3 Body Problem piracy spikes in China, reflecting intense interest as Hollywood films struggle

3 Body Problem piracy spikes in China, reflecting intense interest as Hollywood films struggle

3 Body Problem piracy spikes in China, reflecting intense interest as Hollywood films struggle

A huge spike in online piracy of Netflix’s 3 Body Problem on the day of its release in China, where the streaming service and its original shows are not officially available, reflects an intense interest in the country to see how the US streamer is handling the best known piece of Chinese science fiction globally, similar to a piracy surge after the release of Disney’s live-action Mulan in 2020.

The number of downloads of BitTorrent files, a type of peer-to-peer file sharing, associated with the show hit 90,618 on March 21 and 72,764 the following day in China. It was far above downloads of other streaming originals that have garnered positive attention in the country in their first week of release, data from iknowwhatyoudownload.com shows.

The only show to come close is Kingdom, a South Korean zombie period drama. The first two days of the second season’s release in March 2020 saw 53,790 and 68,502 downloads, respectively.

The download numbers, which track public torrent downloads, are likely a small sliver of actual piracy of the show, as they do not account for illicit streaming sites and file sharing over cloud storage platforms.

The numbers suggest that even as Chinese viewers’ interest in Hollywood productions wane compared with domestic fare, interest remains high for adaptations related to Chinese culture. No foreign films broke the top 10 at China’s box office last year.

The Netflix show is adapted from the hit novel The Three-Body Problem by Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin, the first writer from China to win a Hugo Award.

A similar spike in interest happened three-and-a-half years ago when Disney released the live-action adaptation of its 1990s animated musical Mulan on its streaming service Disney+ while many cinemas remained closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. The streaming release came later in China, where it received a theatrical release while cinemas were still operating at half capacity.

The movie, about a Chinese folk heroine, stars popular mainland actress Liu Yifei. The number of Mulan downloads in China peaked at 145,786 the day after its release on Disney+.
As Chinese audiences have turned more towards domestic shows and films in recent years, some American shows have still been able to break into the popular zeitgeist online. Shows like Stranger Things and Squid Game, which received a lot of attention on social media, captured mind share but daily downloads of the shows were a fraction of what 3 Body Problem saw last week.

Mulan hit by rampant piracy in China yet again

The four seasons of Stranger Things have ratings of around 9.0 on Douban, a popular media rating site in China. Squid Game’s first season sits at 7.7. Both are higher than the 6.7 given to Netflix’s 3 Body, which is two grades lower than the Tencent Holdings’ adaptation of the book that streamed on Tencent Video a year ago.

Comments about the show have been mixed. Some criticised the more international cast and global setting of events that in the book take place largely in China. Some netizens also complained that graphic portrayals of the Cultural Revolution, which are mostly explained through dialogue in the Tencent version, showed China in a poor light.

Others praised the high production value of the Netflix series. One reviewer on Douban even pointed to the author’s own comments in an interview last year as a reason for appreciating the more international flavour.

“The Netflix Three-Body TV series is different from that of China,” Liu told a Russian influencer who posts on the video streaming platform Bilibili. “It must face the whole world. Most of its characters may no longer be Chinese. This may not be very suitable for the Chinese audience, but I still have full confidence in [Netflix] and am looking forward to it.”

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