by Paola Cesarini
It is a little known fact that many Turkish dizi are remakes of films and TV series from around the world. Just to name a few, Anadolu Kartalları, Aska Gebe, Doktorlar, Eve Kadınlari, Galıp Dervis, Küçük Sırlar, Içerde, Intikam, Medcezir, Merhaba Hayat, Umutsuz and many others, are all inspired by North American productions. Bizim Hikaye is a remake of a popular British (and later US) series. Both Anne and Kadın are based on Japanese dramas. Sadece Sen faithfully reproduces a Korean film. Ezel is yet another adaptation of the French Novel “The Count of Montecristo.” And Şeref Meselesi is patterned upon a successful Italian TV series.
There are several reasons for Turkey’s penchant towards remakes. First, with their culture and values being uniquely situated between the East and the West, Turkish audiences are remarkably able to relate to stories that originate not only from Europe and North America, but also from the Far East. Second, the country’s TV environment is very competitive, with many shows abruptly cut off after less than ten initial episodes. In order to survive, broadcasters are therefore compelled to introduce a high volume of dizi in each season, often venturing beyond national borders in search of interesting scripts. And third, as “Hollywood Reporter” Rhonda Richford writes, foreign ‘shows are extremely popular on Turkish television, but audiences are increasingly tuning in to homegrown remakes that dial up the drama, yet stay true to the country’s more conservative tastes.’
While the adaptation of shows from the past or from other countries is common practice around the world, Turkey’s ability to reinterpret existing cinematic or TV productions is remarkable, as several of its remakes actually improve on the originals. While some adaptations remain very faithful to the source, others offer drastic re-elaborations that move the story in a completely unexpected — and often welcome — direction. This article provides a comparative analysis of six Turkish TV series/films with their original versions. The chosen sample is far from representative — in the sense that case selection did not follow any scientific criteria, but merely the author’s personal viewing experience. And while most of the shows reviewed here provide intriguing variations on the originals, at least one dizi adaptation is disappointing.
Anadolu Kartallari / Top Gun (US)
Clearly inspired by the 1986 American movie “Top Gun”, the 2011 Turkish film “Anadolu Kartalları” (Anatolian Eagles) narrates the dreams and struggles of five young cadet pilots. Commissioned for the centenary of the Turkish Air Force, and largely filmed on the Konya Air Base, “Anadolu Kartalları” contains spectacular aerial scenes performed by the Türk Yıldızları and Solo Türk acrobatic teams. Both movies celebrate their respective country’s air force, but diverge substantially for the rest. More specifically, each reflects a different historical context and emphasizes different themes. “Top Gun” is first and foremost a movie about an individual (Pete Mitchell “Maverick”), his competitive drive, his bravado and his ability to overcome obstacles and adversity. “Anadolu Kartalları” is instead a movie about the camaraderie of five cadets, who thrive because of their mutually supportive environment. Second, in contrast with “Top Gun”, which was primarily a story about manly men, “Anadolu Kartalları” features a female as the most successful Turkish Air Force pilot-in-training. And finally, while “Top Gun’s” spectacular aerial chases echo Cold War tensions, “Anadolu Kartalları’s” simulated dogfights take place during an international military exercise involving countries from four different continents.
“Top Gun” earned a definitive place in US popular culture. It is however unlikely that “Anadolu Kartalları” will achieve the same in Turkey. Indeed, nowadays the film is chiefly known for being Çağatay Ulusoy’s first cinematic role. Still, the two movies offer a very interesting contrast. While “Top Gun” is unmistakably an American cold-war flick, whose story could hardly make sense in a different national and historical context, “Anadolu Kartalları’s” script may be replicated in a myriad of other countries, because it is first and foremost a celebration of camaraderie among fellow soldiers. The casting of the two movies also reflects the different ideological approaches. “Top Gun” features a group of unrealistically buff and extremely cocky US Navy pilots. On the other hand (and with the notable exception of a very young and attractive Çağatay Ulusoy,) “Anadolu Kartalları’s” Turkish Air Force cadets are much more realistic looking and down to earth.
While by no means memorable, “Anadolu Kartalları” is still worth watching for those interested in comparative cinematic analysis and/or military-themed films that dispense with heavy violence. It will also delight all of Çağatay Ulusoy’s die-hard fans.
Sadece Sen / Always (Korea)
In contrast to “Anadolu Kartalları”, the 2014 Turkish movie “Sadece Sen” is an almost exact copy of the original 2011 Korean film “Always” (“오직 그대만”). Paying homage to Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights”, both narrate the story of a former boxer recently released from jail for abusive debt collecting, who falls in love with a determined blind woman working in a call center. She is fragile, optimistic, educated and extroverted. He is rough, gloomy, uncouth and anti-social. Despite these glaring differences, their unlikely romance surprisingly makes sense. Desperately alone and burdened by a similarly traumatic past, the two protagonists find magic and happiness in each other just when they thought their lives would only amount to mere survival. While an unexpected twist in the story makes viewers brace for the worst, the film’s ending is wonderfully uplifting — if not poetic.
The true brilliance of these movies lies first and foremost in the acting. Both Han Hyo-joo and Belçim Bilgin are superb in their portrayals of the blind but brave female protagonist, who struggles between vulnerability and fierce independence, and between optimism and despair. And while the two actresses look very different, Belçim Bilgin’s interpretation seems to take inspiration from Han Hyo-joo’s — especially when it comes to giving life to a disabled character commanding admiration instead of pity. There are just not enough words available to praise the interpretations of So Ji-sub and Ibrahim Çelikkol as the lead male protagonists. The role of the former boxer/convict is a challenging one, because it has very little dialogue — especially at the beginning of the film. The actors are thus compelled to portray his inner turmoil and hopelessness chiefly through facial expression, mannerism and body language. Once love strikes, the character becomes only marginally more talkative, and yet he transforms into an entirely different man.
What is most surprising about watching these movies back to back is that they are based on a virtually identical script. Even the locations and the costumes appear similar. The only scene that is visually different pertains to the visit to a cemetery, where the diverse religious traditions are duly reflected. Considering how far apart the two countries are — not only geographically, but also culturally — the fact that a Turkish remake succeeds in replicating a Korean movie with minimal variation is a celebration of great screenwriting as well as skillful acting. It is also a testament to the ability of cinema to narrate emotions that are common to all humans, regardless of cultural, geographical and ethnic context.
Sticking close to the original was certainly a smart move on the part of “Sadece Sen’s” Turkish producers, as the Korean film “Always” is an authentic gem hardly in need of improvement. Viewers may definitely want to watch both version of this wonderfully moving story, if only to appreciate superb acting from opposite sides of the globe.
Medcezir / The O.C. (US)
The 2013-15 Turkish series “Medcezir” is one of those rare cases in which the adaptation surpasses the original. Loosely based on 2003-07 American TV show “The O.C.”, it is a stunning production boasting an all-star, outstanding cast; an excellent script; and a simply amazing soundtrack by none other than the incomparable Toygar Işıklı. “Medcezir” became the fifth most successful TV series of all time in terms of net sales in Turkey, and consolidated Çağatay Ulusoy’s status as a cinematic youth icon.
In the first episode, “Medcezir” closely follows the original. Successful lawyer Selim Serez comes to the rescue of Yaman Koper, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks, when the latter gets into trouble on account of his wayward brother’s shenanigans. Although he ‘grew up in the mud’, Yaman is smart, charismatic, honest, honorable and always true to his values. Recognizing himself in the boy, Selim convinces his wife Ender to take Yaman into the family and, as a result, their seemingly perfect world is turned upside down. Soon, it becomes abundantly clear that it is the well-to-do community of Altinkoy that derives greater benefit from Yaman’s inclusion, rather than the other way around.
A few episodes into the series, “Medcezir’s” plot diverges substantially from “The O.C.” in a direction meant to attract an older audience. The love story between the two gorgeous protagonists — Mira and Yaman — is much less adolescent-like, and at the same time more romantic and tasteful than Marissa and Ryan’s teenage tryst. Indeed, “Medcezir’s” protagonists are college students, rather than high-schoolers as in “The O.C.” Moreover, in the Turkish series, the grown-ups are not empty caricatures, but strong characters with their own independent and interesting story lines. Most relevantly, “Medcezir” seriously confronts the social and cultural issues that “The O.C.” only superficially touches upon. And finally, the American show’s indie-rock soundtrack is replaced with outstanding Turkish musical performances by “Medcezir’s” talented protagonists themselves.
Overall, three factors contribute to “Medcezir’s” success. First, the intelligently revised script and heartfelt interpretations elevate this show way above the teen genre. For this reason, the series and the two main leads won numerous awards — including the coveted Golden Butterfly Award for Best Actor. Second, “Medcezir” owes a great deal to the remarkable chemistry between the two young protagonists. Both gorgeous, skillful, and musically talented actors, Çağatay Ulusoy and Serenay Sarıkaya transform a shallow adolescent drama into a heart-warming and mature love story that viewers keep going back to, again and again. In comparison, the two young leads in “The O.C.” appear juvenile, superficial and frankly miscast. And third, the perhaps more conservative approach of the Turkish series, which de-emphasizes sex and drugs in favor of cultural and class tensions, allows for a more substantive story line.
In conclusion, those who have seen “The O.C.” will surely enjoy “Medcezir’s” new and improved version of the show. And those who have not are in for a treat.
Içerde / The Departed (US)
The 2016-17 series “Içerde” is widely acclaimed as one the best ever aired in Turkey. It is also probably one of the least Turkish. The story is based on the highly successful 2006 Martin Scorsese film “The Departed”, which centers on real-life characters from the infamous Boston Irish Mob. The movie, in turn, is an adaptation of the Hong Kong action film “Infernal Affairs.” “The Departed” is considered a cinematic masterpiece. It was also a commercial success that earned several awards — including four Oscars. So how does a Hong Kong gang/Irish mob cinematic tale fare once it is transplanted on the Bosphorous and stretched into a 39 two-hour episodes series? The answer, almost surprisingly, is harika.
In “The Departed”, Boston Irish Mob boss Francis “Frank” Costello — interpreted by an over-the-top Jack Nicholson — plants Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) as a mole within the Massachusetts State Police. At the same time, the police assigns undercover state trooper Billy Costigan (Leonardo Di Caprio) to infiltrate Costello’s crew on account of his family ties to organized crime. To increase his credibility with Costello, Costigan drops out of the academy and serves time in prison on a fake assault charge. While located in Istanbul, “Içerde’s” story has the virtually identical premise of the Scorsese’s film. Infamous Turkish mafia chief Baba Celal (Çetin Tekindor) supports his adoptive son’s — Mert Karadağ (Aras Bulut İynemli) — career into the Police Academy. Upon graduation Mert earns a coveted spot into the organized crime investigative unit. At the same time, the Director of the very same unit manages successfully to infiltrate another police cadet — Sarp Yilmaz (Çağatay Ulusoy) — into Celal’s gang. Sarp too has to spend one year in jail in order to penetrate Baba Celal’s inner circle.
Like “Medcezir”, the similarities between “Içerde” and “The Departed” end after the first episode. More specifically, “Içerde” dramatically complicates the relationship among the main characters, adding a great deal of pathos to the original story. Thus, in the Turkish series, Mert turns out to be Umut Yilmaz, Sarp’s long lost younger brother, whom Celal had kidnapped in order to ensure his father’s silence. Then, Sarp happens to fall in love with Melek (Bensu Soral), only to find out that she is Celal’s biological daugther. And finally, Mert falls in love with Eylem (Damla Colbay) who is Sarp’s sister-like childhood friend. “Içerde” reaches its climax when the two brothers, after a myriad of extraordinary events, eventually find each other in what is arguably one of the best scenes ever to be shown on Turkish TV. In contrast, “The Departed” ends in a depressing bloody mess that leaves viewers with a distinctive bitter aftertaste.
While “The Departed” has been praised as an “American epic tragedy”,“Içerde” is essentially about the ineradicable family bond between two long lost brothers that, defying time and space, triumphs against impossible odds. It follows that “Içerde’s” success squarely rests on the shoulders of the two young leads — Çağatay Ulusoy and Aras Bulut İynemli. And indeed, their performance is nothing short of brilliant, resulting in something much greater than the sum of their individual parts. With their relationship evolving from ruthless rivalry into unquestioned loyalty, the two young Turkish actors faced perhaps greater performance challenges than Leonardo di Caprio and Matt Damon. Sarp and Mert/Umut’s interaction during most of the series is delightfully confrontational, alternating between spectacular fight scenes and utterly comic interludes. Later on, however, they are forced to trust each other. And after Mert/Umut discovers his true identity, the Yilmaz brothers appear to pick up their relationship right where they left it two dozens years earlier.
“Içerde” is so good that it manages to keep glued to the screen even those who tend to avoid mafia-type shows such as “The Departed”. This is because it offers a great deal more than action-packed entertainment. It is first and foremost a story about the power of family — i.e. the real one, and not the fake substitutes, which mafias, gangs, mobs, etc. allegedly offer. It is also a story about loyalty, honor, hope, justice, redemption and the fine line between good and evil. Second, it offers a stellar cast of young and experienced actors, who spare no effort in morphing into their characters. Third, “Içerde” is superbly written and produced, and also counts on outstanding photography and cinematic techniques. Fourth, the Turkish series contains fight scenes that are so amazingly choreographed as to make one forget about the violence involved. Finally, it includes an unforgettable soundtrack by the consistently outstanding Toygar Işıklı.
How did this series manage to remain week after week in the top spot of Turkish TV rankings, and — at the same time — withstand comparison with a movie of the caliber of “The Departed”? First, everything about “Içerde” is out of the ordinary. For example, in episode 33, Sarp and Mert meet on a building’s rooftop for what they both think is their ultimate confrontation. This long fight scene is absolutely worth watching in its entirety. Interspersed with slow-motion flying bullets, flashback from their childhood, drying linen, color explosions, crumbling chimneys, mesmerizing music and the flight of a dove, it is nothing short of poetic. It makes one forget that the scene depicts two brothers, who are trying to annihilate each other.
The other reason for “Içerde’s” success is that it is a story about hope. While from the beginning to the end, “The Departed” offers a gloomy tale of corruption and despair, “Içerde” remarkably manages to deliver a feel-good ending amidst a great deal of tragedy.
In conclusion, “Içerde” is not to be missed. Those who enjoyed “The Departed” — and may therefore be tempted to dismiss a Turkish remake a priori — will be pleasantly surprised by the quality and originality of this intriguing and outstanding adaptation.
Bizim Hikaye / Shameless (UK and US)
To those familiar with the country’s conservative tastes and the implacable government censorship, a Turkish remake of the UK/US series “Shameless” sounds like an oxymoron. And yet, Turkish producers somehow managed to adapt a Western Series known for its over-the-top depiction of sexuality, homosexuality, alcohol, drugs, smoking and swearing for their domestic TV audiences. “Bizim Hikaye” successfully aired for two consecutive seasons (2017-19), and was discontinued only because the lead female protagonist (Hazal Kaya) could not renew her commitment to the series.
The premise is identical across countries. The story centers on a young girl who, following her mother’s departure, struggles to take care of her five siblings and her alcoholic, trouble-making father. They live in a low-income neighborhood in conditions of near squalor, survive by doing odd jobs (and sometimes tricks,) and are surrounded by an array of peculiar characters. Hardly an adult herself, the lead female protagonist’s life changes dramatically upon meeting a mysterious young man, who falls in love with her in spite of her complicated family situation.
Even a superficial comparison between the American and Turkish versions of “Shameless” renders it hard to believe that these shows are local adaptations from the same original British script. Offering a graphic, gritty and unsentimental look at an utterly dysfunctional family living in Chicago, the US version is hard to stomach. At first sight, none of the characters is sympathetic, and the show’s overall feeling is one of degradation, squalor and neglect. While some have praised “Shameless” for its unabashed realism, others find it too depressing to watch. In contrast, the main theme of “Bizim Hikaye” is dignity. While the Turkish series does not shy away from realistically portraying poverty, alcoholism and petty crimes, it points to strong family values as the life-saving grace of the unfortunate protagonists.
In one of the most interesting deviations from the original “Shameless” script, the tempestuous relationship between the two lead characters of “Bizim Hikaye” (Filiz and Barış/Savaş) still manages to come across as decent, genuine and heart-warming. In the Turkish adaptation Barış/Savaş veers from his well-to-do life for a sound reason. His rich father is a despicable human being, who is indirectly responsible for his brother’s death. Furthermore, Barış/Savaş’ love for Filiz has a clear rationale. He admires to no end that her family unit, which she struggles so much to sustain, is based on authentic love, loyalty and sacrifice –all things that his own family lacked, despite their considerable wealth.
In conclusion, die-hard aficionados of the gritty American working-class comedies/dramas genre will surely be disappointed by “Bizim Hikaye”, because it not only does away with a lot of the unpleasantness, but even manages to introduce an uplifting message to the “Shameless” depressing story line. The rest of viewers can instead relax and enjoy the show.
Șeref Meselesi / L’Onore e il Rispetto (Italy)
“Șeref Meselesi” (2014-15) is a close adaptation of the fist season of the Italian TV series “L’Onore e il Rispetto.” Among the many successful Turkish remakes, this is one that fails to improve on the original. The common story line deals with a humble family that migrates from the province into the big city, with great expectations for a better life. Instead, they fall victims to a local mafia boss. Tragedy follows bankruptcy, as both parents meet death as a result of the events. The two surviving brothers decide on revenge. However, while the older chooses to exact retribution by turning into a mafioso, the other prefers to do so by legal means and becomes a prosecutor. Standing on opposite sides of the law, the brotherly relationship quickly deteriorates. As if this were not enough, the two siblings also engage in a bitter rivalry for the love of the same woman. In both versions, no one really wins in the end.
The Italian series is a much larger and expensive production than the Turkish adaptation, with an all-star cast of excellent Italian and international actors. The “Mafia” in question is the Sicilian “Cosa Nostra” of the 1950-60s. Hence, among the most interesting aspects of the Italian series are the authentic locations for the show, and some fairly accurate illustrations of the history, rituals and traditions of the organization. In short, for better or worse, the “Mafia” in “L”Onore e il Rispetto” is a co-protagonist of the series along with the lead characters. The Turkish “Mafia” depicted in “Șeref Meselesi” in comparison, lacks the pageantry and mysterious complexity of its Sicilian counterpart, and appears merely as a band of regular criminals.
“Șeref Meselesi’s” main problem, however, is casting. While never a celebrated actor, Gabriel Garko is excellent as mafioso Tonio Fortebracci in the first season of “L’Onore e il Rispetto.” Also perfect for the role of the prosecutor is Giuseppe Zeno, currently among Italy’s most respected TV actors. In hindsight, Şükrü Özyıldız — who interprets the good brother Emir in the Turkish adaptation — would have fared better as Yiğit (the bad sibling,) for at least two reasons. First, in the Italian script, Tonio remains fundamentally a decent guy, who never fully morphs into a implacable mafia boss. Second, Şükrü is much closer in appearance to Gabriel Garko than Kerem Bürsin (they are both handsome, dark and very tall). The latter indeed appears as a curious choice to play the lead role, especially to anyone who is familiar with the Italian original.
In sum, “Șeref Meselesi” is a weaker series in comparison to the original. Still, it is not a bad choice for anyone looking for a shorter Turkish dizi with a beginning, middle, and an end. Moreover, since “L’Onore e il Rispetto” is not available with English subtitles, only Italian-speaking audiences stand to be disappointed by the comparison.
Adaptations, remakes and reboots are commonplace around the world. They usually involve altering the script to fit another country’s cultural tastes, sensitivity and locations. Because of its strong values and traditions, Turkey’s producers are very aware of how they need to customize a foreign show for their domestic market. Usually, this means toning down much of the sex, violence and vulgarity included in the original, and adding dramatic complexity to the basic plot. At the same time, the Turkish film and TV industry appears uncommonly open to adopting shows from every corner of the world. As a result, Turkish adaptations are simultaneously bold in their scope and conservative in their approach. Surprisingly, as this article sought to illustrate, this recipe often results in remakes that are as good, or even better than the original.
A native of Italy, Paola Cesarini has a Ph.D. in Political Science and worked as an international civil servant, a university professor, and a leader in higher education for many years. She is fluent in six languages and is currently learning Turkish. She lives in Denver, CO with her husband and two children. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, classical music, swimming, skiing and exploring other cultures.
@ Copyright by North America TEN and Paola Cesarini
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