Ancient Chinese version of ‘24’ dominates summer dramas

By Tao Mingyang Source:Global Times Published: 2019/7/9 17:28:40 Last Updated: 2019/7/10 11:29:21

Promotional material for The Longest Day In Chang'an  Photo: IC


Yi Yangqianxi (Jackson Yee) (Left) Photo: IC

Starring Yi Yangqianxi (Jackson Yee), a member of Chinese boy band TFBoys, and Chinese actor Lei Jiayin, new streaming series The Longest Day In Chang'an has been one of the biggest pleasant surprises for fans of TV dramas this summer. Its intense story and well-designed costumes and scenery has captured the attention of viewers, earning it high marks on review platforms. The first 16 episodes of the show, showing exclusively on streaming platform Youku, currently has an 8.6/10, much higher than 2018's hit series Story of Yanxi Palace. The show is also available on overseas platforms like Viki, Amazon and YouTube.

Festival terror

The Chinese name of the drama is Chang'an 12 Shichen. Shichen was a unit of time measurement in ancient China, with each day divided up into 12 of these two-hour long periods. Similar to the US action drama 24, each episode covers half a shichen, or one hour of time, telling the story in "real time." 

Based on the novel of the same name by Ma Boyong, the show takes place during the Shangyuan Festival (Lantern Festival) in Chang'an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and what is now Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province. 

The story follows Zhang Xiaojing, a retired soldier and the former captain of the city guard. Zhang has been sentenced to death for slaughtering 36 people who were responsible for the death of an old comrade of his. 

Before his execution, the Jing An Si, an intelligence department in Chang'an, receives news that a group of foreign terrorists called the Wolves Squad have snuck into the city during the opening of the West Market, an international bazaar in Chang'an.

Li Bi, the young chief of the intelligence department appoints Zhang, who understands the city's underworld to stop the terrorists and protect Chang'an. 

Perfect recreation

One of the main attractions of the show has been its recreation and presentation of the ancient city of Chang'an. According to a report on Sohu News, the production crew spent seven months planning and 217 days shooting on a budget of about 600 million yuan ($87.18 million). 

To give viewers the feeling that they are traveling in the city, the show's director Cao Dun has been making use of single shot scenes that show off what the crowded market would have been like during the Lantern Festival in Chang'an. Cao also used the same method to present the intense environment of the first battle in the show, which put the audience on the battlefield from a first-person perspective.

"I want audiences know what people in Chang'an did in the morning, noon and night and how they celebrated the festival," Cao said in an interview. 

The cast has also been a major draw. In addition to Yi, who plays Li Bi and Lei, who plays Zhang, the show has had many cameos from well-respected actors and actresses. 

For instant, at the beginning of the drama an old man can be seen walking toward the market gate. Although viewers can only see the side of his face, they can clearly tell the man is none other than Zhou Yemang, the actor who played the role of Lin Chong in the 1998 TV series Water Margin.

Many netizens have stated that no matter how long these performers are on screen, they have been an irreplaceable part of the drama. 

"These experienced actors are the foundation for the drama," netizen Pd_Datura told the Global Times.

Period blockbuster

Pd_Datura is a big fan of historical dramas.

"The Longest Day In Chang'an really surprised me," said Datura. 

"It has done things that I have never seen done in other period dramas."

Datura was referring to how the drama takes license with history to introduce important plot elements, such as watch towers in the city that are manned by sharpshooters who can hit any target in their range. The production team even came up with a detailed secret communication system that these watch towers use to communicate with each other. 

"They discuss the watch tower concept at length," said Datura. 

"That's why this fictional plot element ends up not feeling weird or out of place even if it doesn't fit with the period the story takes place in."

Another innovation is the use on screen notes to explain terms that audiences would be unfamiliar with. 

Such as the term bu liang ren (Lit: not good person), which audiences may mistakenly think refers to a villain in the show. 

"An explanation appears on screen to tell the audience that bu liang ren are specialists trained to catch bad guys. It really helps," said Datura.

Many netizens have noted similarities between this show and US dramas. Datura agreed.

"I saw an article saying that if we change Chang'an to Washington DC, change the Lantern Festival to Independence Day, change the Jing An Si to the FBI, change Wolves Squad to ISIS and change the hero Zhang Xiaojing to a retired soldier named Chris from the Iraq frontline, it would be a Hollywood blockbuster," Datura noted.
Newspaper headline: The longest day


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