Beijing– A big-budget remake of a classic Chinese TV series based on a beloved 18th century book has split local auds and critics.
Reactions to helmer Li Shaohong’s adaptation of “Dream of the Red Chamber” have ranged from fury to delight, with some accusing her of heresy for the radical new reading of the text.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Cao Xueqin’s novel in the Chinese psyche — study of the novel is called “Redology.”
Discussion of Li’s series, which comprises 50 hourlong episodes, took up nearly two full pages in many national newspapers recently, while blogs are abuzz with its praise and damnation.
The 1987 version is considered a TV classic, and there’s an almost obsessive affection among Chinese for its music, characters and settings.
While most of the criticism focuses on how the new skein updates the older version, academics love the close reading of the original material in Li’s version — and the skein has set a three-year ratings high on Shanghai’s East Movie Channel.
Filming the book is a serious challenge: There are nearly 30 major characters and hundreds of other important figures.
The densely plotted piece follows the fortunes of two families, with complicated mystical and philosophical elements thrown in.
Produced by the China Film Group, Beijng TV and Hualu Baina, the $17.5 million project was shot at the Huairou Film Base, an enormous new facility north of Beijing.
Hu Mei, one of the country’s most talented helmers, was originally slated to remake the drama. But he ankled early on over the decision not to use professional actors; casting took place after a yearlong talent show to find thesps.
Li, a helmer of many costume dramas and movies including 2004’s “Baober in Love,” knew the risks going into the project.
“Nearly all directors get into trouble when they touch this kind of masterpiece, and ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ is a real giant of literature,” Li says. “The two TV versions are not comparable. Times are changing, and there should be new elements and forms added into the show.”
Li says that while she didn’t pretend to be an expert on the text, she first read the book when she was 9, and is quite familiar with it.
She remains defiant about her version of “Dream.” “The ratings say it all,” she proclaims.