Recently, the popular broadcast of "The Journey of Chong Zi" and "The Starry Love" has won the attention of most audiences who particularly love Xianxia TV shows. Ever since these two shows are on, the heated discussion on the pattern and anti-pattern of Xianxia dramas has not been rested.
The traditional romance between master and disciple in "The Journey of Chong Zi" continues to enjoy the love of its fans, while the humor in "The Starry Love" offers a great experience for those who prefer novelty. However, some audience is not satisfied with these, believing that Xianxia dramas need innovation nowadays.
The Iteration of Xianxia Drama
Xianxia indicates two themes: Xian and Xia. Xian (仙, fairy) originated from the myth while Xia (侠, hero) comes from the martial arts classic. The early mythological dramas including "The Legend of the White Snake" (1992), "The Ghost Tales" (1998), "The Beauty Mermaid World Legend" (2000), and "Gods of Honour" (2001) were mainly based on Chinese folk legends or novels. The concepts of divines, devils, monsters, and treasures, along with the settings of human-demon romance, the confrontation between gods and devils, and reincarnation have all originated from legends and novels, and were put into large-scale use in Xianxia drama later on.
The history of martial arts stories is no shorter than legends and myths. The story of Lord Xinling who stole to rescue Zhao and the story of Jingke who assassinated Qin Shi Huang have shown their righteousness. In later times, based on the works of novels by Jin Yong, Gu Long, Wen Rui'an, and Liang Yusheng, the dramas led to a generation of martial arts styles.
As a result, the Xianxia drama can be defined as a type of drama that incorporates the characteristics of mythology and martial arts, reflects traditional Chinese cultural values, and is full of magnificent and spectacular imagination.
The year 2005 was the first major turning point throughout the development process of Xianxia drama. That was when "Chinese Paladin", an adaption from the game of the same name, premiered. Mainly telling the story of Li Xiaoyao and his friends’ heroic adventures, this show officially started the Xianxia era of Chinese TV shows.
The Xianxia dramas in this period were mostly adapted from video games, therefore were mainly narrated from the perspective of the lead male character. The typical setting mostly consisted of powerful male lead along with female lead, and multiple female protagonist settings were popular too.
The main stories were focused on the growth of the characters and justice, accompanied by romance and friendship. The following shows including "Chinese Paladin III", "Xuan-Yuan Sword: Scar of Sky", and "Swords of Legends" have all inherited such styles.
However, the series of Chinese Paladin has not absolutely opened the market for Xianjian drama. The true era of mythical shows hasn’t come until the success of "The Journey of Flower" (2015) and "Eternal Love" (2017).
From then on, novels have become the archetype of Xianxia dramas. The focus on female protagonists has dominated the shows, showing the producers’ awareness of how to please female audiences. Though the old pattern of characters’ growth still exists, the chosen one has changed into female protagonist from male one.
Meanwhile, the romantic storyline has gained increasing importance following the precedents of the forbidden love between master and disciple, the conflicts better good and love led by "The Journey of Flower" and the tragic romance, fate, and vicious supporting actress led by "Eternal Love".
The prosperity of Xianxia dramas is firstly reflected in its production with several high-quality series produced annually. Secondly, the popularity can be seen in their ability to create stars and attract investment. For example, Yangzi has become one of the first line young actresses after "Ashes of Love" was on in 2018. This show has enjoyed one of the most well-deserved Xianxia hot drama with a cumulative network broadcast level of over 11.5 billion.
After that, the fact that "The Journey of Chong Zi" and "The Starry Love " have not pleased all mythical show’s fans is an indication of the overall situation, in which the making of mythical shows is becoming more and more difficult.
The Problem of Homogeneity is Highlighted
Having become the preferred genre, a shortcut for Chinese actors to gain fame, and an object for capital to invest, Xianxia dramas have walked on the shortcut for a period of time.
By repeating classic characters and producing assembly line works, Xianxia dramas have earned their popularity and money but also lost their reputation. It is inevitable for the audience to compare a new Xianxia drama to the series of "Chinese Paladin" in the past, and to draw the conclusion that mythical shows have passed their prime.
To summarize the sore points of mythical shows, we have to mention the homogeneity issue. In the background of the divine-devil rivalry, the female lead is often innocent but has destructive power, while the male lead is often upright and has sworn to save the world.
The female lead will gradually be forced to join the devils despite her innocent intention, therefore the love and hatred between her and the male lead will begin. This kind of story pattern is seen too much in the Xianxia dramas, boring the audience unavoidably.
The second one is that everything is about love in Xianxia dramas, without any "Xia" spirit. Acclaiming to save the world, the dramas have not used concrete stories to show "Xia", thus were criticized for shallow personal ideals and self-worth realization.
Only fighting with the stronger ones has ignored the importance of minor good deeds. The romance and love have been more than sufficient. In a grandeur worldview, there should be a more exciting society. Love and chivalry should be combined together to build better fictional characters. But apparently, many Xianxia dramas have failed to do so.
What’s more, the side storylines have been minimized and the supporting roles can no longer enrich the plots. In the classic "Chinese Paladin III", apart from five male roles including Jingtian, Xuejian, Longkui, Xu Changqing, and Zixuan, there were many supporting roles but extraordinary characters, who added charm to the drama. But the later Xianxia dramas seem to be unwilling to give the highlight moments to the supporting roles.
In addition, the abuse of conventional elements has further sabotaged the reputation of Xianxia drama. The setting of reincarnation, for example, is basically one of the essential elements of mythical tragical romance. It is an infinite time based on the special mythical worldview. When a relationship has crossed death, it will necessarily bring instant excitement. But freshness only exists in innovation. The audience will become sick of it if it is constantly used without any creativity.
Change with the Times
While picking on the shortcomings, we cannot ignore the many advances made in the Xianxia dramas, which are mostly brought about by the courage to change with the times. More creators are ahead of the audience, knowing the consequences of not innovating. Thus, we have seen the overbearing magician and naive fairy of "Love Between Fairy and Devil".
And then combined with other works in recent years, the gradual improvements of the costume and special effects are obvious. "Eternal Love” accidentally made the white costumes popular in Xianxia dramas, a situation that is now significantly improved. In addition to "Love between Fairy and Devil", the pending "Till The End Of The Moon” and "Love You Seven Times" have all been known for their great make-up and costumes.
Light comedy has always been an important element of dramas, but it has gained extra love from the current audience. A large number of funny plots in mythical shows make for a great "e-appetizer", which is popular with young audiences. In addition, the power of online marketing gives the series a better chance of being known by the public, the addition of popular elements allows the work to keep up with the times, and the emphasis on core values is expected to bring back chivalry and other moral ethics. All of these are for better changes.
However, based on large numbers of obsolete online novels, Xianxia drama can easily bore the audience. Although the structure is fine, the adaptation still needs more effort and thoughts. From the time-efficient development of online literature, we can find that today's female-oriented literature is fashionable with stronger female characters, more vivid personalities, more relaxed plots, and more sensitive sentiments. The producers should also receive and be aware of these signals to understand the preferences of the potential audiences.
Finally, it is also worth considering whether there is more space for music production in Xianxia dramas. Music can be an outstanding element in any type of shows, playing an important role in setting the mood and creating atmosphere. The background of mythical shows is most likely to have touching plots or dramatic lives, which naturally is the inspiration and nutrients for music creation. And when the corresponding plot and characters have exclusive BGM, the audience will also be pulled into the story more easily.
Behind the iteration of Xianxia dramas represents the changing taste of the audience and the cruel choice of the market. In the yet-to-be-broadcast list of mythical shows, the immortal world IP has rebooted. A new version of "Chinese Paladin" and a brand new story called "Sword and Fairy"; much attention is also paid to "The Legend of Shen Li", "Back From the Brink", which are the works of the "Love Between Fairy and Devil" original author Jiulufeixiang of the novel. They are still accompanied by strong intellectual property and well-known team of creative lineup.
In terms of audience feedback, the market still needs Xianxia dramas to be better combined with love and chivalry, and to be innovated on the basis of patterns. Hopefully among them, there will be works that can truly reshape the audience's confidence in the Xianxia dramas.
I 100 per cent agree with you, also nowadays almost almost all xianxia dramas follow the same story line, rarely there are plot twists or they are put in the total end.
I love ancient drama, xianxia, wuxia, etc
Xinxia drama very good
Very nice overview. I like the criticisms you point out, it is heartbreaking to see all those high budget produtions coming up with boring stories and shallow characters, as I often find. All the more disturbing for me is the excessive "humanness" of their so called divine beings, that really annoys me. You point out the lack of "xia", I am more disturbed by the lack of "xian" ^^.
Agree with you, some storylines are really boring, even without basic logic