With the popularity of "A Dream of Splendor", the Chinese traditional folk life of the Song Dynasty shown in the drama has set off a retro craze in reality. The audience's focus on ancient costume dramas is no longer limited to makeup and costumes, but seeks to examine and explore deeper content.
In recent years, it is common that ancient costume dramas based on historical research and restoration of ancient life, but most of them are still embodied in costumes and etiquette, do not fully restore the life of ancient China. So, what is traditional Chinese folk life like?
STUDIO SHENLOUZHI (蜃楼志), as if they had traveled from ancient China, recreates the traditional Chinese folk life for the audience with their almost perfect short films.
On June 10, 2019, their first work, "VAGUELY DREAM IN HOKCHEW - Short Film of Traditional Life in Late Ming Dynasty" suddenly becomes popular on the Internet, with more than 700,000 views. The creative team members are all post-90s traditional culture enthusiasts, who had no experience in film production or acting in any drama before.
The short film shows the folk life in Hokchew City (Fuzhou) during the Chongzhen period of the late Ming Dynasty (1610-1644 AD), it calmly narrates the daily life of the common people in the city against the backdrop of dynastic changes, and is available in both Chinese Mandarin and Min Dong dialects.
Two years later, STUDIO SHENLOUZHI released the short film "Man Ting Fang", which quickly reached more than 200,000 views. For most viewers, both a particular period in ancient China and local Chinese dialects are relatively unfamiliar. In other words, both "VAGUELY DREAM IN HOKCHEW" and "Man Ting Fang" are both short films about ancient life very far from modern times, so why did they attract the attention of a large number of viewers?
STUDIO SHENLOUZHI was established in 2019, and its current works include "VAGUELY DREAM IN HOKCHEW (三山旧梦)", "Gu Su Suo Ji (姑苏琐记)" series, "Min Du Sui Shi Ji (闽都岁时记)" series, "Man Ting Fang (满庭芳)", "MR.QI'S DIARY (祁彪佳日记)", etc.
The main members of STUDIO SHENLOUZHI:
- Wu Chuanjie, responsible for photography, filming, and makeup work.
- Chen Cai, responsible for scene decoration and historical background research.
- Wu Yicheng, responsible for styling design.
- Wu Xuan, responsible for post-production editing, directing, and scriptwriting.
Start in VAGUELY DREAM IN HOKCHEW
VAGUELY DREAM IN HOKCHEW can be said to be the pioneering work of this team. The characters' costumes, makeup and hairstyles in the film were finely detailed and received rave reviews from Hanfu lovers. But you might not expect that this movie-like quality short film was shot under the light of a bulb heater.
The director let someone shake the twigs in front of the light, causing the light and shadow to sway, and the result was quite poetic. Even the filming equipment is only a borrowed DSLR and a cell phone.
Compared with a professional team, STUDIO SHENLOUZHI is more like a hobby group. The creators hope that it is a dream-making organization, in which the historical times restored in the video seem to be real, but in reality, they cannot be found.
Each member of the team is multi-tasking, whether in make-up, photography, costumes, or editing, contributing to the film with the parts they are good at. As the initiator of STUDIO SHENLOUZHI, Wu Chuanjie said frankly: "Why do we want to keep on shooting, in fact, not only because we want to promote traditional culture. There must be an inevitable reason before promoting it, and that is love. The more crucial point is because we are very interested in the costumes, shapes, and the real living conditions of traditional Chinese folk life in each stage of history."
Among the team, Chen Cai and Wu Yicheng were passionate about the study of traditional Chinese costume culture before STUDIO SHENLOUZHI was established and had their own hanfu store. Most of the costume styling in the video was improvised by them based on artifacts, studies, and portraits from the historical period of the time, and some were ready-made clothes from their own store. They restored costumes or props within their means, and it was common for them to spend a long time on a piece of clothing or a hat. Compared with many films and TV dramas that still advocate the restoration of the so-called traditional costume form, they have begun to think about the contrast of materials and the accuracy of the silhouette.
Initially, the team focused on the Ming Dynasty as the subject of the film. Since the Ming Dynasty has the most unearthed artifacts, especially the large number of Ming Dynasty costumes handed down from the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu, Shandong Province, provided a large amount of reference material for the Ming hanfu system. They thought that since the development of traditional hanfu had been interrupted since the Ming Dynasty, it was up to them to continue the culture of hanfu starting from the Ming-style hanfu.
How STUDIO SHENLOUZHI filmed the Ming Dynasty
Since STUDIO SHENLOUZHI was established, the members have spent their spare time filming several videos, including the series "Gui Zhong Ji Shi (闺中即事)" with the Ming Dynasty as the background.
The series was initially edited from some video footage that the members took casually while filming hanbok on a daily basis, with the main purpose of showing the dynamic beauty of hanfu when worn on people through the videos. But later, it turned from a concept short film with no storyline to a short film telling the stories of the women in the boudoir.
Before the 2021 Lantern Festival, STUDIO SHENLOUZH released another Ming Dynasty short film, "New Year's Special - Shang Yuan Zhu Zhi Ci (上元竹枝词)".
The story is set in Hokchew City during the Jiajing period of the Ming Dynasty. Before the Lantern Festival, Shuguan goes to her best friend Longgu's house to have a party with her girlfriends.
Afterwards, Longgu hears from her girlfriends that Shuguan's husband only favors her concubine and not only refuses to prepare white silk top and blue satin skirt for Shuguan to wear in the Lantern Festival, but even hits her. Then Long Gu and her girlfriends discuss making a set of new dresses for Shuguan privately, to give her at the Lantern Festival.
"The plot is actually based on an event that happened around ourselves. For example, a friend encountered some difficulties, want to help her but do not want her to have a psychological burden, then find an excuse to send her a small gift under the pretext of sending something to everyone. This kind of mutual help story is more warm, but also in life will happen, will be more touching. I think this kind of act of kindness between friends is not only something contemporary people would do, but ancient people would do the same."
The location for the filming of "Shang Yuan Zhu Zhi Ci" is a local old mansion in Fuzhou which was built during the Guangxu period of the Qing Dynasty. With the permission and enthusiastic help of the mansion's owner, they completed the filming and also designed the furnishings according to the background of the era.
STUDIO SHENLOUZHI has always adhered to the principle that "everyone is the initiator of a short film" in the process of planning a short film, and any idea can be proposed and the team members will cooperate to make it happen. So, after launching several short films about the Ming Dynasty, they began to research folk stories other than the Ming Dynasty, such as the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, trying to open a new dynasty with a new perspective.
An experimental short film of the Song Dynasty
On July 6, 2021, the short film of Chinese folk life with the theme of the Southern Song Dynasty, "Man Ting Fang", was released online. The short film tells the story of Huang Siniang looking for gardenia flowers for her blind sister in Huating County, Jiaxing Province in the Southern Song Dynasty.
In the ancient book "Xi Hu Lao Ren Fan Sheng Lu", had recorded quite a lot of folk customs in the Southern Song Dynasty, Wu Xuan looked up the custom of gambling on Zongzi leaves at the Dragon Boat Festival in the south of China, which also triggered his initial idea for the script "Man Ting Fang".
"The local gambling on Zongzi is popular in Lin'an during the Dragon Boat Festival, comparing the length of the leaves after peeling the zongzi, whoever has a long one wins. In addition, the custom during the festival is to insert flowers, so the story was logically tied together, with flowers and Zong leaves as props to connect the whole story."
Dialect is also a feature of STUDIO SHENLOUZHI team's work, from Fuzhou dialect to Wu dialect, which has been their insistence on using. When filming "Shang Yuan Zhu Zhi Ci" in Fuzhou, they contacted local dialect preservation organizations to translate the lines word into the Fuzhou dialect. "Man Ting Fang" also uses the local dialect of Songjiang, Shanghai.
In addition to the Ming and Song dynasties, STUDIO SHENLOUZHI has also begun experimenting with short films about the Tang dynasty. Although only improvised short films have been released so far, they intend to show all the ancient Chinese folk tales little by little.
The uniqueness of STUDIO SHENLOUZHI
The styles of all the works of STUDIO SHENLOUZHI are very distinctive and unique. This is reflected in the following aspects.
First, the pursuit of restoration of traditional clothing and makeup. According to the background of the story and the characteristics of the characters, they will choose the right shape of clothing and ornaments for each character.
Hanfu in the film includes stand collar long shirt, round neck robe, stand collar pipa sleeve short shirt, large sleeves Pifeng, square collar Bijia, woven gold Mamian skirt, Fujin, and shoes and socks, etc., accessories are mostly gold hairpin, pearls, Moe, earrings, rings, bracelets, etc.; makeup is mostly light, with fine eyebrows, vermilion lips and other makeup in line with traditional Chinese aesthetics, echoing the characteristics of the characters. This classical makeup does not deliberately change the shape of the features and the beauty of the individual is outlined.
Second, the scenery also deeply fits the background of the story.
The team chose to shoot in ancient buildings and gardens full of historical flavor, and the scenery of tables, chairs, flowers and fruits, dishes, lamps, and other scenery in the scenes are in line with the content of the story, such as gardenias, Zongzi, for the Dragon Boat Festival; lantern displays for the Lantern Festival. Each of the artifacts is very elaborate, and the degree of care is amazing!
Third, the lens light and shadow glowing radiance, the beautiful hazy mood.
Lighting artists, set designers, and cinematographers are well versed in the beauty of light and shadow, especially at night and in closed spaces, creating a faint and gentle mapping like candlelight through lighting to create an atmosphere suitable for the storyline and the characters' moods, so that the audience can be in the scene and feel the emotion. In addition to the use of light and shadow on the characters, there is also very good use in some scenes, such as the Lantern Festival, where various kinds of lanterns shine and reflect each other, showing a strong festive atmosphere in the dark night.
Fourth, focus on the emotions and lives of ordinary people.
The life of ordinary people is the most realistic reflection of an era. It is much more difficult to photograph the life of the ordinary people in ancient times than to simulate the gentry class, because it is extremely difficult to preserve physical documents involving food, clothing, and supplies, while the living space and artifacts of the middle and upper-class people have a much greater chance of being passed down or described. Therefore, describing the life of the common people in ancient times requires more patience, sincerity, and time.
Besides, de-stamping the era and not deliberately catering to the current aesthetics is also one of the characteristics of STUDIO SHENLOUZHI. Normal costume dramas tend to cater to some current aesthetic orientations in order to attract audiences. However, what STUDIO SHENLOUZHI is doing is to faithfully restoring the characteristics of the chosen dynasty.