A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

Before "In Blossom" and after "Blossoms in Adversity," Youku released these two ancient-style dramas that achieved commendable success. However, before its premiere, "Blossoms in Adversity" was not favored by the market or the audience, lacking strong concepts and popular actors, and was considered just another assembly-line historical drama. Surprisingly, as the plot unfolded, "Blossoms in Adversity" managed to turn the tide against the odds.

A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

From initial widespread ridicule at its launch to its successful finale, "Blossoms in Adversity" can truly be considered an unexpected delight in this year’s market for ancient-style dramas. Recently, Pengxiaoxian spoke with Zhu Ruibin, the director of "Blossoms in Adversity," who shared the secret formula behind the drama's successful turnaround and his evolving creative philosophy over more than thirty years in the industry.


Targeting Cdrama Market Demands

Produced by Youku and directed by Zhu Ruibin, with scriptwriting by He Fang, and starring Hu Yitian and Zhang Jingyi, with a special guest appearance by Myolie Wu, "Blossoms in Adversity" is a historical romance drama adapted from the novel of the same name by Kong Liu. The series narrates the story of Gu Yanxi (played by Hu Yitian), and the fallen noblewoman Hua Zhi (played by Zhang Jingyi), as they join hands with Hua's family to start a business and search for their true selves in a new life.

According to demographics, the audience for "Blossoms in Adversity" consists predominantly of women, making up 90% of viewers, primarily aged between 20 and 40, aligning perfectly with Zhu Ruibin's original vision for the series: a costume drama with a focus on female characters and agrarian themes.

Zhu Ruibin chose to blend these seemingly disparate elements, historical setting, female ensemble, and agrarian drama, because they precisely meet the current urgent viewing needs of the female market. "The market's expectation for pastoral and female ensemble dramas is largely linked to the social context. In the post-pandemic era, workers, exhausted and forced to lie flat, unable to find spiritual satisfaction in real life, turn to film and TV entertainment.

A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

Pastoral dramas, with their healing, natural settings, provide an almost idyllic escape, offering viewers a respite from the anxieties of the real world. The growing awareness of women's issues also increases demand for narratives centered around women, with audiences increasingly eager for stories that focus on female protagonists. However, this also demands that we pay closer attention to the real situations women face, reduce the male gaze, and reveal more dimensions of women, portraying them in a more authentic light."

Hua Zhi, who leads her family in business, is visionary but struggles to manage all tasks alone, necessitating the expertise of her skilled accountant aunt; while the loyal and witty Bao Xia handles outreach, and the skilled chef Fu Dong provides backup support; the inarticulate fourth aunt listens to Hua Zhi's confusions when she feels lost. Along with them are the proud Hua Ling, the clever Hua Qin, and the innocent Hua Rong. In the drama, each character is more than just has a family role; they each have their own life choices. "Blossoms in Adversity" effectively showcases the world of women, presenting many different yet endearing female characters, listening to their voices, witnessing their growth, and feeling their strength.

Compared to typical historical dramas, the romantic subplot between the male and female leads is relatively minor, with more profound explorations of family and entrepreneurship than of romance; the female lead employing forward-thinking strategies to build the family's fortunes through unconventional means like selling candied haws, running a restaurant, and managing transport businesses, thereby reducing the traditional constraints and oppressions faced by women in a fictional historical context.

A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

This perfectly calibrated pleasure moves away from the mindless sweetness of typical historical dramas and the suffocating plots of intra-household struggles, making the viewing experience comfortable and compelling. But making this "multi-element, differentiated expression" impactful was initially a challenge for Zhu Ruibin: "'Blossoms in Adversity' features a complex storyline, not only focusing on personal ambition but also blending family grievances, societal hardships, and more, offering viewers a space for deeper reflection. The characters are diverse and three-dimensional, each with their own feelings and stories, showcasing their charm and humanity."

To achieve this, the drama made significant efforts in adapting the original novel. In the book, Hua Zhi is a modern-day corporate powerhouse who travels back in time. When her noble family is exiled, she decides to use her advanced modern knowledge to outsmart the people of the past, easily making her family the wealthiest by producing canned fruit and managing a snack street.

In the original, Hua Zhi's overpowering brilliance made the other family members mere background characters, with only a few flatly evil antagonists crafted. The drama, however, changes the protagonist to a woman who has traveled extensively with her grandfather from a young age, giving her a perspective and foresight unlike that of typical secluded noblewomen, yet still bound by the constraints of her time.

A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

Scriptwriters used the broad strokes of the original story to insert many detailed, lifelike elements, such as Hua Zhi's initial desire to lead her family, faced with disdain and opposition from her relatives who would rather trust an unrelated man than believe in her because she is a woman. After experiencing injury and receiving quiet care from her family, she realizes the importance of her relatives and resolves to lead them in their entrepreneurial endeavors. In this process, Hua Zhi gradually discovers that the women of the household, whom she had previously underestimated, actually possess various skills, but had been confined to objectified roles within the inner court for too long, almost forgetting their own survival skills.

This plotline, by focusing on the women's ensemble, very thoroughly displays the process of female awakening, moving beyond mere slogan-like feminism to a genuine realization of potential. This gradual unearthing of one's capabilities, building of self-confidence, and realization that "I truly can do this," offers a satisfaction and realism far surpassing that of having an implausible advantage. With a high-quality script, the combination of historical romance, female ensemble, and agrarian entrepreneurship meets the viewing needs of most female audiences and ensures "Blossoms in Adversity's" differentiated positioning in the market.


How to Stand Out in the Costume Drama Market?

In recent years, the market for costume dramas has been plagued by phenomena such as excessive green screen use, artificial sweetening of plots, and reheating old stories, leading these series to be viewed with disdain within the industry. However, their strong audience base cannot be ignored, and there remains significant capital investment, keeping the number of productions high. Despite this, the genre seems to have exhausted its themes, leading to many cookie-cutter assembly-line historical dramas. Productions began to compete in terms of production quality, intellectual property, and cast, but these efforts often had little effect; viewers were drawn in by beautiful visuals only to be let down by poor storytelling. "Blossoms in Adversity," however, took a different approach and managed to mask its deficiencies in dialogue delivery and costuming with high-quality storylines.

A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

In drama, sometimes deep emotions alone can't keep viewers hooked; counter-intuitive approaches capture hearts more effectively. In the series, the protagonists Hua Zhi and Gu Yanxi have a complex relationship as one belongs to a family that was victimized by the other, a perfect setup for a melodramatic love story filled with conflict and betrayal that could easily extend over twenty episodes. Yet, director Zhu Ruibin chose not to exploit this. When the male lead reveals his true identity, the female lead is initially furious, but after calming down, she considers that he was merely doing his job and returns to have an open discussion with him, resolving their misunderstandings. A notable aspect of "Blossoms in Adversity" is that it avoids forced misunderstandings, making it a comfortable and reassuring watch for the audience.

Asked if he ever worried about the plot lacking ups and downs, Zhu Ruibin confidently stated he had not. "The relationship between the main characters is mature. While there might not be dramatic emotional conflicts, the open and healthy interaction between them and the everyday details of their romance provide a fresh and natural sensory experience to the audience. Besides, the entrepreneurial storyline of the Hua family is quite twisted already, so let's make the emotional journey a bit smoother for the female lead." For Zhu, breaking through in the increasingly competitive market of historical dramas hinges on crafting solid plots and meaningful messages, enhancing the cultural value of the series and making a positive impact on viewers. In "Blossoms in Adversity," Hua Zhi's perseverance in the face of adversity and her unwavering sense of duty to her family and country not only showcase the protagonist's resilience and pride but also convey the values of individual responsibility toward national welfare.

A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

Preaching is easy, but the key is to avoid sounding moralistic. Zhu believes in "empathy": "As creators, it's crucial to find the 'empathy points' in our stories. For example, in 'Blossoms in Adversity,' Hua Zhi, as a fallen noblewoman who revives her fortunes through entrepreneurship, brings a thrilling sense of escapism to the audience. However, this thrill might seem a bit superficial, so the diverse experiences of the women in the Hua family add a layer of genuine warmth to the excitement, making it more relatable to viewers." Trusting and respecting the audience is the foundation of Zhu Ruibin's confidence and the secret to the success of "Blossoms in Adversity."


Embracing Breakthroughs and Innovation

Zhu Ruibin, a pivotal director in the historical fantasy drama industry and the helm of popular series like "Ashes of Love," "The Long Ballad," "The Starry Love," and "Story of Kunning Palace," with upcoming major projects like "Moonlight Mystique" awaiting release, has had a distinguished career. Reflecting on his journey, Zhu attributes his sustained passion for creation to his absolute love for the industry. From his early days as an assistant director responsible for buying lunches for the crew, to being one of the first Hong Kong directors to move to mainland China in the 90s, and to his current role as a leading creator of hit shows, his love for film and television creation has been unwavering, continually delivering works beloved by audiences. These experiences not only honed his skills but also allowed him to witness the evolution of China's film and television market, accumulating valuable creative insights.

A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

In his creative process, Zhu places greater emphasis on emotional expression than on production, costumes, or props, often incorporating his own imaginative ideas. There is a saying about him: People may critique Zhu Ruibin's camera work and transitions, but never his storytelling. He believes that no matter one's background or life circumstances, emotional resonance is universal. "I believe everyone loves their family and friends and enjoys the sweet feeling of being in love. So, as long as the core message of the work focuses on 'emotion,' no matter the creative environment or mode of expression, it can resonate and touch the audience." Whether it's the beautiful love story in "Ashes of Love," the youthful passion in "Skate Into Love," or the light-hearted style of "The Starry Love" that combines romance and family, all his works succeed by captivating stories and nuanced emotions.

"Blossoms in Adversity" follows this pattern, featuring not only the loving trust between the protagonists but also the touching familial support within the Hua family, their journey towards a better life, and the friendship with the Shen brothers of the Peony family. "I think the most important thing is love, in all its forms - not just romantic love, but also love among family members, siblings, and all kinds of relationships between people." If "love" is the unchanging core in Zhu's works, he continuously breaks new ground in terms of themes. With over 30 years in the industry, his works span a variety of genres including historical, period, urban, youth, and romance, each bringing fresh elements to the audience. Zhu notes that in an increasingly homogeneous entertainment market, directors must continually enhance their creative skills and maintain active thinking to stand out.

A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

He believes that the key to maintaining innovation is to closely observe real life. Zhu habitually watches the people around him, gathering insights from their backgrounds, professional experiences, and perspectives to enrich the characters in his stories, making them more vivid and persuasive. He also recognizes that creating in isolation is a mistake and values listening to the audience. As his works often appeal to younger viewers, he enjoys engaging with their worlds to understand their preferences and values, which he integrates into his stories. He also closely follows viewer feedback on his series, reading comments and reviews to get direct and honest reactions that guide his future creative directions.

Listening to the audience and humbly accepting feedback led to more natural cinematography in "Blossoms in Adversity." He reduced the use of strange camera movements and intense lighting, enhancing the portrayal of historical female figures and beautiful ancient settings. Viewers recognized these changes, appreciating the picturesque framing and compositions in the series.

Zhu believes that creators should not make excuses for their shortcomings but trust that the audience can discern beauty and appreciate diverse expressions. The most important thing is to touch viewers with the story. Reflecting on over thirty years in the industry, Zhu offers advice to fellow professionals: Self-evaluate, refine your skills, stay committed, keep trying new things, and think from others' perspectives. This advice is beneficial not only for creative work but for life in general.

A Deep Dive into Blossoms in Adversity - New Theme Costume Drama

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