A week or two ago I noticed something a little odd happening at the front entrance of our building. There was a group of young people (mostly young women) all standing with their backs to the entrance doors and taking selfies on their phones. That’s strange I thought, why here? When I went inside I asked the concierge if he’d noticed and what it was about. He told me proudly that they were fans of the new hit TV programme ‘Divorce Lawyers’ which started being broadcast in October.
That explained it. ‘Divorce Lawyers’ 離婚律師 was filmed in our building earlier this year. For six months we all had to put up with film crews, cables, cameramen, lighting rigs, vans, boxes of props, harassed production assistants shooing us out of the lobby, all three lifts being permanently full of production equipment so you had to wait ages to use them, noise at all hours of the day and night and so on. After the novelty of it wore off, the whole hoo-ha drove the residents nearly mad, and many had stand-up rows with the production team and/or complained vehemently to the manager of the building. Finally the filming was over, they all decamped and we forgot about it.
Now the series is showing on Sina.com. It has become a HUGE hit, and every day fans are coming from far and wide – some from as far away as Malaysia – to stand where the stars stood and have their picture taken.
Divorce Lawyers is a romantic comedy in 46 one hour episodes. The basic storyline is that a two lawyers who specialise in divorce (one male, one female) have both put broken relationships behind them and sworn to have nothing more to do with romance.
However, when the female lawyer Luo Li played by Yao Chen 姚晨 represents the wife in a contested divorce and the male lawyer Shi Haidong played by Wu Xiu Bo 吳秀波 represents the husband; they get thrown together, find themselves living in adjoining apartments (in our building!) and – you guessed it – after a rather thorny time the inevitable happens and they find themselves falling in love. Needless to say the path of true love never does run smooth, and there are many twists and turns, and ups and downs before the inevitable happy ending.
Yao Chen and Wu Xiu Bo are megastars in the Chinese film firmament, and the series has already been downloaded 1.5 BILLION times. Everyone and their aunties all over the Chinese speaking world knows who they are, but we in the west have never heard of them.
Although I am not a film/TV fanatic by any means, I do know the names of most of the big stars in Hollywood and the UK and could probably put a face to them and so could many Chinese, as western movies are also watched in China. However we in the west could not do the same for Chinese film stars despite the fact that they are watched by millions more people than any of ‘our’ stars are. Yao Chen has more Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter/Facebook) followers than the entire population of the UK! I am ashamed to say that the number of Chinese stars I know could be counted on one hand and I know them only because they have also acted in western films.
The western media rarely, if ever, covers Chinese films or Chinese TV series, they don’t get dubbed into English, they are not distributed in our countries because the big Hollywood production companies control what is shown and they have been disinterested. But that is changing, Tinseltown has woken up to the potential profit of selling films and film productions into China, and seem to think that they are so important that they will be given automatic entry…why do they expect that? China has a vibrant and thriving film industry of its own and has done for nearly a century, they are now using the latest technology to distribute their productions, they are not going to fall over backwards in awe of what comes out of America and Europe.