This summer, the entertainment charts of short videos and social media platforms have been occupied by various drama series in a myriad of ways. Audiences find themselves shedding tears for the tumultuous journey of Xiaoyao (played by Yang Zi) in "Lost You Forever," while anxiously following the poisonous schemes of Li Xiangyi (played by Cheng Yi) in "Mysterious Lotus Casebook." And the excitement surrounding the grand wedding in "Destined" for the beloved couple Gu Jiu Si and Liu Yu Ru.
This year, a total of 125 Chinese dramas were released during the summer, an increase of 28 compared to the previous year, with a cumulative total of over 77.2 billion valid views. Even many mid-sized productions managed to dominate the summer season solely based on their word-of-mouth reputation. "Fake It Till You Make It" focuses on urban career, while "An Ancient Love Song" takes on the theme of reverse time travel. Various genres and storylines have witnessed changes and breakthroughs in creative direction.
However, amidst the bustling data and clamor of feedback, many people are still immersed in the shock of "The Knockout" surpassing 10 billion views in the first half of the year, unable to extricate themselves. What is truly surprising about the summer season of Chinese dramas is the emergence of new approaches. As the first major release period after the industry's recovery, it is worth mentioning the new heights achieved in terms of quality and quantity, as well as the further fusion of genres by creators and the increasingly mature content strategies and scheduling operations of platforms.
Revitalizing costume dramas: paving new paths
Costume dramas have always been the frontrunners of the summer season. Data shows that this summer, a total of 15 costume dramas were released, accounting for 39% of the new dramas, with the top four in terms of viewership being "Lost You Forever," "Destined," "Mysterious Lotus Casebook," and "The Longest Promise," all of which are ancient dramas.
It can be said that whoever captures the audience's attention in costume dramas holds the key to the summer season. In order to stand out during a period when costume dramas are most abundant, it is necessary not only to have a captivating cast but also to find a new path.
Two popular Chinese dramas of this summer, "Destined" and "Love You Seven Times," have brought a fresh twist to the genre of costume romance. "Destined" weaves together the emotions of love, brotherhood, parental love, and patriotic sentiment, while "Love You Seven Times" focuses on eastern fantasy, with seven metempsychosis of trials and tribulations, each with its own gains and losses.
These two dramas truly achieve the goal of writing about love without solely focusing on love. They portray both destined entanglements and the growth that defies destiny. "Destined" intertwines the characters' fates to create a dense and emotionally turbulent narrative.
In the drama, the characters are not propelled forward by dramatic coincidences but rather, they are independent individuals who dare to take on the challenges of their time and bravely pursue love. It's not just the awakening of the female characters; the male characters also strive to overcome their own crises of growth. Their struggles are filled with modern consciousness, allowing the audience to empathize with them.
After the wave of adaptations of famous literary works, historical romance dramas have primarily focused on love. The emergence of "Destined" showcases the possibility of historical romance dramas stepping out of the framework of love and presenting a narrative centered around character growth, encompassing the essence of the era and society.
The romantic relationships between men and women, brothers, parents, and the love for one's country are all self-evident. The rich emotional layers and grand story structure not only broaden the horizons of historical dramas but also offer new ways for romance and historical dramas to converge.
Similarly, "Love You Seven Times" presents a much lighter tone, also exploring the theme of true love in adversity. This infinite love script injects new ideas into the reincarnation plot in the fantasy drama, completely breaking the linear timeline and continuous space, thus providing possibilities for complex human conflicts and intricate emotional connections.
Reincarnation entanglements can be a tear-jerking tool, but "Love You Seven Times" breaks away from the usual tragic love tropes in fantasy dramas. The unknowns of the romantic encounters create unexpected twists and turns, making the sweet and tragic moments unpredictable and greatly enhancing the viewing experience.
Through seven distinct life experiences, the drama conveys the belief that "even a destined love requires effort and dedication." Love is no longer bound by red strings but rather, it must be earned through the joint efforts of both parties. This coincides with the ideal love model of today's young generation. When a work can emotionally resonate with the current concepts and values of love, breaking the confines of the genre becomes a natural outcome.
In addition to costume romantic dramas, Wuxia dramas have also gained new vitality this summer. The challenge for creators has always been how to depict Wuxia in the context after Jin Yong & Gu Long period. For the Z generation audience, the definition of the grandeur of chivalry is no longer novel. Therefore, the key lies in how to continue their contemplation of the Jianghu and their aesthetic demands.
Starting from the first half of the year with "The Ingenious One" and "Pledge of Allegiance," Wuxia dramas have gradually explored new narratives and settings that are accepted by the audience. After years of trial and error, this genre is now giving birth to new aesthetic styles. Among the summer Wuxia dramas, "Mysterious Lotus Casebook" and "My Journey to You" have received the most enthusiastic response. The appearance of these two dramas is vastly different from traditional Wuxia dramas. From the perspective of the main storyline, the richness of the two stories resembles a fusion of detective and suspense elements with the Wuxia genre.
"Mysterious Lotus Casebook" combines episodic mysteries and the intricacies of jianghu grudges, simultaneously delivering excitement through martial arts and intellectual stimulation through the intricate plot. The fight scenes are both fierce and graceful, while the puzzle-solving games are engaging and captivating.
The most crucial aspect is that the growth of the protagonist does not come from worldly experiences but rather, from retreat and survival, finding resolution within the enigma and grudges. The all-powerful divine beings are too ethereal, while the chivalrous heroes who seek justice are more relatable to the mortal world.
The portrayal of these chivalrous heroes in "Mysterious Lotus Casebook" conforms to the rules of the Jianghu but remains distinct from its influence. This character development allows the audience to resonate across time and space, offering a modern interpretation of chivalry culture.
The story of "My Journey to You" is also a suspenseful struggle between martial arts sects, but it is clearly more stylized and difficult to define by genre, with the inclusion of love and espionage. The series deepens the atmosphere of mystery through the use of delayed revelations, keeping the audience's attention focused on the identification of the characters and their strategic planning.
Once immersed in the story, the audience will discover that beneath the conspiracies and calculations, the themes of love and growth prevail. Additionally, it is worth mentioning the high recognizability of the traditional aesthetics in "My Journey to You". The interplay of light and shadow, combined with meticulous composition, camera work, and set design, creates a series of rich and unique classical scenes.
Visual aesthetics determine the ultimate texture of costume dramas. Not only "My Journey to You," but also the colorful mythological paradise in "Love You Seven Times," the bizarre and splendid folk legends in "Mysterious Lotus Casebook," and the ceremonial rituals and makeup with strong traditional cultural charm in "Destined" - each of these works has its own artistic conception, and together they elevate the audiovisual experience of genre dramas.
Diverse broadcasting to cover the demands of the general public
In the release schedule of costume dramas, while audiences who love this kind of dramas can feast their eyes, platforms must also ensure the uniqueness and diversity of themes. Market popularity should not be the sole determinant of genre. Audiences with different tastes and ages need to be seen and satisfied. In terms of the summer broadcast plan this year, iQiyi obviously has a more meticulous operational layout. The combination of costume drama and realism/crime-solving allows diverse preferences to find their place here.
For the first time, "Her World" features a group of women in their 35s and older as the main characters, using a multi-threaded narrative to try to portray the current living conditions of Chinese contemporary women from three different perspectives. The series accurately captures typical issues such as workplace dilemmas, entrepreneurial journeys, and marital conflicts, without being sensational or resorting to excessive conflicts.
The realistic portrayal resonates with female viewers and gives them the courage and motivation to stay true to themselves and break through barriers. It is one of the few ensemble works in the summer that pays attention to women in their 30s and older and attempts to provide new solutions to women's issues.
"Imperfect Victim," which depicts a sexual assault case, is another peak of insight into the times. The series portrays topics such as sexual assault, power oppression, and subtle domestic violence, which are deeply hidden and difficult to discuss, in a panoramic manner, presenting them to the audience through intersecting storylines.
The profound exploration of human nature and the diverse presentation of social aspects make the series unforgettable. Its dramatic and thematic value extends beyond women, reaching out to victims who have been stigmatized by public opinion and the enduring structural challenges that are difficult to improve. It can be said that "Imperfect Victims" achieves the utmost in scale and depth, providing a unique sense of reality to the summer season dominated by emotional dramas.
The popularity of these Chinese dramas once again proves the immense audience for reality-based and suspense-based series. Viewers always have a demand for strong narratives with a significant contemporary meaning. Even in the unique context of the summer season, the stage should not be limited to costume dramas and idol dramas alone. The platform has considered a broader audience, truly achieving differentiated scheduling that caters to the needs of the entire population.
The upgrade in drama-watching methods
While high-quality content is the foundation of the platform, increasing user stickiness requires the platform to understand and meet the diverse demands of drama enthusiasts. In previous summer seasons, the platform mainly rewarded drama enthusiasts with video-on-demand and premiere events. However, this summer, a new strategy was implemented to enhance viewer satisfaction.
Firstly, iQiyi introduced the "Mysterious Lotus Casebook" bonus update, which allows members to exchange points for additional episodes of a drama series. Members also have the opportunity to watch digital content and a plethora of behind-the-scenes footage, enabling passionate drama enthusiasts to anticipate the grand finale in advance and effectively fulfill their specific needs.
The points used for the exchange primarily come from user subscriptions. On the surface, this bonus update is a welfare reward for drama enthusiasts. Essentially, it is a mutual endeavor between the platform and loyal users, affirming the platform's original intention to upgrade and refine the membership system, providing more appealing benefits for friends who genuinely enjoy iQiyi's content. In addition to behind-the-scenes recordings, fans of costume dramas also enjoy seeing the main actors interact in fresh ways during the peak broadcast period.
Thus, "One Million Promises: Love You Seven Times" was born. It is a variety show derived from a drama series launched by iQiyi. "Love You Seven Times" intertwines with the drama series, indirectly fulfilling the desire of drama enthusiasts for continuous updates, while also breaking the barrier between drama and variety shows.
In the variety show, the worldviews and plots are deeply connected to the original drama, and the main actors recreate iconic scenes and character relationships, satisfying fans' various wishes. This variety show is a new form of after-sales service tailored to drama enthusiasts, transforming them from mere viewers to co-creators who contribute out of love. It is a rare self-service dream-come-true experience for loyal users.
For the industry, the success of "One Million Promises: Love You Seven Times" will elevate the synergy between Chinese dramas and variety shows to new heights. In the future, derivative variety shows will no longer be mere supplementary materials for drama series but independent programs that can mutually benefit and have long-term value.
It is evident that in this summer season where both quantity and quality have reached new heights, iQiyi once again stands in a leading position in terms of creativity. They emphasize breaking genre boundaries and value every kind of demand, maintaining a keen sense and adaptability in both content and operation. With precise coordination between content and operation, it is possible to bring the liveliness of the summer season to the off-peak periods as well.