Chinese costume dramas have gained immense popularity in recent years, both in China and around the world. These dramas are known for their intricate costumes, beautiful set designs, and of course, their unforgettable female leads. While each drama has its own unique story and characters, there are three distinct types of female leads that are commonly seen in Chinese costume dramas. In this essay, we will explore these three types of female leads and examine what makes each of them so compelling.
Costume dramas are an enduring theme, particularly beloved by female audiences. Upon reviewing the performance of dramas over the past three years, we have observed that the female leads' characterizations have been continuously innovative in these popular works. Some are powerful and gallant heroines, whose continuous growth propels the work's excitement; while others are clever and lovable young ladies, naturally drawing closer to the audience and evoking emotional resonance.
Female Leads in Hit Costume Drama
Among the latest and most popular five period dramas in the past three years, take "A Dream of Splendor," "Douluo Continent," "My Heroic Husband," "Love Like the Galaxy" and "Legend of Fei" as examples.
"A Dream of Splendor" features a "career-oriented" female protagonist, emphasizing female cooperation and entrepreneurship in the teahouse industry. In the drama, the heroine Zhao Pan'er first risks it all to help Song Yinzhang and Sun Erniang escape from their disastrous marriage, and then uses hunger marketing to attract customers to the teahouse by having Song Yinzhang play pipa music. All of which embody her shrewdness, wit, and courage.
This kind of female lead is popular because she fits the aesthetics of the current female audience. She dares to fight for her marriage, but at the same time she is able to help others and put her career development in first place. These personalities are the qualities that can attract female viewers.
Another "career-oriented" female lead is Su Tan'er from "My Heroic Husband". Her decision to take over the family business as a woman in ancient times was seen as rebellious. However, her intelligence led her to choose a husband partnered with her, and together they successfully managed the family business. Through their cooperation, she showcased her talent in textile design, and displayed both courage and strategy.
This portrayal of Su Tan'er differs slightly from the original novel. The adapted Su Tan'er is clever, independent, and decisive. Her portrayal adds more interest to the drama and contributes significantly to its success. While maintaining its initial popularity, the drama ends on an even more impressive note.
Although not a "career-oriented" female lead, the leading character in "Legend of Fei" is undoubtedly the martial arts expert, exuding a heroic and charismatic aura. Her journey involves fighting evil, quelling rebellions, capturing warlords, and rescuing refugees, all while exhibiting her resolute and unwavering spirit. Her unique charm lies in her ability to excel in both literature and martial arts, while never giving up easily. This strong heroine perspective has a high level of identification, satisfying the audience's desire for adventure and Wuxia.
Additionally, the personalities of two other drama series' female protagonists have gained popularity among the masses. Firstly, Xiao Wu from "Douluo Continent" is cute and clingy, a common character trope in fantasy works. This endears her to fans, who often find themselves drawn to her lovable character.
Secondly, Cheng Shaoshang from "Love Like the Galaxy" appears soft and weak on the surface but harbors a mischievous side within. The strong contrast of her personality adds depth to her character, making her shine and gaining her favor with audiences. Both dramas have received excellent feedback in their viewership ratings as a result of their appeal.
Female Leads in Web Costume Drama
Apart from the hit costume dramas, some low-budget costume web dramas have gained popularity in the past three years and have become dark horse dramas. For example, "Strange Tales of Tang Dynasty", "The Imperial Coroner", "New Life Begins" and so on.
Although the investment in these works is not top-tier, and the cast is not high in popularity, they have all achieved a counterattack in popularity. Although their specific themes are different, the female leads in the drama are outstanding. Not only are their personalities eye-catching, but their professional skills also drive the development of the plot.
In "The Imperial Coroner", the female lead, Chu Chu, is a coroner, or ancient forensic scientist. The main plot of the drama is to show how she uses her forensic expertise to solve cases. In the process of solving the case, her innocent and lovely personality is also revealed. It can be seen that this type of female character does not have the strong and aggressive demeanor of the big female lead in costume dramas. Their cute personalities easily make male viewers happy, and also make female viewers have a good impression of them.
In addition to the blessings of special skills, "Wuzuo" as the first perspective of this drama, the female protagonist Chuchu can promote the development of the case, and is truly charming. A similar approach is also seen in "Strange Tales of Tang Dynasty" with Pei Xijun. Although she is not the main character, in the plot of the group solving the case, she helps everyone as a "painter" to solve the case together. For example, in the plot of the "Zhongsheng Hall" case, Pei Xijun restored the appearance of the suspects such as the old woman and the old fisherman based on the witness's description.
The charm of these two female characters not only lies in their smart and talented professional skills, but also in their clever and lovely handling of affairs. They also play an important role in promoting the plot, making it difficult for the audience not to like them.
While these two female leads are similar in some ways, but Li Wei in "New Life Begins" stands out with her more relatable skills and modern views on marriage, as well as her strong chemistry with the male lead, Yin Zheng. Li Wei's skill is not cooking, but rather being a foodie. She often uses her skill to get closer to Yin Zheng.
Her innocent and lovable personality makes her easily likable. In the different views on marriage in the drama, Li Wei expresses her new ideas by adhering to the concept of "one husband, one wife". At the same time, her dynamic and static chemistry with Yin Zheng adds more charm to her character, making her a popular figure among the audience.
These cute and non-threatening female leads already have a lot of charm, similar to the female lead in "The Romance of Tiger and Rose" that aired earlier. However, unlike Chen Qianqian's wild girlfriend in that drama, the female leads in these recent dramas have impressive professional skills, with a touch of wisdom in their cute. These dramas once again prove that cute female leads still have a strong creative space.
Female Leads in Classic Costume Cdramas
In addition to the above-mentioned dramas, which have good online popularity, there are also some costume dramas that have been on air for many years and are still regarded as classics. These dramas have many classic lines in the plot, which often become hot topics and have long-lasting popularity. Although these dramas have been broadcast for many years, they still have good traffic feedback on the video platform, with strong long-tail effects. Among these classic works, the female leads in the drama are also deeply ingrained in people's hearts.
In "Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan", the female characters such as concubines and noblewomen are vivid and impressive. Among them, the most impressive is Zhen Huan. At the beginning of the plot, Zhen Huan is a woman full of yearning for love. After entering the palace and being treated as a tool repeatedly, she gradually becomes dark and seeks revenge. Later, whether it was seeing the situation clearly in the kill Consort Hua, or joining forces with Consort Jing and Consort Duan to overthrow the empress, Zhen Huan showed her resolute and radical personality.
This process satisfying the majority of female viewers' admiration and expectations for strong female characters, enhancing the enjoyment of watching, which is the greatest charm of these female characters. In addition, Sun Li's portrayal of the character of Zhen Huan is a perfect fit, making her an enduring screen heroine.
Similarly, the Wuxia drama "My Own Swordsman" portrays two female leads with different personalities. One is the charming, humorous, and sentimental Tong Xiangyu, while the other is the arrogant and willful Guo Furong, who loves to be a chivalrous hero. The two female leads collide and create sparks of intense chemistry in their daily interactions, becoming classic images of female characters in everyone's minds.
In addition, "The Story of Ming Lan" also stands out in the classical costume drama category. Ming Lan's portrayal in this family drama is particularly outstanding among the female ensemble cast. As the female lead, she possesses the qualities of being gentle yet strong, which is highly appreciated by the audience.
Despite living in a family where her stepmother is unkind, her sisters are difficult to deal with, her father doesn't value her, and her birth mother was killed, Ming Lan refuses to see herself as a weak person. Her strong and persevering personality makes the audience sympathize with her and follow her growth.
For example, in the plot which she has to choose between supporting the first son's heir or supporting the wise heir, she chooses the latter and protects the Sheng family, demonstrating her intelligent and resilient qualities. The reason why this realistically portrayed female character is so charming is that the audience can strongly identify with her.
Therefore, in these long-tail historical dramas, whether they belong to the sub-genres of palace intrigue, situational comedy, or family drama, female characters shine in their various personalities and charms. Strong and radical, humorous and witty, or gentle and strong, these female characters can make the audience continuously love them, adding a charm of repeated replay to the already outstanding dramas.
In conclusion, the representation of classic heroine archetypes has been an enduring feature of Chinese costume dramas. By subverting expectations and showcasing the diversity of female experiences, these shows provide audiences with dynamic and complex characters that challenge gender stereotypes. As the popularity of Chinese costume dramas continues to grow, we can expect to see more depictions of these classic heroines, providing a rich and nuanced view of women's experiences in drama.