People often complain that novels should be adapted for the small screen because so many things get left out in big screen adaptations e.g. Cold Mountain (this was criticized in one of my English Literature lessons). Wong Jing knows how to flawlessly condense novels for the big screen e.g. the Royal Tramp duology and what was horribly retitled in English as Kung Fu Cult Master (instead of The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber). The English title should’ve been Cull of the Cults (or even Clash of the Clans).
As such, I devised a theory about how hundreds of pages should be adapted for a lesser number of minutes.
If you wrote a novel which was 450 pages long, you should choose 180 minutes as the equivalent. This is too long for exhibitors because they want to have more screenings on a daily basis, so you divide the film into two. This is what John Woo should’ve done for Bullet in the Head (which should’ve been titled in English as either The Abyss of Vengeance, Duality or Saigon Sojourn). By having 2 films which are 90 minutes long, you are reflecting the theory of Roger Corman (i.e. no film should be longer than 90 minutes).
Despite the division, you still need the original figure to calculate. 180 can be divided by 6 because 6 x 3 = 18, hence 6 x 30 = 180. 6 represents the number of minutes, whereas 30 represents the number of chapters. To find out the number of pages, I had to divide 450 by 30. The result is 15. This means that there would be 15 pages in each chapter because 15 x 30 = 450. As for the movie, every 6 minutes = 15 pages.
Ironically, there is a rule in Hollywood that an extremely profitable movie has to be much longer than 2 hours. If you look at the top-grossing movies, each one is longer than 2 hours. This is why Martin Scorsese has overlong running times.
If you have a novel which is 350 pages long, you have to think of a reasonable running time. I thought of 126 because the regular version of Bullet in the Head had that number of minutes. I had to find which number could be divided by the two of them. This number was 14. 350 pages ÷ 14 = 25 chapters. This means that there would be 14 pages in each chapter. 126 minutes ÷ 14 = 9 minutes. Every 9 minutes = 14 pages.
Coincidentally, Taylor Swift wrote a novel whose number of pages was 350.
When I wrote screenplays based on my novels, I planned the running time of every scene (similar to how Bruce Lee calculated how many rolls of film that he would need for his second directorial feature). Here are the overall running times of the screenplays…
1) Child story = 90 minutes (8,100 feet of film).
2) Teen story (from the fifth novel) = 100 minutes (9,000 feet of film).
3) Adult story (from the fifth novel) = 110 minutes (9,900 feet of film).
4) Fashion story = 120 minutes (10,800 feet of film).
Special thanks to the Scene Savers website.