Chinese films, TV shows finding more fans around the world
A foot in the door
Published: May 24, 2022 07:02 PM
The promotional materials for Chinese TV dramas Be Reborn and Master of My Own (top) Photos: Courtesy of Youku

The promotional materials for Chinese TV dramas Be Reborn and Master of My Own (top) Photos: Courtesy of Youku

The promotional materials for Chinese TV dramas Be Reborn and Master of My Own (top) Photos: Courtesy of Youku

The promotional materials for Chinese TV dramas Be Reborn and Master of My Own (top) Photos: Courtesy of Youku

Ever since watching his very first Jackie Chan movie 17 years ago, Bakary Coulibaly has been a fan of Chinese movies and TV dramas.

"The only way to get Chinese movies back then was to buy DVDs, which were all old titles rather than new ones or TV series," Coulibaly, a young Malian studying in China, recalled.

In stark contrast, his family back in Africa nowadays can simply turn on TV and watch a variety of the latest Chinese movies and TV series dubbed and subtitled in French.

Diversified content

In recent years, China's domestic movies, TV series and variety shows have gone global with diversified themes and higher production standards, appealing to more people from different cultures.

While the popularity of Chinese movies and TV plays reflecting traditional Chinese culture continues to grow, productions based on the life of contemporary Chinese people and their values are also gaining appreciation by audiences worldwide.

A batch of TV dramas are all making inroads into overseas markets. Nothing But Thirty, a hit Chinese TV drama that revolves around the lives of three vastly different women in their 30s who take matters into their own hands as they come across different challenges in lives; You Are My Glory, a romance TV drama about a young couple falling in love again after an encounter; and The Oath of Love, a romance starring Yang Zi and Xiao Zhan, have aired in a number of countries like Thailand and Malaysia. 

With the fast development of China's content production, more and more TV dramas have received warm welcomes from local audiences after being aired on major TV stations. Chinese romance drama Master of My Own produced by streaming platform Youku has reached Asian countries like Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines and is expected to reach South Korean and Japanese audiences through the NBC channel. With a viewership over 60 million, the drama also has subtitles in English, Vietnamese and Spanish.  

"There used to be a lot of historical and costume dramas that went overseas, but now there are a series of excellent realist dramas that have been well-received abroad," said Zhang Yiwu, a professor of Chinese literature at Peking University, citing the diversified themes of Chinese TV series nowadays.

Genres such as martial arts, modern life and urban romance dramas are popular among African audiences, said Zhang Jun, director of the Chinese channel from StarTimes, a Chinese media group that has become one of the most influential digital TV operators in Africa. 

At the same time, Chinese companies have been exploring new channels for movies and TV series to reach global audiences through the internet.

Homegrown IPs 

Recently, a revamped version of a Chinese street dance variety show has become popular in Vietnam. Street Dance Vietnam is being seen as a step forward for China's own TV IPs.

Adapted from China's 2018 online hit show Street Dance from Youku, the show is now being aired on Vietnamese TV as well as on YouTube.

"This is the first time that the Chinese variety show model is being used in another country. There was no previous experience to follow. We were trying to adapt to a more international market," Lin Zhiqiang, vice president of Youku, told the Global Times.

For Lin, one of main reasons for the success of a Chinese IP in Vietnam is the local culture. "Considering the large number of Chinese living in Vietnam, they can understand and accept Chinese culture," said Lin. 

The Vietnamese street dance show has inherited the competitive model and the essence of the original Chinese show. The production team provided detailed guidance on visual design and choreography. According to staff from Youku, the production can help "Chinese original IPs take root overseas." 

Since 2017, the Belt and Road Initiative has pushed for films and TV dramas to establish an international vision in order to raise cultural exchanges to a global level, including conducting film-related academic discussions and exporting domestic movies and TV dramas.

But for TV variety shows, the situation is rather different. Very few of them have been exported to other countries successfully.

However, the street dance show has gained high ratings on local Vietnamese TV channels and on YouTube, with the most popular episode racking up 2.5 million views.

"The increasing number of Chinese movies and TV series going overseas reflects the improvement of China's overall national strength, cultural soft power and cultural influence," said Rao Shuguang, president of the China Film Critics Association.

"Audiences not only see kung fu but also a modern China and its development," said Coulibaly.