2018-08-08 10:48:19

A popular sitcom widely considered China’s answer to “Friends” is not happy with the new movie that’s trying to cash in on its name.

“IPartment” — or “Love Apartment,” as the show’s name translates from Chinese — is a 2009 sitcom about the lives and loves of a group of young people that drew heavily from its Western peers like “Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “The IT Crowd,” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Today, several years since its last episode aired, “Love Apartment” evokes a strong sense of nostalgia for many young Chinese — although they harbor no illusions about the show’s influences.

Painstakingly made netizen videos show how closely the sitcom resembles its counterparts: Ross Geller must sell hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies to send a girl to Space Camp in “Friends,” while in “Love Apartment,” a male character sells miniature fire extinguishers in scenes that use near-identical jokes, comic timing, and camera angles. But Wang Yuan, the chief screenwriter of the Chinese series, has dismissed accusations of plagiarism, instead calling the similar plot elements “homages” to the Western shows.

When a film adaptation of “Love Apartment” was announced in May, fans both rejoiced at the prospect of seeing their favorite characters from the series on the silver screen and speculated about which punchlines would be pinched this time.

Fast-forward to this month, when just days before the movie was scheduled to premiere on Aug. 10, the official Weibo microblog account of the TV series said on Monday that the film had been produced without permission. According to the post, the rights to “Love Apartment” belong to a Taiwanese company called Lianfan, not to Shanghai-based studio Gaoge, which produced the film. The show’s statement added that it had filed a civil suit and asked the China Film Bureau to suspend the film’s release. The show included legal documents with the post to support its claims.

The same afternoon, the official Weibo account of “Love Apartment” the film posted a rebuttal, arguing that Gaoge, not Lianfan, owned the rights to the show, and presenting its own legal documents as evidence.

While many see this as a genuine dispute, some worldly-wise Chinese suspect that it is nothing more than a marketing ploy to generate hype ahead of the film’s release. In a Monday interview with Sina Entertainment, however, a Lianfan spokesman surnamed Li accused Gaoge of denying rumors that it was secretly filming a silver-screen version of “Love Apartment” right up until the studio publicly announced the film in May. The late timing of the Lianfan’s complaint, Li explained, was because the company had had to collect legal documents and build its case.

Netizens, meanwhile, have reveled in the irony of a series so familiar with the art of imitation feeling ripped off. “A series born out of plagiarism now making a fuss about others infringing its copyright?” commented one user under the rebuttal. “I have to say, the more noise we make, the better: If this film really gets stopped, I reckon we can say it’s a good deed.”

When actors from the series gathered to shoot last year, fans got excited about a possible fifth season of “Love Apartment.” However, it turned out they were filming for a fantasy-action flick about an intrepid team of tomb-raiders called “New Dimension Adventurers,” crafted by the same screenwriter as the series. Many online pundits suspect that the film was later renamed “Love Apartment” to build hype.

It’s easy to see how hyping the film before its release might have become a priority. Last month, a $113 million-dollar fantasy epic called “Asura” bombed so badly that it was withdrawn from Chinese theaters after just three days.

But millennials’ nostalgia may come through for “Love Apartment” yet: Presales have reportedly raised 100 million yuan ($14.7 million). Despite the franchise’s track record of unoriginal plots, and despite the fact that tomb-raiding adventures are a far cry from quotidian urban life, many netizens admit that they’ll probably still see the film — if only in the name of love.

This article has been updated to clarify that explanations for the film’s renaming are purely speculative.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A promotional image for ‘Love Apartment’ the film. VCG)