Qiu Maojing, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Xiao Ye’s short story “Black Skin and White Teeth” (originally titled “My Student Du Wenyan”) was published in the April 1985 in the China Times “Human Realm” literary supplement. In a preface to a later edition the writer noted that the work was a milestone for him, a return to the source of his fiction-writing creativity, thus he renamed the story to commemorate the event. A 1987 film adaption was a box-office success, inspiring a wave of coming-of-age themes in Taiwanesefiction of that period.
In a first-person narrative, a high-school student with an interest in art and literature relates events that take place in his life before and after he turns eighteen: He hangs around with of group of guys who like to brawl – Black Walnut J, Camel, and Red Indian – and has a crush on a girl nicknamed “White Teeth”; when White Teeth spurns him, the protagonist turns his attention to “Black Skin,” a waitress at a noodle stand, but is shocked to learn the girl has taken sick and died;his father is an upstanding man, educated and hardworking, yet canprovide only basic living necessities for his family; a neighbor girl is run over by a train. On the cusp of adulthood, the narrator encounters a host of obstacles to love and friendship, experiencinglife’s harsh realities.
In 1999 the story was adaptedas a TV serial, directed by Qian Zhongping, and starring Gao Zhenpeng, Shen Ziqiang, Wang Qi, and You Meiqi. The TV production added elements of happiness to the tale of youthful angst, departing from Xiao Ye’s short story in a number of ways. For example,Black Skin’s father ran a noodle stand in the story, but in the TV production he and his daughter are scavengers. The TV script also softens the original’s indictment of society’s unfairness: In the story, the narrator’s father has no hope of being promoted at work, while Uncle Bao, a corrupt colleague, thrives on bribes and dishonesty; the script drops Uncle Bao, replacing him with Uncle Lü, who borrows the protagonist’s father’s retirement money but fails topay back the loan. Also, in the serial the narrator has a brother who is studying abroad and runs short of funds, adding to the father’s financial burden.
In the TV serial, Black Skin and White Teeth represent mutually exclusive and antithetical concepts,their interactions with Ding Minjie (who plays the narrator) more frequent than in the story. The short story’s clear-cut conflicts and strong characterizations easily lend themselves to adaptation. Although certain of the serial’s plot elements differ from those of the original, the tale still revolves around the bitterness and melancholy inherent in the growth process, themes still relevant today, fifteen years after the story was published.
TV Serial Black Skin and White Teeth Video Clip (Source: Formosa Television Inc.)
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