On Reimagining the Red Chamber (hint: outtakes at the end)

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Dream of the Red Chamber has been hailed as one of the greatest classics in Chinese literature for centuries, and it is “based on a true story”. Like the arm of Venus de Milo, its missing ending is a mystery with only the first 80 chapters written by the original author. Although there were some foreshadowing of the eventual fate of the individual characters, but because the original manuscript of the ending was never recovered, it’s anyone’s guess how things turned out eventually.

The book is such an important piece of classic in Chinese literature that generations of scholars dedicated their lives to the study, coming up with different analysis, theories and speculations about the characters and their eventual fate. They are known as the Redologists.

With literary standing being likened to the status of Pride and Prejudice to the English, its content too bear certain similarities. In today’s context, I would probably see it as something similar to Gossip Girl? The rise and fall of rich families, their complex idiosyncrasies and complicated relationships. The male protagonist, for example, has been widely known by one camp of Redologists as bisexual–a concept that’s not entirely a taboo in ancient Chinese culture. Of course, to some conservatives, it’s just ‘friendship’.

The book is said to have characters who are manifestations of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian beliefs, the holy/philosophical trinity of Chinese culture. It might be a bit too intense for beginners not so familiar with these concepts (myself included), so my articles didn’t go too deep into those.

Like Romeo and Juliet, the characters were all extremely young in the book (about early to mid teens mostly), even though they might be married, have kids, have affairs, etc. It is just reflective of the society at a when people generally have shorter life expectancy (no judgement). The 1987 classic TV adaptation of the book had many actors who were far older than the actual age of the characters, and we were speculating that it might also be due to the fact that social norms have shifted and they didn’t want to propagate that idea that it’s ok to be engaged in these matters at such a young age.

We always start off the shooting session with a ‘storytelling’ by Jiaye, of the important incidents/milestones in that character’s life and the small incidents which are revealing about their character. Then after the pictures are out, I would be referencing different write-ups and articles about each individual characters, and finding a bit more about some of the scenes which were mentioned as part of the photo-story. This helped me learn a lot more nuances and details of the story, and definitely suited my way of learning since I typically find it really difficult to focus on finishing a book from start to end.

We had a few reshoots, and changed one model just to ensure that we get the right feeling of the model. Casting is extremely important, and they were all people we know personally, or from the previous project, and we are eternally grateful for their participation and patience~!

It’s a project that’s almost half a year in the making! We’re actually having another project in the pipeline… but as you know me, I rather take my time to get things right so you might have to wait a while for the next “blockbuster” series~!

Like how when I used to watch HK films, I would often wait till the end to watch the funny outtakes, we have had many hilarious moments like these which I’m sharing right at the end here…

So I have this salt lamp which seemed quite celestial (it’s for fengshui purposes ^_^ I’m a little superstitious) and our Nymph decided to pretend to be some martial arts nymph who’s gone out of control with her training for clawy lethal moves. Definitely out of her character.
In the prophetic poems, poor introvert Yingchun was supposed to ended up being devoured by some wolf (most likely metaphorically). In the description of the drawing that corresponded to the poem in the book, there was supposed to be a sketch of a wolf… there’s no way we can find anything remotely similar to a wolf somewhere… so we opted for low-cost cosplay tactic. To our dismay, it really didn’t quite work because my fingers looked too much like fingers!! #五毛钱特技 #lowcostcosplay

There was the time when we used chocolate balls as the pill for Baochai, the queen bee who’s always feeling heaty/hot due to a medical condition and needed to take a particular pill to cool herself. We were shooting the video for that, and she’s supposed to slowly take the pill out of the container, and insert into her mouth. She popped it into her mouth, and chewed happily. It. Was. Not. Supposed. To. Be. Tasty. And yes, everyone likes chocolate…. LOL

And the Ice Queen Snowflake, she’s yawning all the way while taking the shot on the bed.  She said that’s how she gets her tears welled up for the teary shot.

And finally.. the sleeping beauty shot that looked like how we all actually look when sleeping (and the look that no prince would kiss if chanced upon). AND the explosion of uncontainable laughter when shooting Shi Xiangyun’s character.

3 Replies to “On Reimagining the Red Chamber (hint: outtakes at the end)”

  1. I LOVED Dream of Red Chamber(or it could be that I fell in love more with its artful complexity and poetic-ness, lol), and I was over the moon when I found your project. Simply wonderful! Not only these were treats to the eyes, but you have brought life to the people that I was able to only imagine so far(that opera-hair drama not counted).
    I discovered DoRC through Wikipedia few years prior, while reading about Journey to the West and the others. Even though I’m not a fan of extreme family drama/politics, I always tend to finish reading the internet articles I’ve already loaded, but the intricately woven-with-eachother-and-everybody-else character descriptions weren’t making it easy. So I drew a family tree, and realized I’d have to use several color pens and highlights to indicate the various types of inter-personal relationships, and soon it became the MOST wild family tree I’ve ever seen! Write the meaning of the names under each one, and my task was complete. The upside was, I enjoyed some great OCD pleasure and satisfication by being able to do a neat job, and I’ve miraculously memorized all the players and and their deal within such a short time. Which apparently is a difficult job for nearly everybody who try to read the story. Gosh, only if I studied so well for my school…
    The next year I found an actual translation, a paperback book of DoRC, but it was quite underwhelming and not even the grammar was good. But it was my only shot at obtaining a copy, plus I’ve read that it was SUCH a difficult book to translate even for the professionals so that there were several editions with various meanings for the same original Chinese words/phrases. So i didn’t complain much.
    And you managed to quench my “unsatisfied reader” feeling by these posts, Hanfugirl. Thanks SO much!! 🙂


    1. I was very fortunate to partner with Jiaye, who’s a fan of the book and was extremely familiar with the content–it’s not something that I can research and read and understand in a short time. And I remember growing up, I didn’t like the 1987 show perhaps cos it felt too dated, or too slow, or serious. I didn’t find it beautiful to my little self. Looking back, it probably wasn’t what a kid would like… but I do know that it was a beautiful book and I thought, it’s important that I re-present the characters according to how I would imagine them to be, in a way that is palatable to my modern taste. I think there’s just ONE really good translator, who translated the names so beautifully too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Can you tell me the translator’s name?
        I was talking about 2010 show. It’s only now I found out about 1987 one. It definitely should be better than the 2010 one.
        P.S.- I really love your header. That bulky red skirt with gold ring reminds me of Royal Consorts of Joseon Korea. Are those designs embroidered, or gold leaf-printed like the Joseon ones?


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