Despite quota limitations and censorship, Thai TV dramas are a massive hit in China.
A new force is rising in a corner of the world that’s been largely dominated by J-pop and K-pop. T-pop – or more precisely, Thai TV drama – has swept into China, bringing soap opera stars “Tik” Jessadaporn Pholdee, “Aum“ Atichart Chumnanont and “Ken” Theeradej Wongpuapan millions of adoring female Chinese fans.
There’ve been stories in the media, press trips too, and T-pop has taken on a life of its own, especially since the Thai government became involved. So just how successful is it really?
Wanida Boonprasertwattana, senior distribution officer with Han Media and Culture, says the hype isn’t an exaggeration. Thai dramas air on CCTV 8 and through the satellite TV Anhui, which have between 700 million and 800 million viewers across China.
“It’s true that people in remote areas might not know about it but the number of viewers who watch Thai dramas is huge, much higher than Thailand’s population,” she says.
Last year “Roy Adeet Hang Rak” (“Track of Love”) starring Sukrit “Bie” Wisetkaew, was CCTV 8’s No 2 drama (the top one was a Chinese series).
Han Media started to distribute Thai dramas almost 10 years ago.
“We began with ‘Sailom Kab Sang Dao’ [starring Marsha Wattanapanich and Peter Corp Dyrendal] but it wasn’t a big hit,” says Wanida, adding that the company only selects series from the X-Act Company.
“It’s more convenient because X-Act is the only company that actually owns the copyright of its dramas after they air on TV. The copyright of the others belongs to the TV station after they’ve been shown.”
Channel 7 quickly recognised the marketing opportunity and has started releasing its productions for distribution in China.
But then, as now, there were limitations because of the foreign-production quota. Although the government has tried to negotiate with China, the rule remains the same, with China maintaining regulations as to the content and a quota for foreign series.
Chinese audiences got hooked on Thai drama in 2008 with the fancy romance “Lued Kattiya” (“The Princess”). The series is set in an imaginary kingdom and is about the romance between a princess (Phiyada Akaraseranee) and a soldier (Tik Jessadaporn).
Tik’s good looks – the actor is part-Chinese – had immediate appeal to Chinese small-screen viewers. The women loved his perfect skin and double eyelids and wanted to see more handsome Thai hunks.
Aum Atichart, Ken Theeradej and Nawat Koolratanarak had much the same effect – all three have a hint of Chinese blood but share the same “perfect” looks in the eyes of Chinese girls, who describe them in Internet chat rooms as “handsome” and “beautiful”. They also enjoy watching the dramas, they say, because of Thailand’s beautiful scenery.
Before the boom in Thai dramas, television in China was ruled by series from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. Taiwanese dramas tend to focus on sweet romance, Korean soaps are tear-jerkers and Hong Kong shows are about business fights.
Chinese audiences have enjoyed the old-style romance of “The Princess”, the airline love triangle in “Songkram Nang Fah” (“Battle of Angels”) or retro-style romance in “La-ong Dao” (“Lady Lahore Orn”).
In some ways, China and Thailand share a similar culture and lifestyle, so it’s easy for Chinese fans to associate with the story, and the Chinese dubbing is perfectly done.
However, the editing process is severe, with scenes involving superstitions, homosexuality and violence as well as characters in student uniforms doing bad things being automatically censored.
Han Media acts as a consultant to China’s channel in cutting the scenes without any interference from X-act. “‘Battle of Angels’ was cut from 34 episodes to 20 because of the girl-fight scenes and gay characters,” Wanida says.
While the censorship undoubtedly helps improve the pace with the removal of padded-out scenes and weaknesses in the script and does away with oft-criticised surfeit of catfights between jealous females, it can also have a negative effect on the story development.
“For example, there much so much editing of the characters’ development in ‘Phrung Nee Kor Rak Ther” [starring Anuchit Saphanpong and Patchara Thammamon], that we could hardly understand the relationship between gay couple Phee and Kong,” says Wanida.
Airing a drama on a network channel like CCTV8 helps boost a drama’s popularity, but dedicated fan clubs prefer to use the Internet to keep in touch with their Thai superstars. Just like Thai fans who are crazy about Korean and Japanese superstars, the online community fetches photos as well as clips from the drama series as it airs in Thailand. Fans will add English subtitles and later Chinese. And even though YouTube is banned, the Chinese fan club works fast. A Thai girl who lives in China says that if the drama is aired at 10pm in Thailand, the episode will be uploaded to Chinese fans at 3am and the Chinese subtitles will be completed the following day.
The boom is fed by various activities like inviting the stars to China to meet and greet fans.
This year, Han Media and a Chinese company are taking it a step further by undertaking a co-production starring Tik and a Chinese star. The drama will be shot both in Thailand and China, mainly in Shanghai and it will be in Chinese. Tik though will speak in Thai and be dubbed later.
“Lued Kattiya” (“The Princess”). ^^
The best drama of Asia 2008-2009