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Ambitious modernization of ancient tale hits the right notes

Updated: 2013-04-12 13:13
By Xu Jingxi ( China Daily)

Ambitious modernization of ancient tale hits the right notes

Hong Kong singer Denise Ho plays the lead role of Jia Baoyu in Awakening. Provided to China Daily

Review | Xu Jingxi

The play Awakening is a bold re-imagining of the classic Chinese novel, A Dream of Red Mansions.

The ancient red mansion has been replaced with an iron and cement warehouse. The main character, Jia Baoyu, the handsome man with a gold crown and fiery gown in A Dream of Red Mansions, now resembles Peter Pan, with a white cape and leather boots. Jinling's 12 beauties, Jia's female relatives, servants and friends, have replaced their traditional silk and satin with suits and high-heels and speak English and Japanese.

But it would be wrong to say the superficial modernization of the ancient text is the sole reason the production, directed by Edward Lam and starring Hong Kong singer Denise Ho, has been acclaimed as a brilliant contemporary interpretation of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) novel.

As its name implies, Awakening is about awareness - gathering the courage to leave behind the regrets of the past and to face up to present realities with a true heart.

Courage is what is lost when youth fades. And youth, an eternal subject for artists throughout time, has never been more in favor as it is today. People easily fall into nostalgia in a constantly changing world, when it's difficult to grasp the beautiful moments that pass us by.

"While A Dream of Red Mansions has a bigger theme and probes into politics and the sociology of an era, Awakening focuses on one figure, Jia Baoyu, showing his rediscovery of who he is and what he wants," director Lam says.

"What I'm trying to reflect is the novel's influence on modern people."

Awakening's story begins where the novel ends. Jia enters a fairyland after experiencing the decline of his aristocratic family and parting, in life and death, with Jinling's 12 beauties.

However, Jia has no recollection of these partings - not even the death of his true love Lin Daiyu. Snowflakes fall on the stage symbolizing his memories being wiped out, giving the play a visually breathtaking opening.

Regarding it as "heartless" to forget the past, Jia decides to live his life over again. But fairies recall his memories of the tragic fates of the beauties before they send him back to his past.

Ambitious modernization of ancient tale hits the right notes

Ambitious modernization of ancient tale hits the right notes

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Scenes from the drama 'A Dream Like a Dream' 

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