US network to produce Chinese-inspired drama series

Updated: 2014-07-15 06:55

By JACK FREIFELDER in New York(China Daily USA)

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It has been more than four centuries since Wu Cheng'en, a poet and novelist from the Ming Dynasty, wrote Journey to the West.

Over the course of 400-plus years, the third of China's Four Great Classical Novels has been adapted into a number of mediums, including: an animated series, dance pieces, films, musical numbers and plays.

Now AMC Networks Inc is reimaging the story for a new television martial arts drama, Badlands.

Badlands, which is a working title, is loosely based on the popular 16th century Chinese epic, which chronicles the travels of a Buddhist monk and his compatriots who endeavor to find a series of sacred texts.

On July 11, AMC Networks announced plans for the program to be broadcast on AMC, its cable and satellite channel.

AMC, short for American Movie Classics, is best known for its hit shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead.

The pact between AMC and the creators of Badlands call for six one-hour episodes and a premiere date that is either late 2015 or early 2016, according to a press release.

The deal gives AMC its third straight-to-series production, joining The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad.

Joel Stillerman, AMC's executive vice-president of original programming, production and digital content, said the company is excited "to help bring Badlands to life".

"This creative team has so much expertise in bringing a fresh take to classic genres from their film and television experience, and their take on martial arts will be no exception," Stillerman said in a company statement.

"Along with a beautiful story, they've also assembled the A-Team of martial arts fight choreography in Daniel Wu and Stephen Fung," Stillerman said.

The screenwriting duo of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are both familiar with Chinese martial arts elements from their work with Beijing-born actor Jet Li on the set of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) and Hong Kong-bred movie star Jackie Chan in the films Shanghai Noon (2000) and Shanghai Knights (2003).

Jessica Beinecke, the founder of Crazy Fresh Chinese, a Chinese/English online-based cross-cultural platform, said AMC's Badlands could provide "a great gateway" into understanding Chinese culture for millions of Americans.

"Any opportunity for people to experience Chinese culture from their living room is a great idea," Beinecke said.

John Tinker, a media analyst who covers AMC Networks for Maxim Group LLC, a New York-based securities and investment-management firm, said AMC "came out of nowhere and started developing hit shows" in the better part of the last decade.

"What AMC has done is come up with interesting, slightly different ideas that are targeted at niches," Tinker said Monday in an interview with China Daily. "AMC is basically an older movie channel, but what has helped is that their record is better than most. And of course they've executed very well."

AMC Networks, launched in 1980 as Rainbow Media Holdings LLC, is an American entertainment company with headquarters in New York City. It was a subsidiary of Cablevision until spun off as a publicly traded company in July 2011.

AMC owns a number of other TV channels, including: the Independent Film Channel (IFC), WE tv and SundanceTV.

AMC Networks International (AMCNI), the global division of AMC, delivers content and programming to more than 140 countries.

Tinker, with the Maxim Group, said in recent years AMC has tried to reinvigorate some of its older movies to make them more appealing to new viewers.

"The question here would be does this new show tie in more Chinese or kung fu films," Tinker said. "AMC has more of a base in Europe and South America, but as a long-term strategy anything that might appeal to China is obviously attractive. There are a lot of different issues, but there's definitely a market there in China."