Water Injection: A Term For Dramas That Are Dragged On Far Too Long

ashes of love poster yang zi
Over the years, Chinese dramas have gotten longer and longer that having an episode count over 50 has become normal. It's fine if there is that much story to tell, but there's also the pervasive problem of dragging out a TV series. 

When Ashes Of Love aired last year, it was highly rated by viewers. Twenty episodes later, the same viewers started complaining that Yang Zi and Deng Lun were getting little screen time. Luo Yunxi got flak for the increased focus on his character. Many thought that the love story between Yukee Chen and Zou Tingwei who played the second couple was needlessly long.

In China, this practice of prolonging a story is known as water injection. The term water injected dramas (注水剧) is a metaphor for a sponge filled with useless content to make it bigger. While it helps maximize profit margin (longer air time equals more ads, more ads equals more profit), it often sacrifices quality.  

pretty li hui zhen poster dilraba dilmurat
This becomes obvious when the plot starts going around in circles or screen time is given to certain characters to fill the time. In other instances, remakes are plenty times longer than the original. She Was Pretty is a 2015 Korean romantic comedy with 16 episodes.  When the Chinese adapted it for TV in 2017, they renamed it Pretty Li Hui Zhen and brought up the episode count to 46.

Operation Love is a 2007 Japanese drama with 11 episodes.  The Korean remake titled Operation Proposal which came out in 2012 had 16 episodes.  The Chinese remake titled Operation Love aired in 2017 and had a whopping 32 episodes.  

Moonshine and valentine poster
Moonshine And Valentine started out impressive, but like many, it began to falter mid-series. As the story progressed, more emphasis was given to the supporting characters, the writer had to apologize and explain that it was due to problems with scheduling that prevented them from writing more scenes for the leads.  

Aside from the production, TV stations are also culpable of increasing episode count due to their ability to cut and edit scenes. In Princess Agents, the incessant flashbacks started getting on everyone's nerves. At times, they took a good 10 minutes out of one episode.  Some have attributed it to Hunan TV's style of extending a series that is doing well. 

Empress of China Wu Zetian
Liu Xiaoqing's version of Wu Zetian which came out in 1995 is considered to be a classic. It told the story of the first empress in China in 30 episodes. Empress Of China which came out in 2015 starring Fan Bingbing had 96 episodes. 

Until the salary caps were implemented recently, production budgets have been rising to all-time highs. To boost popularity, productions would pay big money to hire famous celebrities. In turn, dramas are sold to broadcast networks by number of episodes so it's in their interest to have more episodes by any means.  Regardless of the reasons, water injection has ruined a lot of dramas.  It kills the pacing of the story and ruins the viewing experience. Hopefully, one day, this practice will be no more. 


  1. One of the worst "flashback fillers" I've watched is Only Side By Side With You. It got to the point half the episode was filler.

    1. Oh yes, that series was ruined by it. It was quite okay regarding the story and the actors were very good but the editing totally ruined it. What a mess!

    2. Oh gosh, yes! The plot and characters were interesting, acting was pretty good, and main female lead character was strong, independent woman-breath of fresh air to me. Unfortunately any and all positives for that drama were ruined and lost by the bloated episode count requiring the endless repetitive flashbacks, filler scenes, and dragginess. Such a shame.

  2. Then I also remembered Age of Legends with Wm Chan. This one was filler too. But this whole thing reminds me of capitalism and greed, not what China is supposed to stand for and what the message is with many of their dramas: greed is bad.

  3. I remember when TVB dramas were 20-35 episodes long. Way back in the day.

  4. Princess Agents suffered badly for it. My god. I remember it took aggges for them to get to the main plot points, and a single incident dragged to 3-4 episodes long. Yan Xun's family's execution scene took forever..

  5. Princess Agents was the worst out of the list. Strange how this article started out making Ashes of Love sounds the most horrible one. Princess Agents was not only known flashback fillers, everything about it are all fillers. They didn't even have a bad storyline at least, the storyline just didn't even exist at all. Random people suddenly take over the drama for no reason. It wasn't the ending that ruin the drama, from very beginning to the end there was nothing good to start off with. In AOL people complain about Runyun's story, but he was the second lead after all he deserved his scenes. The princess story was boring and unnecessary but at least she wasn't a random character too, she was an important character over all. I agree they could still make those things faster instead of dragging out so many episodes, but the injections in AOL was not the worst. They didn't list other dramas like Fuyao and Minglan but those two are also very badly made with tons of injections.

  6. Tribes & Empires: Storm of Prophecy was completely ruined by the bloated episode count of 75! The constant flashbacks and filler, plotlines cycling in place or going nowhere, extremely slow pacing. Ugh! If only they could have kept to the original plan of 40 episodes total, I think it could have been a contender for one of the best dramas 2017/2018, and maybe even of the decade, but the story was ruined by the need to stretch it out. I'm to the point now where I just can't get excited anymore about Chinese dramas because of their bloated episode counts. I was looking forward to Goodbye My Princess until the last minute decision to extend the drama from 30 eps to 52. Saw the trailer for modern romance drama Beautiful Reborn Flower and was intrigued until I found out it's slated for 60 eps! There's enough story there for 16 episodes, max. When will China realize that less is more?

    1. Very interesting how you point out Tribes & Empires being slow, the person who directed Ming Lan used exactly the same slowness style too. Like Tribes & Empires, they are both very very slow paced like turtle.

      But according to the fans of Ming Lan though, they say it's ok that the drama is slow...and that they like the turtle pace because that is what makes it realistic and special. Haha! It's very realistic for Ming Lan, but not realistic for Tribes & Empires. What? Fans logics!

      Next thing we know about their level of realism, Oh... the drama say 1 day passed, so to make it realistic, they need to film a 24hour episode that detailed every second about every action that happened second by second.

    2. The reason why China will never realize less is more is because, fans approve for these dramas to get ridiculously long.

      Sucks if you're not a fan, all you hope is to watch something with quality, hope to see if these actors and actresses will show their true potential. Nope! Only to realize all these dramas are trying to suck up fans expectations. Complain, and the fans will get angry that you are attacking their idols when you're not. That's not even your goal, all you want is quality drama. I have a feeling Chinese dramas will never pick back up again like the old good days all gone.