A classic tale retold

Updated: 2011-03-30 07:52

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

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A classic tale retold

A Dream of Red Mansions has had at least two dozen adaptations for the screen, big and small, including a pornographic version featuring Hong Kong heartthrob Leslie Cheung in his film debut. There are also spin-offs that focus on minor characters, such as the servants.

The majority of these versions are various forms of Chinese operas. Even during the era of silent films, episodes like Daiyu Burying Flowers with the formidable Mei Lanfang in the lead, were filmed.

The best known is the 1962 version of Shaoxing Opera, which was not shown publicly until after the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), and turned into a runaway blockbuster even beyond the Shanghai and Zhejiang area where the form was popular.

This three-hour milestone left a long shadow, and even Li Han-hsiang's 1977 non-operatic version bursts into arias at emotional moments.

For sheer grandeur and authenticity, the mainland's three full-length renditions easily trump all Hong Kong and Taiwan versions. The 1987 television drama, through numerous broadcasts over two decades, has attained classic status. The cast, all non-professionals at the time and put through the grind of long and rigorous training, have an uncanny resemblance to what was in the public mind about these characters.

This put the six-part feature film that dribbled out two years later at a huge disadvantage. Though manned with a stellar cast, it sank into oblivion instantly.

The 50-episode 2010 television series was preceded by much fanfare, including an open audition that turned into a televised contest circus.

Directed by the country's top female director Li Shaohong, it has lavish production values, but has so far failed to move out of the shadow of the 1987 version.

The public hates it because it does not conform to what they are familiar with. It may not be good television, but it is certainly the closest version to the book, with tons of original text crammed into the show, often using lengthy voice-overs.


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