[FIRST IMPRESSIONS] The Crowned Clown 왕이 된 남자, episodes 1&2 (2019)

commentary, kdrama

As promised, I finally sat down and started watching a k-drama. (This blog isn’t just about Chinese entertainment?!)

Technically, this is my third—k-dramas and I didn’t quite get off the right foot back in ‘16—but, as they all say, the third time’s the charm. Right?

Which is precisely why I chose The Crowned Clown, of all offerings—this political intrigue with a tinge of a romance thing (though I suspect, from bitter experience, that Show will turn out to be the opposite) is literally my genre, so I might just end up judging this with rather high expectations.

But everyone on my Tumblr and WordPress dash is absolutely raving about this, and I do kind of want a break from Chinese-language media (binging 157 episodes worth of c-drama in a month is quite draining, I would say.) And I’m happy to report that I’m not always stingy about popular things—two episodes in, despite a few raised eyebrows, you can color me impressed. Tentatively.


[DISCUSSION] Growling Tiger, Roaring Dragon 虎啸龙吟, episodes 23-27 (2017-18)

cdrama, commentary

tl; dr Cao Pi died over twenty episodes ago, but it’s all his fault.

Evidently, the second half is proving a lot more consistently engaging than the first—I think it’s clear that this production is a lot better at handling court politics than military tactics. Though this stretch of episodes is technically the “intermediate” between the two main arcs of the second installment (ending Zhuge Liang’s invasions of Wei territory, and political strife against Cao Zhen’s (Zhang He) corrupt and naive son Cao Shuang), the explosive drama that concluded the first installment, The Advisors’ Alliance, and its ensuing implications have escaped Pandora’s box, raising the stakes higher than ever.

From Cao Rui’s manpain—I mean, childhood trauma—to succession shenanigans, here’s my take on the events of these intermediate episodes of Growling Tiger, Roaring Dragon (spoilers for the end of The Advisors’ Alliance and Growling Tiger, Roaring Dragon up to episode 27 below the cut).

Dramas, 2018: shenmeizhuang’s Year in Review

cdrama, commentary, dropped

I’ve come to think that China alternates in its offerings, dishing out plenty of good last year (and in 2015), but staling considerably in 2016…and 2018. Actually, though, 2018 was a decent drama year for me (much better than 2016)—it’s just that despite my huge backlog of shows, I simply didn’t prioritize drama-watching in the latter half of the year, hence missing out on most of the disappointment. *winks*

(I did follow I Am An Actor, and binged both Story of Yanxi Palace and Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace over the holiday season, though.) 

China definitely felt the drag this year: the bulk of IP dramas that cast popular actors in adaptations of popular source material mostly flopped, instead giving way to chemistry-infusedwell-acted (though not necessarily well-scripted) adaptations and…Yu Zheng?! Despite the slow year, though, I think this can only be a positive development for the industry; the audience is finally stepping up its game (I still distrust them, though.) That said, market trends don’t particularly matter to me anymore: I’m shifting some of my free time to novel-writing and plan to broaden my drama-watching horizons beyond China. I’m content with slowly enjoying a few shows for my own entertainment, at my own pace. 

So. The format is same as last year’s: shows I (mostly) completely watched followed by shows I dropped, all in chronological order. And, of course, it’s chock-full of spoilers. (By the way, I consider shows that completed its run in 2018 “2018 dramas.”) 


[MIDWAY MUSINGS] Very scattered thoughts on Growling Tiger, Roaring Dragon 虎啸龙吟, episodes 1-22 (2017-18)

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Given my liking for compelling character studies, many of the involved actors and actresses, and historical fiction, it comes as no surprise that the second installment of Wu Xiubo’s two-part Sima Yi epic, Growling Tiger, Roaring Dragon, is right up my alley. (Screenwriter Chang Jiang’s interpretation of the infamous 空城计 “Empty Fort Strategy” per episode 9 especially switched on my inner fangirl.)

That said, the show, despite my fascination, definitely still has its pitfalls. The first twenty-two episodes focus on the infamous Sima Yi and Zhuge Liang rivalry, so I speculate on that the most while briefly commenting on everything else (which I will hopefully go more in-depth on…in later posts!). Scattered thoughts below the cut (with spoilers, duh):

[DROPPED] Moonshine and Valentine 结爱·千岁大人的初恋 (2018)

cdrama, commentary, dropped

Normally when I drop a show, I just move on with my life. Especially if, exactly like with Moonshine and Valentine, I drop said show out of boredom and indifference (the blasphemy!). But since this SARFT-certified contemporary “sci-fi” romance is actually subbed *gasps* and quite popular, I figured I could contribute to fandom discussion and maybe actually rack up some views, y’know?

In all seriousness, dropping this 12 episodes into the show’s 25, I feel that having not experienced the anger and frustration of the final episodes, my indifference is beneficial objectivity that helps me dissect what didn’t work, personally, and perhaps grasp what drew in its fanbase. Which, of course, makes this post of my personal opinions in reality awfully subjective in nature.

Unfortunately, though, for me this was generally Not Good, despite at least the first half’s critical acclaim. I acknowledge the behind-the-scenes drama, the screenwriter apologizing for the show’s ending, among other complications, but we as viewers have only the final product to judge. And from what I’ve seen of the beginning, I can’t say I was surprised to hear of the mess Show wrote itself into.

[MOONLIT MUSINGS] Nothing But A Breakup 不过是分手 (2018)

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What the hell did I just watch? Nothing but a 36-minute c-drama.

For those of you so done with China stretching out its series to unbearable lengths for the sake of profit, recent indie production Nothing But A Breakup, or 不过是分手 may be the series for you. It’s only 8 episodes long, and, get this—4 minutes to an episode. After I chanced upon this, I impulsively took a peek—and then binged the whole thing.

But it’s not just catharsis from all the lengthy shows occupying our time that makes it a worthy watch. Without ever feeling too rushed, this brief and fast-paced yet conceptually creative mini-series leaves a lot of food for thought. Starting as quirky yet sentimental “chicken soup for the soul” with the not uncommon element of time travel, what this series ultimately becomes…is pretty freaking scary. The final episode is by far the most polarizing, and I think I know what to think now. I guess this is kind of a “review,” but with more meta and general thoughts than pure critique.

Oh yeah. I would love it if you read ahead, but if you understand Chinese, I would recommend this. (You can watch it on bilibili here.) Especially since it’s so short, there’s no harm in trying, right?

[FINAL REVIEW] Women in Beijing 北京女子图鉴 (2018)

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China does a plethora of foreign-language remakes every year, but many turn out to be uninspiring, peculiarly out-of-place replicas of its source material—without the original’s charm. In my last blog post (as a friend points out, literally “a season ago”), I found to be the case with Korean drama Kill Me, Heal Me’s overall bland, unsubstantial remake, and painfully so. Remakes of j-doramas seem to have it even worse—one of the lowest ratest dramas on Douban last year was the universally panned remake of the beloved Midnight Diner.

Qi Wei (Star April) headlines the rather ambitiously titled Women in Beijing (or, literally translated from its native title, “Beijing Women’s Guide”), a 20-episode (read: short!) “semi-” slice-of-life spanning an entire decade. A remake of the 2015/2016 j-dorama Tokyo Joshi Zukan, or 东京女子图鉴 (Women in Tokyo/Tokyo Women’s Guide), Women in Beijing revolves around Chengdu University graduate and “Northern drifter” (北漂) Chen Keyi—who hails from the lower-tier, even “backward,” municipality Leshan of Sichuan Province—and her experiences from 2008 to 2018. Even with zero knowledge of the source material, I know that it’s vastly different from the “original,” for it hones its focus on very  Chinese (possibly Beijing-specific) social issues in a potentially realistic way. (In fact, to make their point, they also produced the sister drama Women in Shanghai 上海女子图鉴, which started airing 05/16.)

So how is it? I think, in contrast to the audience backlash, that it’s a fairly solid, appreciatively cynical and thought-provoking look into modern life in urban China. (That being said, even with the criticisms Show received, just considering general audience sentiment towards c-remakes, it’s already a considerable success.) Though of course, from an American-born Chinese’s perspective, anything goes—I have little idea of the authenticity of it all.

[REVIEW] Seven of Me/A Seven-faced Man 柒个我 (2017-18)

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I was actually writing this for my end-of-the-year post (yes, I’m actually not procrastinating!) when it got a bit too long, given that this really isn’t a show that deserves much weight/attention (I guess because I have stuff to complain about). I’m probably shouting into the void at this point because it has been a while, not to mention I wouldn’t even recommend Seven of Me really. But, I don’t want my blog to turn into an annual thing (was that what I was planning?!), so I figured maybe one post might encourage more posts?

Me, at the sight or passing mention of Zhang Yishan

Never mind all the angry criticisms of the show—for whatever reason, this is the thing that goes viral? There are literally at least 50 versions of this same GIF, found everywhere on Weibo and WeChat.

‘Nuff said.

I mean, that was kind of the case while actually watching, but I like to overthink. If that really were the case the entire time—if my immense fondness for Zhang Yishan was all that mattered—I would actually be a lot happier. Unfortunately.

Dramas, 2017: shenmeizhuang’s Year in Review

cdrama, commentary, dropped, twdrama

(Tumblr is weird—when I try to upload pics via HTML on a text post, it just completely distorts the image. When I try to put out a super long text post that I want to include about as many pictures with, it just doesn’t work. But WordPress is normal. So, it’s about time I sit down and rant about all the stuff I watched this year.)

As a relatively newer drama watcher and a fairly busy person, I’ve read many of these “Year in Review” posts but never got the chance to try one myself. As we’re approaching the end of 2017—hopefully, if I don’t procrastinate too hard on this—I want to talk about all the dramas I dipped my fingers into in 2017, a feat I could never accomplish in any other way.

Even though (and frankly because) I’m a chronically stressed-out student with loads of schoolwork and etc., I watched (for me, personally) a lot of dramas this year. Honestly, my thoughts about a lot of these shows have been rather jumbled and, well, ambivalent, so I find it best to present my rants in this order:

  • stuff I managed to complete, in order of release (ratings, of course, are subjective and not even consistent with MyDramaList)
  • brief, probably far more savage commentary on shows I ended up dropping, in order of release
  • commentary on my current watchlist
  • more stuff I plan to watch