Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang
“A modern man travels back in time and realizes he’s now a woman. How would he survive in this strange world?” This mind-bending topic was turned into a web show created by Le.com in late 2015. The web show, Go Princess Go, was a surprise hit. No one could have foreseen this online novel-adapted web show creating such a huge following, considering the book only had a few hundred thousand clicks at its publication.
In the show, Zhang Peng, the playboy, accidentally drowns while trying to avoid several ex-girlfriends. When he woke up, he was in ancient China and a princess called Zhang Pengpeng. The protagonist couldn’t accept his new reality but could not change his fate either. He was salivating after the courtesans while also learning how to navigate the royal court. The biggest challenge was how he had to learn to ingratiate himself to the prince, Qi Cheng, while also fighting for the throne.
The unique plot piqued the interest of many web fans, who began talking in earnest about whether Zhang Pengpeng would stay interested in women or fall in love with Qi Cheng. The simplistic backdrop and character design of the show also made it different; many fans talked of how the show never shot outside if an inside setting sufficed, how the inside stage was dismantled as soon as shooting ended, how the floors were temporarily buffed for shine, how the clothing budget was so low that the cast could only wear cheap clothes from the flea market, how the characters wore sleeveless and leg-revealing outfits, how there were blatant ad-insertions, etc. Inspite of all the controversy, this web show became more and more popular, with more than four million playbacks in just 12 hours. Total views surpassed 2.6 billion after the end of the show.
As Go Princess, Go became a success, all online entertainment sites continued to create their web shows. The Substitute, a web show from iqiyi.com, also became a hit in late 2015. Written by American scriptwriter Kamran Pasha, and with American director Brenton Spencer consulting, the spy drama was well-received by the audience. The story follows a woman after plastic surgery, who found herself a copy of her idol. But her idol was in fact a double-crossing spy with a supermodel cover. Initially, the low-end production values and the acting did bring some questions from fans, but just after eight episodes, there were one hundred million views, and two hundred million views after 15 episodes. There were 10.643 million Weibo topics around the show, and any controversy was quickly replaced by interest in the show. Variety, the American entertainment industry magazine, even reported the phenomenon.
In this era of web followers as fans, while web shows are everywhere, becoming a breakout hit is still no easy feat. No matter if a show was adapted from a novel or a web original, only unique storylines, worthy topics, and innovative production and cinematography could make a product stand out and stand the test of the market. The audience is looking forward to more pleasant surprises in Chinese web shows.