‘Nirvana in Fire’ is a big hit on the small screen

By Xu Fan(China Daily)
Updated: 2015-11-12 07:54:05


Actor Hu Ge portrays the strategist Mei Changsu in Nirvana in Fire, one of the most popular TV series in recent times.[Photo provided to China Daily]

A new Chinese TV series, set in a fictionalized dynasty around 1,600 years ago, about a military strategist who risks his life to clear his name in a treason case, is making waves in China and abroad. Xu Fan reports.

Copyright dealer Sun Ying was surprised by the number of inquiries for Nirvana in Fire, a TV series about contenders for a throne in ancient China, at a fair in Johannesburg recently.

Most of the inquiries about this series at the just-concluded 2015 Discop Africa, the continent's largest television marketplace, came from traders from Africa and the Middle East.

The producers confirmed to China Daily that a Chinese-language channel in Africa will air the series, and that commercial discussions to air it on major local channels are underway.

The series, China's most popular TV series in recent times, is among 21 TV programs representing China-this year's guest country-at the event where participants showcase their latest and most popular TV content.

Sun, a copyright cooperation manager with Beijing-based cultural exports firm Startimes, tells China Daily that Africa is showing growing interest in Chinese TV series, animated programs and documentaries, but their budgets are limited.

Set in a fictionalized dynasty around 1,600 years ago, the 54-episode serial narrates a Chinese-style tale similar to French author Alexandre Dumas' novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

A visitor at China Pavilion at the recent 2015 Discop Africa, during which participants showcase their latest and most popular TV content.[Photo by Zhai Jianlan/Xinhua]

Adapted from a namesake online novel, it chronicles the revenge of Mei Changsu, a strategist who risks his life to clear his name in a treason case.

The series premiered in China on Sept 19 through two major satellite TV channels in Beijing and Shanghai. North American viewers started seeing the drama three days later on Chinese-language channels.

The cast (led by top TV actor Hu Ge), its story and picturesque scenes have won the series a huge following in recent months.

Followed by nearly 520,000 fans on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, the series has also garnered critical acclaim and commercial success.

China's most popular review site Douban.com gives it 9.3 out of 10 and it topped viewership ratings across 50 cities in October.

A number of illustrations, short pieces of footage and follow-up novellas have been created by enthusiasts on popular Internet forums.

Currently, audiences in South Korea and China's Taiwan are following the series, and it is likely to be shown in Singapore and Japan from early next year, says Li Huabing, vice-president of Daylight Entertainment, a Zhejiang-based studio producing and distributing Nirvana in Fire.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

But she dismissed reports about an English-subtitled version of 55 episodes. "So far we have no such plans," says Li, also the distribution head of Nirvana in Fire, in a telephone interview with China Daily.

Despite there being no official English version, enthusiasm from viewers has led them to create versions with subtitles in other languages.

For now, a version with English subtitles can be had from Viki.com, a Singapore-based video-streaming site, and it is recruiting volunteers to do subtitles in other languages, including Spanish, French, Romanian and Hungarian.

Li says that the series' overseas promotion was launched in September 2014, a year earlier than its Chinese mainland debut.

Separately, the series' producers have participated in nearly all the most influential international television exhibitions in the past 14 months, including the Cannes-held MIPTV, or Marche International des Programmes de Television, one of the world's largest TV and digital content markets.

"We've maintained contacts with foreign traders, and they're pretty interested in the Chinese audience reaction and feedback," she says.

While most homegrown TV serials have English titles translated from their Chinese names, Nirvana in Fire is not the English translation of the Chinese title, but is a name purposely chosen to attract overseas viewers.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

The Chinese title is Langya Bang, or The List from Langya, which can be seen as a kind of Forbes list of the smartest, most powerful or most beautiful people in the fictionalized kingdom.

Nirvana in the English title refers to the tragic life of protagonist Mei, who dies in the last episode of the series after he has finished his tough missions. Taken from Indian Buddhism, nirvana means "freedom from an endless cycle of personal reincarnations".

While previous Chinese series which have gained popularity abroad have been mostly adaptations from Chinese classics, such as The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West, Nirvana in Fire is different.

"It proves that a good tale can capture audiences beyond a nation and its culture," says Li.

Hou Hongliang, the producer of Nirvana in Fire, says in earlier interviews that the series highlights justice, patriotism and brotherhood.

Meanwhile, latest available figures show that China is seeing a rise in the exports of movies and TV series, with more than 10,000 hours programs sold to more than 100 countries and regions in Asia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania in 2014.

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