A guide for c-drama newbies



Historical dramas aka costume dramas 古装 tell stories before the Chinese Revolution of 1911 ranging from wuxia, palace politics, comedy, time travel, romance, etc., while Republican dramas around the 1930's and 1940's tend to focus on the Sino-Japanese war.

In recent years, fantasy has become all the rage due to its reputation as a ratings champion. The concept began with Chinese Paladin and it peaked when Hunan TV freed up its Monday Tuesday 22:00 slot to call it Diamond. Apparently, it's a thing to name time slots in China but I digress.

Lo and behold, Diamond won big with Sword of Legends in 2014, thanks to the overwhelming reception from a younger fanbase. Journey of Flower soared to greater heights the following year, even outdoing primetime telecasts to become the biggest money-maker during its run.

Yang Zi Li Yi Feng Zhu Xian


Because of it, Hunan TV, Beijing TV and Dragon TV started stocking up on fantasy dramas while the rest of the networks followed suit. This year saw a multitude of dramas that adhere to a simple formula - costumes, idols and intellectual property.

Imagine Zhao Li Ying headlining The Mystic Nine, Rookie Agent Rouge and Legend of Chusen all at once because she does and as is a common for many popular idols today.

Intellectual Property IP is the term that the Chinese use to refer to adaptations of copyrighted material, namely novels. It is an age-old practice if you think back to Jin Yong but the novel adaptations has grown exponentially, seemingly taking over the industry.

Victoria Song in Ice Fantasy


More on the c-drama landscape:

Episodes. Ice Fantasy has 62 episodes airing four episodes per week while other dramas might release one or two episode per day for a total of.. a lot. A c-drama averages around 40, 60 or 80 episodes, making recapping practically a feat >.<

Mediums. One drama can air simultaneously on multiple channels and online. Web series are quite popular as well.

Dubbing. Due to dialects and accents affecting spoken Chinese, dramas and movies are often dubbed by a voice actor especially if the actor's native language is not Mandarin.

Dancers. Zhang Ziyi along with Victoria Song trained in one of the premier dance schools in China. Yet even Liu Shi Shi, Yang Yang and many others also had their start in dance.

Prayer ceremonies. A prayer ceremony is usually held before filming a drama or a movie, which must have hailed from strong Buddhist beliefs. Interestingly enough, I see a similar tradition when it comes to k-dramas too. 

Cut versus Uncut. Ever wonder why someone else seems to be watching a different version compared to yours? Well, broadcasters can cut or add scenes as they deem fit so you won't know which version you're watching exactly. If an episode seems shorter than usual, it's a good indication that what you're watching has been censored / cut / shortened for whatever reason and if it's longer, maybe they added endless flashbacks to prolong the story. 

Production. Dramas are pre-produced, typically filming for four months, giving the cast and crew ample time to perfect their craft. Shooting typically takes place in Hengdian World Studios or Shanghai Film Studio, both with sprawling grounds fitting for period dramas. On the down side, fully completed projects increase the supply pool that it becomes tough for a project to even secure an air date.

Restrictions. Broadcasting rights are subject to SARFT, China's media censorship authority which makes all sorts of rules to limit time travel, fantasy, foreign productions, provocative content and whatever else they deem inappropriate.


Historical versus Modern. Most people associate wuxia with c-dramas, yet modern c-dramas are also steadily on the rise. I've long been a fan of the former yet the latter has been a hit or miss for me with more bad than good but the good ones are simply so good. Hint, hint... Just One Smile is Very Alluring.

Source: Baidu

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