Subscribers of Disney+ can expect to stream one of China’s most talked-about TV series of 2022, A Lifelong Journey (人世间), sometime this year. In January, Variety reported that Disney would release the title on its popular streaming platform for global audiences.
The epic 58-episode series, which premiered in China in January and came to a close in March, first appeared on the Chinese online video streaming platform iQiyi and then on Chinese state-owned broadcaster CCTV.
An adaptation of Liang Xiaosheng’s award-winning novel of the same name, the show details the lives of ordinary folk being pitched against the tides of social changes.
The storyline unfolds over half a century and spotlights the Zhous, a five-person nuclear family. Both parents and three kids experience ups and downs, witnessing historical events that encompass the cultural revolution, economic reform, and the implementation of the one-child policy.
“China has witnessed drastic changes over the last five decades,” said director Li Lu in an interview with Beijing Daily. “It is important to pay tribute to the bygone times and generations that brought us here today.”
At first glance, the program’s historical setting and serious tone might intimidate viewers, especially China’s younger generations. On the contrary, though, it has won their hearts.
According to China News Service, more than 400 million viewers binge-watched the series on iQiyi during the Chinese New Year holiday, and 46.8% of the audience were under the age of 30.
Many attributed the show’s popularity to the vivid performances by the talented cast, namely Lei Jiayin, who plays protagonist Zhou Bingkun. Lei is best known for his performance in the urban drama hit The First Half of My Life (2017).
Unlike his brother, a politician, and sister, a professor, Bingkun leads the most ‘ordinary’ life and therefore undertakes familial responsibilities. The family man jumps over countless hurdles while prioritizing the happiness of others over his own.
In one often-discussed scene, Bingkun confronts his father, who subtly referred to him as ‘the frustration’ of the family — an accusation that caused many netizens to bristle (perhaps hitting too close to home).
The two female characters stand at the two ends of the spectrum. While the former compromises her own happiness for the sake of her family, the latter ignores naysayers and pursues her dreams at the expense of being alienated from her family.
In the past, people might interpret the aforementioned characters solely as archetypes of virtue and vice. Today, however, Chinese youths see them differently.
“It is rather uncomfortable to see the idealization of Zheng Juan in the eyes of the screenwriter,” reads a popular comment on Douban, a Chinese rating platform.
The comment goes on to recount Zheng’s submissive nature and the abuse the character takes, before adding, “What kind of role model are we establishing for women today?”
Another netizen went on to note, “The expectation for all women to become Zheng Juan is a sign of toxic masculinity in our society.”
Conversely, a handful of viewers didn’t see any controversy since the story happened in a different period with old-fashioned ideas.
“It is the best Chinese series in the last 10 years, in my opinion,” reads a popular comment on Douban. “It gracefully captures social trends and human psychology over five decades. And the plots shed light on every citizen’s personal journey with the magnitude of hectic eras as the backdrop.”
In an attempt to expand its Asian content operations, Disney+ acquired the rights to introduce the series to an international audience.
“There is tremendous appetite globally for high-quality Asian content and original stories with great cultural resonance. We will continue investing in the best content and collaborating with the most sought-after creative talent and storytellers in the region so they can shine on the world stage,” said Jessica Kam-Engle, Disney’s APAC head of content and development in an interview with Tatler.
Now available in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea, and the Chinese regions of Hong Kong and Taiwan, Disney+ has goals to greenlight more than 50 Asia-Pacific-focused originals by 2023.
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Cover image via IMDb; all other images via Douban
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