Theme drama “Perfect Youth” – Tale of Saihanba’s green miracle passes
on from generation to generation
Real true touching story of striving youth
Saihanba” is a term with mixed origins from Mongolian and Chinese, meaning a “beautiful and high mountain”. To restore this beautiful highland, three generations of experts spent 55 years to turn Saihanba from a desert to become 112 million acres of the largest man-made forest park in the world.
Shown on CCTV1, “Perfect Youth” is a recap of this past. Closely related to the history and struggle of several generations of Saihanba’s foresters, the 55-year afforestation miracle is recounted from a modern perspective. This drama attracted much attention with its unconventional characterization and tight story buildup. Since its broadcast, it has broken through 2% of real-time viewership for many consecutive days.
The story of Saihanba has been widely spread. At the 2017 UN Environment Assembly, Hebei’s Saihanba’s Forest Farm bags the UN’s top environmental award, “Champions of the Earth” award, for its effort to promote ecological civilization. However, this was not seen as an easy task when director Ju Xing Mao and his team received this project title.
While the story of Saihanba is widely known, turning it into a drama needs to conform to the rules of artistic creation. Doubling up as the producer and chief scriptwriter, “Perfect Youth” is written by Guo Jing Yu. It uses another chief scriptwriter, Yang Yong’s 8-year polished script as the base and was completed after repeated re-creations. The story starts in the year of 1960’s where a group of young graduates majoring in forestry from 18 provinces, represented by Feng Cheng and Qin Xue Mei, forms a pioneering 369 members team with the Forestry Department of Chengde, tasked to re-build a forest in Saihanba to fight its desertification.
The uudience will see the maturing of minds of young graduates such as Feng Cheng and Qin Xuemei. While relaying the drama’s main theme of afforestation, the characters’ affection, friendship and love are also the highlight of “Perfect Youth”. The drama begins with Feng Cheng, a forestry university teacher who was transferred from Beijing to the paddock. He first comes to the paddock not for the task of afforestation but for personal reasons. Director Ju Xing Mao says “ We don’t want the audience to see a heroic image different from ordinary people, but to see a protagonist closer to ordinary people. From someone who knew nothing about desertification, to gradually realizing the importance of afforestation business, and finally becoming the backbone of local afforestation members team. This conversion process is a transformation of the character’s growth, ‘softly’ displaying the drama’s main theme.” From Ju Xingmao’s point of view, while eulogizing the spirit of Saihanba, enticing the main theme of “Perfect Youth” is something for the creators to think about.
“We emphasize on plot intensity. At present, the narrative rhythm of the story is close to that of web dramas to avoid excessively long rhythms, to better suit the requirements of contemporary audiences.” Ju Xing Mao says he has seen many similarly themed dramas such as “Jiao Yulu” and “Iron Man Wang Jinxi”. Tweaking the shooting strategy for today’s new audience to better suit their viewing habits is the main task for the “Perfect Youth” crew.
Regarding Producer Guo Jingyu as his master, Ju Xing Mao’s “Perfect Youth” has showed signs of drama styles always used by Guo Jingyu and team’s dramas such as “Tie Lihua” and “Da Gou Gun”. “Highlight story plots and characters are our main creative angle”, say Director Ju Xing Mao. Taking the first 10 episodes as an example, plot progress and narrative density is much higher than ordinary domestic dramas. Coupled with the outstanding performance of seasoned actors, this drama makes the audience feels like they are watching a strong feature film.
“Apart from plot rhythm, storyline also plays an important part to close the gap between people”. Ju Xing Mao also mentions “As this drama relates to the 1960’s story, this 50 years gap can result in unfamiliarity for today’s era.” It is thus important to close this gap between the actors of this drama and their roles, in order for the audience to accept the authenticity of their characters. Apart from highlighting its male leads, this drama is more about shaping its characters. It is thus important to emphasize and strengthen the various personal characteristics while shooting. Such as forestry director Yu Zhenglai, the cafeteria master Liu Liutou, and Uncle Li Tieniu that appear at the beginning of drama. All show strong and impressive personalities.
To tell a story that spans half a century, changes in time and space is a real test for the filming crew. In order to restore the true face of Saihanba’s desert afforestation, the film crew of “Perfect Youth” worked real hard to relive the heroic struggle of the three generations of experts of Saihanba.
The filming of “Perfect Youth” lasted 162 days, spanning through three seasons of autumn, winter and spring, and went deep into Beijing, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Chengde, Inner Mongolia, Duolun and Wudan for location filming. “Chengde Saihanba is already a tourist attraction now. But to shoot the plateau deserts for this drama, we can only go north, into Inner Mongolia for their plateau desert scenes.” says Ju Mao Xing. In truth, according to today’s filming technology, these landscapes can be featured using green screen technology, but the filming team believes that only feeling and seeing the real scene can we truly appreciate and feature the hardships of the early forester.
“From the point of an actor, acting in a studio and adding computer effects such as snowing, is definitely different from personally experiencing them. In studio, you cannot feel how cold the wind was, how heavy sand storm was, what the air was like, and how difficult it was to plant trees. Every line you say and every expression that comes out may not be so real.” In order to achieve a close to reality scene, the filming crew moved through thousands of kilometers and faced the extreme cold, sand and blizzard scenes. “Snow was particularly thick. Almost everyday, we set off at five or six in the morning, with temperature ranging from minus 37 ° C to minus 40 ° C.” Ju Xingmao revealed that at that time, the photographer’s hand would stick to the iron as long as it touched the iron. Two or three people suffered severe frostbite. A female makeup artist even once thought that her hand was completely frozen and cried non-stop.
The filming crew carried on shooting in this harsh environment for a month until all the scenes were completed. “Everyone felt it was extremely tough in such a filming environment, and it was definitely my toughest filming experience since I joined this industry. But the people of Saihanba are fighting fire, cutting branches, controlling diseases and insect pests every day. What they have given up are far more than what we pay.” Ju Xingmao says only those who have gone through this can then truly understand the spirit of Saihanba. “While we have finally completed the drama, we may have experienced only one tenth, or even lesser, of what the people of Saihanba has been through. It has been a tough time to shoot in such a harsh environment for half a year, we can imagine how strong a will is needed for the three generations of Saihanba to persist through 55 years of hardships and winds.
In August 2018, a TV series “Perfect Youth” that features 55 years of efforts by three generations of experts, to turn a desert Saihanba to become the largest man-made forest park in the world, attracted widespread attention from people of all walks of life. This drama took more than 7 years in script creation and filmed for more than a year, moving through 8 different places for location shooting, with many of them shot in real situational harsh environment such as deserts and extreme cold conditions. Upon broadcast, it achieved high ratings and received good feedback.
“Perfect Youth” uses an unconventional way in creating its various drama characters, coupled with tight story plot and historical background for imagination, it tells the fighting spirit history of several generations of foresters in Saihanba. On Weibo, it managed to engage 1.1 billion readership, creating debating topics about the drama. As time evolves, the creation and broadcasting environment of TV dramas has changed. The topicality, recognition, and sense of substitution have become the new pursuit of reality-based TV dramas, which helped to inject vitality into drama work, making the drama story more powerful and communicative.
Recently, works that features epic offerings have been eye-catching. “Perfect Youth” reproduces the growth trajectory of a group of young people, integrating green development concept through the afforestation story of Saihanba, while transmitting the spirit of selfless dedication to a vast audience.
This summer, this TV series without big names attracted the eyeballs of many young people. “Perfect Youth” uses its visual influence to solidify the spirit of Saihanba into the memory of the audience. The first generation of Saihanba builders touched the drama creators with their deeds of serving the motherland. These main creators then dedicate their fine works to the vast audience – story that comes from people, are recreated to give back to the people. This is the inevitable trajectory of an interesting Chinese story from practice to recitation.