Epic tales as pop­u­lar on­line nov­els hit the screen

Shanghai Daily - - CULTURE - Xu Wei dashuhua,

Three years af­ter it was pub­lished on­line, Mao Ni’s novel “Ever Night” has been adapted into a fan­tasy epic drama with spec­tac­u­lar scenes and el­e­ments of mar­tial arts, youth and ro­mance.

The orig­i­nal novel has a large solid fan base on the In­ter­net. It won the gold prize at the first China On­line Lit­er­a­ture Bi­en­nial Awards in 2015 and to date has re­ceived over 60 mil­lion click-through rates on web­site Qid­ian.com.

The se­ries now air­ing on v.qq.com re­volves around a re­venge­ful young man’s growth to pro­tect his coun­try and fight for jus­tice. The por­trayal of heroic char­ac­ters, broth­er­hood and pa­tri­o­tism, makes the epic one of the few do­mes­tic pro­duc­tions th­ese days that mainly tar­get a young male au­di­ence.

Some view­ers are com­par­ing it to “Nir­vana on Fire,” a suc­cess­ful screen adap­ta­tion of the hit on­line novel “Langya List.” The 2015 se­ries was dubbed “China’s Count of Monte Cristo” and was even ac­claimed by many for­eign view­ers for its dis­tinc­tive Chi­nese el­e­ments and aes­thet­ics.

“Ever Night” is helmed by cel­e­brated Chi­nese di­rec­tor Yang Yang, whose cred­its in­clude med­i­cal drama “An­gel Heart” and ur­ban fam­ily drama “Hold­ing Hands.” How­ever, it is the first time Yang has di­rected a drama of fan­tasy and Chi­nese mar­tial arts.

“As a mat­ter of fact, ‘Ever Night’ is the first on­line novel I have ever read,” Yang said. “I was fas­ci­nated by the char­ac­ters’ pas­sion, faith and their as­pi­ra­tion for free­dom. The story also has a re­al­is­tic sig­nif­i­cance for young peo­ple of to­day. It is about one’s at­ti­tude and courage in the face of dif­fi­cul­ties be­cause life is un­pre­dictable.”

Yang said more than two years was spent on the script. The suc­cess of the orig­i­nal novel also posed chal­lenges for vis­ual adap­ta­tion. Yang used lav­ish cin­e­matog­ra­phy, ex­quis­ite sets and young ac­tors in the se­ries. The lead­ing role is played by 18-year-old Chen Feiyu, son of Chi­nese film di­rec­tor Chen Kaige.

Di­rec­tor Yang spoke highly of young ac­tors’ per­for­mance in the se­ries. Many scenes of the se­ries were shot in se­vere weather such as scorch­ing sun in the desert, strong winds and heavy snow.

Ja­son Yuan, a col­lege stu­dent, said the drama de­picts a fas­ci­nat­ing world of swords­men and fan­tasy. He thinks the se­ries has a po­ten­tial to be­come China’s coun­ter­part to “Game of Thrones.”

“Un­like many re­cent screen pro­duc­tions which are shot mainly in stu­dios, the se­ries’ live-ac­tion cin­e­matog­ra­phy is very im­pres­sive,” Yuan said. “It is not a fast-food pro­duc­tion that just de­pends on heart­throbs and spe­cial ef­fects.”

China Read­ing Ltd owns the copy­right to the orig­i­nal novel of “Ever Night.” It is also a co-pro­ducer of the se­ries. Since 2016, the com­pany has es­tab­lished part­ner­ships with over 200 con­tent de­vel­op­ers to adapt on­line nov­els.

Many hit nov­els such as “Le­gend of Fu Yao,” “The Rise of Phoenixes” and “Fights Break Sphere” have been put on the screen. Next year, au­di­ences will also be pre­sented with “Qing Yu Nian,” a cos­tume drama about po­lit­i­cal tac­tics and in­trigue, and ur­ban sus­pense se­ries “Golden Eyes.”

Ac­cord­ing to Luo Li, vice pres­i­dent of China Read­ing Ltd, there is huge mar­ket po­ten­tial for se­ries cater­ing to the tastes of China’s male au­di­ence. It is plan­ning sev­eral sea­sons of “Ever Night.”

“We have rich re­sources of on­line writ­ers and good sto­ries,” Luo said. “Fu­ture adap­ta­tion of on­line nov­els in China will be more di­verse, in-depth and in­no­va­tive.”

Suc­cess­ful screen adap­ta­tions of Chi­nese on­line nov­els dates back to around 2011 when a few pop­u­lar TV pro­duc­tions emerged, such as “The Le­gend of Zhen Huan” and “Tread­ing on Thin Ice.”

In re­cent years, more and more hit on­line nov­els have been de­vel­oped into films, TV or on­line se­ries and games. China’s In­ter­net firms Ten­cent, Youku and iQIYI have also been in­volved in the pro­duc­tion process. Pe­riod dra­mas about court in­trigue, fan­tasy ad­ven­ture, sus­pense and ur­ban ro­mance are among the most pop­u­lar gen­res.

In sum­mer, “The Story of Yanxi Palace,” a 70-episode pe­riod drama set in the era of Em­peror Qian­long in the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911), turned out to be a megahit on iQIYI. With over a cu­mu­la­tive 15 bil­lion views at home and abroad, it is one of the most well-re­ceived screen adap­ta­tions of on­line fic­tion since “The Le­gend of Zhen Huan.”

The drama changes peo­ple’s stereo­types about a drama’s hero­ine. To the sur­prise of many view­ers, the pro­tag­o­nist Wei Yingluo is a schem­ing and some­times spite­ful woman.

Wei starts her ad­ven­ture as a palace maid to in­ves­ti­gate the death of her sis­ter. She sur­vives the in­trigues of im­pe­rial con­cu­bines. She is not tol­er­ant or ten­der like most lead fe­male roles. No mat­ter how pow­er­ful her op­po­nent is, Wei al­ways has a way to fight back.

An­other high­light of the se­ries is its re­fined shots and ex­quis­ite cos­tumes. It boasts China’s in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage forms such as tra­di­tional fire­works per­for­mance king­fisher feather art, em­broi­dery, Kunqu Opera and vel­vet flow­ers.

“Snow Queen” said on China’s film and TV re­view web­site Douban: “The se­ries’ cloth­ing, ac­ces­sories and even make-up stay true to his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­als. Many scenes in the se­ries have an artis­tic style like tra­di­tional Chi­nese re­al­is­tic paint­ing.”

How­ever, there are many fail­ures in screen adap­ta­tions of pop­u­lar on­line fic­tion. In­dus­try in­sid­ers note that some pro­duc­ers spend such a large bud­get on stars and the pur­chase of hit nov­els’ copy­right that they can’t af­ford high-qual­ity pro­duc­tion, sets or spe­cial ef­fects.

De­spite the huge pop­u­lar­ity of the orig­i­nal novel, 2017 fan­tasy film “Once Upon a Time” scored only 3.9 out of 10 on Douban. Based on fans’ votes, pro­duc­ers de­ter­mined the cast of the movie. But the stars’ poor act­ing, the film’s odd cos­tumes and vis­ual ef­fects were crit­i­cized by view­ers.

Many screen adap­ta­tions also failed be­cause of their scripts. It is some­time hard to vis­ually por­tray the essence of the orig­i­nal novel be­cause film­mak­ing and novel writ­ing have dis­tinc­tive dif­fer­ences. A novel en­ables read­ers to free their imag­i­na­tion about scenes, char­ac­ters and in­her­ent emo­tions. But cin­e­matog­ra­phy is usu­ally re­stricted by fac­tors such as bud­get, lo­ca­tion and ex­per­tise.

Ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor Shi Chuan, a film and TV ex­pert from the Shang­hai Theater Academy, on­line nov­els will be a main re­source for film, tele­vi­sion and on­line se­ries in the In­ter­net era. Read­ers of hit on­line nov­els are mainly young peo­ple, who also com­prise a large pro­por­tion of cin­ema­go­ers.

“How­ever, a suc­cess­ful on­line novel is not a guar­an­tee of a suc­cess­ful screen adap­ta­tion,” Pro­fes­sor Shi said.

“The scriptwrit­ing should be log­i­cal, the char­ac­ters’ per­son­al­i­ties should be dis­tinc­tive and ap­peal­ing, and the story’s val­ues should be rec­og­nized by a large au­di­ence.”

Pro­tag­o­nist Wei Yingluo in “The Story of Yanxi Palace”

“Ever Night,” a fan­tasy epic drama with spec­tac­u­lar scenes and el­e­ments of mar­tial arts, youth and ro­mance

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