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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Comparison of the Book and the Movie

A screen adaptation of a book is not an easy task to complete because the writer and the director might have different understandings of the plot and characters. Basing a movie on a book becomes even more challenging when a writer and film director are the same person. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie is a semi-autobiographical novel written and published it in 2000. The novel tells about China in 1971, when the country was experiencing the Cultural Revolution. The main characters of the story are two university students, Ma and Luo, who were sent to a mountain coal fielding village. This was a component of their reeducation aimed to purge the boys of the traditional Western-oriented education. Faced with stifling incomprehension of the community and the backbreaking work, the two boys realize that music, as well as the presence of pretty local young girls, are the only pleasant things in their difficult lives. However, none of the girls can compare to a junior seamstress, the neighboring tailor’s granddaughter. After stealing a secret cache of prohibited books of traditional Western literature, like the works of Honore de Balzac, the boys started wooing her and tutor her things she had never assumed existed. Thus, they started a trip that would greatly change the girl’s outlook and teach the young men about the power of literature and their own ability to improve their world. Being the author of the book, Dai Sijie was also a director of the movie released in 2002. The roles of “the Little Seamstress,” Ma, and Luo were played by Xun Zhou, Ye Liu, and Kun Chen respectively. The novel and the movie are reviewed on the bases of their differences and similarities. Although the film and the book are similar, the film depicts more scenes, it is more detailed and the characters are portrayed more clearly.

As the book and the movie Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress are written and directed by the same person, they share many similarities. The scene setting and the characters in the movie are similar to those in the novel. The events in the movie and in the book unfold in the same order, which is not characteristic of the cases when the book author and director are different people. The reader sees that the events on the screen are depicted just as he/she would imagine. Some episodes from the book are particularly well visualized in the film, namely, the way Ma and Luo traveled to a nearby town. In addition, the landscaped are shown just as they are described in the novel. The same can be said about the scenes of watching Korean films and coming back to describe them to the villagers, and an emergency that Ma aided the Seamstress to survive.

However, some details in the movie make it different from the book. First, the movie portrays the scenes and episodes in broader way, while book shows more details. The movie avoided some small scenes. For example, the reader knows about the violin that Ma possessed, “my violin… it was the sole item that exuded an air of foreignness, of civilisation, and therefore aroused suspicion…” (Dai). However, the movie shows that the boy becomes a violinist, which is not mentioned in the book. Next, the tailor was the father of the seamstress in the book, while in the movie, the director portrayed the tailor to be her grandfather. In the film, the boys meeting the beautiful Little Seamstress wanted to teach her everything, “…with these books I shall transform the Little Seamstress. She’ll never be a simple mountain girl again…” (Dai). They also stole the suitcase with books from Four-Eyes, “… no matter what, take it, I promise he won’t know who…” while the book tells that the boys borrowed the suitcase asking for permission (Dai). In the film, Lo leaves the village to treat his father and in the book he went to the city to take care of his mother.

The endings of the book and the movie are completely different ? where the book ends, the movie continues to tell the story. The movie tells that the boys moved to the city to become a dentist and violinist and that they later returned to the village. They also search for the Little Seamstress. The movie shows that the River Yangtze floods the country where the boys reeducated. As the result, the place is absolutely submerged in water. In the film, the Little Seamstress leaves the mountain and comes back after the boys went for re-education. However, the final scene of book is when the Little Seamstress goes to the mountains: “The Little Seamstress had gone, never to return” (Dai). By contrast, the film ends with the scene of the three, returned to the years of their youth, submerged in the water, as well.

In conclusion, the book and the movie Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress seem to be rather similar, however, they possess some minor differences, and portray the characters from different perspectives. First, the movie and the book have minor dissimilarities in details portraying. Second, the endings of the book and film are completely different as the movie continues the story the novel has already ended. The book ends after the Little Seamstress goes to the city in search of a new life. However, the movie tells about the return of the boys to the village and their search for the girl. Unlike the book, the film describes the boys and the girl submerging in the water. The book had a huge impact on the reader. The author shows people who tried to learn. Having made the movie ending different from that of the book, the author shows that the fates of people are different and at some point, everybody goes his/her way.

Works Cited

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Directed by Dai Sijie, performances by Xun Zhou, Kun Chen, and Sijie Dai. Empire Pictures, 2002.

Sijie, Dai. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Anchor Books, 2002.