Flowering overseas

By Xiong Yuqing Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-15 19:48:01

Traditional fantasy TV drama has eyes on international market

Promotional material for The Journey of Flower starring Wallace Huo Photo: Courtesy of Ciwen Media


Two versions of a three-minute short trailer for The Journey of Flower, one in Chinese and the other dubbed in English, were released online in August, receiving more than 280 million views on Weibo and becoming one of the hottest topics on social media. Not long after that, a series of fan-made trailers appeared online, dubbed in different languages. Many people were left wondering why this traditional costume drama had bothered releasing an official English language trailer. Was it some kind of joke?

On Wednesday, with release of the 15-minute full-length trailer in Cannes, France, the creative team of The Journey of Flower revealed their ambition to tap overseas markets, while also demonstrating their confidence that the show will appeal to audiences both at home and abroad.

"I am confident that this drama is of international quality and that it will attract attention in both China and Western countries," Tang Lijun, the producer of the TV drama, told the Global Times.

Romance is worldwide

The Journey of Flower is an adaptation of the popular online romance novel Hua Qiangu by author Fresh Guoguo and first posted on jjwxc.net, one of the largest online literature sites in China.

Throughout the online novel the story references Daoist legends regarding the path to immortality. In the story, the main character Hua Qiangu (Zhao Liying in the show) is an unlucky orphan who looks to learn magic to survive. Appreciating her hard working nature and kind heart, and predicting her tragic destiny, Bai Zihua (Wallace Huo in the show), an immortal in charge of the magical realm of Chang Liu, takes her on as his only disciple. During their long time together, Hua falls in love with her teacher, but doesn't reveal her true feelings.

Eventually the truth comes out that she was actually born as the queen of demons and has access to great power. Though Bai tries to protect her and change her fate, Hua is constantly tortured by the machinations of those who want to see her dead.

 The TV drama adapts the more magical and fantastical parts of the novel into martial arts, but still manages to pull off magnificent visual effects during the fights. The released full-length trailer shows that the show stays true to most of the original storyline, a move that has been praised by the novel's numerous fans.

Tang said that as she first read the novel, she became increasingly sure that it would make a promising adaptation as a TV series or a movie, even overseas.

"First of all, the theme of love is universal. The story is a very touching romance between Hua Qiangu and Bai Zihua. Though their affection is a kind of taboo as they are student and teacher, but their love is pure and selfless for both of them. This deep emotion can be easily understood by people all over the world. Second, the story includes many dark plot points, but all in all, it is a very positive story. Hua is a girl that grows up amongst unfortunate circumstances, but she tries to fight against her destiny through her own hard work. This type of spirit is encouraged in most parts of the world," said Tang.

Western ambition

The full-length trailer was praised by those in the TV and film industry after it was released in France. Tang told the Global Times, sponsors from the US and Europe have already shown a willingness to help introduce the show to the West.

"The beautiful cinematography and magnificent visual effects are amazing. The camera use is similar to that of a film, and the high quality production values include all the commercial elements that meet international standards. Even when the characters are suffering they are also beautiful. I believe once the audience starts watching it, they will never stop," said Juliana Foganholi, a senior partner with Movie on Pictures & Entertainment Ltd.

Tang had been one of the main organizers of the Shanghai International Film Festival for the past six years. She shared her experience exporting Chinese TV series with the Global Times, explaining that while most Chinese TV shows are still sold to Southeastern Asia, some are sent to Africa as a part of cultural exchange projects. However, in some commercial markets such as Japan and Western countries, they are still not sold for a considerable price.

"In Japan, a US show might be sold for $1 million and a South Korean show might be sold for $200,000, while Chinese shows might go for only $10,000-20,000. One reason is that some of our shows aren't that easily understood by overseas audiences, another is that the quality is not up to snuff. But it also means we still have a large room for growth in overseas markets, and our culture deserves our confidence," said Tang.

Tang is confident in the production quality that shows can reach in China. Although some subject matter is limited by the authorities, production quality is still improving. However, she believes that the true key to entering overseas markets comes down to story.

"Traditional costume dramas are actually more popular than modern ones in the international market, to the surprise of many," said Tang. "Different countries in the world are facing different problems, so not every country is able to understand the issues presented in our modern TV shows, such as education and housing issues. They're not really interested in issues that they do not have in their own country. But the traditional costume dramas are different. They can have more distinguishing elements from our own culture, and people will still like them."

Power of the Internet

Over the past five years, an increasing amount of online literature has been adapted into successful movies and TV series. Online novelist Ren Haiyan's Treading on Thin Ice and Wu Xuelan's The Legend of Zhenhuan have both been adapted into TV dramas that proved extremely popular both within China and overseas. Actress Sun Li, who starred in The Legend of Zhenhuan, was also nominated for best actress at the International Emmy Awards last year.

Tang told the Global Times that online novels offered a very efficient way to find potential adaptations. "We can find out whether a story is popular among readers by looking at how many clicks a novel has and the number of fans on related BBS sites. When we announced that we were adapting Flower, many of the novel's fans left messages for us offering advice, including which plots were more vital and which stars should be cast.

"We interacted with them throughout production and constantly considered their advice."

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