First, a basic list of (costume, otherwise called historical) dramas to start you with:
1. The Legend of Xiao Chuo
2. The Untamed
3. The Romance of Hua Rong
4. Ashes of Love
5. The Princess Wei Young
6. The Romance of Tiger and Rose
7. General and I
8. Princess Silver
9. Love and Redemption
10. Under the Power
Reading the titles you already get the picture, right? It’s about generals and princesses and emperors and legends and love and romance. Noo, wait, I will make it more comprehensive.
- Most dramas are a chicken soup for the soul. But don’t get easily fooled! Before you start investing your time in a 30-40-50-60 – episode marathon, make sure it ends well! Like, literally, check out the last episode, to save yourself the disappointment. There are some great dramas that either end so-so (Legend of Yun Xi), on a cliff hanger with no Part 2 (Princess Agents), or outright bad (I Will Never Let You Go, Legend of Two Sisters in the Chaos). Rule of thumb: see comments first.
- Costumes are amazing. Everyone has beautiful robes, both women and men. And frankly, they should REALLY keep them on. Once you see those great warriors strip into a teenage-boy-with-arms-smaller-than-mine, the drama kind of loses its charm (and that’s not just Maiden Holmes). Oh, and clothes never get dirty, no matter how many times they kneel in the dirt. Same goes for hair and hair pins – nothing ever gets messy, and anyone can perfectly fine sleep in their full attire. Oh, and if a woman dresses in male clothes, suddenly everyone thinks she’s a man. For real.
- Actors. What can I say, they are usually extremely pretty. Especially men. You can tell those dramas are catering to a mostly female audience. Total eye candy. As long as they don’t strip, that is (with some exceptions). As for the acting, well, you’ll get used to it.
- Main characters. Generally, at least one of them can fly. They call it light kung fu. If you can’t fly, someone will grab you by the waist and fly you up a rooftop. Or down a 60-meter rock drop. From all the dramas I’ve seen, only one person ever died from falling down a cliff (a secondary character, see below). Normally you can get stabbed, freefall 40 meters, land on a tree and live just fine.
- Now, if you get into a romantic Chinese drama, and most of those are, it doesn’t matter how much light kung fu the female main character knows and how many people she just killed. She will inevitably be clumsy enough to trip and fall into the arms of the male character. Romantic music follows.
- Secondary characters. If anyone wants to commit a suicide, they just run into a wooden pole and die. Or jump into knee-deep water and drown. Or cut themselves with a broken plate, or a hair pin and drop on the spot. There are a minimum of 100 dead people in any of those movies. That doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
- How to indicate someone is about to die from a very severe disease – they cough. Coughing is a primary concern. If anyone coughs, they are about to die. Pre-Corona times, we are talking…
- How to indicate someone is hurt – they spit blood. They get stabbed – they spit blood. They get poisoned – they spit blood. They get pushed/kicked/hit – they spit blood. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are about to die. As long as they don’t cough, they should generally be fine.
- Speaking of poison, poison in Chinese drama is instant. So are antidotes. They are used everywhere, and with great success. And you will have one or several characters who can detect poison and its characteristics just looking at it and sniffing it.
- Doctors usually don’t know about poison. But they are amazing in finding out someone is poisoned, pregnant, coughing, sick or maybe even insane just by taking his/her pulse. If it’s a woman, they usually feel the pulse through a handkerchief. Quite some diagnosing skills!
- There is a lot of eating and drinking, the main characters will have to get drunk at some point when the plot not moving fast enough. One thing they don’t do though, is to ever go to the toilet. They get stuck for 3 days in a tomb/temple/hunting trap/just ordinary house, and they are often tied or otherwise connected to each other. No one ever has to pee. Toilets are usually only used as an excuse to go explore someone’s house (exception in Miss Truth, gained some knowledge there).
- Water scenes – a must! There has to be a scene under water, many many meters under water, even if when actors first go in it looks like a swamp (Border Town-Prodigal, seriously!). Then, in any water scene there should be danger, maybe even a fight, and one of the main actors will always have to administer mouth-to-mouth (never mouth-to-nose) breathing. Strangely, it's usually kissing, no breathing and no CPR whatsoever. Oh well...