See you in court

China’s hottest TV show is a new drama about divorce lawyers

Zhang Meng w

“Marriage not working?”: Yao stars as a divorce lawyer in new TV series

“Most business mistakes are irreversible setbacks, but you get another chance. There are two things in life that you don’t get another chance at: marrying the wrong person and what you do with your children.”

Warren Buffett isn’t quite right on that one – when it comes to marrying the wrong person, there are lawyers that can help fix the problem. That is one of the messages from China’s latest hit TV series Divorce Lawyers, which follows the lives of two legal eagles who make a lucrative living advising couples that want out of their marriages.

Actress Yao Chen – who is perhaps best known to WiC’s readers as China’s microblogging queen with 72.1 million weibo followers – plays a powerful but jaded attorney called Luo Li. Wu Xiubo – playing the other lead, Chi Haidong – is similarly busy with lawsuits, even as his own marriage falls apart.

The show, which is being broadcast on four regional satellite networks and online via Tencent’s video site, has dominated the ratings since its release in early August. The critics say Divorce Lawyers reflects an increasingly cynical view about marriage in China as divorce rates continue to climb. Perhaps that is accurate as many netizens seem to be saying they find the series educational, as well as entertaining. For example, one episode explores the social phenomenon where couples ‘fake’ divorces in order to bypass regulations blocking home purchases. Other aspects of the series seek to shed more light on the true meaning of marriage. “Marriage law only protects the marriage, it doesn’t protect love,” one character muses during the drama.

Another storyline involves a husband who wants to divorce his longstanding wife after taking up with a young mistress. The married couple also run a business empire together, built when they were young and poor. To mourn the end of their nuptials, the wife hosts a ceremony, during which she laments: “I got a lot of money from the divorce. From an investment point of view, I have made a killing… But I don’t care about the money. I want my family; I want my husband back.”

“The show may be about break-up but it is really about love. After watching Divorce Lawyers, I have learned to appreciate my wife even more. Marriage, like everything in life, takes maintenance and care,” one netizen wrote.

Another part of the show’s success is that it is a legal drama – a relative rarity on Chinese television. While courtroom scenes are nothing new in the West, they are not the norm on Chinese TV.

One reason is that typical court proceedings in China are “extremely boring,” a producer of Divorce Lawyers observed. Media regulators haven’t encouraged the genre either, although Tencent Entertainment says Divorce Lawyers gets a pass from the censors by focusing more on the personal lives of the characters rather than actual courtroom scenes.

However, viewers from the legal profession have complained that the show bears little resemblance to reality and that it is misleading the audience about actual divorce procedures, says City Express.

But Yang Wenjun, the director, seems unfazed, acknowledging that the show is exaggerated for dramatic impact. “China’s judicial system is very special, and as a result, a court trial is extremely dull. We have also participated in real court rulings for research and found them very boring,” he claims.

“Basically, all the lawyers read from a script that was prepared beforehand and then leave. There’s very little interaction between the lawyers on the two sides. If we were to really stick to the actual procedures, we should forget about shooting courtroom dramas in China!” Yang told Tencent Entertainment.

(For more on China’s surging divorce rate, see WiC209.)

Photo courtesy of Femina magazine. Photography / Mei Yuangui, photography assistant/ Zhang Chao, Image design/ Kidd Ji, Cosmetic/ Qi Qi, Hair/ Liu Xumeng.

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