Ma Yihang, PhD candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Wang Zhenhe’s short story “An Oxcart for a Dowry” was published in Literature Quarterly in April 1967. A ribald tale of ordinary people’s joys and sorrows – told in a lively narrative voice, with exaggerated characterizations and satirical humor – the story ranks as one of the writer’s seminal works. Wang Zhenhe worked at a TV station in the 1980s and also had a passion for cinema. He recast several of his fictional works as scripts, including “An Oxcart for a Dowry,” “Rose, Rose, I Love You,” “Portraits of the Beautiful and Americanized,” “Little Lin Comes to Taipei,” and “King of Song.”
Vista Publishing Co. issued the script “An Oxcart for a Dowry” in 1984, and director Zhang Meijun brought it to the screen the same year in a film that featured some of the day’s most popular players of rural characters: Lu Xiaofen played the part of “A-Hao,” Chen Zhenlei played “Jian,” and Jin Tu acted as “Wanfa.” In 2001 Taiwan Television (TTV) turned the script into a miniseries directed by Liu Yihong, and starring Chen Yalan as “A-Hao,” Ke Shuyuan as “Jian,” and Long Shaohua as “Wanfa.” In the film version, the cast spoke Taiwanese-accented Mandarin, in accordance with the norms of the day. Dialogue in the 2001 TV production was mostly Taiwanese (Holo), making for greater linguistic realism.
Adapting novels or short stories to other media inevitably entails changes and adjustments in the narrative. The 2001 miniseries was based for the most part on the 1984 film script, the plot structures nearly identical. In the opening scene of both film and miniseries, an oxcart – the story’s most important symbol – and driver first appear. The cart trundles along a road, past houses and villages, eventually arriving at A-Hao and Wanfa’s hamlet. Only then is it made known that Wanfa is often ridiculed due to a hearing impairment, and the relationship of the three main characters – Wanfa, A-Hao, and Jian – is subsequently revealed through folksongs and villagers’ gossip.
In contrast to the short story – which is told from the Wanfa’s viewpoint, emphasizing the isolation he suffers due to his deafness – the film and miniseries rely on exaggerated dialogue and gestures to create a comic atmosphere. Although the screen versions can’t completely capture the special nature of Wang Zhenhe’s language, the greater number of voices more fully manifests villagers’ evaluation of the main characters’ triangular relationship, highlighting Wanfa’s ineffable suffering. And while the short story only hinted at A-Hao’s trysts with Jian, the film and miniseries are bolder in their portrayal of the adulterous relationship. Although the inclusion of lovemaking scenes was perhaps based on commercial considerations, such scenes allow audiences to fully appreciate A-Hao’s appetites and her yearning for sound and sensation.