Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang
“Can supermodels go to a restaurant and wash pig intestines?”
“Wearing that gorgeous, colorful long skirt, is she a model headed for the catwalk or a hot cougar on her way to the dance hall?”
In March 2013, Hunan TV’s release of its new idol show, “Gorgeous,” rapidly became a subject of much controversy among audiences and internet users alike. The show is a remake of the South Korean ’90s classic urban drama, “Model.” With its description of a group of models and their struggle to scrabble their way to the top of the ladder, as well as their professional enmities and emotional entanglements, the original show revealed the dark side existing behind the shiny happy face of fashion. But in this remake from Hunan TV, the profound humanity of the Korean version has been watered down, turning it into nothing more than a shallow romance full of actors whose bizarre antics leave the audience not knowing whether to laugh or to cry.
In recent years remakes seem to have become the mainstream for Chinese television dramas. In 2008, Hunan TV broadcast a remake of the American television show, “Ugly Betty,” called “Incomparably Ugly.” This gained the network a surge in its viewership, and for two years straight the comedy was crowned the number one show on Chinese television in terms of ratings. After that, the remake trend stormed the market en force, quickly gaining notice among the media and audiences nationwide. The majority of subsequent remakes, however, have never been able to aspire to public praise; on the contrary, internet users tend to mock them with the term “second-generation dramas,” or even criticize them by saying that they are “getting worse with each generation.”
None other more accurately portrays the face of contemporary Chinese television remakes than producer Zhang Jizhong and screenwriter Yu Zheng. Zhang Jizhong made his name by remaking ancient Chinese classics and martial arts novels written by Jin Yong. However, his masterpiece, “Journey to the West,” was criticized for its main character, the Monkey Kings, who supposedly had a face that looked very similar to that of Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” movies. The heroes in “Outlaws of the Marsh” wear flowers and embroidered hats on their heads, and during fight scenes there are always “explosions” made with computer graphics effects. Yu Zheng’s remakes, on the other hand, have completely subverted the original works, and it could even be said that this has left audiences red-faced with rage. In his newest remake, the martial arts drama “Legend of the Swordsman,” a character who, in the novel, practiced martial arts until he learned to play the role of a woman is actually played by a real woman who, with a shake of her head, becomes the movie’s heroine. Meanwhile, the female protagonist of the original work is left by the wayside and made into a third and completely separate character. This change has brought severe criticism from viewers. Rumor has it that Yu Zheng is planning on remaking several more historical drama classics, and internet users are shouting at the top of their lungs, “Please don’t defile those classics we hold so dearly to our hearts!”
The entertainment media are trying to find the reason remakes have become so popular in China. Many producers believe that new technological tricks can far outdo the old movie magic of the past, and with the relative dearth of fresh and exciting story lines these days, it is without a doubt far more economical to retell the old classics by way of remakes. But even more viewers believe there is no lack of good novels in China; a good story often requires the test of time to be revealed. But commercialization of the television and film industry has led to such a large demand for shows and movies that the literary world simply cannot produce enough new books to keep up, so quality has inevitably slipped. Even though we find ourselves in an era of “national nostalgia for the past,” commercialization will similarly lead to a lack of creativity in the literary world where the original works are written. Perhaps it is time for everyone in the television and movies industry to sit down and think about things long and hard.