Articles Industry Handbooks for the Pandemic

LOCF | Content is King, Sincerity Above All | In Conversation With Director Gao Xixi

Today’s Guest: Gao Xixi

  • Born in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, Gao is a mainland Chinese film director who graduated from the directing programme at Beijing Film Academy. He began his career as solo-director for the television series Life on the Seas (Xiahai de rizi), then directed works such as Three Kingdoms, Xiaoaocangqiong, The Sky of History, Happiness as Flowers, Shanghai Bund, and Legends of Chu and Han/King’s War. He was awarded Best Director at the 4th Macau International Television Festival, as well as the Special Creative Contribution Award at the 20th People’s Liberation Army Gold Star Television Awards.
Gao Xixi and Chen Daoming at the filming site for King’s War

Q1: It’s been almost 30 years since you directed your first TV series, Life on the Seas. Why did you choose to enter the entertainment industry at first, and film and television production in particular?

A: It’s definitely because I’m truly passionate about content, and because my educational background is in that field. I started as an art student, and my dream since beginning my studies has been to permeate the screen with art.

Q2: Looking back at the three decades of your artistic career, from The Sky of History and Happiness as Flowers to Three Kingdoms and more, you’ve created one household classic after another. In maintaining an exceptionally high creative standard throughout these long years, you’ve certainly shown that you believe in the art of television. Can you share a bit about this artistic conviction?

Scene from Three Kingdoms, with Yu Hewei as Liu Bei

A: Instead of describing it as strong faith in the art of television, it’s probably more accurate to describe it as a kind of faith in artworks that establish healthy communication with audiences, step by step. Excellent works must feed the eyes and the heart so as to inspire real perceptiveness. Firstly they must have proudly uplifting themes; secondly, they should have complete and exciting stories; thirdly there must be a group of characters with values and personalities. Whatever type of TV show, they all reflect the stories of people and eras, and creators should thoughtfully confront these nuances; only by finding the excitement, depth, and warmth in each story can TV shows become widely acclaimed.

Q3: Your works include historical dramas like Three Kingdoms and Legends of Chu and Han, military dramas like Happiness as Flowers and Xuezhan changkong, and urban romantic dramas like The Bottom Line of Men and Pretty Things, covering a wide range of source materials. What kinds of considerations go through your mind when you select themes for production?

A: It’s not so much selecting themes as it is selecting relationships among people, because no matter the source material, what I find most important is how the screenplay expresses relationships among characters. If the screenplay reflects people’s issues realistically and with depth, I will pick it up. For example, I picked A Decade of Marriage because opening that screenplay was like opening my own real life.
Themes are controlled by people, so the key is what you want out of the theme. For example, The Sky of History was completely different from my two previous works, but one thing is the same: it is at its core a story about a person’s destiny and how he goes through life. This is the one thing I concentrate on in every serie: I want the audience to be able to see the power of one individual, one person’s strength for facing life itself, so I must portray a very realistic person.

Scene from The Sky of History

Q4: In your creative career, you’ve experienced changes and revolutions in technology. From television to our contemporary multimedia era, what kinds of influences do you think new technologies and channels of transmission will bring to television?

A: Content is king, and new technologies and channels of transmission are just methods of helping more people see the content. For us creative people, the impact isn’t too big; the only things that matter are whether or not the content is enjoyable, and whether or not the characters and relationships are three-dimensional and realistic.


Planning: Muzhen Sun, Harry Liang, Yifan Zhao

Draft: Harry Liang

Formatting: Yifan Zhao

Translation: Irene Zhang

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