Chinese movies and television dramas have long been linked with comics and other cartoon works.
The first Cantonese cartoon-adapted-flick, Lao fu zi was produced in Hong Kong as early as the1960's. On the mainland, the most successful example is Sanmao, or "Three Hairs" in English, which was once extremely popular.
Although cooperation between the two art forms began quite early, large-scale efforts have been seen only in the last couple of years.
In 1998, the blockbuster of Taiwan drama series Meteor Garden acted as a prelude to the comic-turned-TV drama craze that quickly swept the entire nation off its feet. The show's adaptation from a Japanese comic helped revive the industry, and resulted in a series of new productions. Following suit, a string of new dramas began to occupy both big and small screens: Pinqiong Gui Gongzi (The Poor Noble Childe), Xunyicao (Lavender), Fenhong Nulang (Pink Women [TV series]), Turn Left Turn Right, and Sound of Colors [films] all gained great popularity.
Before their appearance, Chinese show business had been in a slump, overflowing with countless predictable, formulaic stories and poor quality products, which can be mainly blamed for the decreases of audience numbers. Thus the appearance of borrowing cartoon themes and plots into teleplays and films proved to be an effective remedy to ease the exhaustion of inspiration and to increase viewers' interest.
For filmmaking, comics and cartoons are a measureless thematic treasury, boasting vast readers. By dipping into such an already huge fan base, filmmakers, to some extent, reduce the risk of box office failure.
Another noteworthy element of comic works is their typical, exaggerated, and often interesting style that can help make stories more vibrant than normal original dramas. For instance, the TV series Fenhong Nvlang deals with the lives of four different types of women, which provides a powerful contrast and creates a fresh new look for the audience.
Last but not least, adapted comic themes usually focus on younger characters, and thus share the ideas and aspirations of many youth. For most, romance scenes are often compelling and attractive.
As today's teenagers tend to spend more time watching TV than previous generations, they account for a massive population of viewers that are impossible to ignore. Thus, catering to their interests has become a new target of film and TV dramas producers. After the mania aroused by Taiwan boy band F4, the four heartthrobs in Meteor Garden, producers realized the potential of using comics as a base for both TV dramas and films. The combination of new, inventive plots and idols like F4 obviously benefit the industry immensely and make shows popular before they even reach the screen.
The rapid development of this new trend is of course backed by its profit potential. With the commercialization of the showbiz industry, shooting a familiar story seems a bit less risky than an unknown one, making the "Secondhand Culture" all the more digestible. Besides, comics interest both children and adults, thus giving comic adaptation a bright future.
Changing comics into feature films and dramas is by no means an easy job. Over the last few years, comics have mostly drawn in a four-case method, which uses four small pictures to display a mini-story. These stories can be combined to make a long one, or just remain independent as a short one as well. This is quite convenient for animators to create, but leaves a narrow space for the following drama scriptwriters to make a change on the plot. As a result, scriptwriters commonly tend to use the original names of the characters to create a different story. So, it is said that the success or failure of an adapted comic rests upon the scriptwriter. The balance between the original and new is subtle. Sometimes, the over-pursuing for stunt impacts and starhood may damage the original excellence. In the end we should keep in mind that reproduction should be in a moderate and more delicate way and make sure not to exhaust the precious resource as before.
Taiwan drama series Metor Garden
comic series by Zhu Deyong from which popular TV drama "Pink Lady" (Fenhong Nvlang) is adapted.
(CRI April 1, 2004)