Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang
“People can only be betrayed by friends, enemies would never have the chance to.”
“In this world, there’s no carefree person. If you have desires and feelings, you won’t be carefree.”
The above quotes are not from celebrities, they’re actually dialogue from a Chinese historical drama, Nirvana in Fire. In November of 2015, the show became popular thanks to the volunteer subtitling fans in America. The minute the episodes were posted on mydramalist and viki, they became a hit, receiving ratings of nine or more (out of 10).
Back in 2011, the Chinese show Empresses in the Palace, centered around royal intrigue, was the first to test the American market. Even though it was condensed into six episodes on Netflix, the show still introduced overseas fans to Chinese historical dramas. The lead actress, Sun Li, also became a fan favorite. Initially, American fans were only fascinated by the ornate backdrop and intricate costumes; the cultural divide was still an issue. Soon, after efforts from the subtitling teams filled the void, shows like Nirvana in Fire had no problems being understood.
Nirvana in Fire was adapted from Chinese writer Hai Yan’s novel of the same name. The protagonist, Mei Changsu, was born the son of a general. After his father was persecuted by an evil foe, his family and soldiers suffered a terrible fate. After barely surviving a fire, he had to change his looks completely. When 12 years had passed, he returned to the city to seek revenge. Facing his old fiancé and old friends, he had to persevere in silence and conduct his revenge methodically. The story uses main plotlines of revenge, royal power struggles, the dawn of a new dynasty, and the fight for national sovereignty. American fans compared the show to Dumas’ classic revenge tale, the Count of Monte Cristo.
“This is the best Chinese historical drama ever. If I could use more than 10 points, I’d give it 15 or 20. This show is so perfect, in acting, sound effects, editing, and directing. I can’t stop watching it.” One fan exclaimed on mydramalist about the show.
As the show became more and more popular overseas, the fans eagerly discussed the plot and speculated about a sequel. The show generated tons of interest in many cities. Some Chinese media sites used the show’s name to package their various products, there was even a fight over registering the domain name. South Korean travel agencies promoted a tour called Nirvana in Fire, and some Korean fans dressed up as the protagonist to visit Xiangshan in Ningbo, the show’s filming location. In America, Hu Ge, the actor who played Mei Changsu, was stalked by fans, who would carry the show poster on the streets.
As the popularity of Chinese dramas continues to rise abroad, another hit Chinese drama, The Story of Mi Yue, was just purchased by Netflix. Also starring Sun Li, the show features the same crew and production team as Empresses in the Palace. The new show will definitely bring in more fans and create a new ratings record.