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Blade behind 'Swordsman'

ONE of the most successful playwrights in China today, Ning Caishen, is the writer behind "My Own Swordsman," arguably the most popular TV sitcom ever aired on CCTV 8, the national channel for series. The 2006 martial arts sitcom has also been made into a stage play, an animation, an online game, and most recently, a silver screen hit, with a box office of more than 200 million yuan (US$30.3 million).

Ning, who was considered a "child genius," was enrolled in the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics when he was age 15. He majored in financial studies and became one of the few futures trading professionals in China back in the 1990s. After experiencing drastic ups and downs in the financial industry, he quit.

In 1997, he learned about the Internet and started to post articles. Together with several friends, he founded "rongshuxia" (under the banyan tree), then China's most popular literature website.

In 2002, he started to write "My Own Swordsman," which achieved unprecedented success. He shot to fame when the show was aired in 2006. He also wrote scripts for two box office hits last year, "Color Me Love" and "Just Call Me Nobody." The Shanghai native has also created some of China's most popular stage plays in recent years, including "Romeo and Zhu Yingtai," "21 Carats" and "The Deer and the Cauldron."

A retrospective of his theater works was recently staged at Daning Life Hub. At the opening, he talked to Shanghai Daily.

Q: When did you start to write?

A: I first started to write when I wanted to court a girl. I wrote her love letters from time to time and posted them on the Internet, which received positive feedback.

Q: Back then, did you ever think you would become a famous writer?

A: No. Writing was a hobby back then. Becoming famous, to me, is simply luck.

Q: What's the key to a good stage play?

A: Since the birth of Chinese theater, there have been very few "classic" plays. As far as I am concerned, there are "Teahouse" by Lao She and "Thunderstorm" by Cao Yu. A good play stands the test of time.

Q: Which of your stage plays is your favorite?

A: "21 Carats." It is about a "post-1980s generation" city girl's choice of love, as well as how today's young people deal with great pressures caused by the financial crisis and the hyper of real estate market. It is a play that makes one think. "My Own Swordsman" is not bad either.

Q: "My Own Swordsman" swept China and was made into a stage play, an animation and most recently a successful film. How did you come up with the idea?

A: "My Own Swordsman" is a signature work. The idea first came in 2002. But at that time we never thought it would be such a hit … Well, I think it is pure luck.

Q: After "My Own Swordsman," it seems you have stopped working on TV sitcoms.

A: Yes, I'm now focusing on stage plays and movies. My target audience are young people. But nowadays, the majority audience for TV sitcoms in China are elder people.

Q: Do you prefer writing for screen or stage?

A: Writing stage plays is more fun and gives me more freedom. When you write a movie, you have to keep in mind many other things, such as who's going to play the leading role, who's going to have the biggest part in a scene ...

Q: What's your view of China's theater market? Many people complain there are a lot of poor-quality plays.

A: It's good. In Beijing and Shanghai, it's hard for you to book a theater - you have to book a theater almost half a year earlier. When the market is good, it's natural that many people want to share a piece of the cake. That's why there are many plays being staged these days, including "bad" ones. But the audience are able to tell which is good, and which is bad. The same is true with the film industry.


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