I love the fact the life can happen in unexpected ways. I accidentally bumped into Ten Miles and that literally started my YouTube channel. And now I accidentally bumped into 双世宠妃 The Eternal Love, and well well, I've had so much fun out of it. Before I finish working on my video about this drama, I just have to ramble a bit here on my blog.
I have to admit I haven't previously given much thought to Web Dramas. Back then when The Record of Crown Princess' Promotion swept the entire China, I took a peak and didn't stick through the story. I found the male lead's acting way too weak to be a balanced opponent to the female lead. So this time I had a lot of doubt about this yet another time travel web drama. But as I was browsing Viki I found it newly added to its drama reserve, so I just clicked and then... well it was 8 episodes later that I stopped because I HAD to go to sleep.
Many people had the same reaction as I later found out, when they started watching, and without warning they have binged through the first half of the entire thing, and without skip forwarding! That alone is a worthy achievement for this production!
So what is so captivating about this drama? I mean it's obvious they had an incredibly tiny budget, very limited resources, and actors as green as new bamboo shoots, but still, it out performed shows that had everything lined up 10 times better.
As I am obsessed with stories and also HOW stories are made, I had to dig a bit more into the background of this production, and hoping to find out the reasons behind its success.
So here is the info I have gathered.
1. The production took only 45 days to shoot (The director wanted 50 days but was told he had 45 to the dot, not an hour more).
2. While they were filming in Heng Dian ("The Place" to film period dramas in China), Nirvana in Fire II, Advisors Alliance were also filming there, and the big productions were given priority, so TEL crew had to scramble and snatch every opportunity to get their shots.
3. They shot 16-18 hr/day, sometimes even 20hr/day non-stop through those 45 days.
4. The director is from Hong Kong, who was actually the same generation martial art actor/stuntman as Jackie Chen. He's now in his 60s and had only directed a few productions before (used to work mostly as stunt director).
5. All the actors are new faces. Lead female Liang Jie is only out of school two years, lead male Xing Zhaolin is even younger. They needed a LOT of help and guidance to get the performance right.
So as the circumstance presents itself, this crew looks rather shabby and their work seems destined for failure. Yet the show has far surpassed everyone's expectation and even though it may never get to what Crown Princess has achieved, it has certainly made everyone involved super proud.
I would say there are three main reasons why it has done what is has done. The first being the script has a very nice pace. Not that it has the best dialogue or the cleverest set up, but it is willing to speed through development and cutting down redundant content that drags the progression of the story. As the director said in his interview, he aimed at having each scene pushing either the characters or the plot forward. Any scene that doesn't do that was cut. The result is that even though each episode is only 30 mins long, it is so jammed packed it feels longer that many standard 40-50min episode cdrama. So once you start, good luck stopping mid-way.
The second being that the director is a very pragmatic and experienced creator. He wasn't trained in any film academy. Like Jackie Chen, he literally "fought" his way through the movie world starting as a child, practicing martial arts and Beijing Opera, learning everything about film making through hands on practice. He knows through years and years of working in the industry what he wants in front of the camera and how to get them. There are short clips online of him demonstrating to the young actors how to block and act certain scenes. His demonstration is hilarious to watch, but it shows he knows exactly what he's looking for, and as the reality of the schedule dictates, they had no time to play around, so getting to the point was the best way forward for this crew, and the director certainly understood what he was doing.
The third and perhaps the most important reason being that everyone on this production understands what this show is or is not. They have a very accurate picture of themselves and what their production is about. They know they are a tiny fish in a giant ocean, they know they are lacking in almost every aspect imaginable, they didn't expect oscar worthy performance or mind blowing sequences, they know what they are and they did their best, while never tried to pretend to be something else. There are plenty of productions out there with over blown egos and pretentiousness, thinking of themselves too highly that resulted in coming across as insincere. As poorly as this drama looks in many aspects, it's a very sincere production. You can tell that within the boundary and limitation of their situation, they have given 100% for everything. This kind of quality is hard to quantify or be presented as a solid deliverable, but when you watch the drama, you can feel it as an intangible but very real thing.
The director said there would be two more seasons, of course as cdrama goes, no one knows for sure if the sequel is going to happen until the last moment. I sincerely wish they could continue bringing this story to the screen, and I hope the success of the first production doesn't screw up the incredibly precious qualities of the original series.
So go and watch it, what are you waiting for?