The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

Before the Spring Festival, "Judge Dee's Mystery" officially premiered. This is the second series after 2010's "Detective Dee" to feature Di Renjie as the main character, vividly portraying his meticulous investigative abilities. While it may not have the original cast, it can be considered a revival of the classic IP of Di Renjie. However, audience data indicates that viewers seem somewhat unconvinced by this incarnation of Di Renjie. Currently, "Judge Dee's Mystery" has accumulated a total valid viewership of 287 million, which, for a series of this scale, can only be described as average.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

Coincidentally, "Sword and Fairy 4" and the adaptation of "Chinese Paladin 6" titled "Sword and Fairy" also premiered around the same time. Both are derived from the classic IP "Xian Jian Qi Xia Zhuan (Chinese Paladin)." As cherished memories for numerous viewers, "Chinese Paladin" and "Chinese Paladin 3" are untouchable classics. Naturally, viewers will scrutinize these two series with a critical eye. Presently, "Sword and Fairy 4" has a Douban rating of 4.3, while "Sword and Fairy" has a rating of 5.0, both receiving lukewarm reviews.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

In recent years, the revival and development of classic cdrama IPs (Intellectual Property) extend beyond Di Renjie and the Chinese Paladin series, with a plethora of remakes and sequels on the horizon. Controversy has surrounded them since the project announcements, with both supporters and skeptics engaged in intense debates. It seems that reviving classic IPs is indeed a challenging task. Are these classic cdrama IPs destined to remain only in memory, forever out of reach for future generations? Certainly not. How to make classic IPs relevant again, to break free from the label of reheating old stories, is truly a delicate art.


01 The Versatile Di Renjie

The lineup of "Judge Dee's Mystery" is noteworthy. Director Li Yunliang has previously directed suspense dramas such as TV series like "The Message," receiving a Douban rating of over 8. The cast includes Zhou Yiwei, Zhang Ruoyun, Wang Likun, Zhong Chuxi, as well as veteran actors Zhang Jiayi and You Yongzhi. Despite a strong lineup and a classic IP, the series' popularity has been slow to rise.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

For most Chinese viewers, the impression of Di Renjie's brilliant investigative skills stems from the 2004 director Qian Yanqiu's "Detective Dee." Upon its release, the series quickly became a sensation. Di Renjie in the series displayed keen insight and logical reasoning, while his partner Li Yuanfang excelled in martial arts, being brave and quick-witted. The two complemented each other, solving numerous mysterious cases. From the first installment in 2004 to the fourth in 2010, the image of Di Renjie has deeply resonated with the audience. Viewers instinctively picture the portrayal by Liang Guanhua.

The newly launched "Judge Dee's Mystery" once again brings Di Renjie to the audience's attention, but this time, it's hard to excite the audience, where did the problem lie? Firstly, it is the sense of dissonance in the content. Qian Yanqiu's version of Di Renjie is based on his independently written original script, while "Judge Dee's Mystery" is an adaptation with its source material originating from the series of novels by the Dutch sinologist, Robert van Gulik, titled "Judge Dee's Mystery." After studying Chinese culture for decades, Robert van Gulik portrayed Di Renjie as the protagonist, emulating the style of Ming and Qing dynasty detective fiction, depicting Di Renjie from his early days entering the officialdom to his old age with numerous cases of varying sizes.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

Qian Yanqiu introduced the original character Li Yuanfang as Di Renjie's partner, whereas Gao Luopei, in contrast, depicted Di Renjie excelled in both literary and martial arts. The fact that "Di Renjie surprisingly has a high combat power?" became a perplexity for many viewers, as in the minds of those who have watched "Detective Di Renjie," it is believed that Di Renjie still needs a companion like Li Yuanfang.

Even from the perspective of the original work, this adaptation has many discordant aspects. For instance, the capable assistant Ma Rong by Di Renjie's side in the original work has been changed to a female character, and the nonexistent romantic subplot of Di Renjie... Especially the controversy surrounding the issues between Goryeo and Goguryeo during the filming stage, which sparked debates online and even required an official statement to be issued.

Other changes, such as setting Di Renjie's age relatively young in the series, and the actors not portraying the character of Di Renjie in a stable manner, creating a noticeable disparity between the character's design in the series and the original book. More importantly, the sense of dissonance in "Judge Dee's Mystery" actually began from the script stage. In the initial phase of the project, the scriptwriters involved were foreigners, with Jim Keeble and Dudi Appleton as the main writers, known for their work on "Thorne" and "Silent Witness," viewing it as a work with the genes of British drama, which might make it more easily acceptable. In terms of the plot development, this series also faces some issues. A detective mystery drama requires logical consistency and attention to detail, with the clues needing to be cleverly placed. If everything is easily deciphered at a glance, it not only fails to showcase the detective's abilities but appears to be merely fooling the audience.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

In the first episode, the Night Pearl was stolen, with the stolen goods found hidden in an abacus, yet the identity of the thief remained unknown. Di Renjie used the floating oil method to solve the case and find the thief, but such scenes are too common and do not reflect his extraordinary intelligence. In the "Screen Case," there is also a neglect of the reasoning process, with the case clues progressing through coincidences and happenstance. The plot involving plagiarized poetry also has rather weak evidence, leading to the difficulty of making the entire case plausible.

Of course, as a period drama, "Judge Dee's Mystery" has outstanding supporting roles, as well as good editing and flashbacks, which are commendable. The portrayal of a well-rounded Di Renjie in the series challenges some viewers' preconceptions, which is acceptable as long as the characters are well-developed, it can still be accepted by the audience. However, the logical inconsistencies in this series have cost it its greatest highlight, as it is fundamentally centered around deduction. Inability to address those logical inconsistencies inevitably disappoints those viewers who came for the deduction aspect.


02 More classic reboots are on the way

What has also sparked attention, just like "Judge Dee's Mystery", are two new works in the "Chinese Paladin" series that are being released concurrently. Both "Sword and Fairy 4" and the adaptation of "Chinese Paladin VI" called "Sword and Fairy (Pray for the Present)" are the latest audiovisual products of this classic cdrama. It is well known that the "Chinese Paladin" itself is adapted from a game. Initially, there were some controversies surrounding aspects such as casting decisions, but over a decade has passed, and the works filmed back then have stood the test of time, becoming classics.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

For example, Hu Ge's portrayal of Li Xiaoyao was a decision based on the insistence of the "father of Chinese Paladin," Yao Zhuangxian, because his temperament was deemed to be a close match to the character. The actress originally cast as Zhao Ling'er was not Liu Yifei, but after many twists and turns, she was eventually confirmed. The caution and boldness in casting decisions for Chinese Paladin back then are truly unimaginable today.

The leads in "Sword and Fairy 4" are Ju Jingyi and Chen Zheyuan, while the leads in "Pray for the Present" are Xu Kai and Yu Shuxin. The casting choices all involve popular stars, which is somewhat conservative compared to the bold casting decisions of Chinese Paladin back in the day. This also reflects the approach taken in recent years towards rebooting classic cdrama, which prioritizes stability.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

Rebooting a classic inevitably brings along a certain amount of attention, whether positive support or criticism. Sufficient exposure helps in converting attention to the work's follow-up, as the biggest concern for a work is being ignored. However, this approach also limits the extent of innovation, turning classic reboots into a case of "striving not for excellence but for avoiding mistakes." With such a mindset, it is challenging to create works that truly stand out.

Similar cases have been frequent in recent years. The film adaptation of "The Journey of Flower" only made 6.554 million yuan at the box office when it premiered earlier this year, a performance significantly lower than the explosive success of the TV series. After the airing of the remake "Hua Jiao Xi Shi," based on "Wrong Carriage, Right Groom" last year, it received a lot of criticism, with a Douban rating of only 4.0, compared to the original rating of 8.6, which is more than halved.

Although there are not many well-received classic IP reboots, it doesn't stop new attempts. Just in January of this year, news of a reboot of the classic cdrama "Home With Kids" emerged, with the original cast reuniting for a movie to be filmed this year. It can be said that these reboots of classic IPs have indeed evoked a sense of nostalgia among audiences, but repeatedly playing the nostalgia card is not a long-term solution. After witnessing numerous reboots and remakes, audiences have become increasingly cautious towards many upcoming reboot plans.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations


03 Rediscovering the original intentions is key

When classic IPs are remade or sequels are developed, controversy inevitably follows. On one hand, the former IP, filtered through the lens of time, becomes a sacrosanct classic. On the other hand, new works often fall short compared to their predecessors, inviting unavoidable comparisons when gems have been previously presented. From plot settings to actors' performances, everything is scrutinized by the audience under a magnifying glass, and any slight dissatisfaction can lead to harsh criticism.

Speaking of "Judge Dee's Mystery", this is not the first time Robert van Gulik's work has been brought to the screen. In 1987, director Sun Wei's "The Legendary Judge Dee" made an attempt at visual adaptation, with Sun Chengzheng playing Di Renjie. The plot was highly faithful to the original, but due to financial constraints, only 14 episodes were filmed. Apart from faithfulness, "The Legendary Judge Dee" put a lot of effort into visual language, with meticulous dialogue and extraordinary artistic conception, leaving a deep impression on viewers.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

It is evident that the visual adaptation of classic IPs is not the issue; the challenge lies in enhancing the essence of the original through visuals. There are many ways to express content, but there is only one golden rule for evaluating the quality of a work, and that is not to lose sight of the creator's original intentions. The value of rebooting classic cdrama lies in allowing valuable content to be seen by a wider audience, as not everyone has experienced those classics. Nobody remains forever young, but there are always those who are just eighteen, so rediscovering the original creative intentions and showing the new generation of viewers why these IPs are classics is the starting point of the creative logic.

Time can turn a work into a classic, but the prerequisite is that the work has the potential to become a classic. To strike while the iron is hot, one must have a high level of quality in the work; otherwise, it will eventually be eliminated by time. Classic IPs can be rebooted, but the focus lies in how to reboot them – whether to faithfully replicate them or to deconstruct and reconstruct the logical relationships after breaking them apart. If one wishes to make significant changes to the original work, they must have the skill to reorganize the logical chain. After all, storytelling is not mere fabrication, and adaptation is not mere random creation; creators must always keep such profound truths in mind.

The Challenges of Remaking Classic Cdrama: Exploring the Difficulties Faced by New Adaptations

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