When a popular character dies in a soap opera, it often causes a stir with its audience, but in the case of the Chinese streaming series Marvelous Women, it was the demise of a cat that upset viewers, in part because they were not convinced the feline survived the ordeal.
The offending scene aired in late November and showed a character’s pet cat accidentally eating poisoned food before falling off a table and dying on the floor.
Blood spilled from the cat’s mouth and its leg began twitching at the end, leading online fans to claim the death was “too realistic” to have been faked.
As soon as the episode ended, a debate raged on social media about whether the cat had been hurt during filming, and viewers levied accusations of animal cruelty against the show.
Pet lovers demanded that the show prove that the cat was still alive and well, mainland media reported. The show’s production company made a statement clarifying its animal star, named Mimi, was not killed or injured during filming.
They said the blood was fake and was made with edible plasma and syrup. The cat’s realistic death throes were simulated by pulling a string tied to its leg.
The criticism was so fierce that the show released a video showing the behind-the-scenes of the death. They followed up that video with an interview with Mimi’s owner, who shared the news that the cat had given birth to a litter of kittens.
“Cats are our best friends,” the show’s production company statement said. “We take their safety seriously and will continue to protect and care for them in the future.”
But this failed to assuage many viewers’ fears. On Douban, China’s Rotten Tomatoes, the show’s rating dropped to 2.8 out of 10 following the grisly death scene, with users saying they complained to the national broadcasting regulator to take action.
Another show by Marvelous Women’s producer Yu Zheng, the hugely popular Story of Yanxi Palace, was criticised for a scene in which actors played with a stuffed dead parrot that was a protected species, the Global Times reported.
Marvelous Women is a period drama about the ups and downs of a family running a Chinese silk tapestry business in the Qing dynasty and debuted on Nov 8 on the Chinese streaming services Youku, iQiyi and Tencent Video.
In the 35-episode series produced by Huanyu TV, veteran Hong Kong actress Kara Hui, 61, aka Wai Ying-hung, plays the role of Chen Xiaohong, an ignorant concubine and indulgent mother in a Suzhou family that has owned the business for several generations.
Hui told the Post recently that she spent a lot of time figuring out how to portray the character’s complexity.
“She is illiterate,” she says. “She was divorced when she married into the family, which makes her so humble that she treats people in the family with reverence. Her son is the only person in the family who is on an equal footing with her. She is a tragic character who is unable to handle complex situations.”
In Marvelous Women, she plays a cowardly character, but Hui told the Post the drama tells an inspirational story celebrating female bravery and determination.
“The role of the matriarch of the family played by Jiang Qinqin contrasts sharply with mine. She lives in a society where men take precedence over women.
"However, she makes a breakthrough in advancing women’s status because of her strength and solidarity with other women,” she said.
Hui was a teenage nightclub dancer who became a martial arts film star in 1970s Hong Kong.
She went on to win many acting awards, including the best actress prizes in the 2017 Hong Kong Film Awards for playing a dementia patient in Happiness.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.