Eyeing ‘Zhen Huan’

By Lu Qianwen Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-30 19:08:02


Leading actresses Sun Li in Legend of Zhen Huan. Photo: CFP
Leading actress Sun Li in Legend of Zhen Huan. Photo: CFP
Leading actress Liu Shishi in Treading On Thin Ice. Photo: CFP
Leading actress Liu Shishi in Treading On Thin Ice. Photo: CFP

Popularity of mainland TV operas in Taiwan indicates industry shift

Some 10 years ago, the TV opera market in Taiwan was still largely occupied by its local production and several from South Korea. TV opera series made in those two places were popular for their quality scripts, emphasis on detail and strong casts of actors.

Based on those advantages, they not only conquered the audience of Taiwan, but also many other Asian regions including the Chinese mainland, where audiences grew fanatical about their favorite shows like Meteor Garden, Lavender, Blue Ghost and Dae Jang Geum.

But now, an interesting reversal has emerged in recent years. Mainland TV operas have become frequent presentations on Taiwan's television stations. Local broadcasters including TTV, CTV and CTS have all broadcast mainland TV series during prime time.

Crossing the Straits

Probably none of those popular Chinese TV dramas in recent years have been so sweeping as one from last year, Legend of Zhen Huan. Not only has it been re-broadcast several or even dozens of times in the mainland, but also in Taiwan.

With an average audience rating reaching 2.81 in Taiwan, it not only beats all other TV dramas in the region, but some very popular local entertainment shows like Kang Xi Is Coming.

Influenced by the drama, there are girls in Taiwan getting plastic surgery to have "Zhen Huan eyes," like the leading actress in the drama.

But Legend of Zhen Huan is only one of the mainland shows whose popularity has spread from the mainland to Taiwan in recent years. Kang Xi Dynasty, produced in 2001, was well received in Taiwan with its audience rating reaching 2.8 then. The copyright fee amounted to around $50,000 per episode, a record for any mainland TV drama. Even Legend of Zhen Huan failed to surpass the mark.

A version of the Three Kingdoms, directed by Gao Xixi that aired in 2010, was also a hit in Taiwan, with its audience rating beating out all other contemporary local TV dramas by breaking 3.0 on the scale. Also Treading On Thin Ice, a 2011 TV drama starring mainland actress Liu Shishi and Taiwan actor Nicky Wu, earned those two lots of new fans in Taiwan when it was broadcast there.

Talent drain

With mainland TV dramas taking an increasing share of the market in Taiwan, many local producers have begun to reflect upon the decline of local productions. "We used to have the best costume dramas, but now although we still have excellent actors, we are short of quality scripts, fine props and proper sets," said Yang Kuei-Mei, a famous Taiwan actress best known for My Beloved in 1988.

Absent of a competitive production environment, recent years have witnessed an increasing number of Taiwan TV producers and actors focusing more on the mainland productions.

Angie Chai, one of the best TV producers in Taiwan with the representative work Meteor Garden (2002), recently decided to halt her company's production of TV dramas due to the serious talent drain in this field. She said her company will focus more on film production and the entertainment agency business. Meanwhile, she plans to cooperate more with mainland counterparts.

Chai was only one of those many Taiwan TV producers and actors that have been or are "going north." According to a recent report on CCTV (China Central Television)'s program Connecting Taiwan, the three most profitable actors in Taiwan in 2012, Nicky Wu, Alec Su, and Ruby Lin, have all spent most of their time in the mainland for TV production.

"Except for those assistants who are at the bottom of the chain, salaries for all others including actors, directors and property men are much higher in the mainland than in Taiwan," said Chen Mingzhang, a famous Taiwan TV drama director known for works like Frog Prince, My Lucky Star, and The Magicians of Love.

Long way to go

Confined by its small area and limited TV production resources like shooting locations, Taiwan's costume dramas have fallen away from their previous glory. In the 1980s and 1990s, TV shows like Empress Wu Zetian (1985), Make Bitter Qianlong (1991) and Justice Bao (1993) were prevailing in the mainland. But now with the rapid development of the mainland TV production industry, Taiwan is increasingly eclipsed and lagging behind.

Recent years in the mainland have witnessed fast growth of various shooting locations for costume and historic dramas of different dynasties, as well as generous investment for a single drama. For example, the current hit As a Legend had an investment of 240 million yuan ($38.57 million).

All those have contributed to the advantages of TV production in the mainland and the migration of Taiwan producers to the mainland.

However, despite their emergence, it is way too early to declare the triumph of mainland TV dramas in Taiwan. Copyright fees for the shows are still very low compared to local TV dramas and those from South Korea. According to Xiao Chuang, a critic of the entertainment industry, the average price for an episode of a mainland TV drama is around 18,000 yuan, while a South Korean production can sell for 150,000 yuan.

Even the red hot Legend of Zhen Huan only sells 60,000 yuan per episode in Taiwan. Apart from the cheap price, the portion and areas that mainland TV dramas are exported to each year are very limited.

According to Xiao Chuang, China is the world's largest producer of TV dramas in terms of number of shows and episodes aired. However, only 5 percent of those productions are broadcast outside the mainland, and those who watch are mainly Chinese language speakers in some Southeast Asian regions.

It seems that like its parallel made-in-China products, mainland TV drama production has a long way to go before it really becomes a market hit.


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