Mei Melançon On Adapting Chinese Folklore In ‘Fallen 8’

American actor-screenwriter Mei Melançon is reimagining the Eight Immortals for an international audience, and creating awareness and opportunities for Asian talent along the way
Photo courtesy of Joshua Rosales

Mei Melançon has been travelling too much and not sleeping enough, and the fatigue has caused the Los Angeles-based actor, producer and screenwriter to fall quite ill. “This is the first time I’ve lost my voice like this in 10 years,” she says apologetically via Zoom.

But hoarseness doesn’t dampen Melançon’s enthusiasm for introducing her latest project, Fallen 8, a sci-fi fantasy anime series based on the tale of the Eight Immortals. A partnership between multimedia company KC Global Media and Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority, with Robot Playground Media working on development, Fallen 8 follows the popular octet of major deities in the Taoist pantheon who find themselves in the present day being tested on their worth and uncovering their divine powers.

Script development for Fallen 8 began in the latter half of 2022, and so far, 10 episodes—the first season—have been completed, with art and production to follow; the series premiere has been tentatively set for 2024. Beyond creating the world where the series takes place, Melançon reveals plans for the series to span five seasons, bridge the past and future, and even introduce more characters and creatures from Chinese mythology, to form a universe that conveys richness and complexity.

“Our story is about these eight characters, what makes them great but also what brings them down,” Melançon explains. “Every superhero has an Achilles heel.” By weaving elements of sci-fi, fantasy and the supernatural into the animation, it results in a visual spectacle that also offers tender insight into how people navigate ordeals and handle emotions like anger and sadness.

“What I like about these characters is that you see their humanity,” she adds. “Every human has emotions, but how do we process them in a way that’s healthy? We’re going to see that in these characters. Like in the myth, these eight immortals are not perfect, but we love them because they remind us of someone we may know or something we’ve been through.”

Melançon’s connection to the Eight Immortals stretches back to her youth. As a third-culture kid of Chinese, Japanese and French heritage growing up in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, she would encounter the Eight Immortals in art, books and even calendars in the homes of family friends. Reading the story first as a nine- or 10-year-old and again as an adult led Melançon to the realisation that it isn’t a simple tale of deities crossing the sea in a boat, but a legend brimming with morals. But well-known as they are in Asia, the Eight Immortals and similar characters were less prominent in the West. “Being in the States and seeing all these mythological stories that are made into films and touch people’s hearts, I kept thinking, ‘Where are the Asian stories?’” she says.

While there may appear to be a proliferation of Asian-centred entertainment now, Melançon attributes this trend to there being “more permission and focus.” “There has always been amazing Asian content and Asian writers, and I don’t think there has been anything holding back Asian stories,” she explains, citing thriving film markets in South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore; the prolific Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai; and the popularity of recent cinematic triumphs such as Crazy Rich Asians and Parasite. “It’s more like putting on a new lens and seeing that we can be wherever we’re from and we can still grow and enjoy and experience the film and TV projects from [any place].”

“For me, the goal is to get to where it’s not even a question anymore; [Asian content] just becomes part of everything we watch.”

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Fallen 8 will arrive on the strength of Asian-fronted or -focused content earning well-deserved (and long-overdue) recognition—Melançon describes feeling emotional watching the recent Golden Globe Awards, during which Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan both earned acting accolades for Everything Everywhere All At Once. “It just felt so right,” she recounts. Meanwhile, an undercurrent of unease and fear still lingers in the community and occasionally rears its head in the form of headline-making spates of racially motivated violence, particularly in the US.

“The more we see Asian-centric stories or stories about Asian families or individuals, people will have more of an understanding, and when there’s understanding, there’s less hate,” Melançon explains. “We’re just one drop in the bucket by creating Fallen 8, but if we can create a show that brings in human stories, entertains from an Asian perspective, is fun and wacky, and that people will remember, and makes people understand the humanity of these eight different characters, I think we’ve done our part to keep the conversation going.”

With a 22-year career under her belt and credits including DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and American Romance, Melançon is well-positioned to pave the way for others by building stories that speak to poignant moments and inspire new perspectives. “I like to create things that aren’t a message to preach to anyone but get people to think and feel,” she says. “I wasn’t able to get the message out as an actor, because all I was was an actor speaking words.”

Now, she wields her power to originate fictional universes that open portals for up-and-coming creatives. “It has come full circle—I love acting, but I wasn’t finding the roles for myself or my friends, and I thought, ‘How can I help?’ The fact that I have the ability to write is very exciting,” she says.

“There are trailblazers that made my life easier…and I want to do the same thing. That’s my goal: to make space for the future generation of Asian creatives. And you know, I’m working with some really talented ones right now.”

Melançon may have lost her voice just for a moment, but she has found mighty means of making her community heard.

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