In late 2015 a low budget TV series that cost just Rmb20 million ($3 million) to make went on to become a hit show on China’s internet.
Go Princess Go told the unlikely story of a modern-day playboy who suddenly finds himself reborn as a princess in an ancient dynasty. It was wildly popular, accumulating over 3 billion views on LeTV, the online streaming platform (see WiC308).
Two years on, the team that made Go Princess Go has released a new series. The 60-episode offering – called Oh My General – features the same lead actor Sheng Yilun and the director Lv Hao Ji Ji.
And like Go Princess Go, it is a historical drama with a gender-bending arc, this time as a young woman played by Ma Sichun climbs the ranks to become a general in the Song Dynasty.
Indeed, critics say that one of the reasons for the show’s popularity is the way it reverses more traditional perceptions of gender roles. The men in the series don’t work; they kill time by watching cockfights and playing dice; and most of the time they sit around in brothels and gossip about the ladies.
On the other hand, the women in the series are career-focused, strong (both physically and mentally) and fierce.
The series also makes fun of the gender stereotypes. For instance, when the lead character finds out that she is getting married to a man she has never met, her first question is about his looks, not his character. Meanwhile, her future in-laws are anxious that their son is going to be bullied by a strong woman.
“Everything about Ye, from the way she dresses to her demeanour, was very masculine. She even calls herself, ‘old man’. While the male character is a beautiful man but utterly useless,” says New Express Daily.
Some say that Ye is providing a positive role model for young girls today.
“Unlike Go Princess Go, where the female lead has to rely on men in order to be recognised, this show calls Ye a general without even feeling like it needs to add the word ‘female’ in front of the title,” says Beijing Times. As we noted in WiC381, China has produced plenty of television fare with strong female leads and indeed yet another biopic about an empress from the Ming Dynasty – starring top actress Tang Wei – will soon hit the small screen.
However, Oh My General takes the trend a step further by casting men with more feminine qualities.
The series has already accumulated over 600 million views online, although it cost significantly more to produce than its predecessor after the earlier drama was criticised for some of its shoddy sets and unconvincing costumes.
The latest series is much improved and also offers some interesting insights on successful relationships between men and women, regardless of the gender roles.
“Even though the couple (Ye and Zhao) don’t appear compatible on the surface, fundamentally, they have enormous respect for one another. Zhao admires his wife for her fearlessness on the battlefield. Ye, meanwhile, appreciates that her husband is bright, kind and honest. At the end of the day, no matter who is in charge outside the house and who takes care of the home inside, they know that they will always have each other’s back,” reckons the Beijing News.
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