Art& Literature Criticism Center at the National Academy of Arts.
(Source: China Daily)