Chinese clones of US shows a big turn-off

The New Big Bang Theory’s (above) opening scene featured terracotta warriors, while the American series used pyramids. — PHOTOS: KU6

China’s The Unbeatable Ugly Girl (above) had office layouts similar to those in American series Ugly Betty. — PHOTOS: NESOUND INTERNATIONAL MEDIA
By AW CHENG WEI, STRAITS TIMES, 26 MAY 2012BEIJING – ‘Smart? I would have to lose 60 IQ points to be classified as smart,’ says actor Jim Parsons in the American award-winning television comedy about nerds, The Big Bang Theory.

An actor in China repeats the line in a similar series, this time in Mandarin. He even resembles the tall and lanky Parsons, though he is Chinese.

It is an episode of The New Big Bang Theory, a Chinese remake of the Hollywood series.

Background story: Big Bang Theory replica

The copying of America’s award-winning TV comedy about geeks was blatant and bad in The New Big Bang Theory.

Its theme song, opening sequence and even the characters’ physical traits mirrored the original’s.

Canned laughter peppered jokes that fell flat too often. It came as no surprise that this Chinese remake was dropped after just two episodes.

Sex And The City… China-style

The protagonists are both women of words. Carrie Bradshaw is a newspaper columnist and Tang Ailin is a blogger. Both write obsessively about love. Voiceovers of their writings narrate the shows.

Other main characters like Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda are imported too, with parallel personalities.

Mao Na, the Chinese ‘Samantha’, is just as promiscuous as the original character. The Chinese remake is titled I Really Want To Fall In Love.

Ugly Betty clone

An ugly girl tries to survive in an image-conscious work culture in both series. The office layouts are identical, right down to the meeting rooms and the large, round reception table that the lifts open to.

Scene changes are also replicated in The Unbeatable Ugly Girl. A screen dividing method, which splits the presentation into two and shows simultaneous scenes, is used in both series.

Prison Break… in old Shanghai

The Chinese producers of First Prison In The Far East located it in old Shanghai, to differentiate it from the hit Hollywood drama. But beyond that, all else were almost identical.

Both shows are about a man who tries to break out of a maximum-security prison.

The copycat was flamed by netizens here for being the most blatant replica. They also lamented the dearth of China’s creativity.

And it is part of a thriving parallel television universe here, where producers blatantly copy popular American drama serials and turn them into Made-in-China clones.

The latest is the Chinese remake of popular teen drama Gossip Girl, which is about the scandals of the young and rich. Filming begins in Shanghai next month.

The Chinese copies are relentlessly faithful to the American originals. They do not just replicate the themes. Even opening sequences, soundtracks and set designs are entirely cloned.

For example, in Ugly Betty, a comedy about an ugly girl trying to survive in a fashion magazine publishing house, editors hold their meetings around a large, red, oval table. Its Chinese version, The Unbeatable Ugly Girl, has a similar table.

Storylines and plots are also transplanted. Although The Unbeatable Ugly Girl is set in an advertising agency, both showcase an image-conscious work culture. A girl who wears inappropriate outfits and does not doll herself up is bound to have trouble fitting in – which is exactly what the jokes in the two versions are about.

The extent of such copying has upset some Chinese. A netizen who goes by the name of Dinling posted on a forum: ‘There are 1.3 billion people in China. Someone out there must have a fresh idea. Surely we don’t need to copy everything from the Westerners? What happened to Chinese creativity?’

When First Prison In The Far East was aired five years ago, the replica of Prison Break was nominated as the most unoriginal Chinese drama serial on Sohu, a Chinese Web portal.

Reception of these copies has been generally bad compared with that of their originals, which have a huge Chinese following. The New Big Bang Theory was canned after just two episodes while the current fifth season of the original is airing online through the Chinese video-sharing site Youku.

China’s copycat of Sex And The City lasted only a season, despite the casting of popular Chinese singer Na Ying.

‘These copies were so terrible. The jokes were not funny and the storyline was not believable. I cannot relate to them,’ said Tsinghua University undergraduate Li Weimin, 21, an avid fan of the The Big Bang Theory.

Nonetheless, more of such copies will be popping up. Low production cost is a big factor for China’s television networks to continue this trend.

‘By reproducing popular shows, networks save on creative work such as scriptwriting and set design,’ said television producer Zhang Lange.

But she insisted that copying benefits Chinese viewers who otherwise would not have access to these works.

‘These shows are also copied for the benefit of those who cannot understand English or have no access to the Internet, where most people watch these American dramas with Mandarin subtitles,’ she said.

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