Faithful Brings #MeToo to Chinese Prestige Imperial Era Costume Dramas

Posted in: TV | Tagged: #MeToo, C-Drama, Chinese drama, Faithful, Imperfect Victim, iqiyi, Janice Wu, WeTV, Zhou Xun

Faithful brings #MeToo to prestige period costume dramas on Chinese TV, a milestone next to contemporary legal drama Imperfect Victim.

Faithful is an eagerly awaited new Chinese television drama that has just premiered, a thriller about political intrigue that brings #MeToo to Chinese period costume dramas set in Imperial times. That makes it unique amongst the current crop of C-Dramas, and possibly a milestone.

“Faithful” poster art: WeTV

Most Chinese costume dramas now are dominated by romantic fantasy wuxia sagas featuring implausibly pretty young men and women fighting and flirting with each other. You get Danmei, or Boy’s Love, sagas (soft homoeroticism without real kissing or, God forbid, SEX! And mainly for a female audience), Xianxia (love stories between humans, fairies, and demons), or plain Wuxia where lovers flirt with each other like every YA novel you’ve ever read. Faithful (or “The Righteous Nine” in the original Chinese title) is different. There’s nothing escapist in it as it drags issues of sexual harassment, gaslighting, and assault to the forefront of its plot.

Adapted from the novel by Li Bo Jian, the story features Janice Wu as Lady Meng Wan, newly-wed to a minor family, who enters high society with a plan for revenge. She is intent on bringing down the powerful man who raped her best friend years before and has gathered nine people who will help her. Each of them has a reason for taking him down, whether it’s guilt for their past complicity or what he did to them as well. Meng Wan and her late friend Lin Ru Lan (Hu Yi Xuan) were girls who attended a prestigious academy to learn embroidery, which was a finishing school to prepare young ladies for marriage into good families. Ru Lan accused the master Wu Lian (Qiao Zhen Yu) of coercion and assault, only for the school, the constabulary, and the courts to smear her, driving her to suicide. Now, Meng Wan, who was also one of Wu Lian’s many victims at the school, will stop at nothing to bring him down and destroy the very system that destroyed her friend. If her friend didn’t get justice from the patriarchal system, she will have to seek revenge, not justice. Now the chess game begins.

Here’s Episode One. It really takes the first two to get going before everything speeds up after that.

Costume fantasy dramas are never about the history, they’re allegories for the present, and Faithful is a prism to explore sexual harassment, coercion, gaslighting, the victimisation of women, and how society covers up and vilifies them when they try to come forward. Faithful is dealing with the same themes and issues as this summer’s Imperfect Victim, an acclaimed contemporary drama about a high-powered female lawyer (Zhou Xun) defending her rich corporate boss client from a rape charge and charged with discrediting his accuser (Jelly Lin) who has to reckon with her own history of covering up for clients like him and her own previous victimhood. Imperfect Victim was considered one of the most important drama series to come along on Chinese television for years, and Faithful looks like it’s going to stand next to it for the same reason. The two are practically the same story but told in different genres; one is a legal drama, the other a prestigious costume drama. Chinese TV drama isn’t just pretty people kissing as passed by the censors. It has a record of important social dramas similar to those on British television when it’s good.

Faithful is streaming on YouTube and WeTV. Imperfect Victim is streaming on Iqiyi.

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