It's a love story between a beautiful young woman and the man of her dreams – who just happens to be 109-year-old vampire.
It's no mystery that the "Twilight" series has been the teen publishing phenomenon of recent times, prompting comparisons to Harry Potter. That success is set to be mirrored in cinemas worldwide with the release this weekend of "New Moon," the second movie adaptation from author Stephenie Meyer's series of books that brim with (unconsummated) desire.
"New Moon" was the fastest advance-selling film of the year in Britain, exceeding the £1 million ($1.6 million) mark, according to the country's largest cinema chain, Odeon.
In India, teenager Ritisha Mishra was so outraged at having been bypassed by the first movie that she rallied likeminded partisans online – and galvanized distributor PVR into bringing both the first and second films to the big screen over the next two weeks.
And in China, where at least one of the books in the series has perched atop the bestseller list for nearly a year, hundreds of thousands of admirers have been soaking up pirated versions of the first movie, which opens in general release only next week.
Core following? Adoring teens.
Judging from the security detail that surrounded "New Moon" stars in Paris last week – it rivaled the size of Madonna's, according to the newspaper Le Figaro – as well as the fans screaming Robert Pattinson's name as the heartthrob star appeared in London, the core following of the Twilight flicks lies in the mass ranks of teenage girls.
Ursula Mackenzie, CEO at Little-Brown, Twilight's UK publishers, told the Daily Telegraph that the success of the franchise spoke to the broad appeal of Meyer's focus: "She touches on themes – rebellion, angst, and finding your place in the world against tough odds – that resonate with girls and boys, teens and adults."
Worldwide, sales of the Twilight books have just reached 85 million, according to Little Brown. In Britain, they surpassed even the records set by the country's best-known such pacesetter, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, with more than 1 million copies snapped up in 2-1/2 years.
Rea, a South African 8th-grader, says the book series is popular among teenagers because, "It has romance, it has trust and friendship, love, and hatred, it has it all."
Dhalyn, an American 8th-grader who attends school in Johannesburg, is impatiently rereading "New Moon's" 500-plus pages as she awaits the movie, which won't open till Dec. 4.
She says it's all about the storyline. "[It] has that kind of a hook to it that makes you want to read all the books," she says. "There's not a lot of stories about girls falling in love with a vampire."
Vampire tradition required?
Vampire mythology does not resonate everywhere, of course. In Israel, for example, several movie websites said nothing about the film or when it will come out, and one fan website, while full of trivia about "Twilight" characters, actors, and places, had not been updated since September. David Brinn, senior editor and culture writer for The Jerusalem Post, says the film genre doesn't play too well in the country. "Israelis get enough thrills in daily life – and in their army experience – as to be a bit blase about horror and supernatural films," he says.
But in other countries – even if new to the vampire experience – it's a powerful lure.
China, for example, has no literary tradition of vampires, aside from a few 17th-century short stories about a blood-sucking variety of ghosts. Still, "Twilight" has swept young Chinese women off their feet.
"I would say over 60 percent of the readers are middle school and high school girls," says Chang Xiaowu, deputy marketing director of Jieli, the publishing house that bought the Chinese rights. "Edward [Cullen] is a vampire, he is dangerous. Girls love to fall in love with this kind of dangerous boyfriend."
Edward's appeal reaches beyond teenagers here, though. Many of his fans are young women in their twenties. "He is supposed to be the evil one, but actually he is a good person," says Sun Junmei, a 26-year-old financial consultant in Beijing who downloaded audio versions of three of the books.
But is he too good?
In India, where the series has sold 270,000 copies, although the books have not been translated into local Indian languages, "New Moon" will be released on some 150 screens in English, Hindi, Tamil, and Telegu.
"Edward is a bit annoying because he's so monotonous and so repetitive," says Ritisha, the 15-year-old who launched the online petition. "I mean, no one can be that perfect."