New Chinese costume drama becomes internet sensation

Among the dynasties in China's 5,000 years of history, the Three Kingdoms, Wei, Shu and Wu dynasties (220-280) were periods that have always attracted a lot of attention.

The historical book The Records of the Three Kingdoms (San Guo Zhi) from the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316) recorded the era. Later Luo Guanzhong from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) wrote a fiction Romance of the Three Kingdoms (San Guo Yan Yi) based on history, which later became one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature.

In modern times, the stories during this period have been adapted into many operas, films, TV series, comics, computer games and even a popular card game called Legend of the Three Kingdoms (San Guo Sha).

Heroes from that period such as warlord Cao Cao and his two sons Cao Zhi and Cao Pi, as well as Zhuge Liang, Zhang Fei, Guan Yu and Liu Bei are all well-known characters in China.

Recently, a new internet costume drama The Advisor Alliance based on these characters became a hit. Produced by online video platform Youku, the two-part series was broadcast on the internet, Jiangsu TV and Anhui TV from June 22.

The drama unfolds around Sima Yi, a military counselor who helped Cao Cao and his two sons during the fights among the three kingdoms.

Currently, the first part has received 4 billion hits on Youku and 8.3 points out of 10 on Douban, China's major film and TV review website. A mobile game adapted from the drama.

Called by internet users as a Chinese version of House of Cards, the drama was highly praised for its exciting stories and film style.

Photo: Mtime

Han Zhong, art designer of the series, said most of the money was spent on the sets. They used more than 6,000 costumes and took 20,000 hours to complete the props.

The elaborate drama attracted audiences from all ages.

According to, an internet media data website, 33 per cent of the series' viewers are people aged from 20-29 and 50 per cent are 30-39 years old.

"The drama beautifully featured many details in history. The acting skills of actors and actresses also highlight the series," 22-year-old student Li Tao from Beijing Institute of Technology said. "The casting is not ideal, though. Some of the actors lack the charisma of the historical figures that they played. For example, actor Li Chen looks too soft for the role Cao Pi."

Photo: Mtime

The drama was also criticised for not faithfully portraying history. The series infused many small events that happened at different points in history, yet featured them in the same period.

And the actors' lines sounded slightly too modern for the roles. For instance "the medicine should not be stopped", a popular saying in recent years, was said in the drama. The original meaning of the saying is: "you are ignorant, please have something to make you clever", and many audiences said the use of it spoiled the mood in the drama.

Unlike young people who cared more about the plot and set design, the older audiences paid more attention to what they could learn from the drama.

"I learned some ways to deal with things from the drama. Whether you are a high-profile person or a low-key fellow, you must be knowledgeable if you really want to succeed," 58-year-old viewer Daheqidan said.