With most of her novels vividly portraying intelligent and beautiful women striving for success in the metropolis, Hong Kong writer Isabel Nee Yeh-su－better known by her pen name Yi Shu－has captivated readers for more than half a century.
As the latest adaptation of her novel The Golden Years, which was first published in 1987, the 38-episode My Best Friend’s Story has recently made a splash online.
Hashtags containing the drama’s title have generated 3.5 million posts and 1.2 billion views on the microblogging platform Sina Weibo. The TV series has also become a frequently searched topic on some social media platforms, from the country’s largest question-and-answer website, Zhihu, to the short video app, Douyin.
For the drama’s scriptwriter Qin Wen and director Shen Yan, the work marks their second collaboration, following the 2017 TV series The First Half of My Life－a television adaptation of another of the author’s novels which tells the story of a hardworking single mother－as they bring to life the charming protagonists penned by Yi Shu.
“We didn’t expect the TV series to be so popular,” recalls Qin, during a telephone interview with China Daily. “More importantly, though, it has helped Yi Shu’s novels to attract fresh attention from film and television production companies.”
Riding on the wave of the success of The First Half of My Life, the production company New Classic Media purchased the copyright of The Golden Years, casting Ni Ni and Liu Shishi－both ranked among the most popular female stars in their age group－to represent the two protagonists.
As an effort to localize the original tale which takes place in late 1980s Hong Kong, the TV series brings the timing closer and switches its location to contemporary Shanghai, the international city which Qin believes bears the best resemblance, in the terms of personality and spirit, to the setting in Yi Shu’s novel.
The tale focuses on best friends Jiang Nansun and Zhu Suosuo－played by Liu and Ni, respectively－who lead completely different lives, but always support each other no matter what, whether one is trapped in a doomed affair or the other is struggling with her career.
In the story Zhu is young when her parents split up and she is sent to live with her uncle’s family. Self-taught, she grows to be streetwise, yet sophisticated. After landing a job in high-end property sales, she works diligently, but her beautiful looks and ambition make her a subject for the office rumor mill.
Jiang is almost the opposite, as she grew up in a rich family. Her home is a luxurious villa in downtown Shanghai’s Fuxing Street. Her life is full of high-end brands and expensive hairstylists. Even during routine dinners at home, the family’s table is served with dozens of mouthwatering dishes cooked by a nanny. However, Jiang believes she is like a bird imprisoned in a golden cage and dreams to escape.
Just like the common viewer, Qin says she has sat, curled up on the sofa, to watch the latest episodes, as she’s barely visited the film sets of her stories.
“I like both of the two leading actresses, whose natural acting chops authentically bring to life of the two characters. Liu Shishi matches the temperament of her well-educated character, who’s gentle yet unyielding, while Ni Ni vividly portrays an ambitious and magnanimous woman,” says Qin, a Shanghai native herself, who graduated from the Central Academy of Drama.
A prolific writer who, alongside the late martial arts novelist Louis Cha and sci-fi writer Ni Kuang, became dubbed as one of the “three top miracles” in the golden age of Hong Kong literature, Yi Shu has penned around 300 books, most of which feature strong female characters and are written in short and sharp sentences that belie their thought-provoking depth.
“Yi Shu’s wording is a powerful charm that easily draws you into the story’s atmosphere, but what makes Jiang and Zhu’s story quite relatable is their enduring friendship,” says Qin. “It makes me believe that friendship can stand the test of time much better than love.”
However, the author’s stories are widely believed to be a difficult task when it comes to being adapted for the screen, due to their shortage of plot twists and character development arcs. Qin reveals that she writes biographies for every major character before starting to pen the script.
“In most of Yi Shu’s novels, male characters come and go and are often fleeting, adding to the difficulty in adapting her work into a TV drama, as viewers are used to seeing a major character exist through the entirety of the story,” Qin further explains.
So, she fictionalizes several major male characters, including a capable sales manager and a nosy secretary, and also adds content to enrich the personalities of the male characters who are originally featured in The Golden Years.
Additionally, she interviewed architects and real estate industry insiders to learn details about their professions and careers, helping her to more accurately create scenes at construction sites and in the office. Likening her brain to a cabinet with many drawers, Qin says that she has become used to observing people while she’s out, sorting their distinctive characteristics into the various “drawers”.
“The biggest joy of working as a scriptwriter is that I can ‘become’ any of my characters, breathing life into them and experiencing their joys and sorrows,” says Qin.
For some critics and television show researchers, the popularity of My Best Friend’s Story exemplifies the growing demand from the domestic audience for TV dramas and films with strong, independent female characters.
Wang Yichuan, a literature professor at Beijing Normal University, says that China’s four-decade-long reform and opening-up has raised the status and education level of women.
“There are wonderful women in all walks of life in our society, providing inspiration for TV series and films. All these works reflect the public’s recognition of women’s contribution and dedication,” says Wang, citing such hit television dramas as Nothing but Thirty, Dear Missy and Twenty Your Life On.
Lu Rong, a TV research professor with the Communication University of China, says China’s female-led TV series have already shaped a huge audience base, but suggests that creators take greater care to observe real life in order to make the stories more realistic.
Source: By Xu Fan | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-22 07:48
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