On August 23, the first trailer for the Chinese fantasy film The Curse of Turandot was released. Directed by Xiaolong Zheng, the film is an ancient Chinese adaptation of an opera and stars Guan Xiaotong in the lead, Dylan Sprouse, and Hu Jun.
The film originally began shooting in 2018 when Sprouse initially shared the news of his casting on Twitter. Sprouse is best known for his work as a child actor in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and its sequel show, Suite Life on Deck. Sprouse’s twin brother, Cole, plays Jughead Jones on CW’s “Archie Comics” adaptation, Riverdale.
Proud to announce my participation in the huge Chinese fantasy romance movie, Turandot as Prince Calaf! Between losing 30lbs from combat training and speaking exclusively mandarin, this is a huge leap for me, read more here: https://t.co/pJ63IZ90My
— Dylan Sprouse (@dylansprouse) May 30, 2018
Turandot, the Opera
The 2021 film is an adaptation of a three-act 1926 opera of the same name. Written by Giamoco Puccini, the story’s original roots go all the way back to 12th-century Persia.
The opera is set in China and recounts the story of the beautiful but cold-hearted Princess Turandot, who vows to kill any suitor she has. A simple set of three riddles is all she asks her suitors to answer—and if they fail, it’s to the guillotine for them. Turandot does all this in the name of avenging an ancestor of hers, a princess who was mistreated and murdered by a foreign prince. She’s thrown a curveball in the form of the unassuming, charming Calaf, who decides he will accept her challenge and answer her three riddles.
Puccini’s repertoire is filled with iconic operas like Madame Butterfly and La bohème. But none have left as much of a pop-culture impact as Turandot, due to one of Puccini’s most famous arias, “Nessun dorma.” The song has been covered by everyone from Aretha Franklin to SHINee’s Onew, and Luciano Pavoratti.
The Wuxia Spin
While we’re yet to see how much of the original story the 2021 adaptation takes, the premise is decidedly fantastical. Princess Turandot (Guan Xiaotong) is cursed at birth, due to the power that radiates from her three bracelets. Instead of simply answering her riddles or facing death, Turandot’s foreign suitors attempt to break the curse that drains her of kindness and humanity as she ages. In this version, Calaf (Dylan Sprouse) is an ordinary citizen who falls in love with the princess, and is determined to break the curse.
The film is certainly a visual treat, from what the trailer has shown: dramatic, sweeping shots of Ancient China, and the signature martial arts and swordwork known to the wuxia cinema. Wuxia, meaning martial (wu) chivalry (xia), is a sub-style of Chinese martial arts film. According to the British Film Institute, “the wuxia martial arts movie takes place in a world of swords, sorcery, chivalry and romance.” And that’s definitely what Turandot appears to be bringing to audiences with this fantastical adaptation.
Needless to say, the internet was equally excited and confused about the casting of Dylan Sprouse, some even sharing a few behind-the-scenes photos of Sprouse on set in 2018.
Lrt: Dylan Sprouse is appearing in a Chinese adaptation of Puccini's opera Turandot & I want to say the cultural transmission of that story is very interesting. B/c it started off as a Persian poem, came to Europe through traders, the oldest translations being French & Italian.
— Seán (ショーン) (@AFabMannequin) August 23, 2021
— Daniela|SUNEATER|Sprouse?? (@danielaluv6) August 23, 2021
A version of the story of Turandot? ? Please, please, please, let it be released on the internet someday, I need to wacth this ? https://t.co/ZFTmiduilO
— Itziar ? (@starisaba) August 23, 2021
The Wuxia Life of Zack and Cody https://t.co/EGvNtFfPOz
— Belle ❌ QRT/repost my art (@LeBearPolarr) August 23, 2021
china deciding to turn a puccini opera about china into a wuxia fantasy starring dylan sprouse is the funniest thing i’ve ever seen this entire month https://t.co/XTvfZOJce5
— lily // 源清流杰 ?? (@lilywinterwood) August 23, 2021
I can't tell if the whiplash I'm getting is from seeing Turandot in the title of a Chinese fantasy film or seeing Dylan Sprouse in the cast list. https://t.co/avWGIwIPHN
— rain ?️ (@moswanyu) August 23, 2021
learning dylan sprouse is now starring in some film adaption of the same story as the absolutely painful to watch opera my band teacher forced us to watch Twice. i would love to forget turandot and instead im learning that dear old jughead’s twin is now gonna be part of it
— amelia ☀️ (@ylissebian) August 23, 2021
Though the film has no release date yet, it did make its debut at the 2021 Shanghai International Film Festival in early June. Reactions are mixed now, but we can’t wait to see how this wuxia spin on a classic opera turns out.
Looking forward to more films coming out? Check out our recap for the premiere of Emergency Declaration at Cannes Festival here.
Thumbnail Courtesy of Dongyang Hua’er Film & TV Co.