Drawn to the suspenseful plots, diverse characters, and gripping storytelling techniques, foreign fans of Chinese crime dramas can be found all over the globe

By He Keyao Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/23 20:58:39 Last Updated: 2016/11/24 12:48:39

An expat in Beijing catches up on the latest series of When a Snail Falls in Love. Photo: He Keyao/GT

An expat in Beijing catches up on the latest series of When a Snail Falls in Love. Photo: He Keyao/GT

The first thing Nina Amelia, a 26-year-old Indonesian, did when she was at the airport after her three-week-long business trip in a remote area was open her laptop, connect to the Wi-Fi, and watch six episodes of the Chinese TV drama When a Snail Falls in Love.

She could not help sharing her excitement with her friend on Line chat. "I chatted with my friend in capslock, haha," she said.

Amelia is just one of the many who have become addicted to the Chinese crime drama When a Snail Falls in Love . Based on a novel with the same name by Chinese author Ding Mo, the story follows a handsome police captain Ji Bai (played by Wang Kai) and a smart criminal profiler Xu Xu (played by Wang Ziwen) who team up to solve crime.

The show was an instant hit with the public, both in China and overseas. It is one of the most popular shows with a 9.8 out 10 score on viki.com, a streaming site that hosts prime-time TV shows around the world. With 17 different languages to choose from, including English, Polish, Russian and Greek, the show has earned a massive following among foreigners. Other Chinese crime dramas, such as Love Me If You Dare and Memory Lost, have also gained a significant following abroad, heralding a growing interest in Chinese detective shows among viewers outside of China.

Despite cultural and social barriers, the popularity of Chinese crime dramas is still growing among foreign audiences, leaving the big question: Why?

Sketches of Ji Bai played by Wang Kai in When a Snail Falls in Love that die-hard fan April Manaloto drew and posted on Twitter. Photo: Courtesy of April Manaloto

Sketches of Ji Bai played by Wang Kai in When a Snail Falls in Love that die-hard fan April Manaloto drew and posted on Twitter. Photo: Courtesy of April Manaloto

Plot and character development

The attraction comes from the quality of the show, its tight and appealing plots, and diversified and sophisticated characters that refresh foreign fans and keep them hooked.

"What I love most about this drama is that it isn't like most dramas we have grown accustomed to," said Cherie, 26, a fan from the US, who has been watching Chinese crime dramas for a few years.

She said she was drawn to When a Snail Falls in Love because it is based on a novel by the same author as Love Me if You Dare.

Cherie is particularly impressed by its plot development, which seems slow-paced at first glance but gradually puts seemingly unrelated clues together in a sophisticated way.

"It doesn't have the cliché romance or obvious criminal mastermind that reveals him or herself in the first episode. Rather, it is like a puzzle where a piece is revealed with each episode," she said.

"We begin to see the connections between each case they work on, and how while at first they seemed to be unrelated, they are actually connected to something bigger and far more sinister. Compared to the shows here in the US, there is more substance and more emotion."

The show's storyline, twists, thrills and character development are storytelling techniques it shares with Love Me if You Dare, another popular Chinese crime show that is rated 9.7 out 10 on viki.com.

Commenting on the two dramas, Martin (pseudonym), 36, said the script and acting helped set them apart from other Asian films.

"[They] have a good script that allows the actors to look natural and gives meaning to their mannerisms. I love that they don't overact, which is something that happens in most Taiwanese dramas. There are no useless characters around," he said. "The characters act their age, if not older, which is rare to see in Asian dramas where most women act like little girls. [Also,] the plot is more twisted than I expected, in a credible manner. I love that."

A scene from Memory Lost Photo: IC

A scene from Memory Lost Photo: IC


A scene from When a Snail Falls in Love. Photo: IC

A scene from When a Snail Falls in Love. Photo: IC

Lured by 'husbands'

Since When a Snail Falls in Love started airing in October, Mondays have become Eleanor Clark's most exciting day.

Clark, 32, a South African who works as a visiting professor at a university in South Korea, is also the founder of Wang Kai International (WKI), an overseas fan group of Wang Kai.

"Wang Kai is the main reason I was so excited to watch the show," said Clark.

According to her, apart from the quality of the show, its main character Wang Kai is a big draw for fans. Like his Chinese fans, foreign fans also love to catch up on their "hubby's" work.

Clark founded WKI in 2015. She watches Wang Kai's shows and shares them with other fans.

What Clark really appreciates about Wang's performance as Ji Bai is that he leads his team without being too commanding. Despite being a bit brusque, he cares about his team, trusts them to do their jobs and never micromanages everything, which is what a true leader does, she said.

"You can really believe that Ji Bai is a real human being and not just a character," said Clark, whose opinion is echoed by many fans, including Myriam Dunn Cavelty from Switzerland.

Apart from her idol Wang Kai, Cavelty said the show offers a new "husband" for fans - the supporting male lead Yu Heng. He plays senior police officer Zhao Han.

"We often discuss him on our blog, and some of my friends have very elaborate fantasies as to how he will make them pancakes," Cavelty laughs.

"He seems like the perfect husband material. He is such a kind and earnest person, who adores the woman he loves!" 

Similar sentiments are shared by foreign fans of Love Me if You Dare who scour the Internet to find the latest move of their idol - Wallace Huo, a Taiwanese actor.

Sabrina, a member of translation and subtitling team of viki.com, is one of them.

"To tell you the truth, as a fan of Wallace Huo and Wang Kai, I tend to check out their dramas most of the time. Not really for the writer, although I like her style," said Sabrina, who is in her 30s and works in healthcare in the US.

Attracted by cultural differences

While cultural and social differences can be a barrier, for foreign fans like Martin, it is an attraction. The differences between the dramas in different countries fascinate him.

Compared with his favorite detective shows, Inspector Montalbano (Italian) and Wallander (Swedish), the Chinese crime dramas have taught him some interesting things about the Chinese culture.

According to him, the Swedish way of dealing with crime is "dry, serious, moody, methodical and contrived," and people are approached in a professional and politically correct manner. The Italian way is laid back, sometimes mischievous, searching for that gap in the law that can help them cut the red tape. People tend to use past experiences to analyze the case, rather than the opinions of experts.

Martin thinks that the Chinese way is very regimental and gives importance to status, which is obvious in both When a Snail Falls in Love and Love Me if You Dare. The different positions and jobs are very rigid, and the sense of pride, achievement and responsibility is continuously shown, almost in a teaching manner.

"I think it is inspiring, motivating you to achieve your goals," he said. "I love how differently they work and behave to solve the same type of crimes. The countries' differences are so huge!"

Multilingual productions needed

As Chinese crime dramas gain popularity abroad, the call for multilingual shows has grown in intensity.

"There's demand for different shows globally, and a definite increase in interest for Chinese shows," said Clark.

However, there are only two main legal streaming sites that provide access to Chinese crime dramas with subtitles in various languages, namely viki.com and DramaFever, another streaming website that offers hundreds of shows in multiple languages.

"With heavy geo-restriction, people just don't have access," said Clark, adding that although YouTube provides another option, it does not provide subtitles, and it is difficult for foreign fans to access Chinese dramas.

She hopes that the urgent need for multi-language subtitles can be met soon.

Nonetheless, Martin remains optimistic about Chinese productions.

 "I liked Love Me if You Dare a lot. I don't remember wanting anything different when I saw it. China has changed a lot very quickly, and I find the scripts and the acting more and more natural."

Newspaper headline: Universal fandom


blog comments powered by Disqus