English readers have enjoyed seeing their beloved comics on the silver screen for decades now, but the comic book adaptation is still a relatively new phenomenon in China. Earlier this year we saw what a successful version could look like with both web and film adaptations of esports novel The King’s Avatar, and under Tencent’s cross-media, “Pan-Entertainment” strategy, we’re sure to see many more.
The next Chinese comic to get the big screen treatment is Zombie Brother, an original series on Tencent’s animation and comics platform ac.qq.com that has gained a following through enthusiastic word of mouth promotion, even outside hardcore fan circles. The notorious comic was one of 20 on the platform to violate content regulations according to authorities in Guangdong province — so you know the film version is not going to receive a “G” rating.
Zombie Brother started in 2011 as a serialized comic created by Jia Haibo, aka 7℃ Fish. An animated version began airing in 2013, just as the undead genre was receiving a boost following the popularity of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Inspired by a zombie game, Jia wanted to create an illustrated survival epic, but as someone too scared to watch horror films, after a few pages Zombie Brother quickly turned into a horror comedy. Subsequent installments have featured a lot of everyday-life jokes, sometimes dirty ones, and cultural elements that Chinese youth can easily relate to.
Zombie Brother is set in City H, where the water supply has been contaminated by an ancient coffin. People who drink the water therefore turn into “Zombie Brothers” who eat others to evolve (think the latest season of Stranger Things). The main character is Bai Xiaofei, an ordinary boy who loves playing computer games at home — the story follows Bai as he steps out of the house and hits the road to find his girlfriend.
Bai Xiaofei (middle)
The initial Zombie Brother series has been developed into a major brand, and is still being published on Tencent AC. An animated series, also called Zombie Brother, and its sequel, I Am Bai Xiaofei, have been viewed hundreds of millions of times. Tencent Pictures also collaborated with famous stage play group Mahua Fun Age to roll out out a stage comedy, I Am Bai Xiaofei, in 2016.
Zombie Brother‘s “zombie king”
Most recently, it was announced that Zombie Brother is going to be adapted into a live-action comedy. The film adaptation will be a Hollywood co-production, a collaboration between Tencent Pictures and Burbank production house STX Entertainment. According to Chinese entertainment industry publication Mtime, the film version of Zombie Brother is being written by Alex Rubens (Keanu, Community) and Ryan Engle (Rampage), and may be directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson (Isn’t It Romantic, The Final Girls). The American version of Zombie Brother will reportedly be led by a Chinese actor, with the story set in New York City.
We can’t yet tell how much the storyline and language style will differ from the wildly popular original, but for Chinese comic fans, it’s exciting to see a long-followed story be presented in such a high-budget, international production.
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