Li Shaohong, director of the upcoming new television adaptation of "A Dream of Red Mansions." [File Photo: chinadaily.com.cn]
The new TV production of "A Dream of Red Mansions," the classic Chinese novel, has been the talk of the town ever since it was raised as an idea. Now director Li Shaohong has sparked further chatter by co-teaming with eight young scriptwriters.
Writer and film critic Gu Xiaobai, 31, is the oldest member of the team. His colleagues include a student of Beijing Film Academy, an editor of a Web site's "Red Mansions" channel and freelancers. The announcement of the team has led to criticism that these young people, most of whom are so-called "post-80s," a group stereotyped as self-centered and subversive, will be unable to successfully interpret China's most famous classic book.
However, Li says there are reasons why she chose such a young team. In an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, she says she believes young people tend to be dedicated to teamwork. Besides, she does not think young blood for the adaptation of a traditional classic is a bad thing, because their open minds will help them understand the work better.
Head writer Gu agrees. He says that the book is about youth, so it is natural that young people should be involved in the production.
"Cao Xueqin wrote the book in his 20s," Gu says. "Also we have such a great story there, we won't stray far from the original book and its core values."
Director Li has also stressed that the adaptation will be loyal to its source material. She also invited literary scholars to review the draft and give revision suggestions.
Gu and his team finished the first draft about six months ago. Now they are revising it for a third examination by scholars. The problems they found in the first two drafts were several important scenes, such as Lin Daiyu's first appearance and Jia Baoyu's illusionary journey to a wonderland. Gu says they came up with five different ways in which Lin could be introduced, but none has gotten the nod yet. He also suggested an opening scene like that of "The Lord of the Rings," but the scholars rejected his idea.
In addition to the age issue, Li and her writers also have to face comparisons with the 1987 version, which was a huge success and is still being repeated on television.
Gu has confidence that the new production will even surpass the previous version. He says the 1987 production fails to adequately present the contrasts between reality and fantasy. "I think the book's philosophy is kind of like 'The Matrix', in which you cannot tell the difference between truth and illusion," he says.
Another writer Qing Mei sees the story as one about youth and love, which is quite different from the 1987 version, which used the text to comment on society and the times.
Still, something that the new and old adaptations will have in common, Gu says, is a revision of the last 40 chapters of the novel. It is widely believed that these final chapters, written after the author of the first 80 chapters (Cao Xueqin) died, are inferior.
The new series will start shooting in April.
(China Daily March 27,2008)