Following the debut of new Chinese television drama Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms on Jiangsu TV and DragonTV in January, the program and its source novel of the same name, became instant hits not just with local audiences but also abroad. A translated version of the book is selling well on Amazon.com and international video streaming websites are reporting soaring viewership and top 10 rankings for the show. With 47 episodes aired thus far, the series is indubitably a success, marking a new renaissance for Chinese television, which heretofore struggled to attract foreign viewers.
Based on the Chinese martial arts literary genre, Web-based fiction series written by Chinese author Tang Qi, the romantic high-fantasy story is as epic as its original title.
(From top) Posters for the TV drama Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms Photos: IC
Transcending time and universes, the Three Lives Three Worlds tale follows Bai Qian (played by Chinese actress Yang Mi), a goddess who is sent to the mortal world, where she falls in love with Ye Hua (Taiwanese-Canadian actor Mark Chao). Drama and death ensue, pushing the complex story line into alternate realities and lifetimes.
"It is one of the worst feelings ever to wait on an episode of this show," said Joshua from Illinois, the US, who is currently 22 episodes in. "Even though I get to watch two new episodes every weekday, that still doesn't satisfy me."
Joshua told the Global Times that ever since first falling for the show, he can't stop wondering what will happen next and eagerly awaits receiving a mobile message alerting him to the latest episode.
"The story is quite good," he said. "I love the acting and the special effects are all top-notch. The costumes seem extremely expensive; I wonder how big the budget is?"
A scene featuring Chinese actress Yang Mi and Taiwanese-Canadian actor Mark Chao from the hit TV drama Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms Photo: IC
Slow burn, or instalove?
Joshua is one of a growing number of foreign viewers who have been exposed to the new program thanks to the original novel's massive online success. Other foreign viewers, however, are learning of the sourcebook only after watching the show.
On Amazon.com, a translated version of the novel titled To the Sky Kingdom currently has 36 customer reviews, ranking sixth in the Chinese Literature category.
Karina from Russia is one of the book's reviewers. Last year she downloaded Tang's novel and became a fan of the author. She rates the novel as one of her favorite books.
"I read it with my heart in my throat, but the ending while satisfying was too short, and damn, I wanted more!"
She told the Global Times that what struck her was its moving love story, which takes its time developing all of its complexities.
"In fiction, the term we use is 'slow burn' as opposed to 'instalove,' which allows the reader to savor all the different stages of romance," she said.
Like most foreign fans, Karina's favorite couple in the novel as well as the program is Bai Qian and Ye Hua.
"There is so much more going on in their heads and hearts than it shows on the surface, and they are both introverts through their nature or due to many experiences and are set in their ways, which is why they crash so hard when they fall for each other again and again," she said.
Though the couple have a 70,000-year age gap, this doesn't seem to bother Karina.
"Their age difference is mostly a status thing, because let's face it, when one has lived for thousands of years and will live for thousands more, it doesn't have the same impact as your usual age gap scenario."
Minor characters are also stealing the show and winning over fans.
"I've enjoyed how the series highlighted other characters who I didn't pay much attention to in the book," said Karina, who feels that Donghua Dijun and Bai Fengjiu (Bai Qian's niece) are "absolutely adorable" together and have a lot of on-screen chemistry.
The high level of acting talent among the show's cast has also won praise from audiences. "I think Mark Chao as lead was a good choice, he is easily able to make his emotions believable," said Joshua.
Introduction to Chinese culture
"As for Yang Mi (who plays dual roles as male and female characters)," Joshua added, "I initially found her acting as a male character annoying but I began to like her later. She also made it seem as if Su Su and Bai Qian were not the same person at all, but that could also be credited to the writers."
Having both read the book and watched the series, Karina acknowledges that the two media helped introduce her to Chinese mythology and culture, saying that the more she learns the better she understands the nuances.
"I have been reading To the Sky Kingdom and watching the show nowhere near enough. There is always something which surprises me. Mostly the intricacies of familial duty and deep connections between relatives, friends, teachers and pupils, loved ones," Karina said.
"I really like that aspect of Chinese fiction," she added. "There are hefty expectations attached to every decision which is something that's usually missing in Western fiction."