Secret Love and Peach Blossom Land

Huiwen LuProfessor Will JonesTDGE 104 November 2019Analysis of Secret Love in Peach Blossom Spring’s film adaptationSecret Love in Peach Blossom Spring is one of the most famous plays in China. The plot of this play is very simple: “two drama troupes arranged to have a rehearsal at the same time by mistake; one of the workshops is playing the early-modern tragedy Secret Love, and the other one is playing the period comedy The Peach Blossom Spring based on a classical poem. The problem is, both these plays have to perform in two days. Since they have only one stage for their rehearsals, issues and conflicts follow.” (Wikipedia contributors) Inspired by the great success of the play, the director of it, Stan Lai, made the film adaptation in 1992. In my opinion, this adaptation, in general, is successful, but it also has some disadvantages compared with the play.From my perspective, good adaptation makes the storyline readily comprehensible for all the audience. According to Hutcheon, “For an adaptation to be successful in its own right, it must be so for both knowing and unknowing audiences” (Hutcheon, 121). Therefore, no matter how successful and famous the adapted work is, the director of the adaptation should never make the adaptation based on the belief that audience may have already seen the play and known the plots. In the film adaptation of Secret Love in Peach Blossom Spring, the director added scenes at the beginning to help audience understand the plots. The film begins with the scene that one of the drama troupes arrived at the theatre and begun their rehearsal. However, in the theatre version, the whole play begins directly with the rehearsal of Secret Love. As a result, audience may feel confused when the rehearsal is stopped by the arrival of the other drama troupe. Moreover, doing so helps the director make the “play-within-a-play” story structure clearer to the audience.Furthermore, I think good film adaptation should lay emphasis on telling the story: “Some plays have little story, but when the play is converted to film, the story will need to come to the forefront” (Seger, 42). And sometimes, to achieve such goal, the director needs to wisely choose which part of the play should be kept, and which part should be deleted. According to Seger, “If an important plot line doesn’t serve the dramatic movement of the story, it might be dropped” (Seger, 9). In the film, the director deletes some scenes of one character. In both theatre and film version, there is a character, an insane woman, who does not belong to either of the drama troupe, and nobody knows who she is. In the whole play, she keeps finding a man called ZiJi Liu and asserts that they once fell in love but he left her without saying goodbye. The interesting part of this subplot is that ZiJi Liu is a character of the ancient Chinese fable The Peach Blossom Spring. In the fable, he heard the legend of the Peach Blossom Land and spent a lot of effort to find it, which finally caused him serious disease and he died of it. In the theatre version, the insane woman and her dialogue highlights the theme of the play- spiritual exploration. But such intertextual understanding has high requirements of audience’s knowledge about Chinese literature. Hence, to help audiences with different levels of education and different cultural background fully enjoy the film, the director deleted many scenes and dialogues of the insane woman, which makes the storyline clearer and accelerates the movement of the plots.Except for telling the story well, I think a good adaptation should have innovations, instead of just copying every single scene of the play; otherwise, it can only be called the recording of the play. According to Hutcheon, “perhaps the real comfort lies in the simple act of almost but not quite repeating, in the revisiting a theme of variations.” (Hutcheon, 115) In the play, there is a scene of Secret Love that Mr. Jiang, main character of Secret Love, dreams about going back to his youth and meeting his old flame, ZhiFan Yun. But in fact, he lies on the hospital bed, while his wife is chatting with the nurse about their life. In the theatre version, Mr. Jiang and his lover act on one side of the stage, with his wife and the nurse acting on the other side. However, in the film adaptation, the director uses multiple camera angles and voiceover to achieve the stage where reality and imagination intertwine with each other, adding a lot of magical and romantic elements to the film and helping audiences have emotional resonance with the film. Although the film adaptation is generally successfully, it has its disadvantages which, I think, is something inherent with films because stage audiences have different expectations and demands than film audience (Hutcheon, 124). The play The Peach Blossom Spring includes many exaggerated movements that are difficult for actors to perform, and therefore, fun to watch. In the film, inevitably, such fun of watching a live “acrobatic performance” is destroyed. Even worse, the low-comedy and dramatic characteristics of The Peach Blossom Spring fail to meet audiences’ horizontal expectation of films, especially when the film begins with the sorrowful tragedy Secret Love. As a result, some scenes of The Peach Blossom Spring are kind of boring and noisy for the audiences.In general, the film adaptation of Secret Love and Peach Blossom Spring retains the complete storyline and makes it more comprehensible to the audience, making innovative changes based on the original play at the same time. However, it loses some comedic elements and is hence less appealing to watch than the theatre version.

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