‘Left’ could spur more to adapt novels

Romantic comedy poised to be a cross-market hit

HONG KONG — Adapted from a best-selling illustrated novel of the same name, Hong Kong’s upcoming romantic comedy “Turn Left, Turn Right” stands a good chance of being one of the year’s bigger hits.

The book, by Taiwan author and artist Jimmy Liao, follows two lonely people living in the same apartment building but who don’t know each other. When they finally do cross paths, events seem to conspire to keep them apart.

With established fans across Asia and new ones being won over with the English version of the book, called “Chance of Sunshine,” co-producers Warner Brothers, Hong Kong’s Milkyway and Singapore’s Raintree Pictures are hoping for a hit.

The film’s chances for commercial success are boosted by director/writer team Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai, a slam-dunk duo when it comes to churning out popular romantic comedies.

Japanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro and Hong Kong actress Gigi Leung have been cast as the leads, ensuring maximum cross-market appeal.

Though literary adaptations are churned out pretty regularly in Hong Kong, the output is nothing compared to decades past. In the 1950s and 60s, adaptations were all the rage. But when the 70s arrived, studios abandoned plot-heavy stories for action-driven ones.

Some critics believe Hong Kong filmmakers should turn more often to classic novels for inspiration. The more visual medium of comicbooks has recently offered plenty of film material for local filmmakers.

“It’s a pity that today’s directors aren’t making better use of literature,” says Leung Ping-kwan, a professor of Chinese literature who also teaches film. “We have first-rate technology and good cinematography, but directors just aren’t paying enough attention to scripts.”

Hong Kong filmmakers have tried some innovative approaches — they’ve based films around a few central characters of a book, re-imagined the lives of characters in a period a novel doesn’t address, or put a modern twist on classic tales and characters.

Some of the most imaginative adaptations are coming from Tsui Hark and Jeff Lau.

Wong Kar-wai, too, dipped into books for “In the Mood for Love” and “Ashes of Time.”

Asia’s biggest hit, the Ang Lee-directed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” was itself adapted from the fourth book of a five-book series called Crane-Iron Pentalogy, by Chinese novelist Wang Du Lu.

In fact, many Hong Kong actioners are adapted from comic books, like the “The Young and Dangerous” series and “Storm Riders.” An upcoming car racing film from Media Asia is an adaptation from a Japanese comic.

Books aren’t the only source ripe for bigscreen ideas.

Comedies like Johnnie To and Wai Ka fai’s “Needing You” was turned into a book from its original format, a radio play. An upcoming, yet-to-be-titled Sammi Cheng and Louis Koo comedy from China Star is also adapted from a radio play.