Director for Chinese adaptation of Shinya Shokudo responds to harsh criticisms of show

By Wei Xi and Huang Jiangrui Published: 2017/6/16 14:11:49

Photo: Xinhua

Remaking a classic is always a challenge. 

While few are able to surpass the original work, not many of them have become total disasters like Midnight Food Store,  the Chinese TV adaptation of Japanese manga Shinya Shokudo. The Chinese TV drama's director, Tsai Yueh-Hsun is known for successfully adapting a Japanese manga into Chinese TV dramas - Meteor Garden in 2001. 

As of Thursday afternoon, a total of six episodes of the 40-episode drama have been released. With a rating of 2.3/10 on Douban, it has become one of the worst reviewed works on the website so far. 

To respond to the doubts and skepticism from the audience, Tsai accepted a one-on-one interview with the Global Times via Wechat on Friday. 

Japanese copycat?

Manga Shinya Shokudo has many adaptations, including four seasons of a Japanese TV drama, two Japanese films, one Korean TV drama and now a Chinese TV version. 

While the Japanese TV drama Midnight Diner received high praises from the Chinese audience - all four seasons have been rated 8.5/10 or higher on Douban - the Korea version has a lukewarm 6.8/10, and the Chinese adaptation is rated extremely low,  2.3/10 from 45,954 viewers.  

Most of the criticisms focus on the lack of originality of the Chinese version, saying it is a complete copycat: The setting is a Japanese style izakaya, the owner wears a Japanese style chef costume, and a few supporting characters have the same name and story as their Japanese counterparts.  

Talking about his encounter with the Japanese story, Tsai said a Japanese friend had repeatedly recommended it to him  and then, he became obsessed with it.  

"When I was introduced to Shinya Shokudo, I already knew a Japanese TV drama was being made, but I still want to make my own because I saw something intriguing from the manga: Through such a restaurant and its host, we see the various lives and the beauty in them ... I think it's important to show the audience there can be  such beauty in life through a TV drama," Tsai said. 

Aware of the criticisms of the show, Tsai emphasized that Midnight Food Store is adapted from the manga not the Japanese TV drama, and there was an in-depth discussion about the set, costume, cuisine and characters for the show. 

"We had thought about Chinese restaurants like a hot pot restaurant or a street side restaurant, but none of them is the appropriate setting for scenes described in the original Japanese story, like when the host stands in the middle surrounded by all the guests. People are more dispersed in Chinese restaurants," the director explained. 

As for the costume of the host, Tsai explained that they found many Chinese cooks dress in a similar style and wear white most of the time.    

However, Tsai kept some of the details from the original Japanese series. "These are crucial to the story," he said, adding that the scar on the host's left eye is kept because the manga's author Abe Yarô insisted. 

"He had four demands for the adaptation," Tsai told the Global Times. "The first is to keep the scar in the same place."

"I asked him why but he gave me no answer except a smile," Tsai continued. "I think it might be related to a special memory or an important person."  

Other demands from Abe include do not create any back story for the host, provide only the simple and homely cuisines and the patrons must be as common as possible, even if they might be from the upper class. 

Photo: Xinhua

Too many ads

There are also complaints about the numerous product placements, mocking Midnight Food Store as nothing but a long TV advertisement. 

According to the blog Yule Zibenlun, altogether 20 brand names appear in the 40-episode TV drama, and the first four episodes already saw 2,842 seconds of advertising time. 

Admitting the TV drama has too many ads, Tscai said that he had protested but compromised under pressure. 

"I can't even edit them out [after the shooting]," the director said, adding that he often mocks himself that he has fulfilled his early dream of becoming a commercial director. 

Now a few Chinese netizens are proposing what they think are better representations of midnight cuisine in China such as barbecue stalls and street food restaurants. However, some think the main issue is not where the stories  take place but who is adapting these stories to the small screen.  

Tsai is among the group of Taiwan TV show producers who are now going north to cooperate with their peers in the mainland. While Hong Kong film directors once experienced maladjustments in similar cooperation, there have been doubts from the audience that if the Taiwan TV producers are going through a similar phase. 

"It is not my first cooperation with the mainland," Tsai said. "The maladjustments are not serious. We only differ on our storytelling methods and the way we present the details. Therefore, we rely on more people to work on the details and to provide more counsel. We will need more opportunities to get to know each other for better cooperation," Tsai added. 

Posted in: ART

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