Overextended franchises and remakes galore drive modern day cinema. Media mogul Disney has nearly cornered the ever-so-popular superhero market with their acquisition of the rights to Marvel. Fox parted ways with additional filming privileges in a mega-transaction late in 2017. The likes of X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and many other lost characters will regain their status under the Marvel universe owned by Disney. Despite the remarkable success of the Marvel (Disney) and DC (Warner Bros), stories rooted in graphic novels can extend beyond the two, main arch-types. Sony Pictures Entertainment’s entrance to the arena is too late to piggyback off the success of superheroes, but they have found their avenues for creation.
Sony landed in headlines with their acquisition of the rights to Canaan White Jay Longino’s Son of Shaolin. The piece fell in line with Sony’s brand realignment to include more focused diversity. Going beyond the Studios’ simple casting of roles, are undertaking more unique tales and taking a new look at the process in its entirety. Dwayne Johnson, recent star of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, is a leading figure as he will take on a producer role for the graphic novel’s movie rendition.
Son of Shaolin offers an interesting take on modern storylines. The story focuses on a presumed orphan, Kyrie, who grew up on the streets of Harlem. Rather than forcing an oversaturated maturation of his relationship with the antagonist, Longino offers two conflict-ridden story lines that finally collide shortly of the climax.
The development of characters in a graphic novel can be difficult for writers who have limited influence with abbreviated dialogue. White’s striking artwork plays a significant role in the story’s continued progression. While this carries a heavy weight on paper, the film adaptation will require certain liberties in conversation and set-design that will disappear in the transition.
Part of what makes Son of Shaolin a compelling tale is the range of diversity provided from start to finish. At its core, the story offers clear perspective into Longino, an Atlanta native, transplanted to the West Coast, carried dreams of playing in the NBA. His earliest, noteworthy contribution came via Kyrie Irving and the Uncle Drew series presented by Pepsi. Although he worked on star-filled movie and television sets, the short film was the first piece tied to Longino’s name.
White, himself, is hardly a newcomer to the graphic novel landscape. His work published via Dabel Brothers Productions and Marvel Comics in the mid-2000s. Paving the way for future work, White eventually landed with Size 13 Comics. He and Longino have worked together on four pieces under this banner.
The creators scattered bits of their personality throughout the novel. Son of Shaolin, though, encompasses too much to be tied to merely two people. Shaolin Kung Fu provided the anchoring points for many of the predominant martial arts at present. Chinese influence is somewhat overlooked in the novel as it holds a marginally foundational relevance in the story. Kyrie’s upbringing on the streets of Harlem provides a new look for the reader. Shaolin’s Buddhist origins breed patience, discipline, and a connection to nature through mediation; Harlem requires a mindset of self-preservation and ingenuity unattainable within the confines of temple walls. A stark contrast in style provides valuable, innate depth to characters on paper.
Film adaptations of culturally charged tales have received with polarizing reviews in recent years. Some tales recognize the importance of the character integrity. Others fall prey to the “whitewashing” techniques to deliver Hollywood selling points.
Son of Shaolin is in a position of rare opportunity. Sony believes the graphic novel offers the foundation for a potential franchise beyond the first movie. With that upside comes bountiful risk as well. Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Death Note signified a heavy criticism as the casting and direction played more to modern cinema than the actual story. If, however, the story caters to the cultures found on the two sides of Kyrie’s identity, Sony and all involved will continue to see the international success mirrored by other graphic novel adaptations.