One of my current favourite pastimes is watching Chinese TV drama series of historical genre. The drama series have been packaged into DVD format (usually 2 or 3 DVD for each series) and can be purchased in shopping areas where Chinese people congregate. A visit to any of these video shops will bewilder observers with the variety of dramas available. They can be classified into following categories:
- Historical drama based on real life characters
- Historical drama based on fictional characters
- Modern Mainland drama
- HK TVB drama
- Revolutionary era drama with backdrop of Japanese invasion
- Revolutionary era drama with backdrop of Chinese civil war
- Korean drama
Most of the DVDs I have bought are of the historical drama based on real life characters type. The first set of such DVDs in my possession was the Romance of Three Kingdoms drama series. It was expensive then to buy these DVD of the series as a single DVD could only hold 2 or 3 episodes then. This was followed with the series on Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty (Han Wu Da Di). The DVDs would come in set of about 20 to 30 DVDs per set. In the last few years, they have become cheaper, due to the DVD9 format, where the video data for entire series are compressed into 2 or 3 DVDs. The drawback is that the compression does affect the image quality somewhat, but one can’t really complain, given the obvious cost-benefit advantage.
China’s long and illustrious written history provides ample materials for interesting drama series to be based upon. For example, the series on the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) was generally based on the works of Han Dynasty historian, Sima Qian. Central figures in the drama include Lv Bowei (purported to be his biological father), his scandalous mother, his adviser Li Si etc. The story of Gou Jian, the King of Yue, is another interesting story that has been dramatised for the TV. In fact there are two such TV drama on the same story: Gou Jian, Fu Cha, Xi Shi, Fan Li, Wen Zhang etc just came alive in the dramas. Given the fact that these series have many episodes means that the producers have ample times to delve into many aspects of historical events and bring to light many historical characters of the time. This is in contrast to the standard 90 minutes movies, where it is just impossible to covers long list of historical events and the characters involved.
I have just completed watching a series called Zhen Guan Zhi Zhi ( 贞观之治) which is based on the reign of second emperor of Tang dynasty, Li Shimin. The drama series depicts how he came to be the great Tang Tai Zong Emperor despite not being the crown prince, about court intrigues and how brothers (princes) would fight and kill each other to claim the crown, about loyal officials, scandals, rebellions, politics and wars. The Xuanwu gate incidence (玄武门之变）in which Li Shimin seized power, and in the process killed his two brothers and forced his father to gave up power, is an important part of the story.
OK, I will stop writing now, and I just can’t wait to get back to watching another series. This time the drama is based on the life of Empress Feng of North Wei dynasty AD (北魏冯太后) of circa 5th century.