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February 25, 2010

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WiFi guy goes back to future

A hot new TV genre is light-hearted back-to-the future fare in which a young Chinese guy - with cellphone, WiFi and modern sensibility - is transported back to ancient times.

The time traveler in the costume drama series "The Myth" accidentally touches a magic stone at an archeological site and is hurled back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), along with his modern gadgets, video games and gags.

He's a smart ordinary guy, a member of the thumb tribe, who eventually becomes a patriotic general. There are lots of stunts, battle scenes and special effects. As he's swept up in history, he also surfs the Net, listens to his iPod, makes videos on his cell phone and takes calls.

The 50-episode series started airing on January 2 on CCTV 8. It's so popular among teenagers that a sequel is planned and producers are soliciting ingenious script ideas on

In one scene the character, Yi Xiaochuan (a photographer in 2010 China), is condemned to death but his cellphone ring tone startles the executioner, thus saving him from the ax. In another, he's injured in battle and startles everyone by saying "call an ambulance, call 110."

We can sometimes catch a glimpse of his sneakers.

Yi uses modern slang and buzzwords, often saying "that's cool," or "money's not a problem."

He jokes with the princess he's protecting that her chances of surviving the enemy "are abut as low as that China's national men's football team entering the World Cup finals."

When his friends are in "financial crisis," he tells them they need an auction party to raise funds, with plenty of "media hype" and advertising in advance.

Unlike typical costume drama themes with traditional Chinese music and elegant music, "The Myth" has a rap, hip-hop music-style theme, with lyrics about the lives of modern young people.

This new time-travel TV genre is known as chuanyue (literally "pass through"). It refers both to a shock, a staggering experience (like culture shock), and to popular Internet novels in which the main character returns to the past as a handsome man or beautiful woman and encounters transformative historical events, the supernatural and romance.

Chuanyue has become a buzzword and now it's a TV genre combining sci-fi, fantasy, history and jokes.

The TV series "The Myth" is a remake of Jackie Chan's 2005 film "The Myth," a martial arts comedy in which an archeologist goes back to the Qin Dynasty and becomes brave and loyal general Meng Yi serving the emperor.

In the new series, the hero is first battered by culture shock but eventually rises to become a patriotic general battling rebels. He witnesses battles between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, who both tried to seize power after the collapse of the Qin Dynasty.

He also escorts a princess and teaches her to play poker and other card games.

Clearly, producers aren't sticklers for historical accuracy.

The time traveler, who occasionally ducks back into the present, is played by young actor Hu Ge, who was injured in a car accident in 2006 and required 10 months of treatment and plastic surgery.

"It was a very different shooting experience," Hu said in an early interview. "Unlike my roles in other costume dramas, I don't have to worry about wearing sneakers or carrying my cell phone on camera."

In fact, the cell phone has become an important prop. Not only does it save him from execution, but he uses homemade videos to express his love for the princess.

"The Myth," budgeted at 40 million yuan (US$5.8 million), garnered an average viewership rate of 3 percent per episode, fairly good for a series on CCTV.

This month it started airing on four satellite TV channels around the country.

"The Myth" is a hit among China's post-90s generation (those born after 1990) who spent much of winter vacation in front of TV.

Yang Yanjun, a 16-year-old high school student, is a big fan of the fascinating plot and fabulous scenes.

"It's a hot topic among classmates," Yang says. "We frequently chat in QQ (instant messenger) about the characters and try to predict the plot twists."

The juxtaposition of ancient history and sometimes irreverent, contemporary sensibility makes for a lot of laughs and sometimes insights.

Some young Netizens say the hero is very representative of their generation, an Internet surfer and a member of the thumb tribe, so they can identify a bit with a guy learning about cultures, customs and rituals of 2,000 years ago.


The popularity of the drama among teenagers has prompted producers to plan a sequel.

The producers, the Shanghai Film Group and Emperor Group Culture Development Co Ltd, plan a sequel and are soliciting script ideas on Netizens with ingenious chuanyue ideas can contribute to the script.

Another chuanyue TV series adapted from Zhang Yimou's 1989 romance film "Fight and Love with a Terracotta Warrior" is now been filmed at the Hengdian World Studios. The action-adventure love story revolves around the Qin Emperor's personal swordsman who travels into the 20th century to find his girlfriend's wandering spirit.

Though promoters claim "The Myth" is the first chuanyue drama in China, the genre actually dates back to a 2001 Hong Kong drama series, "A Step Into the Past," which is based on Huang Yi's martial arts fantasy fiction. The 40-episode series was hugely popular.

It stars Louis Koo as a 21st century Hong Kong cop who volunteers for a scientific experiment of returning to the coronation of the Qin Emperor. By mistake, he is transported to an earlier time when the emperor is hostage in another kingdom. So he must help him rise to the throne so he can get back to the present.

The chuanyue element is also incorporated into the popular US sci-fi TV drama series "Heroes," in which a character goes back to ancient Japan and also travels into the future.

According to Qu Jun, an official from "The Myth" production team, the genre will become a good alternative for TV viewers tied of idol dramas, soaps and spy thrillers.

"With the protagonist, viewers can feel part of the tide of history, making their viewing experience more interesting," says Qu.

Qu sees great commercial potential but cites the high cost of stunts and battle scenes, as well as challenges of finding captivating scripts.

"It's like making two dramas at one time, one the action-packed ancient part and the other is the stylish modern part," he says.


Not everyone is a fan. Many older viewers consider "The Myth" a superficial parody, lacking respect and accuracy. Though it blends sci-fi, history and fantasy, it should still be accurate, says Zhang Jian, an accountant in his 30s.

"It's good to introduce history to young audiences in a light-hearted way, but it should be more accurate and logical to appeal to many generations of TV fans," he observes.

Emerging TV, radio, Net genres


These TV series offer open-endings so the audience can help craft the plot. They don't feature big-name stars, but they do offer intriguing flexibility and lots of interactivity.

Two series aired last year are "Cheer up, Youya!" and "Sufei's Diary." TV viewers took part in online discussions about new episodes and characters.

Radio dramas

These are based on popular online novels and depend on voice alone and sound effects.

They include "My Air Hostess Roommate" and "In Search of the Magic Bean."

Depending on voice, good storytelling and sound effects alone, they have been well-received by busy white-collar professionals on their commutes.

Newsy Net crosstalk

The popular video Website has launched a series of funny Internet programs combining comic dialogues of grassroots "anchors" about breaking news and top entertainment and business stories.

In addition, the 12 "Beauties of Jinling" from the new TV series "A Dream of Red Mansions" are invited to be the weather women.


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