Recently, the grand female-led business drama "Flourished Peony" was announced and became a hot topic. As Yang Zi's first project after the explosive drama "Lost You Forever", "Flourished Peony" is particularly eye-catching. Subsequently, we discovered that next year may be a year when grand female-led business dramas are gathered.
So far, there have been 7 announced projects, including "Flourished Peony," "Female Business," "The Story of Hua Zhi," "The Legend of Jewelry," "Shu Jin Ren Jia," "The Way You Back," and "Tearless Snow", which respectively cover the fields of flower cultivation, foreign trade, snacks, jewelry, silk weaving, restaurants, and salt merchants. Historical dramas, in particular, have shown a great favoritism towards traditional Chinese culture.
The trend of inheriting traditional culture, known as Guochao, has swept across variety shows and films and dramas in recent years. Prior to this, there were mainly two types of dramas that incorporated Guochao elements. One type focused on the inheritance of intangible cultural heritage, with stories revolving around certain artisan professions and intergenerational relationships.
The other type was set in historical and cultural cities such as Dunhuang, Luoyang, and Xi'an, linking with local cultural tourism in period dramas. They often revolved around male-oriented suspenseful investigations, combining crime-solving with tourism, immersing the audience in the cultural and folk landscapes of ancient cities. This path was pioneered by "The Longest Day in Chang'an," followed by the success of "Luoyang," and now "Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival" continues to carry the torch.
However, this time, Guochao elements and grand female-led business dramas have converged, giving rise to a new market genre. With 7 grand female-led business dramas, each with its own unique style.
"Flourished Peony" is adapted from the novel of the same name by Yi Qianzhong. It is written by Zhang Yuanang and directed by Ding Ziguang. Yang Zi and Li Xian are the main leads. It tells the story of He Weifang, the daughter of a merchant, and her journey into the business world in Chang'an, relying on her exceptional skills in cultivating rare peonies. This drama encompasses the themes of flower entrepreneurship and female mutual assistance, embodying patriotism, power struggles, and romantic relationships. It offers a rich viewing experience and sets the tone of integrating feminine temperament with the promotion of traditional culture, showcasing the grandeur of a drama.
Set in the early Tang Dynasty with Yangzhou as the main stage, "The Legend of Jewelry" is adapted from Tan Tianyin's novel "The Prequel of Kunshan Jade" and directed by Xie Ze. It tells the story of a pearl picker who turns the tide in the world of jewelry. Previously, Zhao Lusi and Liu Yuning achieved great success in terms of appearance and on-screen chemistry in "The Long Ballad." This drama, also set in the Tang Dynasty, provides a perfect opportunity for them to collaborate once again.
The television drama "Shu Jin Ren Jia," produced by Sichuan Xingkong Film and Television, has a distinct regional characteristic. The leading actress, Tan Songyun, is also from Sichuan. It tells the story of Ji Yingying, the young lady of the Yizhou Wanhua Dyeing Workshop, inheriting the family's dyeing secrets and helping the family overcome crises. It incorporates elements of home intrigue and business competition.
The female career and romance storylines, as well as the shared themes of traditional culture and artisan spirit, are relatively similar in the above three dramas. In comparison, "The Story of Hua Zhi" places a greater emphasis on romanticism and amusement.
"The Story of Hua Zhi" is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, directed by Zhu Ruibin, starring Hu Yitian and Zhang Jingyi. The character of the female protagonist undergoes a significant transformation, starting off as a typical rustic heroine, indulging in food and leading a leisurely life. However, after experiencing a family crisis, she begins to engage in various culinary businesses, revealing her true capabilities as a leading female figure.
The drama "Female Business" is adapted from the novel "Da Qing Yaowan". This novel has received good reviews in the online literature community. It tells the story of the female protagonist, Lin Yuchan, who time travels to the late Qing Dynasty after the college entrance examination, but instead of becoming a noblewoman in the Yongzheng period, she is reborn in the humiliated late Qing period, a setting that is rarely seen.
The first thing the lower-class female protagonist does is to solve the crisis of survival, and then she goes on to do business and change the world together with Su Min, the rich young master of Guangzhou's Thirteen Factories. The timeline of the entire novel spans from the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom to the Self-Strengthening Movement, with the appearance of many well-known figures from the late Qing Dynasty. While there is historical research involved, there is also a sense of didacticism.
"Tearless Snow" and "The Way You Back" are both produced by Shengxi Huashi TV. Among them, the revenge and business warfare-themed "Tearless Snow," adapted from the novel of the same name by Tian Xia Chenai, is written by Chen Yu and is a proper drama.
From the story synopsis, "Tearless Snow" has a taste similar to "Nirvana in Fire." The drama is set in Xuan Cheng, a place in the late Qing Dynasty with a history of salt administration malpractices. It tells the story of the Su family, a salt merchant family that suffers a tragic incident, and only the female protagonist, Su Jingyao, survives. After planning for ten years, she returns to Xuan Cheng with the identity of a wealthy widow, Mrs. Ni, to restore the reputation of the Su family and cleanse the salt industry in Xuan Cheng.
"The Way You Back" is the only original story among these dramas, produced by Shanghai Jinjiang Hotel's founder, Mrs. Dong Zhujun's life story. It has distinct characteristics of Shanghai's regional culture and the Republican era. Netizens have high hopes for its award-winning potential. Currently, the cast for these two dramas has not been officially announced.
With the rise of the national trend, can the drama with a strong female lead make a comeback? Stories about women as artisans and business people have always existed in film and television dramas, but they were relatively niche before. Overnight, dramas with strong female leads engaging in business ventures have sprung up everywhere, becoming a new trend favored by platforms and production companies. In fact, there are precedents to follow.
On one hand, in stories like "The Story of Minglan," there are so-called romantic and domestic conflicts as sources of drama, while also encompassing the heroine's labor and management within the family. Men's stage is in the court, while women are responsible for managing the household, socializing, managing love and marriage, and being the master of the house. Sheng Minglan manages the accounts, competes with the villagers, and manages the family business, which makes the growth line of the strong female lead and the romantic line of the main couple more grounded, believable, and authentic.
By extrapolating this dramatic model and expanding it, we can see the basic characteristics of dramas with strong female leads engaging in business ventures. Of course, in the years following the long-tail effect of "The Story of Minglan," there have also been speculations by drama fans: if Sheng Minglan did not find a good husband, her love for food and her business acumen could have led her to open a shop and engage in business.
However, as noblewomen in ancient times, engaging in business was not in line with the expected behavior of people of their class. The same goes for Li Wei in "New Life Begins." Their status determines that even if they love food and know how to cook, they can only enjoy it as a hobby and interest, rather than turning it into a career. However, for women from lower social classes, the situation is different.
It can be seen that in these recent dramas with strong female leads engaging in business ventures, either they are born into merchant families and are influenced by their surroundings, or they are lower-class women with skills who are driven by their survival instincts and gradually rise through their continuous improvement in their craft, demonstrating their tenacious vitality.
On the other hand, as the development of dramas with strong female leads has progressed, they have faced criticism and negative reception in terms of palace intrigue, domestic conflicts, female competition, and Mary Sue characters. Often, a certain genre becomes sensitive and faces obstacles in terms of reputation shortly after gaining popularity. However, the national trend that promotes the revival of traditional culture is like a strong wind, providing new ideas and guarantees for the development of dramas with strong female leads.
In recent years, many dramas have put a lot of effort into traditional culture, intangible cultural heritage elements, and costume details. However, the audience's aesthetic sense and discernment have also improved, and it is difficult to deceive the audience as to whether a drama truly represents the national trend or is simply riding the wave of popularity.
In addition, there have been successful cases of dramas with strong female leads engaging in business ventures in the TV market, such as "Nothing Gold Can Stay," "A Dream of Splendor," and "Wild Bloom." These can serve as benchmarks and further improvements for future productions. The approaches differ, whether to prioritize love and have a career as secondary, or to prioritize a career with love as secondary.
Of course, in this wave of dramas with strong female leads engaging in business ventures, the key indicators for standing out are not only the presentation of cultural and commercial details but also the narrative pattern. The dramatic experience brought about by the story of a woman and her family is what truly engages a large audience.
It can be seen that many projects have set their stories against a grand social backdrop. How a country resolves internal and external troubles, how a troubled aristocratic family survives, develops, and makes a comeback, and how a woman lives a fulfilling life without regrets - each storyline has many stories to unfold. When these storylines are combined, they create a rich and dramatic narrative. The male lead in the drama often plays a role in connecting the personal growth of the female lead and the national narrative. Such complex storytelling also tests the skills of the screenwriter and director.