The day a block­buster was born

The seeds for a ground­break­ing Chi­nese TV pe­riod drama that re­cently cel­e­brated the 30th an­niver­sary of its first broad­cast were sown on dis­tant shores

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WEEKEND LIFE - By CHEN NAN chen­nan@chi­


When Wang Fulin vis­ited Lon­don it was not Buck­ing­ham Palace, the Tower of Lon­don, black taxis or red dou­bledecker buses that left the deep­est im­pres­sion on him. In­stead, as he flew home to China, the pic­ture fixed in his mind was a very Chi­nese red.

It was 1979, and Wang had just spent sev­eral days in the British cap­i­tal with a del­e­ga­tion of the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Press, Pub­li­ca­tion, Ra­dio, Film and Tele­vi­sion of China. They had vis­ited the BBC at a time when the se­ries Down­ton Abbey was still years away from even be­ing an idea on a sto­ry­board, but when the British broad­caster had al­ready made a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion for it­self with its TV pe­riod dra­mas.

One of those was the 1967 adap­ta­tion of the John Galswor­thy novel The Forsyte Saga, which ran in 26 parts and was broad­cast all over the world, and of which Sarah Cromp­ton of the Daily Tele­graph in Lon­don has said: “It was not the first literary adap­ta­tion on TV, but it was longer and more am­bi­tious than any­thing screened be­fore, and it has come to rep­re­sent ev­ery value and stan­dard to which British TV has as­pired ever since.”

So when the film­maker Wang vis­ited the BBC that day, the idea that oc­curred to him was es­sen­tially this: “If the British can do it, why can’t we?”

Wang says now: “They had adapted many world clas­sic nov­els into TV se­ries, and I won­dered why we could not do the same with Chi­nese clas­sics and have them shown world­wide.”

What Wang specif­i­cally had in mind was the daz­zling story and dozens of com­plex char­ac­ters that make up the 18th-cen­tury novel Dream of the Red Cham­ber by Cao Xue­qin. The novel is con­sid­ered one of Chi- na’s Four Great Clas­si­cal Nov­els, along­side Wa­ter Mar­gin by Shi Nai’an, Ro­mance of the Three King­doms by Luo Guanzhong, both writ­ten in the 14 th cen­tury, and Jour­ney to the West by Wu Cheng’en, writ­ten in the 16th cen­tury.

Dream of the Red Cham­ber chron­i­cles the down­fall of the Jia fam­ily dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) against the back­drop of the coun­try’s so­cial and po­lit­i­cal up­heavals.

Ear­lier in his ca­reer Wang, now 86, had directed the nine-episode TV se­ries Di Ying Shi Ba Nian, or 18 Years of the En­emy Camp, about Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party sol­diers. The se­ries came out in 1980, the first TV se­ries made on the Chi­nese main­land.

“At that time, un­like Chi­nese film, which started in 1905, China’s TV se­ries pro­duc­tion was in its in­fancy,” Wang says. “When I pro­posed mak­ing a TV se­ries based on Dream of the Red Cham­ber I ran into a lot of op­po­si­tion.”

He spent two years or­ga­niz­ing au­di­tions, search­ing for film lo­ca­tions and pre­par­ing scripts, and no ex­pense would be spared in its mak­ing.

Whereas a typ­i­cal Chi­nese TV se­ries in those days cost 10,000 yuan to make, Dream


A book ti­tled writ­ten by ac­tor-turned-direc­tor Ouyang Fen­qiang, was pub­lished re­cently.

Chi­nese ac­tress Chen Xiaoxu (left) and ac­tor-turned-direc­tor Ouyang Fen­qiang play the lead­ing roles Lin Daiyu and Jia Baoyu in the TV se­ries.


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