The recently broadcasted drama "Story of Kunning Palace" has surpassed the popularity threshold of 9500 on iQiyi, with only 6 episodes. It is just a step away from reaching ten thousand. This is quite remarkable for a parachuted production.
The story revolves around former empress Jiang Xuening (played by Bai Lu), who was forced to rebel by the imperial tutor Xie Wei (played by Zhang Linghe). As a result, the emperor died, and the loyal official Zhang Zhe (played by Wang Xingyue) was imprisoned because of her. Fortunately, Jiang Xuening is given a chance to start anew and is determined to make amends for her past regrets.
On various social media platforms dedicated to period dramas, discussions about "Story of Kunning Palace" are endless. Besides positive searches related to the plot and actors, there are occasional criticisms regarding camera angles and flashbacks. The overwhelmingly positive reviews are abnormal, but they indicate that a large number of viewers are truly engrossed in the drama.
With a recent market share of over 20%, how did "Story of Kunning Palace" achieve such popularity?
01 Not relying solely on quality, but embracing diversity
The success and popularity of any work cannot be solely attributed to its quality. The content may not be top-notch, but it must be engaging enough to captivate the audience, in order to sustain its popularity.
From the literary standpoint, the original novel of "Story of Kunning Palace," titled "Kun Ning," was already highly popular, and the news of its adaptation into a TV series had been eagerly anticipated by fans. After its broadcast, viewers discovered that "Story of Kunning Palace" broke new ground in terms of its plot and character development.
In fact, with the proliferation of adaptations from intellectual properties (IPs), there is less and less room for breakthroughs in the market for period dramas. It has become increasingly challenging to impress discerning viewers. Therefore, "Story of Kunning Palace" did not focus excessively on a particular aspect of the content, but rather skillfully integrated various elements of period dramas to create a smooth and seamless viewing experience.
Rather than attributing the popularity of this drama solely to its quality, it is more accurate to say that it is due to the way the content is handled. By bringing together well-established elements and creating a new chemical reaction, the drama has gained its popularity.
The character Xie Wei, a typical "mad male lead," exhibits hidden restraint and ultimately seeks revenge against his own biological father. Throughout the entire process, his true identity remains concealed. This is similar to Ling Buyi from last year's "Love Like the Galaxy," who also displayed continuous restraint before eventually going insane. However, Xie Wei's madness is more seamlessly integrated into the storyline. Afflicted with "soul detachment syndrome," his seemingly crazy actions can be understood. Both characters share similar traits, even down to the intense climax of exacting vengeance with blood-stained hands.
Looking at the other characters, Xiao Houye and Zhang Zhe, viewers familiar with period dramas will naturally recognize such character configurations. These three types of male characters surrounding the female lead easily captivate the audience's attention, sparking the budding of potential romantic relationships.
Furthermore, Jiang Xuening's dual existence, her past debts, and her determination to make amends in her present life provide ample impression for the audience. In today's era when official pairings have been abandoned by the audience, such abundant material allows viewers skilled in shipping to freely combine various elements, whether it be a happy ending or a tragic one.
For those who want to see the female lead focus on her career, it can be arranged. Jiang Xuening, in her past life, cunningly ascended to the position of empress, even at the cost of falling out with her childhood friend, Xiao Houye. No one can hinder a heart dedicated to one's career, not even a childhood friend.
For those who crave suspense, it can be arranged. The continuous interweaving of flashback memories with the present creates a marvelous sense of mystery, keeping the audience on edge. For those who desire a miraculous turn of fate, it can be arranged. This drama itself carries the element of rebirth, going back in time. The freedom to choose from such a diverse range of options is indeed one of the charms that attracts viewers to "Story of Kunning Palace."
02 The allure of starting over
One of the addictive aspects of "Story of Kunning Palace" lies in the pleasure of starting over, as if hitting the reset button. Jiang Xuening herself is a character created by a writer who dislikes "plotlines that exist solely for the sake of cruelty." Thus, she is given the opportunity to return to the past with her memories intact.
This type of rebirth storyline resonates with the audience's desires: the chance to rectify past regrets. When viewers witness Jiang Xuening starting anew, avoiding past misunderstandings and correcting previous mistakes, the thrill of reshaping one's life becomes irresistible.
Compared to "Lost Track of Time" from last year, which directly incorporated the theme of rebirth, "Story of Kunning Palace" subtly weaves in this element through the adaptation of the novel.
The protagonist's previous life was marked by naivety and trust in others, ultimately leading to a tragic demise and the annihilation of their clan. Upon being reborn, they vow to seek revenge. The combination of the cruelty in their past life and the satisfaction of revenge in their present life provides a thrilling experience that captivates numerous viewers. In this year's airing of "Scent of Time," the storyline also incorporates the element of rebirth and starting anew.
The protagonist's past mistakes resulted in tragic consequences. Therefore, in their rebirth, they make decisive and contrasting choices, valuing their previously overlooked loved ones and friends, and rediscovering the beauty in life.
From the perspective of the female lead, this type of rebirth drama resonates deeply with female viewers. In truth, male viewers also enjoy watching stories of rebirth. It caters to a universal emotional release for both genders.
In the realm of online literature, the concept of rebirth has become somewhat clichéd, and it may not significantly increase the number of clicks when used as a selling point. However, adapting existing intellectual properties for the screen has a relative time lag. By reinterpreting the original text through live-action performances, it gains the approval of the audience.
This plotline embodies universal human psychology and unexpectedly aligns with the current audience mentality. It is evident that the concept of rebirth and starting anew is sufficient to attract the majority of viewers in today's entertainment market.
03 Intensive marketing on social media
Effective marketing can amplify the strengths of a TV series, attracting enough casual viewers to become devoted fans. Regarding the drama "Story of Kunning Palace," marketing efforts played a crucial role.
Due to previous instances of promotion followed by cancellations, the airing process faced some obstacles and tested the patience of viewers. However, it also managed to secure a loyal fan base in advance, as evident from the record-breaking 7.4 million reservations made before its premiere.
Regarding marketing, the decision to air the drama without prior promotion had its disadvantages in terms of increasing its popularity. The allocated pre-release time for building anticipation was relatively short.
As the plot unfolded, subsequent trending topics began to focus on the storyline and acting, attracting a significant number of casual viewers. On average, "Story of Kunning Palace" had over 80 trending topics daily, and it was not just the quantity that was remarkable; the quality was also high. It even achieved the first spot in Weibo's trending topics with 12 entries in a single day. Such dominant marketing naturally boosted the drama's popularity.
Now, with over half of "Story of Kunning Palace" already aired, its popularity remains undiminished, and the plot continues to grip the audience's hearts. How will Jiang Xuening handle her predicament? As viewers, we remain uncertain.
Television dramas can provide mesmerizing dreams, but it is best not to shatter everything in the end and reveal that it was all a dream. After all, no one wishes for a dream that offers everything, only for reality to turn out to be empty. It is worth noting that certain dramas this year received criticism from viewers for this reason.