Chinese TV industry jumps on the Boys’ Love bandwagon after adaptations see success
Published: Dec 15, 2020 06:23 PM

Promotional material of Tianguancifu Photo: Sina Weibo

Many web novels about romances between two men are being adapted into TV dramas that will be shot or aired in 2021. This follows the recent trend reflecting the rise in popularity of the Boy's Love (BL) literature genre and the resulting TV adaptations following the huge success of the 2019 hit drama The Untamed.

The hit drama was also an adaptation of a popular BL web novel written by Moxiangtongxiu. Meanwhile, another work from writer Tianguancifu (lit: Gods Bless You) about two men who develop a romantic relationship will be adapted into a TV drama in 2021, according to reports. 

Additionally, the copy rights for 60 BL novels on Jinjiang, a major Chinese literature website, have been purchased, according to data from Beijing-based company Funji.

Tianguancifu's work has also been adapted to comics and cartoons that have been launched on popular Chinese video-sharing platform Bilibili to rave reviews from fans of the original story. However, these same fans don't seem as enthusiastic about a TV adaptation as they have said they cannot think of the perfect actors to play the lead roles. 

This is a common dilemma for TV adaptations of BL fiction and it is rare for these adaptations to gain the support of fans of the original works. 

One reason most likely has to do with the limitations that TV dramas bring. While the original stories as well as comic and cartoon adaptations can depict same-sex relationships, this subject is still taboo for TV and film in the Chinese mainland. 

For example, when it was announced that well-known web novels Saye (lit: get out of hand) and Modu (lit: read silently) would be adapted as TV dramas, many netizens expressed their opposition on social media platforms. Others even refused to recognize that other TV adaptations were based on BL web novels due to the sharp differences in the final product. 

"This is because we know the dramas cannot recreate the brilliant content of our beloved novels, and so adaptations in a way kind of show disregard for these wonderful works. Some changes even end up ruining the perfect characters in our heart," Zhang, a 26-year-old loyal reader of BL web novels, told the Global Times.

Some celebrities including Wang Yibo and Bai Yu have risen in popularity after starring in these dramas, which is also a factor that has pushed forward the trend to adapt BL fiction, some industry experts have noted. 

However, not everyone in the industry is supportive of this trend. 

Si Ke, a project director at China's SKMR Global Films Company, told the Global Times that he did not support adapting too many of these stories as he feels the Chinese film and TV industry needs more diverse genres. 

Commercial profit is important but should not be the only factor that is considered. Film and TV industry insiders need to explore and develop more positive and meaningful themes for audiences.