HBO’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ to Be Restaged in 1930s Shanghai

The original story follows two female protagonists as they grow up in Naples in the 1950s, a period marked by violence, poverty and mafia misdeeds

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11:40 PM HKT, Thu April 7, 2022 2 mins read

Season three of HBO’s My Brilliant Friend is coming to a close, but a new project related to the lauded series is just getting off the ground: A Mandarin-language adaptation is in the making and will be available on Chinese video-streaming platforms Youku, Tencent, and iQiyi.

What’s more, the remake will be set against the backdrop of 1930s Shanghai instead of 1950s Italy.

HBO's My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend

The news has spread like wildfire on the Chinese internet and has triggered a backlash from China’s legion of My Brilliant Friend fans.

Many were offended by Tencent’s poorly worded introduction of the series, as the relationship between the two protagonists was described as a ‘plastic sisterhood’ (塑料姐妹情, suliao jiemei qing), a Chinese term that refers to a fake friendship that is easy to break — like plastic.

Others have expressed concern that the adaptation will turn a modern masterpiece into a mediocre replica.

“The story of female empowerment and awakening will certainly be reduced to trivial personal strife,” reads an upvoted comment on Weibo.

HBO's My Brilliant Friend

The story’s main characters, Lila Cerullo (left) and Elena Greco (right), on the streets of Naples in the ’50s (in the HBO series). Image via IMDb

Directed by Italian filmmaker Saverio Costanzo, the original coming-of-age drama is based on Italian author Elena Ferrante’s globally-acclaimed quartet of Neapolitan novels, detailing a lifelong friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo.

The story follows the two girls growing up in Naples in the ’50s, a period marked by violence, poverty and mafia misdeeds. Albeit — or perhaps because of — the chaos surrounding them, the two girls form an unbreakable bond.

HBO's My Brilliant Friend

Cerullo and Greco in HBO’s My Brilliant Friend. Image via IMDb

Brilliant in their own respective ways, Greco is an academic who, upon graduating, rubs shoulders with Italy’s intelligentsia. Meanwhile, Cerullo’s sharp and tough demeanor makes her a street-smart character who thrives on the tough streets of Naples. Their paths continuously converge and diverge, and their destinies are entrenched in Italy’s turbulent times and momentous changes.

The only thing constant in the relationship between the two protagonists is its inconstancy. Theirs is a rare companionship sustained by equal parts jealousy and affection.

My Brilliant Friend has developed a cult following in China since season one was released in 2018, and a hashtag for the series has garnered more than 27 million views on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo. All three seasons have received rave reviews and ratings above 9.3/10 on Douban, a Chinese rating platform.

One Douban commenter explained the reason for the show’s success in clear and simple terms: “Everyone can relate to this series.”

For feminists, the story’s strength lies in avoiding traditional fictional female characters who merely serve as attachments to male protagonists. Instead, My Brilliant Friend spotlights women’s psychological growth and self-discovery through education, career prospects, and relationships.

“The story has hit home among Chinese youth because it evokes a certain reality in our society. Many highly-educated women in contemporary China grew up as single children with abundant family support and resources,” explained Chen Ying, translator of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, in an interview with Southern People Weekly.

She adds, “This generation of Chinese women all experience social ascension through education, alienation from their native environment, self-doubt, and exploration, as does Elena Greco.”

HBO has renewed the original, Italian-language version of My Brilliant Friend for a fourth season, which also will be its last. The American pay television network is currently airing the drama’s eight-episode third season, which concludes on April 18.

It’s not yet clear when the Mandarin-language, Shanghai-based version of the show will make its debut, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated.

Cover image via IMDb

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