Big in Japan, but not Jiangxi

Why do Chinese remakes of Japanese hit TV shows always seems to bomb?

Sun Li w

Sun Li: facing a rare flop

While many say that acts of kindness – no matter how big or small in monetary terms – can make a difference, China’s netizens do not seem to think so.

WiC reported last week that real estate tycoon Pan Shiyi’s lacklustre charitable contribution to Wuhan’s battle against the Covid-19 outbreak has attracted the wrath of the country’s netizens.

And now another high-profile celebrity couple has also come under attack for being too stingy with their donation. Sun Li and her husband, actor Deng Chao, donated Rmb300,000 ($43,000) to Wuhan. (By comparison, actress Fan Bingbing, who has been largely out of a job for the past year and was fined $129 million in 2018 for tax evasion, gave a slightly larger Rmb500,000 for the cause.)

“Deng Chao and Sun Li are two actors I admire very much. I have watched all their TV shows and paid to see their movies. But after knowing that they donated just Rmb300,000 I must admit I was very disappointed,” goes one of the most ‘liked’ comments on weibo.

“Why did you even bother with Rmb300,000! You might as well use the money for handbags,” another opined dismissively.

The negative publicity has tainted Sun’s latest TV series I Will Find You a Better Home. The drama, which is based on a hit Japanese sit-com Your Home is My Business, follows the story of property agent Fang Sijin (played by Sun), who is tasked with saving a poorly-performing branch. When she gets there, the go-getter real estate broker – who believes that “there is no deal I can’t close” – finds the employees lazy and unmotivated. Even though the performance of the branch improves under Fang’s tough-love leadership, she soon learns there is more to life than just selling houses.

Sun, who is often described as one of the most powerful women in Chinese television (see WiC308), was known for her leading roles in hit series historical dramas The Legend of Zhen Huan (2011) and The Legend of Mi Yue (2015). Her last TV series Nothing Gold Can Stay (2017), another costume drama, was also a ratings hit.

But in a sign that China’s show business is in a direr shape than ever, industry insiders speculated that she received only a salary of Rmb16.2 million for the 48-epsiode series – a quarter of the Rmb60 million pay cheque she was used to getting.

Still, it appears that even the queen of TV drama has her limits. On Douban, Better Home, which is on Dragon Satellite TV and Beijing Satellite TV, received a rating of only 6.2 out of 10 (for comparison, her The Legend of Zhen Huan has a rating of 9.1), with many viewers complaining that the show did a bad job adapting from the original Japanese series. The negative reception has been all the more surprising, since the screenplay is written by Liu Liu, the female screenwriter behind Dwelling Narrowness (2009), a hugely popular drama about home ownership in China.

“The performance of Princess Sun [her nickname, based on her many roles in historical dramas] is so bad I am left speechless,” one wrote on Douban. “The screenplay is also really boring.”

“The original Japanese drama only adds up to about 20 episodes but the Chinese remake doubles the number of episodes. The heroine on the Japanese show is a well-balanced character but in the Chinese series, Sun Li becomes very domineering, wanting to intervene all the time. My biggest complaint, however, is the screenplay. The conversation feels so exaggerated and unnatural,” another critic added.

This is not the first time a Chinese studio has remade a hit Japanese TV series. In fact, the most popular Chinese teen drama Meteor Garden (2001) was based on Japanese manga series Boys Over Flowers. However, since then, most Chinese remakes of Japanese shows have flopped miserably.

Take Midnight Diner (2017), which was an adaptation of the critically acclaimed Japanese series with the same title. The Chinese version has a dismal rating of just 2.8 on Douban, compared with the original’s 9.2 (see WiC371). Another remake Standing in Time, which was released last October, also had a rating of just 3.5 (with 2 the absolute lowest score on the platform).

“Japan’s unique national culture makes it very challenging for other countries to remake its works. But to be fair, there are many times when we want to remake our own TV series and even those have flopped miserably, let alone the work of another country. I hope that in the future, our work will be excellent enough for other countries to want to remake our drama series – instead of us always thinking of ways to exploit other people’s cultural products,” one critic opined.

Another concurred: “The style of Japanese dramas is very different from Chinese shows. The performance style of Japanese tends to be a bit more exaggerated and comical, since they are often adapted from manga series… On the other hand, Chinese people do not express their emotions too much. We gravitate towards more subtle and non-verbal performances, which explains why so many of the Chinese remakes are so uncomfortable and cringing to watch,” another critic added.

Still, some audiences were more forgiving. “Better Home is adapted from a Japanese TV series by well-known screenwriter Liu Liu, who added a lot of local flavours to the show and lifted the overall quality. She also focused on the daily struggle of what it means to be a white collar worker, and their blood sweat and tears. A lot of the minor characters on the show also perfectly exemplify the challenges property agents encounter in the industry,” one TV critic wrote.

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