The broadcast of "Blossoms Shanghai" at the beginning of 2024 has sparked a continuing cultural phenomenon. Netizens have been sharing photos of their grandparents' way of life from the 1970s to the turn of the century, creating a shared resonance.
Through the convergence of emotional reminiscence and intellectual questioning in "Blossoms Shanghai," this highly anticipated drama, adapted from the novel of the same name by Jin Yucheng, produced by Tencent Video, directed and produced by Wong Kar-wai, and starring Hu Ge, Ma Yili, Tiffany Tang, and Xin Zhilei, brings the legendary story of the sons and daughters of Shanghai to the public's screens.
"Blossoms Shanghai" begins with a depiction of the era and region, unfolding in a unique artistic form that transcends existing film and television genres. It captures the distinct emotional pursuits and interpersonal relationships of the Chinese people, breaking through the barriers of time and space to establish a strong and lasting connection with the present and the masses.
Narrative Landscape: Breaking the Boundaries of Genre
As the earliest city of transformation in China, Shanghai is not only a financial, trade, shipping, and innovation center in contemporary China and the world, but also embodies a significant fusion of Chinese and Western cultures. It blends tradition and modernity, as well as the mundane and bourgeois cultures. This cultural accumulation provides fertile ground for film and television creation, making it difficult for any drama to thoroughly and deeply depict a specific period in Shanghai.
"Blossoms Shanghai" is one such period drama. The entire series follows the footsteps of the young protagonist, A Bao (played by Hu Ge), witnessing his rise in the business world with the help of the tide of the times and his own efforts. A Bao becomes boss Bao, and his journey is intertwined with the guidance of the wise elders Uncle Ye (played by You Benchang), Ling Zi (played by Ma Yili) the boss of Ye Dongjing, the foreign trade building Miss Wang (played by Tiffany Tang), and the mysterious woman Li Li (played by Xin Zhilei). As the vicissitudes of the business world and the vigor of Lingnan arrive as expected, the fate of the sons and daughters of Shanghai continues to unfold.
The emotional entanglements of love, the struggles in the business world, and the smoke from the stoves in the old Western-style houses in the Longtang, are they about emotions, business competition, a specific era, or the urban landscape? "Blossoms Shanghai" is destined to defy existing genre classifications.
On the level of character relationships, "Blossoms Shanghai" presents a three-dimensional and complete "umbrella-shaped structure." A Bao is the focal point, and his past with Xue Zhi, the on-and-off relationship with Lingzi, the entanglement with Miss Wang from No. 27 on the Bund to pork ribs and rice cakes, and the relationship with Li Li all showcase the conflict between appearance and reality, desire and the division of life.
Amidst the complexity of the business world, various ambitious characters gather at the Fairmont Peace Hotel and the foreign trade building, including Mr. Fan, Mr. Wei, and the unexpected appearance of Mr. Qiang, reflecting the ever-changing world and the human heart.
On the level of narrative strategy, "Blossoms Shanghai" breaks the linear narrative and uses interludes instead of flashbacks, extending forward from the early 1990s as the starting point. The play of light and shadow highlights the stark contrast between the past and the present. A Bao's transformation not only fills in the gaps in character development but also expands the capacity of the narrative. The breaking of linear narrative means that each scene must be captivating enough to hold the audience's continuous attention.
On the eve of the Three Sheep brand's launch, A Bao calmly drinks while Mr. Wei downstairs anxiously, creating a vivid contrast. The scene of Lingzi enduring the hardships of Japan and Miss Wang, usually elegant, sitting on the floor in work clothes, eating popsicles, is heart-wrenching and keeps the audience waiting for the moment of their comeback. It can be said that the broken beauty of art is brought to its extreme in the individual scenes of "Blossoms Shanghai".
Regarding "Blossoms Shanghai" it is difficult to reach a definitive conclusion as to whether it is realistic or romantic. It combines descriptive realism, incorporating authentic visual documentation, with the rich personal style of the creator, indulging in a free-spirited romanticism. Intense colors pour onto the screen, displaying a restrained and profound Eastern aesthetic charm.
Integrating Film Style into Cdrama
At the end of the year, the cultural phenomenon brought about by "Blossoms Shanghai" has attracted great attention from both the industry and the public. As a representative figure in moviedom, Wong Kar-wai integrates his personal touch into the creation of television dramas and public expression, making "Blossoms Shanghai" an unprecedented pioneering attempt and a unique artistic text.
The drama is filled with stylistic landscapes that bear Wong Kar-wai's signature: Mr. Bao's voiceover, the use of freeze frames to create flowing images, ubiquitous time subtitles, iconic vertical quotes, and familiar songs from Wong Kar-wai's films. The themes of time and memory, non-linear plotlines, jump-cut editing, and lengthy monologues, all reflect Wong Kar-wai's commitment to cinema, bringing it into the realm of television drama.
In his view, the Eastern world is delicate and refined, and through film, he conveys this concept to the outside world, breaking the superficial and vulgar stereotype of Hong Kong cinema at the time. This made him stand out in the contemporary environment and highlighted the artist's own artistic pursuit.
The city of Shanghai, with its delicacy, openness, and diverse cultural characteristics, provides a plausible and credible space for this uniquely structured artistic concept. The creator and the story itself share an inherent unity, a two-way pursuit that harmonizes their spiritual temperament and aesthetic pursuits. This makes "Blossoms Shanghai" inseparable from Wong Kar-wai and makes him the most suitable person to visualize the film.
The safest way to create a drama is to supply on demand. The creator produces what the audience likes, just as a chef follows a recipe when the audience orders a dish. In this regard, "Blossoms Shanghai" simultaneously maintains an intimate and distant relationship with the audience.
The intimacy lies in its portrayal of the daily lives of ordinary men and women, ensuring that the story and plot are relatable to you and me. The emotional stories of Mr. Bao and the three Shanghai beauties provoke discussions about real-life relationships, distinguishing between true love and superficial encounters.
The three different emotional states stimulate the audience's contemplation of the topic of love. The sense of distance, on the other hand, goes beyond the expected narrative and realism. The intense visual style brings a visual impact that surpasses the current aesthetic consciousness. The disjointed narrative of the film seamlessly integrates into the television drama, challenging the audience's established aesthetic norms. The accustomed viewing habits of speeding up or fast-forwarding are not applicable to "Blossoms Shanghai". Instead, viewers are forced to slow down, immersing themselves in the viewing process, and experiencing the pleasure and purification of beauty.
Industry Landscape: Linking the Masses
"Blossoms Shanghai" has received a rating of 8.1 on Douban, with over 70,000 people participating in the rating. The drama industry has long been trapped in a dilemma between word of mouth/quality and viewership, as well as a sense of disappointment in being praised but not popular. "Blossoms Shanghai," with its ultimate undefined characteristics, has achieved the transformation from artistic value to commercial value, linking the perspectives of the masses and becoming a typical example of both art and commerce.
After three years of time-consuming work, completing a creative journey without reference and benchmark, the creation of "Blossoms Shanghai" is undoubtedly a bold gamble and adventure. Tencent Video's confidence stems from their judgment of content and trust in creators, after all, such attempts are not the first. In the past year, Tencent Video has led several industry transformations from 0 to 1.
For example, "Three-Body" created a stark contrast between the popular novel and the lack of this genre on the screen. The story, which conveys a grand worldview through visuals, combines vast imagination with realistic concerns, giving Chinese people confidence and expectations in domestic dramas that they have rarely explored before. Chinese voices have been added to the global development of IP, allowing the sci-fi genre to start from a high point and expand its territory.
Another example is "The Long Season," an annual phenomenon. Breaking the traditional father and son relationship, the show tells the story and redemption of each character individually, without pursuing traditional suspenseful twists and fast-paced surprises. It transforms the narrative of a "murder case" into a narrative of "destiny," depicting the lives of ordinary people and achieving both content innovation and mass acceptance.
From "Three-Body" to "The Long Season" to "Blossoms Shanghai," although they are different in genre and have diverse characteristics, they share a common point: they are not confined to existing artistic forms, but seek innovation and change; they focus on the drama and artistic logic itself, rather than the outcome, and converge the intersection of quality as both artistic and commercial value, ultimately achieving a win-win situation for both.
"Blossoms Shanghai" has proved to the industry at the beginning of the year with a cultural landscape that has harnessed the power of the nation that the audience's aesthetic has changed and varied, but the pursuit of beauty and judgment standards have converged and grown over time. It can even be said that the audience's acceptance of aesthetics is no longer constrained by time. Once high-quality content is introduced to the market, viewers' cultivated aesthetic instincts will naturally follow.