Passions and Obsessions

Move over, K-drama? C-drama’s ‘traffic stars’ (Dylan Wang, Yang Yang, etc) are catching up

They offer the plethora of choices, stunning costumes, amazing special effects, astounding cinematography, and interesting plots—if you can commit to the many episodes

Dylan Wang doesn't travel without the latest Louis Vuitton-Yayoi Kusama bag. (IG: @dylan_wang_1220)

There was a time I didn’t give a thought to watching a drama series, be it Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or Thai. I just wasn’t interested. But that perspective changed when I watched K-drama Coffee Prince. A former colleague in Singapore had enthused over it, and I wondered why. Well, I found out, and I began binge-watching K-drama.

A year and a half later, K-drama fatigue caught up with me. I browsed Netflix’s catalogue of Chinese drama (or C-drama) and was soon engrossed in three shows, despite the episode counts exceeding the comfortable K-drama quota of 16.

C-drama catches your attention, fan or no fan, like my friend, the Singapore-based Fistri Abdul Rahim, who’s repelled by the overdramatic acting in C-drama. She said her interest picked up slightly when she noted that C-drama’s “classic romance or ancient kingdom stories” were better, but it quickly waned when she realized that most shows had the same template. Another friend, the Jakarta-based Lady Yesisca, isn’t into C-drama either, finding the storyline “too complicated” and “forcing me to think hard,” or “boring.” But she makes exceptions for romance stories like Lighter and Princess.

Chen Feiyu and Zhang Jing make you want to fall in love in “Lighter and Princess.” (

The plot of a triad leader’s daughter, Angie, escaping her legacy in Triad Princess stoked my interest. Would she succeed? I wondered. The series started strongly with the depiction of Angie as an independent woman working as a bodyguard, but nose-dived when it abruptly concluded in the sixth episode after introducing a new character, Angie’s jilted suitor.

Shows like Triad Princess might have been disappointing, but C-drama, according to Prof. Emilie Yeh Yueh-yu, is “catching up with Korean productions.” In an interview with, the director of the Centre for Film and Creative Industries at Lingnan University in Hong Kong said, “There’s a lot of talent in China, people who can write moving and interesting stories, and produce works with global resonance.”

C-drama entered the international scene in 2015 when Netflix bought Empress in the Palace, its first C-drama series. It has grown since then, transforming into a “global entertainment powerhouse” known for “slick and sophisticated productions costing more than RMB100 million (US$15 million) [which] aren’t unusual in China,” says, adding that part of its ever-growing success is due to shows being remade by foreign companies—i.e.,  South Korean broadcaster tvN’s Mr Queen is a modified version of Go Princess Go.

The streamer iQiyi, China’s answer to Netflix, is also responsible for C-drama’s international success. It has secured a foothold in Japan, North America, South Korea, and Southeast Asia, and recently entered the Spanish-speaking regions, according to Jing Daily, an online Chinese media outlet.

My interest in C-drama picked up with these male stars: Dylan Wang of Love Between Fairy and Devil, Song Wei Long of Find Yourself, and Chen Feiyu of Lighter and Princess.

Dylan Wang only wears jewelry from the Louis Vuitton collection. (IG: @dylan_wang_1220)

The 20something actors are known as “traffic stars/idols,” a term used for drop-dead gorgeous celebrities selected by top beauty brands in China to headline their marketing campaigns. Their massive female-oriented fan bases are tapped for brisk business because, says Jing Daily, today’s “young, media-hot traffic stars are more effective in triggering consumer purchasing decisions than Oscar-winning artists.”

The label surfaced in 2015 when the media and fans bestowed the title on stars Li Yifeng, Yang Yang, Kris Wu, and Lu Han, who had huge fan bases. Guerlain’s ambassador in 2016 was actor Yang Yang, who had a lipstick named after him—the Yang Yang shade—that quickly sold out. The face of Bulgari, Lancôme, and Louis Vuitton was singer-actor Kris Wu, before he was sentenced last year in China to 13 years in prison for sex crimes.

Dylan Wang doesn’t travel without the latest Louis Vuitton-Yayoi Kusama bag. (IG: @dylan_wang_1220)

In 2018, “more than 40 international beauty brands changed their female celebrity ambassadors to male traffic stars,” Jing Daily says. Currently, Burberry and Emperio Armani accessories’ brand ambassador is Song Wei Long. Louis Vuitton and Maybelline are given leverage by Dylan Wang, while Dior and Tissot are fronted by showbiz royalty Chen Feiyu, the son of film director Chen Kaige and actress-producer Chen Hong.

Chen Feiyu is rebellious coding genius Lu Xun in “Lighter and Princess.” (IG: @chenfeiyuintl)

Chinese-American actor Chen Feiyu is campus heartthrob Lu Xun in “Lighter and Princess.” (IG: @thechenarthur)

The number of their followers on Weibo, China’s version of Instagram, highlights why they’re the faces of major brands. Song racks up 14.1 million; Wang has more than 17 million; and Chen lists 13.13 million, as per Jing Daily data.

Fans brim with great devotion, buying what the idols endorse, thus boosting sales and their idols’ continuous commercial success. But the loyalty comes with a caveat of a derailed, if not cut, career when norms are transgressed. Idols are expected to be upright individuals, meaning no hanky-panky or socially deviant behavior. (The “fan sex scandal” Chen figured in earlier this year has had Jing Daily speculating that his brand ambassadorship and career might be affected, as fans were rankled by “[Chen’s] perceived hypocrisy and misconduct as an idol who’s single, if not virginal.”)

China’s “idol economy” is huge, explains Jing Daily. Driven by the “fan economy,” it was worth about US$ 724 billion (RMB4.94 trillion) in 2021, and was forecast to grow to US$ 940 billion (RMB6.42 trillion) this year.

The impressive set design, costumes, and overall quality of the drama are other reasons to watch C-drama, says Grace C. Diez of Adding plot to her list, I finished all 41 episodes of the historical fantasy Love between Fairy and Devil.

Dylan Wang is Dongfang Qingcang, killer of gods, who was accidentally released from his imprisonment. The Lord Devil was a sight to behold with his long, silky hair set in elaborate headdresses, and his statuesque frame wrapped in elegant robes. Many skeptics doubted his ability to act, but he proved his range and depth particularly when he switched between a demon god with piercing eyes and the childish orchid fairy in scenes when his character was under the body-swap spell.

Dylan Wang is the fiery Lord Devil in “Love Between Fairy and Devil.” (IG: @dylan_wang_1220)

Dylan Wang is Dongfang Qingcang, who falls in love with a low-ranked orchid fairy in “Love Between Fairy and Devil.” (

With co-star Esther Yu as orchid fairy Xiao Lanhua, they held the audience’s attention from beginning to end. Their on-screen chemistry was punctuated by perfectly timed delivery of both comedic and serious lines. Inadvertently, Xin’s costumes—accessories, dresses, head chains, and nail art—spurred further interest in Hanfu culture in the youth, says Jing Daily. Young adults in China have taken to wearing the Hanfu attire—long, flowing robes in various colors—as a way to “reconnect with and reclaim a sense of cultural pride.”

Esther Yu and Dylan are the chic orchid fairy and demon god in “Love Between Fairy and Devil.” (

Like K-drama, C-drama generally highlights traditional cultural values like courtesy, respect, filial obedience, etc. But Find Yourself, a 36-episode romantic-comedy, went the opposite way and explored a taboo in Asian society: May-December relationships.

It’s a May-December affair for Victoria Song and Song Wei Long in “Find Yourself.” (

Victoria Song is He Fan Xing, who’s caught between being a filial daughter and following her heart. She gets involved with Yuan Song, an intern in her company portrayed by Song Wei Long, on the condition that their relationship be kept secret because of their 10-year age gap. What follows are the serious and hilarious complications the couple faces in their relationship. Mercifully, the series does not devolve into wearisome scenes of characters exploding in histrionic outbursts, like in the K-drama with the same storyline, Something in the Rain. Discarding the overdrawn confrontations and family breakdowns, the writers breathed an uncommon modern take on the May-December couple: Song and Fan Xing have their cake and eat it, too.

Song Wei Long falls head over heels with an older woman in “Find Yourself. (IG: @songsongswl)

Paralleling Find Yourself is Lighter and Princess, also with 36 episodes but with a lighter, cuter take on romance. Chen Feiyu is lone wolf and coding genius Lu Xun, whose good looks and candor make him both attractive and repulsive. The tumultuous romantic journey begins when his world collides with that of  Zhu Yun, played by Zhang Jing, who’s led a sheltered life. With polar-opposite personalities, the two university students are at daggers drawn, but fall for each other in the end. Raising the pull-factor is the knight-in-shining-armor persona hiding under Lu Xun’s cold exterior. It first surfaces when he exacts vengeance on a devious programmer for Zhu Yun—only for her—in a thrilling showdown of computer programming skills.

Interestingly, viewers are made to rethink on how to go about relationships. Lu Xun and Zhu Yun’s first business is taken from them. Undeterred by the betrayal of their partner, they start over again with a new business and reclaim what was stolen. Lu Xun’s low family status has Zhu Yun’s parents vehemently opposing their relationship, but he never wavers towards her. The friendships are equally inspiring—the characters have each other’s back, including the one that double-crossed them.

Having watched only four series, I’ve barely scratched the surface of C-drama, which, undoubtedly, rivals K-drama with the plethora of choices, stunning costumes, amazing special effects, astounding cinematography, and interesting plots running the gamut of deities, immortal heroes, and everyday characters.

But there’s a major hurdle to overcome—the extended episodes, which only belabor the obvious, braking the pacing, and lessening the plot’s intensity. It’s why I haven’t started on the popular The Untamed. Can I stay committed to its 50 episodes?

About author


She has clocked years of overseas work and living. On the second year of the pandemic she returned and settled back in the Philippines after 20 years.

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