Home Entertainment Canneseries: China’s ‘To the Wonder’ Is a Politically Correct Tale of Multicultural...

Canneseries: China’s ‘To the Wonder’ Is a Politically Correct Tale of Multicultural Romance and Self-Discovery

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China’s video streamers, much like their counterparts in the west, have passed their peak growth phase and have been forced to refocus their efforts on achieving profitability. In the case of IQiyi, which is a subsidiary of tech giant Baidu but has its own stock market listing on the NASDAQ, that transition has meant reduced content spending and a more rigorous approach to quality and investment in winning shows.

To the Wonder,” which debuted on Sunday in competition at Canneseries, is a product of that less-is-more approach. It follows the appearance of IQiyi’s crime drama “Why Try to Change Me Now” in the 2023 Berlin Series lineup.

The eight-part “To the Wonder,” which shares a title with the 2012 fantasy film by Terrence Malick but has no connection to it, is a big-budget heart-warmer that stars Ma Yili (“The First Half of My Life”), Zhou Yiran (“Across the Furious Sea”) and Yu Shi.

Co-written by Teng Congcong (“Send Me to the Clouds”) and Peng Yining as an adaptation of a novel by Li Juan, with Teng also in the directing chair, the show is a slow-burn romantic tale set in Xinjiang.

“To the Wonder” sees a young woman from China’s dominant Han ethnic group, whose literary ambitions have been frustrated during her time in the big city, return to the small town in Xinjiang where she grew up. There she slowly falls for a nomadic herdsman. The streamer identifies him as ‘Kazakh,’ though the native population of Xinjiang is more usually referred to as ‘Uyghur,’ a Turkic ethnic group native to Central Asia and Eastern Europe. But the course of true love is frustrated by the characters’ cultural misunderstandings and the woman’s initial self-doubt.

The United Nations has accused China of human rights violations against the province’s Muslim Uyghur population. China vigorously denies the accusations and instead says its policies are preventing terrorism and promoting economic development. The series avoids any such controversies and instead delivers a tale that is glossily packaged and politically correct.

The show’s emphasis is on outstanding natural beauty, the slow dance of cross-cultural romance and gradual enlightenment.

Canneseries organizers called it “a contemplative tale that takes us all the way to the heart of the Xinjiang region and its disparate populations — the Hans (sic) or the Kazakhs [which] will surprise you by the beauty of its shots, its innocent humor, its pace changes and the poetry at its core.”

“Art and love enable humanity to transcend language and national boundaries,” said the show’s director Teng.

“We are very fortunate to explore uncharted territories with our outstanding collaborators,” said Qi Kang, one of the chief producers of the series and head of iQiyi’s Canran Studio.

The streamer is also trying to expand its existing Art Film label with a roster including foreign festival winners. It confirmed that it will soon play Palme d’Or-winner “Anatomy of a Fall,” which is currently on theatrical release; “Kim’s Video,” a documentary tribute to the iconic New York City video store; and “About Dry Grasses” by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan.