Disney co-production said to be inspired by original High School Musical, rather than a direct translation
One has millions of devoted adherents, a doctrine of clean-cut conformity and an unstoppable, culture-changing momentum; the other is communist China. Now, in a particularly fitting match, two of the most persuasive ideologies of recent times are to unite: the Disney franchise High School Musical is being remade for a Chinese audience.
Four years after the first film in the series hit the screens, achieving a staggering popularity among pre-teens worldwide, the US entertainment giant has announced that it is remaking the film with Chinese partners for release next summer. The news comes weeks after Disney said Chinese authorities had approved plans for a theme park in Shanghai.
High School Musical, the first film in the series, was launched as a made-for-TV movie by Disney in January 2006 and has been seen by an estimated 225 million viewers in about 100 countries and in more than 30 languages. It has spawned two successful sequels and a vast array of merchandising.
The Chinese movie is said to have been inspired by the original, rather than being a straight translation of its screenplay. It will focus on an unlikely couple from seemingly opposite school cliques – a basketball jock and a science nerd – brought together in an entirely chaste romance by their love of singing.
Although the US film features a song urging teenagers not to "stick to the status quo", its brand of rebellion encourages nothing more risque than auditioning for the end-of-term school musical, with the doctrine "We're all in this together". It seems unlikely that Disney's Chinese partners will attempt anything more edgy.
Jason Reed, general manager of Walt Disney Studios international production, told Variety that Disney had initially contemplated making martial arts the main sport in the film, rather than basketball. Its Chinese partners pointed out that basketball was vastly more popular among Chinese teenagers.
Disney said the Chinese version, featuring six newcomers, would be shot in Shanghai. The company is working with the Shanghai Media Group and Huaiyi Brothers Media Corporation on what will be its third co-produced film in China, and its sixth international co-production.
The director, New York-based Chen Shizheng, is best known for his stage work. In 1999 he mounted a 20-hour production of the classic Chinese opera piece The Peony Pavilion, and more recently he created the opera Monkey, persuading Damon Albarn to write the music.
His first feature film was Dark Matter, loosely based on the true story of a troubled Chinese astrophysics student studying in the US. It starred Meryl Streep and China's Liu Ye.
Disney announced last year that a fourth English-language film in the series was being written, featuring none of the original characters. Provisionally titled High School Musical: East Meets West, the film will not feature a controversial interracial romance or explore the challenges of clashing cultures in a globalised world, but instead centre on the interschool rivalry between East High Wildcats and West High Knights.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016