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Asian Shakespeares on Screen

[Disclaimer: The photos and videos below are not mine but to their owners and the people who have uploaded them. Citations and link are given where possible]

Shakespeare is universal. He and his plays are well received all over the world and are part of various nations’ popular culture – including Asia. And for the last few decades, film makers have been mixing Asian and Shakespearean aesthetics in creating bold incarnations and diverse re-imaginations of the great Bard’s plays. Among other places, film adaptations of Shakespeare plays were made in Japan, China, Tibet, Korea, India and the Philippines.

 

Japan

Akira Kurosawa, one of the greatest filmmakers in Japan, is acclaimed for his adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays particularly Throne of Blood (Kumonosu-Dyo, The Castle of Spider Web, 1957) and Ran (1985). Among the two, his most notable work is Throne of Blood, an adaptation of Macbeth. The film is set in 15th century Japan revolving around a story of betrayal, and power.

 

Throne of Blood (1957) starring Toshiro Mifune as Washizu (Macbeth) and Isuzu Yamada as Asaji (Lady Macbeth)

 

Kliman calls it as one of “the most satisfying films based on a Shakespeare play.” for rather than creating an interpretation of the text, “Kurosawa has lifted Macbeth from its original culture and transformed it into a film of medieval Japan” (183). Still, the film stays true to the plot, as well as the characters’ roles in the original text.

 

 

Kurosawa’s other Shakespeare film, Ran, although not as popular as first adaptation, is also a critically acclaimed film. Based on King Lear, Ran is also a tale of lust for power, family betrayal, and murder. It tells a story about the downfall of the Ichimonji clan after the cruel head of the family, Hidetora, decides to give up the control of the clan to his three sons.

Ran(1985) starring Tatsuya Nakadai as Hidetora (King Lear)

 

 

 

 

 

China

In 2006, Chinese director Feng Xiaogong adapted Hamlet, 10th century China, and martial arts genre in his acclaimed film, The Banquet.

The Banquet (2006)

 

Described as a loose adaptation of Hamlet, The Banquet, according to Scott-Douglass, delivers the promise feast as its title suggests but not in the form of real food in the film but instead “it serves up a feast of multiple references to several Shakespeare plays” (1). The film parallels to Hamlet in terms of Prince Wu Luan’s (Hamlet’s) love of theater; Emperor Li’s (Claudius’s) obsession with Empress Wan (Gertrude); and General Yin’s (Laertes’s) protectiveness of his sister Qing Nu (Ophelia). Yet, it also references Romeo and Juliet with a similar forbidden love theme between Prince Wu Luan and Empress Wan, and Macbeth as Empress Wan parallels Lady Macbeth’s desire to achieve political power. This desire for power of Empress Wan is one of the interesting differences of the film from the original text, for unlike the latter, Gertrude and Ophelia counterparts in the film are given a stronger presence in the film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prince of Himalayas (2006)

 

At the same year, another Chinese adaptation of Hamlet was made.  Directed by Sherwood Hu who is considered as one of the most exciting film makers from China, Prince of the Himalayas (2006) is a story set in ancient Tibet about Prince Llamoklodan and his struggles to revenge on his uncle who has killed his father and has taken the throne and his mother – the widowed queen.

 

 

Korea

From tragedies, our next film takes a turn to comedy. The Korean film, Frivolous Wife (Taming of the Shrew, 2008) is based on a Shakespeare classic of the same name.

Frivolous Wife (Taming of the Shrew, 2008)

 

The film falls under the romantic comedy genre, where a beautiful and rich girl named Yeon-su lives a life of freedom and indulgence, getting any thing she wants from material things to men. That is, until she meets and falls for Jung-do, a person with a total opposite character as her – an awkward and polite young gentleman. The story talks of how Yeon-su as a wife of a traditional family learns to be a proper lady to receive approval from her in-laws.

 

 

 

 

 

India

Since 1927, India has been adapting Shakespeare plays in its vernacular languages. The Bombay film industry or what we now call on as Bollywood, started out from Parsi theaters whose traditions included adapting several Shakespeare plays that were fitted to the local performance traditions. This eventually led to Shakespeare adaptations in Indian films. However after India’s independence in 1947, the tradition suffered a setback until the 1990s when Hollywood adaptations of the Great Bards’ plays emerged and gained immense popularity.

Vishal Bhardwaj, now considered as India’s most innovative, young director, rode along this new wave direction of the film industry and even vowed to “touch a chord with international audiences” (qtd by Sen, 2). Indeed, he succeeded with his two adaptations: Maqbool (2004), based on Macbeth and Omkara, based on Othello (2006).

Maqbool (2004)

 

Omkara (2006)

 

Maqbool is acclaimed as a “Macbeth meets The Godfather” film, for it “defies convenient categorization [as] it combines Bollywood gangster film, Muslim social drama, ethnography, and postmodernist artwork.” (Huang, 1). Although set in the dark underworld of Bombay (Mumbai), features Bollywood actors, and draws from conventions of the Bollywood film such as festivities, songs and dances, the film remains close to Shakespeare where Maqbool is part of a crime family whose head is Abbaji (Duncan) yet the latter’s mistress, Nimmi (Lady Macbeth) is in love with Maqbool. And instead of witches, the movie has two corrupt policemen predicting Maqbool’s rise to power.

 

 

Omkara, on the other hand, draws from Othello, caste politics, and gang culture to explore culture to explore universal human emotions like jealousy and is considered more faithful to the original text’s story line.

 

 

 

 

 

Philippines

Si Romeo st si Julieta (1968) - Starring Dolphy and Marites Revilla

 

 

In the Philippines, we have aslo adapted Shakespeare in film such as Si Romeo at si Julieta (1968), a comedy directed by F.H Constantino based on Shakespeares’s R&J about Miong (Romeo), a school janitor, who is madly in love with Julieta, and his rivalry with Bading, the school principal, for the heart of  Julieta.

 

 

 

Rome and Juliet (1968) starring Mylene Dizon as Rome and Andrea del Rosario as Juliet

 

 

 

The latest Philippine adaptation of Shakespeare is also another R&J-based film, Rome and Juliet. The film is directed by Connie  Macatuno and starred by Mylene Dizon and Andrea del Rosario. The film follows the “forbidden love” theme of R&J yet in the form of taboo love and lesbianism.

 

 

 

 

Each of these films shows different re-imaginings of Shakespeare’s plays for movie makers have adapted them into their own cultures. This may simply be looked as a form of appropriation to suit each nation however, at a deeper and more commercialized point of view, Shakespeare is also a brand that movie makers utilize in order to gain more audience and therefore bigger profits not only from their own countries but also around the world. By doing this though, it also shows that Shakespeare no longer comes from the West to the rest of the world for now “the rest”  also have something to share about Shakespeare to West.

 

 

Presented by: Irene Louise S. Arabelo

2007-67153

B.A English Studies

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References:

Books and Journals:

Huang, Alexander C. Y. “Introduction.” In Asian Shakespeares onScreen: Two Films in Perspective. Special issue, edited by Alexander C. Y. Huang. Borrowersand Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation 4.2 (Spring/Summer 2009).Available online: http://www.borrowers.uga.edu/.

Kliman, Bernice W. Macbeth. UK: Manchester Univeristy Press, 2004.

Scott-Douglass, Amy. “Shakespeare: It’s What’s for Dinner.” InAsian Shakespeares on Screen: Two Films in Perspective. Special issue, edited by Alexander C.Y. Huang. Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation 4.2(Spring/Summer 2009). Available online: http://www.borrowers.uga.edu/.

Sen, Suddhaseel. “Indigenizing Macbeth: Vishal Bhardwaj’sMaqbool.” In Asian Shakespeares on Screen: Two Films in Perspective. Special issue, edited byAlexander C. Y. Huang. Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation4.2 (Spring/Summer 2009). Available online: http://www.borrowers.uga.edu/.

Youtube Vidoes:

“[TR] Frivolous WIfe Trailer”. Dir. Won-kuk Lim. 24 May 2008. Youtube. 21 March 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWiS1XXzhTw>.

“Maqbool (OmU) HQ / OFFICIAL GERMAN DVD TRAILER/”. Dir. Vishal Bhardwaj.  29 April 2009. Youtube. 21 March 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scNDE4i-JH0>.

“Omkara”. Dir. Vishal Bhardwaj. 4 May 2007. Youtube. 21 March 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hp697cTAIMU>.

“Prince of Himalayas”. Dir. Sherwood Hu. 3 February 2008. Youtube. 21 March 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPKwudubbfc>.

“Throne of Blood”. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. 8 December 2009. Youtube. 21 March 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThEtiIleWQ0&feature=related>.

“The Banquet International Trailer”. Dir. Feng Xiaogang. 23 November 2006. Youtube. 21 March 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2R-X4BH66A>.

“Ran Trailer – Akira Kurosawa”. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. 9 April 2009. Youtube. 21 March 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbbfDntoRRk>.

“Rome and Juliet; Trailer (Best Indie Film)”. Dir. Connie Macatuno. ” 7 November 2008. Youtube. 21 March 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Euk1bOSgzk>.

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Categories: Multimedia Essays
  1. chubbyteddy
    March 23, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    These Shakespearean adaptations tells a lot about the countries which adapted them. Japan and China’s adaptations are historical which seems to say that they are nostalgic about the past or that they value their history and culture highly. The Japanese and Chinese films were also very successful in incorporating their culture and values with Shakespeare’s work. India’s adaptations lets us see the inner political struggle within the country. The Philippines’ adaptations tells a lot about the interests of its people. Many Filipinos are interested in love stories. Shakespeare’s works are really universal and Asia successfully adapted the bard’s works and also claiming it as their own.

    • March 24, 2011 at 11:56 am

      chubbyteddy :

      These Shakespearean adaptations tells a lot about the countries which adapted them. Japan and China’s adaptations are historical which seems to say that they are nostalgic about the past or that they value their history and culture highly. The Japanese and Chinese films were also very successful in incorporating their culture and values with Shakespeare’s work. India’s adaptations lets us see the inner political struggle within the country. The Philippines’ adaptations tells a lot about the interests of its people. Many Filipinos are interested in love stories. Shakespeare’s works are really universal and Asia successfully adapted the bard’s works and also claiming it as their own.

      Please don’t fetishize Asian Shakespeare. All cultures can form these stories, in any possible way. It seems like there is an essential Filipino Shakespeare, or Indian or Japanese or Chinese. What I mean is your making categories when there should be none.

      About the essay. I guess Asia’s not just Japan, China, India, Korea, and Philippines. But I think it’s also a dilemma of access. Maybe there are also Shakespeare-adaptations in the other marginal countries, sad to say, but your essay needs more researching and updating =D

      • martaguilar
        March 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm

        well, i think that the purpose of this essay was to provide us some of the most notable Shakespeare adaptions in Asia and not merely cover all of the Asian adaptations. Of course there’s a lot to cover if you are talking about Shakespeare and uploading all of the adaptions would probably take you years and would make this article a little boring because of its length. And you’re right, the dilemma of access is one of the problems to have a complete list of Asian Shakespeare. peace JL! 🙂

  2. March 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    wow irene. this is really comprehensive. solid! i never knew how many adaptations their were of Shakespeare’s plays. and these are just the ones in asia! it is kinda cool that each culture has its own rendition of Shakespeare’s plays.andi agree with chubbyteddy that each culture’s rendition reflects its values, concerns and interests. Filipinos are indeed fond of love stories. and it seems as of late, that the more provocative the film, the better. Filipino film makers, especially in indie films, love making movies about prostitution, sex trade, gay and lesbian relationships. these films are unique and groundbreaking, but i get the feeling we’re too extreme in our movie preferences here in the Philippines. it’s either we have a shallow comedy/ love story/ drama or a profound controversial critique of the dark corners of society. we don’t have any films in the in-between or no films that challenge the Filipino intellect; but films that jolt Filipino emotions and perspectives. Filipino’s are talented and creative artists, i just think these talents and creativity are funnels towards two extremes- the shallow entertaining and the provocative controversial.

    but still, i’m glad to see we’ve adapted romeo and juliet already. hopefully we can do the same to the other great plays of Shakespeare. i’m positive that we can.:)

  3. martaguilar
    March 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    and yeah, its cool that we have Shakespeare adaptations. it only proves that Shakespeare has a chance to conquer our country. I think that the only thing we have to do is to encourage the reading public to appreciate Shakespeare.

    nice essay. i didn’t know that there was an lesbian adaptation of R&J in our country.

  4. carlos
    March 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    i was initially overwhelmed by the amount of Shakespeare adaptations within Asian cinema that you found. just, whoa. awesome hahaha. i did not expect that Shakespeare would be significant enough in so many other cultures that they saw it fit to produce movies inspired by him. i agree with your analysis that making Shakespeare movies makes him that much more marketable and credible at the same time. i guess that the mere fact that Shakespeare = added marketability and credibility only serves to further highlight just how present he is in everyone’s consciousness. after all, to be marketable, something has to be significant in the public’s opinion in the first place. i agree with the comments above that Shakespeare resonates differently for different cultures and people- i guess that that pays tribute to his universal and timeless appeal. it’s truly amazing how each culture manages to distill something uniquely its own from Shakespeare’s works. interestingly enough though, while these different movies prove the universality of Shakespeare, why is it that apart from maybe two or three from the films mentioned above (and the countless others that must exist out there) we hardly had an idea that they existed? could it be that some interpretations of Shakespeare are so culture specific that they lose their appeal or marketability to other countries and cultures? obviously, a more practical explanation of that would be that the asian renditions that we get to see of Shakespeare are the ones that can actually afford to market their film on a worldwide-scale. i don’t think it’s a coincidence that the renditions of his text by Asian directors that i am aware of (Throne of Blood, Ran, and The Banquet) come from the two wealthiest countries in asia. i don’t think that the world is going to taste of our lesbian-themed version of r&j anytime soon (although i hope im wrong about that). what i really want to ask is that whether or not our cultural or any other culture can, through its interpretations and adaptations of Shakespeare produce something that is so uniquely their own that Shakespeare’s work loses its universality completely? if you were to ask me, i would say no because i find myself still rather interested in seeing Shakespeare’s works adapted by other cultures if only to see how they did so. and each time that i did, i still detected a good part of his universal appeal intact. even so, i still wonder if such an adaptation that manages to remove his universal appeal exists.

    im sorry because this went on a lot longer than i thought it would. great job on the essay and thanks for tickling my already sabaw brain 🙂

  5. andromedareyes
    March 25, 2011 at 6:23 am

    I like how they were able to “localize” Shakespeare. In Kurosawa’a film, for example, several elements of the Noh theater are evident i.e. the Noh walk, the costume, the chants 🙂 I wonder how Pinoy will be able to localize Shakespeare too 🙂

  6. March 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    yeah. reading all your comments here, havent’t you noticed that it is always the marketable Shakespeares that are appropriated in films. I havent’s heard of Cymbeline or maybe of Winter’s Tale or even Pericles or Coriolanus being marketed in Asia. Their marginality is seen in the locality. How come Philippines only adapt Romeo and Juliet? I can’t wait if they make Winter’s Tale (not as FLOP!) a movie here in Philippines. It’s too much fetishizing of ‘love stories turned tragedy’ as a marketable genre, and so I hate it. Our filmmakers here in the Philippines are very persistent in MAKING SOMETHING NEW for the sake of money, they haven’t tried yet SOMETHING RISKY for the sake of art.

  7. March 25, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    Thanks for the comments 🙂 I originally planned on doing an essay about South East Asian adaptations of Shakespeare in film but I couldn’t find any except for the Philippines and Singapore. Most of them came from big and well off countries in Asia like Japan, China and India. I’m sure there are adaptations in other “marginal countries”, but as you’ve mentioned, it may be the “dilemma of access” and that those that can be found and cited in the web are the notable movie adaptations of Shakespeare.

    On the other hand @leihmar’s comment:

    leihmar :

    yeah. reading all your comments here, havent’t you noticed that it is always the marketable Shakespeares that are appropriated in films. I havent’s heard of Cymbeline or maybe of Winter’s Tale or even Pericles or Coriolanus being marketed in Asia. Their marginality is seen in the locality. How come Philippines only adapt Romeo and Juliet? I can’t wait if they make Winter’s Tale (not as FLOP!) a movie here in Philippines. It’s too much fetishizing of ‘love stories turned tragedy’ as a marketable genre, and so I hate it. Our filmmakers here in the Philippines are very persistent in MAKING SOMETHING NEW for the sake of money, they haven’t tried yet SOMETHING RISKY for the sake of art.

    Your right. According to Huang, the most adapted Shakespeare plays in Asia are Hamlet, Macbeth, and of course R&J. Those three are the most popular plays of Shakespeare thus also the most marketable and profitable.

    On the other hand, I don’t think it’s because of fetishizing of “love stories turned tragedy” that R&J is popular here in the Philippines. We have a lot “forbidden love”-themed movies that also have happy endings. In fact, the two Philippine adaptations of Shakespeare that I have included in my essay, “SI Romeo at si Julieta” and “Rome and Juliet”, have both ended in a happy note as well. I believe its more of the idea of “romantic forbidden love” that attracts us to R&J since Filipinos are said to be romantic at the same time we love the drama that it includes in the movies. 🙂 – Irene Arabelo (2007-67253) 🙂

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