“The Substitute,” being billed as a pioneering U.S.-Chinese co-produced series, began airing today on Chinese streaming service iQIYI.
The 20-episode spy-action show follows a woman who through plastic surgery is turned into a replica of her role model, a feisty supermodel, who is also a double agent. The show takes as its own role models “Nikita” and Korean series “Iris” and represents something of a genre stretch for Chinese content.
The show was fully financed by iQIYI with a budget between $1-2 million. The company will make all the 20-minute episodes available to its paying subscribers for binge viewing, while clients accessing iQIYI’s advertising-supported platform will be offered one episode per day, Monday to Friday at 8pm for four weeks.
Production is by Palette Pictures, which has offices in Los Angeles and Beijing, and is co-directed by actress and producer Bai Yu and by U.S.-educated Hong Kong filmmaker Sun Chan.
Other U.S. elements on the show include writer and consulting producer Kamran Pasha (“Nikita”) and cinematographer Brenton Spencer (“Stargate – Atlantis”.)
The Chinese-language cast is headed by model-turned actress Han Lu. “It was a conscious decision made by us and iQIYI to use talented actors but avoid using stars. The series is an experiment for my team and iQIYI to break from a star-dominated TV industry and to move to one focused on story and production,” Chan told Variety.
“We believe that pairing up Chinese and U.S. talents will play a significant role in meeting China’s insatiable demand for high quality content,” Chan said. “The budget was very tight for a production consisting of many locations and action. But Bai Yu and I tried very hard to stretch the budget by utilizing our own connections and bringing together talents who believed in the future of US-China TV collaboration.”
According to a recent report by App Annie, iQIYI was the seventh most downloaded app in the world (by revenue) in October, ahead of Hulu and Skype.