A touch of Harry in the night

The hardest working woman in television returns with a new hit drama


Yang Mi stars in Game of Thrones-meets-Harry Potter style hit drama

Children in China were a little late to discover the delights of the Harry Potter franchise but that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for the youthful wizard.

Or for the knock-off material inspired by the characters dreamed up by JK Rowling, it seems. In fact, long before the much-anticipated release of the seventh and concluding book in the series in 2007 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) there were plenty of homegrown imitations masquerading as her work. For instance, there was Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Relative Prince, as well as Harry Potter and the Hiding Dragon, Harry Potter and the Chinese Empire and (the most oddly titled) Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon.

More recently, a blockbuster television series grabbed headlines when it was accused of taking a page – literally – from one of the Harry Potter books.

The fantasy drama, The Legend of Fu Yao, is set in a fictional land annd stars A-list actress Yang Mi and Taiwanese heartthrob Ethan Ruan. It chronicles the rise of Fu Yao (played by Yang) from ordinary girl to ruler of the realm. Last week, audiences found parts of the fantasy drama strangely familiar, however.

According to Tech Web, in one episode, Fu Yao, a disciple at a Taoist school that teaches swordsmanship and sorcery, finds herself in a deadly competition after a piece of paper dipped in her blood is thrown into a bronze cauldron.

The competition sees challengers vie with terrifying creatures and a villain hopes to prompt Fu Yao’s premature demise by entering her into the contest.

Diehard Potterheads will recognise that the storyline bears striking similarities to Harry Potter’s fourth instalment in which a tournament is held between the three largest wizarding schools. In the novel, a teacher wanting to hurt Potter throws a piece of parchment with the 14 year-old’s name into the Goblet of Fire, despite the competition being restricted to older students.

“Wait, am I watching ‘Yang Mi and the Goblet Fire’?” one netizen mocked of the storyline.

Despite accusations of plagiarism, the show has delivered strong ratings for Zhejiang Satellite TV, coming in just behind the World Cup as the most watched television fare of the moment.

The series was also viewed over 600 million times during the first two days of its release on Tencent Video, an online streaming site.

Despite those perky figures, critics say Yang’s new drama has done well because there isn’t much else to watch (especially for non-football fans, presumably).

“As a whole, when it comes to domestic TV dramas this year, there have been a lot of dramas depicting stories that are vague, confusing or not worth mentioning… It’s just hilarious and I can’t imagine it happening in any other country,” complained a panellist at the Shanghai TV Festival.

Compared with last year, when TV series like In the Name of the People consistently broke ratings records, 2018 has been a relatively quiet one for television hits.

Industry observers blame the ban on historical dramas as one of the reasons for the lack of mega-hits. In the last few years, some of the biggest shows on satellite networks have been lavish productions with strong female leads.

For instance, in 2014, there was Fan Bingbing’s The Empress of China, which garnered over 10 billion views online and high viewer ratings on Douban, the film and TV review site. The following year, The Legend of Mi Yue, a historical drama that starred actress Sun Li, did well, accumulating over 20 billion views online.

In 2017, Yang Mi’s costume drama Eternal Love was the show of the year, going through a colossal 35 billion views online.

“Since big costume dramas with strong female leads have now been banned, everyone is scrambling frantically to film reality-based TV dramas. The more they shoot, the harder it is to control the quality level,” Tan Fei, a TV and film critic, claimed.

Yang’s latest hit seems to have got past the censors because of its Game of Thrones-esque fantasy tone. In contrast Zhou Xun’s Ruyi Royal Love in the Palace and Fan Bingbing’s The Legend of Ba Qing have fallen foul of the revised regulations designed to prevent ‘incorrect characterisations’ of Chinese history. Both series seem to have been shelved indefinitely.

The rapid growth of China’s three major online video sites also explains some of the ratings plunge. “Now that audiences are taking to streaming content online, they are spending less time on traditional television, which means ratings numbers are not what they were,” Tan told Sina Entertainment, a portal.

Others complain that bosses at network TV companies aren’t keeping up with the times.

With social media usage doing untold damage to attention spans across the country, there is much less appetite for domestic dramas, which tend to be dragged out (The Legend of Fu Yao has 66 episodes, for instance).

Younger audiences simply lack the patience of their parents’ generation to watch extended dramas.

“If long video was good enough, they would still be growing instead of being replaced by short video platforms [like Douyin and Kuaishou]. Do you know anyone who has watched all 50 episodes in a TV drama? I certainly don’t know anyone,” says Dai Ying, vice president of online streaming site iQiyi.

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