Once again, the annual summer season has arrived, and multiple top-tier S+ drama projects are being released. The competition among these prominent historical costume dramas is intense, as they strive to break viewership records. On one hand, there's the attention-grabbing cast of "Destined" that has sparked discussions; on the other hand, "The Longest Promise" makes a sudden appearance in an attempt to capture audience interest and attention.
Amidst this fierce battle between major productions, a low-budget self-produced drama called "An Ancient Love Song" manages to carve out its own space in the realm of public discourse. Upon exploring the series synopsis, it becomes clear that it neither relies on conventional online literature adaptations nor boasts renowned actors; however, it surprisingly gains audience traction during this highly competitive summer season. Distinct from grandiose productions vying for attention through lavish displays, "An Ancient Love Song" primarily relies on passionate recommendations from its audience.
A Nonconventional Time-Travel Drama
In terms of genre,"An Ancient Love Song" falls into the category of time-travel dramas wherein a modern-day male protagonist encounters an ancient "demonic queen," leading to a captivating love story. Notably innovative within this time-travel framework is its utilization of dual reverse chronological travel.
From the perspective of male lead Shen Buyan, his travels through time occur in reverse order, each trip takes him further back into history, and in each encounter, female lead becomes increasingly younger. Conversely for female lead Lu Yuan, she experiences time progressing normally,and every reunion with male lead occurs in her future.
These differing temporal perspectives create a dissonance where eagerly anticipated reunions are met with complete unfamiliarity by one party.Their intertwined love across two opposing timelines ensures an inevitable bad ending regardless which perspective we consider.This heart-wrenching sensation stands out amidst numerous homogeneous costume dramas, making it truly unconventional.
In this particular setup, the airing schedule of "An Ancient Love Song" on the platform seems to have followed a natural progression. When viewers clicked into the drama's playlist, they found that instead of the typical first episode, they were presented with the fourteenth episode. To reassure viewers and ensure a smooth viewing experience, the show made a special notation stating "This is indeed the first episode," which sparked a wave of discussions.
In terms of length, "An Ancient Love Song" has fewer episodes compared to lengthy dramas that often exceed forty episodes; it falls into the medium-length category. Clearly, its production cost cannot compete on par with grand productions as it lacks extravagant scenes.
However, low budget does not equate to low quality. In contrast to other major dramas where such scenes would require an emphasis on grandiosity, the opening scene in "An Ancient Love Song" features female lead performing on a bridge while playing her Guqin (Chinese zither).
Just at the moment when her melodious music reaches its peak, suddenly, the string breaks symbolizing ill-fated destiny. She slowly rises up,gazes towards our male lead Shen Buyan from afar, and caresses her jade pendant. A single teardrop silently falls from her eye. Then abruptly, the camera shifts focus as this jade pendant streaks across the sky and shatters into five fragments upon landing below. The screen cuts to black. As these events unfold, the story becomes clear while simultaneously creating an enchantingly moving atmosphere.
Casting choices also pleasantly surprised many viewers. As a ancient costume drama, "An Ancient Love Song" captivates audiences not only through its main leads but also through supporting characters who effortlessly exude an ancient charm. Female lead Zhang Yaqin was particularly praised by numerous netizens as being one who emerged straight out from classical poetry, a true embodimentof antiquity.
Her serene demeanor embodies that elegant and refined style of ancient noblewomen. With her dignified facial features, she perfectly aligns with the aesthetics of classical China. This is a significant reason why "An Ancient Love Song" manages to stand out from the plethora of ancient dramas. After all, popular stars are not always the most suitable actors,and exorbitant production costs do not necessarily guarantee a rich aesthetic experience.
Internet properties of An Ancient Love Song
If it is only the time-travel setting and low-budget production that make "An Ancient Love Song" not necessarily able to generate current discussions. One notable characteristic is that, unlike most ancient dramas adapted from well-known original, "An Ancient Love Song" originates from the editing videos of Bilibili blogger San Qian Yu (三千鱼).
At that time, many netizens were moved by the reverse-time-travel concept and expressed their hopes for a team to adapt this story into a film or drama. As a result, Bilibili buy the adaptation rights for this story. This implies that "An Ancient Love Song" naturally possesses strong internet genes.
Not only is "An Ancient Love Song" adapted from a secondary creation video created by an influential user on Bilibili, but also many core creative members are Bilibili bloggers themselves. Director Zhi Zhu has been active on Bilibili since 2016 and boasts millions of followers there. Known for her ability to produce high-quality films with low budgets. Works like "Dong Lan Xue" and "Zhang Gong Zhu Zai Shang" are among her masterpieces.
In this case of "An Ancient Love Song," Zhi Zhu continues to deliver stable performances. Elements such as night rain, flower petals, and light veils have been crafted beautifully under her direction.
In the first episode when the male and female leads meet each other in the rain amidst swaying magnolia flowers, the male lead walks across a long wooden corridor following maid Qingdeng's guidance before arriving behind the female lead just before she turns around - between them floats a sheer curtain barely visible yet tantalizingly mysterious. The sense of mystery and destiny conveyed by Zhi Zhu is precise and vivid.
At the same time, Zhi Zhu also utilizes variations in the depth of clothing colors to differentiate the four time-travel periods within the drama. The color of clothes helps establish viewers' initial impressions of the characters.
Generally, mature characters wear deeper colors while innocent and lively characters wear lighter ones. Shen Buyan and Lu Yuan's acquaintance is a process of dislocation, which is suitable for contrasting with clothing colors - one transitioning from deep to light, the other from light to deep.
Heli Yunduan and San Qian Yu, who participated in scriptwriting for this work, are also well-known Bilibili bloggers in the film and drama section. Heli Yunduan's edited video "Timeline of Chinese History" has garnered an impressive 20.58 million views on Bilibili, while San Qian Yu, as the original author behind "An Ancient Love Song," is an expert in secondary creation, with their videos repeatedly making it onto popular lists.
Main actors Zhang Yaqin, Guo Jianan, and Quan Yilun each have their own accounts on Bilibili as well. During the airing period of "An Ancient Love Song," they frequently interacted with netizens to increase interest in the series. It is difficult to overlook the distinctive internet genes present in "An Ancient Love Song." It is because of these factors that this drama did not become submerged amidst all those released during summer season market competition.
Despite its low production cost, it does not hinder directorial or scriptwriting excellence; despite consisting only of 14 episodes overall, the series constantly delivers emotional climaxes; even though its cast lacks fame individually, the ancient hanfu costumes completely align with aesthetics embraced by younger generations.
Low-budget drama's positive cycle
In the first half of 2023, with the industry rebounding and capital becoming more rational, enhancing efficiency has become a consensus in the industry. It can be seen that projects with long investment cycles, high investment risks but no content differentiation are facing multiple crises. When audiences have become accustomed to large-scale productions with all-star casts and high production values, it is actually innovative and diverse low-budget works that are more likely to gain market favor.
For Bilibili, relying on its youthful community ecosystem and taking a small yet beautiful differentiated route is exactly its core essence. In recent years, many of Bilibili's dramas possess this characteristic.
In 2020, "Run for Young" focused on the youth of generation Z with its absurd and adolescent style which was more in line with the preferences of Bilibili's young users compared to traditional youth themes; "Song of Life" explored the niche funeral industry while delving into discussions about young people's spiritual crisis which received much praise; "Small & Mighty" combined legal themes with light-hearted elements for a refreshing experience. It can be clearly seen that Bilibili's dramas have matured by exploring the tastes of young people.
It is understood that Bilibili will fully leverage its own IP and fan-made content in the future. For example, the live-action adaptation of "Link Click" originates from a highly-rated original Chinese animation on Bilibili and is already in development, soon to meet with audiences.
The summer season is still ongoing, as seen from the upcoming release schedules across various platforms, there are still many high-profile dramas joining the competition for viewers' attention. However, as audience viewing habits become more mature and discerning in taste, works with high energy consumption and high costs may not necessarily attract their interest. It is crucial to consider how to establish a positive business cycle based on their own characteristics.