MADELINE MICHEL WRITES – Everyone has their favorite Korean drama, Japanese anime, or Chinese martial arts movie, but what about their favorite live-action Boys Love (BL) series?
Boys Love, which refers to shows in which the main narrative focuses on a romantic relationship between two male leads, is the newest, fast-growing genre, globally. Thailand is the hotspot of production.
Take KinnPorsche: The Series – the first Thai serial on the Chinese-based iQIYI streaming platform was a hit BL show about the steamy relationship that develops between Kinn, rising heir to a rich crime family and the man he recruits to be his bodyguard, Porsche. This show amassed enthusiastic fans globally and became so popular that the cast went on a live concert tour called “KinnPorsche: The Series World Tour 2022,” with sell-out shows in Bangkok. The concert also toured in Singapore, South Korea, and the Philippines.
Why Thailand? Probably it all started with China’s heavy-handed censorship. When BL stories were first introduced to Chinese audiences from Japan in the 1990s, they most often came in the form of manga, and from there blossomed into multiple medias, including written works and live-action series. In 2021, the Chinese government formally cracked down on live-action BL series, citing effeminate men as “Harmful for morals and art.” Essentially, BL stories “represented everything the CCP railed against… [including] the growth of foreign idol culture, and its emasculating influence.”
So, to put forth the kind of content fans wanted, entrepreneurial Chinese producers were forced to move beyond the country’s borders. That’s why KinnPorsche‘s production staff is comprised of many Chinese individuals, including Gong Yu, Yang Xianghua, and Minsi Zhang, while the cast is made up of Thai actors and is shot in Thailand.
Just why are Chinese producers bothering to create live-action BL shows instead of a genre that would be more acceptable to China’s uptight government? The answer is obvious: the huge popularity and profitability of BL in China – the opportunity for enormous monetary gain. The notorious Jinjiang online platform, best known for its written BL content, is home to seven million registered users – and that’s just within China. To the live-action producers of BL, these fans represent millions of dollar signs.
In addition to fans pouring money into subscription fees to watch BL, those who want access to the uncensored versions of these shows further deepen the company’s pockets: viewers must pay an additional charge to see them.
Similarly, the Thai government is happy to cash in. According to TIME magazine writer Chad de Guzman: in 2021 “Thailand’s investment promotion arm helped secure 360 million baht ($10.7 million) in foreign investment for Thai BL.” So, while China’s censorship policies have missed the mark in stopping Chinese fans from consuming BL, the government of Thailand has welcomed this failure, as it sets the country up to become the next hub of Asian soft power.