Sun, Feb 16, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Nostalgia for the bad old days

In the television event of the year, director Tsao Jui-yuan is set to bring Kenneth Pai's highly regarded novel 'Crystal Boys' to TV sets nationwide

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO COURTESY OF PTS

It was the early 1970s in Taipei, a time when Hsimenting had the most glamorous cabaret in town and American GIs roamed Shuancheng Street and Chungshan North Road. For men the fashion was tight-fitting boots, tight trousers and colorful turtle-neck sweaters or tight, flowery shirts. And 228 Memorial Park, then known as New Park, was the meeting place for Taipei's gay community.

It was here that the acclaimed novel Crystal Boys (孽子), hailed as the first novel to focus on gay culture in Chinese society, was set. Published in 1983, the book has been translated into numerous languages, including English, French, German and Japanese. (Translated into English by Howard Goldblatt, see Page 18.)

As author Kenneth Pai (白先勇) writes: "In our kingdom, there are only dark nights, no daylight. Once the sky turns bright, our kingdom becomes invincible ... . In our kingdom, there are no divisions between rich and poor, noble and low, old and young, strong and weak. What we have are each other's bodies that burn with desire so hot that the pain is unbearable. And each other's lonely hearts that drive us crazy ... ."

In 1986 Crystal Boys was made into a feature film. And now, starting tomorrow, the novel will be presented as a TV mini-series by Taiwan's Public Television Service (PTS). For many reasons, from the book's literary value to the new program's casting and production costs, the production Crystal Boys can be seen the most highly anticipated television drama in Taiwan in the last two years.

The series stars up-and-coming actors Wing Fan (范植偉, The Best of Times 2002) and Ma Chih-hsiang (馬志翔, Brave 20 2002); established actor To Tsong-hua (庹宗華); and revered actors such as Ko Chun-hsiung (柯俊雄), who has won several Best Actor awards at the Golden Horse awards and Asia-Pacific Film Festival, and Ting Chiang (丁強) and Wang Chueh (王玨).

The cast alone is enough to excite many Taiwanese movie fans, as it gathers together the best-looking group of Taiwanese actors ever to perform in a TV drama.

And for purists, "Wing Fan is exactly like Lee Ching (李青) [the main character] in my book," said Kenneth Pai at a press conference on Wednesday. Handsome and a bit melancholy, Wing Fan was seen by Pai as the actor best-suited to play Lee, a sensitive, reserved boy who is both protagonist and narrator in the 400-page novel.

"My novels have been adapted for cinema and television many times, but I especially liked the cast for this one. Many of the young actors turned in outstanding portrayals of the lost boys in my story. And more importantly, the film recruited a lot of established actors to play the father figures. They are wonderful actors. On this account, I would say the series was a success," said Pai, after watching all 20 episodes of Crystal Boys.

Pai's novel also transcends what some might regard as the stereotypical themes (in the West) of recent gay literature -- eroticism, relationships, drag queens, gyms, superior fashion sense, neurotic personalities, etc. -- both in that it touches on what was for most Taiwanese born in the 1970s the common experience of high school, as well as in its groundbreaking nature. As writer and cultural critic Nan Fang-shou (南方朔) said, "Pai's Crystal Boys was the first literature exploring gay culture in contemporary Chinese society. Pai explores it in a deep and profound manner."

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