The Sun pictured the scene for its readers by depicting Ricky Gervais in a Mao suit of the kind that hasn’t been worn in China for nigh on thirty years
Beyond confirming that a BBC executive in Beijing is working with a New York-based film financier on a Mandarin edition, official information on China’s version of The Office is virtually nil – yet that hasn’t stopped nay-sayers from declaring “It cannot be done!”
The subtle intricacies of Chinese offices – and the complete disinterest of most bosses in their employees’ affections – means Brent’s clownish persona would need a radical re-think, while the rigidly hierarchical pecking-order does not allow for the piss-taking Brent endured from his drones, say critics. Where does that leave us?
Come, come. China (in particular, the workplace) is a rich source of humour – well, satire at any rate – and there are dozens of potential possibilities for a Heavenly Kingdom reboot, highlighting long, long laoban lunches, Foxconn management style, workers’ “rights”, bungled and pointlessly complicated national holidays, as well as the innumerable losses of face a bad boss might suffer.
The basics will be simple to get right – the theme tune should honor the local spirit of homage by simply lifting the original’s theme, adding an erhu sample, then slapping a Red Army Long March chorus on the end.
Those stock images used to emphasize the monotony (photocopiers, phones ringing, people doing data entry)? Simply replace with shots of the advertising department dozing, an HR executive stealing cabbages on Happy Farm, and a blocked printer disgorging endless chewed wads of paper while no one notices.
As for the plotlines, a leaked copy of the outlines reveals a plentiful supply of material from around the provinces in just the first season. Imagine Zhang Jimin, hapless boss of the Hong Yao Shenzhen Development Civilized Paper Future Utility Company (Fengtai District) (HYSDCPFUC) and his staff’s exploits, coming to a CCTV screen near you.
Sweet Child o’ Mine
This Shanxi-based episode bravely confronts the twin problems of child labor and coal-mine safety, managing to soberly address both while “mining” the themes for gags – and coal – aplenty. Bumbling boss Zhang is invited to the city of Taiyuan on an executive fact-finding trip at a new eco-mill. Unfortunately, the plane gets lost in smog and, unbeknownst to Zhang, lands instead in an obscure mining town in northern Shaanxi, where the local townsfolk are locked in a bitter legal dispute over black-lung disease. Hukou hilarity ensues, though, when Zhang decides to adopt an unregistered local child-laborer and is targeted for a classic life-insurance scam by villagers. It’s up to his Gareth-like sidekick, Ma, to ensure boss and son aren’t horribly mangled in a colliery “accident” while enjoying the corporate tour.
You Gotta Be Karate- Kidding Me!
Predictable difficulties surface for Zhang after a Japanese business delegation rolls into town and orders up 30 “female escorts” on the anniversary of the outbreak of the War Against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945). Meanwhile, the local townsfolk’s determination to honor the date by beating the crap out of a stuffed piñata shaped like a Tokyo salaryman causes potential embarrassment for Zhang, who must shield his guests from the celebrations while attempting to pay-off an arrest warrant secured by a vengeful (and inexplicably incorruptible) police chief.
Giving (White) Face
On the eve of a crucial merger, an overzealous Zhang foolishly brags to his opposite number, Guo, that the HYSDCPFUC is internationally financed and has an American vice-president. To his dismay, Guo delightedly invites the fictional VP to dinner. Zhang is forced to hastily post an advert seeking a “white face” to act as a stand-in – enter thirtysomething Martin (a superb cameo by Jack Black), the boorish and overweight baseball-capped Californian expat with an MBA from the University of Phoenix (online) and dreams of being a CEO. Can Zhang convince Guo that Martin is the real McCoy, while managing the greedy meiguoren’s outrageous hamburger demands?
Gambling is Illegal in China (aka the Finale Special)
Following the successful conclusion of the firm’s merger, Martin insists the “office gang” celebrate in typical Western-style: by visiting an Autonomous Special Economic Zone. As everyone should know, what happens in Macao, stays in Macao (heck, that’s the city’s official slogan) which prompts Zhang to splash the company’s mudslide fund on a company banquet – with predictable results. Amid the usual regrettable one-night stands and gambling losses, the finale strikes a sober note when a drunken disfiguring of a Chairman Mao poster (adding a comic mustache and obligatory cock-and-balls) lands junior executive Pan with a three-year reform-through-labour sentence.
Meanwhile, back in Beijing, heads roll after an office brochure accidentally announces the firm as the largest paper company in China, and the second largest in the world – but the largest is actually in Taiwan! An emergency re-think is needed – unfortunately, it’s one minute after midday, and everyone has gone to lunch. Everyone.
What do you think, readers? How about a cultural sensitivity training course in Urumqi? Or an elaborately unsuccessful attempt to resell a condemned batch of carcinogenic paper? Offer your suggestions in the comments below.