Thursday, September 18, 2008

TV: Samurai Girl Writers Are Miracle Workers

I knew I shouldn't have watched it. I'd read the novels that comprise most of Carrie Asai's Samurai Girl series and had hated every word of every book after the first one. The original opening volume was a fairly well-crafted story, allegedly aimed at teen girls with an interest in action, combined with some wistful unrequited love.

An earlier post here describes how the books went off the rails, leading me to stop with the fourth book still 20 pages or so from completion. I didn't even touch the fifth and sixth books. That's how mad I was for the author screwing up the good start.

Along the way, I WAS aware that the series had been optioned as a TV mini-series. The good news was that the TV shows were going to be based mainly around the first book. It was a hopeful thought. But really, could they salvage Asai's material?

The answer, much to my shock and chagrin, is a resounding YES!

If you told me that the creators of the TV show randomly picked four chapters out of the first book, say 1, 2, 13 and 25, and then discarded EVERYTHING ELSE, I would now believe you. So very little of the original vision remains, that this mini-series, shown in three back-to-back two-hour episodes, might very well have eschewed the title as well. In a way, I am glad they didn't, since the series DOES in fact star a girl, who is MUCH more of a mystical Samurai, then does the book version which concentrates so much on training and straining in the love area.

Kudos to Leslie Morgenstein, Bob Levy and Luke McMullen for creating this tiny little refashioned pearl.

Now, let's also admit that this isn't Emmy-winning material. There are some plot holes and some groaners. But generally, every step McMullen, Levy et al took away from the source material was a move in a positive direction. The story still boils down to a modern-day pampered Japanese teenager (bordering on adult hood), leaping out of an arranged marriage during a ninja attack and subsequently finding out her adoptive father is NOT a good guy. She gets help from an American-based sensei (the lust object) and moves along the path of becoming a modern day Samurai, as has been foretold for many, many years. Along the way, she battles the bad guys (Daddy, ninjas, Yakuza and her sensei's ex-girlfriend) and forms a bond with her bunch of Scoobies. Entertaining throughout.

Jamie Chung is a very pleasing Heaven Kogo. Although I believe she is of Chinese extraction, which might tick Japanese off, I bought her in the role. She had a sense of naivite and enthusiasm, that when mixed later with confidence and a sense of purpose, made you cheer her on. The Heaven of the books basically became a stupid whiner that you sort of hoped would actually get knocked off by the ninja armies she battled.

Brendan Fehr is certainly NOT occidental. His character IS Japanese in the book, but the one-time Roswell co-star had no problem playing the enigmatic, mostly uncommunicative sensei on TV. His was the most known face in the show and I had no complaints.

The Scoobies in the show, Saige Thompson's Cheryl and Kyle Labine's Otto, appear in the book, but are nothing like they are in the books, past the original meet cute. Labine scores extra points for being a Canuck. The Kogo family, most of whom looked a little young to have an almost adult daughter, generally did their part. Anthony Brandon did a good job at getting over the obsessiveness of Chairman Kogo.

Karen, the traitorous ex-girlfriend of Fehr's character, was never going to be an appealing role. In the book, she's a pathetic little jealous creature, beholding to Heaven for her life and willing all the same to sell her out. The TV version of Karen was played by Stacey Keibler, the ex-WWE pretty face. Her obvious bad girl vibe goes uncovered for way too long, the biggest blemish on the show's logic. The girl fight to finish off the last show wasn't exactly Jackie Chan-esque, but it was good enough.

This is a DVD I want when it comes out. The show might be worth re-watching and the kids will like it. But mostly, I want to hear the extra director and writer commentary tracks. Those will be worth the purchase price alone.

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