Dramas, 2017: shenmeizhuang’s Year in Review

cdrama, commentary, 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

Again, as always I feel rather ambivalent about the stuff I watch, so I find it too distressing to attempt to categorize these shows based on opinion. But we’ll see. So, let’s get started. 


Disclaimer: My personal preferences can be mainstream, but I’ve found that they often aren’t—in particular, the two k-dramas I attempted last year (given a very bland c-drama year of 2016) convinced me that k-drama is not for me, despite its greater popularity. (Although if anyone reading this thinks there might be something to my liking based on my opinions here, do please inundate the comments section!)

Some of these shows might not have easily accessible English/foreign subtitles, and as I don’t rely on subs, I’m not the person to know where they are.

Also, many, many spoilers!

cqzm1

Though Empress Dowager Cixi was portrayed with impressive nuance and moral ambiguity, most of the other politically involved figures, including Eunuch Li (left), served as largely one-dimensional plot devices.

THE FIRMAMENT OF THE PLEIADES (2010)

  • native title: 苍穹之昴, Sokyu no Subaru
  • adapted from Asada Jiro‘s Sokyu no Subaru
  • length: 28 episodes

Cinnamon rolls shouldn’t involve themselves in messy court politics, much less during Guangxu’s tumultuous reign. Even if the involvement is just trying to find this magical “Dragon Jade” that might (won’t) save the dynasty. So that’s exactly what these two bros—Empress Dowager Cixi’s favored eunuch “Chun’er” Li Chunyun and radical court minister Liang Wenxiu—end up doing.

Under the direction of Wang Jun, director of highly-anticipated Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, The Firmament of the Pleiades (if such a title did exist—though I must interject that 苍穹之昴 more accurately translates to The Firmament: The Pleiades, or even The Pleiades of the Firmament—as the Pleiades star cluster is part of the firmament and not the other way) is, first and foremost, a sheer visual and directorial feast. With the same production team behind The Legend of Zhen Huan, the set design and costuming are top-notch, and given its setting (the 1890s, when photography legit existed), visually, it’s likely one of the most historically accurate Qing period dramas; they even impressively brought in actors with semblances to their respective historical figures.

However, for its visual faithfulness to history, the narrative itself is largely fictional—aside from pivotal characters such as Empress Dowager Cixi (Yuko Tanaka), Rong LuEmperor Guangxu (Zhang Bo), and his respective consorts, most prominently Consort Zhen (Lemon Zhang), the key players in the show are at most ~inspired~ by historical characters. And there’s this underlying supernatural element, too. Choosing to focus on Cixi’s favorite eunuch Chun‘er (Xu Shaoqun) and radical, reformist court official Liang Wenxiu (Zhou Yiwei)—in addition to the nature of the Japanese source novel—ensured an appreciatively objective perspective on the notoriously tenuous relationship between the authoritative Empress Dowager and her meek and fearful adoptive son. Easily the most impressive aspect of this show is its nuanced development of the ever-controversial Empress Dowager Cixi, often maligned as a power-hungry woman responsible for the destruction of China’s imperial court system, as both parts lonely, disillusioned, and nonconformist (but, intriguingly very traditional) yet also morally dark and brutal enough to realistically adhere to her historical depiction.

(Guangxu, on the other hand, despite Zhang Bo’s amazing acting, felt just plain stupid in the latter half. Also, fair warning: don’t expect this to become a Guangxu x Consort Zhen romance. They are cute, but the romantic focus is minimal at most nonexistent.)

5363091e53215

It’s a period c-drama, so of course, angsty times abound for our lovers Guangxu and Consort Zhen! But, Guangxu, why are you so naive? 

Yet for its unique objectivity given its inherently foreign perspective (in this Chinese-Japanese collaboration, Japanese characters speak ominously of how screwed the Qing really is) also comes egregious mistakes. Mistakes such as “Emperor Kangxi ascended the throne at eighteen” (really?) almost ruined the tense and otherwise heart-wrenching dinner table scene. (I needed to lay down for a long, long while.)

Indeed, the show, though objectively solid, feels largely paradoxical—in some instances, the camerawork and execution downright immerse audiences into the time period: the way the camera pans from above to truly impression the suffocating nature of the Forbidden City! The transition from the men in the bedroom to the kneeling, sobbing women, forced to mourn separately! Yet as it is an “old c-drama”, the show’s execution at other times is shaky, even comical, and sometimes the background music reminds me of the freaking Twilight Zone, of all things. Similarly, while The Pleiades is willing to extrapolate upon Cixi with such impressive nuance, it often sidelines the supporting and other main players into one-dimensional plot devices for the sake of her development.  

Still, at only 28 episodes, it’s by far worth taking a look at—if not for it being a gorgeous Cixi character study, for including one of Zhao Liying‘s earliest roles as Ling’er. Or its aptly incorporated supernatural aspect (with the added bonus of Chun’er being adorable). 

Read my “Midway Musings” on this here

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10


Qn 37

“In the unseen depths of darkness, the hands of fate are molding humanity.” — crappy translation of one of Qin Ming‘s introspective quotes (among others) that we all blinked at and completely ignored when watching the show. I mean, it’s right there on the still.

MEDICAL EXAMINER DR. QIN, SEASON 1 (2016)

  • native title: 法医秦明
  • adapted from Qin Ming‘s The Eleventh Finger
  • length: 20 episodes 

30% forensic invenstigation, 40% adorable snarky banter, 30% Zhang Ruoyun‘s face. *ahem*. 

(I was just kidding. I swear.)

Even as someone quite unfamiliar with the crime/thriller genre (I primarily follow period shows, hence missing out on a lot of critically acclaimed thriller c-dramas that I want to get to), Medical Examiner Dr. Qin was love at first episode.

It plunges right into the action, starting with what seemed to be just the arrest of a street vendor who (disgustingly, but unfortunately realistically) used sewer oil to cook his food. In comes our titular protagonist, “medical examiner” Qin Ming (Zhang Ruoyun) and his latest assistant, our spunky, unwavering heroine Li Da Bao (Jiao Junyan). Detective Inspector Lin Tao (Li Xian), who has more up his sleeve than we all think, rounds out our epic trio, and off to crime-solving and self-deprecating bantering they go. 

Adapted from an investigative, part-autobiographical novel written by an actual medical examiner named Qin Ming (yes, he exists in real life!), the show is praised for its realistic and accurate handling of its generally intriguing cases. It does an amazing job addressing and dispelling the common “crime-solving tropes”, and even scientifically explains the hella creepy floating fire phenomena in all those Chinese ghost stories. 

What especially made this show a very enjoyable watch, however, is by far the sizzling chemistry between the very talented actors and the impeccably written character dynamics. While Medical Examiner Dr. Qin (of course) had to make its hero eccentric, anti-social, and aloof (literally to Da Bao: “stop breathing. it’s distracting”, and all those poetic lines)—Da Bao doesn’t join the forensics team with the best first impression—how Lin Tao and Li Da Bao joke around and scoff at all that is the best (Da Bao, of course, blows her nose obnoxiously loudly, because whose breathing was distracting again?). There’s also the little flower boutique debacle *winks*, Lin Tao’s “Schrodinger’s girlfriend”, awkward talk on virginity, etc. Honestly, I could live on an entire sitcom about our crime-solving trio basically interacting and roasting each other in good humor, just like the brief snippets in this show. 

Each minor case, eventually evolving into a string of somehow-connected cases leading to the show’s intended climax (but I’m getting ahead of myself here), spans about ~1.5 episodes long. Some touchingly portrayed the implications of committing “crime” in sheer helplessness and desperation, exploring the role of police authority and the ideas of law and justice.

Yet others, despite supposedly having taken the time to flesh out, felt far too abrupt: for instance, the very first case, which remains especially memorable for its perversely graphic method of killing (fried bones [to shrink the size, what else?] dumped in the sewer, victim skins hanging in the closet, fat cooked as…was that tomato soup?, I legitimately wanted to puke there, how did this get past Chinese censorship), essentially wrote the culprit’s motivation off as “this dude is just hella perverted”. So while the initial shock factor was wayyyy up there, the case’s ultimate conclusion felt sudden, even slightly disappointing. 

(By the way, if you’re a bit hesitant to watch due to its graphic crime scenes, don’t. The SAPPRFT comes in around Ep 5 to ensure that even the most weak-stomached of audiences can fully digest this show, and now the corpses are largely blurred-out blobs. :D)

Dr. Qin was well on its way towards making it on my “Absolute Faves” list when the cases began connecting, via the removed molars, to… Qin Ming’s ~dark past~. Because, of course. *cue eye-roll* 

469464c5c0

Qin Ming angsting is undeniably sexy, though, which may or may not alleviate how jarring and illogical the show’s tone shift in the latter half was. Zhang Ruoyun‘s acting has improved a lot since Wuxin: The Monster Killer (2015)—although, to be fair, his character was actually a zombie for a few eps—providing depth and complexity to a character otherwise forced into a cliched narrative.

To be fair, his whole “dark past” isn’t as severe compared to most other genius detectives’ past, and his father’s ~sudden death~ situation, aside from its clear psychological effects on Qin Ming’s character, interestingly shed light onto the forensics profession itself during a more restrictive era. The case itself, in which Qin Ming is personally implicated, was touching enough (poor clueless Da Bao and Lin Tao ;-;) to excuse its cliched existence—it almost felt like the arc solely existed because it’s an arc present in all genius detective mystery thrillers. What really felt far too forced and jarring was the sudden ultimate “criminal mastermind” with that same obsession and longing for revenge against our protagonist that just had to be part of the show. (I’m also not telling to make you guys watch and figure out what I’m referring to for yourselves?) 

The latter scenes felt really disorienting (I was seriously considering dropping the show when there was literally like one episode left), but then Da Bao waking up in the ER and asking for pancakes immediately softened me and all the initial fondness came flooding right back.

All in all, I felt like this show didn’t realize that it didn’t need to be this standard crime thriller series with dark pasts, obsessive criminal masterminds, etc. and that frankly, it was best when it wasn’t that at all.  

Season 2, which features an all-new cast, is currently in the making. Our original bbys Zhang Ruoyun, Li Xian, and Jiao Junyan are just too popular these days. 

OVERALL RATING: 8.1/10


tumblr_oql5970i2I1w09g8mo1_1280

Lonely rich businesswoman or dependent, mellow housewife?

Q SERIES: LIFE PLAN A & B (2016)

  • native title: 荼蘼 (lit. Rose-leaf Bramble)
  • length: 6 episodes

Zheng Ruwei (Rainie Yang), whichever Plan she chooses and whatever her financial situation, always feels like she got the shorter end of the stick. Also, men are assholes, and society is misogynistic. 

Trying to come up with something more—synthesis, one might say—from this introspective and philosophical yet also depressingly lethargic exploration of making life choices is kind of difficult to accomplish in the wee hours of the morning. (Because, of course, I procrastinate. And I digress.)

In short: though only 6 episodes (each 1.5 hours long though), watching this felt like a lifetime. It literally took an entire academic semester to commit myself to this rather depressing ride, though its unique structural storyline decisions proved ultimately effective and generally allowed for a satisfying (but also slightly far-fetched) conclusion.

Its parallels are deliberately and effectively drawn, its characters (though frustrating) all admirably consistent throughout the two “parallel universes” yet undeniably human, but the show itself—touching on sensitive topics such as abortion, misogyny (particularly in Taiwanese society), loneliness, superficiality, and the like—never managed to enter the enjoyable territory. Both “plans”—the empty superficiality of Plan A and the repressed passivity of Plan B—devolved into melodrama at certain points of the narrative, rendering it an overall rather depressing and lethargic watch. Yet simultaneously, it completely convinced me that the same capable woman who could successively rise up the ranks in her workplace and manage her own business could also become an insecure, passive housewife.

(This show, by the way, has a whopping 8.6 out of 10 on Douban.)

Read a much more relevant, cohesive, and detailed final review here

OVERALL RATING: 7.7/10


5rf8t9qoudlp3LlHyYhrymi3qvqXaCsIF_jqB-gYeMooqfqnLRfIGAsKdzmaCfx6htoNl2dZuzcX2bepF3n4Ckl6q7pKd8fWSs2J2raGi3lYuw3KKXaragY2Vyp6qXmaSqdNChxqA

What potentially could have rendered the most intriguing plot was sidelined until the very end, meaning Season 2 or…? 

CANDLE IN THE TOMB

  • native title: 鬼吹灯之精绝古城 (lit. Ghost Blows Out the Light: The Ancient City of Jingjue)
  • adapted from Zhang Muye‘s Ghost Blows Out the Light
  • length: 21 episodes

When the most horrifying aspect of grave-robbing government-sponsored tomb exploration, rather than zombies or curses, is sheer emptiness. The 80s hairstyles were close, though.

For the longest time after dropping The Lost Tomb, I avoided productions in the “grave-robbing” genre—in recent years, a genre that the Chinese censorship board really enjoys cracking down on (and in turn, fueling its immense popularity). Which, given my very poor impression of The Lost Tomb, was perfectly fine with me. But news of both Joe Chen and Jin Dong leading AND Daylight Entertainment (Nirvana in FireBattle of Changsha) producing was too irresistible. Combined with the hordes of positive reviews, I just had to take a look.

Candle in the Tomb actually was (sadly, not unexpectedly) taken off the air and only aired as a webdrama. I agree with blogger kumaxell on this one—it’s definitely the protagonists quoting the Communist Party that kept the show intact, and the characters totally aren’t rolling their eyes at the restrictive establishments (oh, why I love c-dramas). Initially, I was really digging this show, though—given its production company, the authentic sets, props, and costuming, cinematography, and acting was naturally on point, even with only half of The Lost Tomb‘s budget. The earliest episodes, in particular, incorporated very well-integrated points of character building, delving particularly into protagonist Hu Bayi‘s (Jin Dong) very human and appreciatively un-heroic, un-“government-brainwashed” motives *coughs loudly*. Similarly, I loved how they very vividly established the actually not all that fat “Pang Zi” Wang Kaixuan‘s character—even if I didn’t particularly like his greed-filled (but still well-meaning) character—as well as included fleeting moments of otherwise totally irrelevant characters that gave them some depth. 

I especially enjoyed their brief journey to the countryside, their “test expedition” to the abandoned tomb/former Japanese military base—albeit Ying Zi feeling very irrelevant the entire time, gosh (but then the 狼牙棒! the hilarious zombie! and, the chilling reveal in the coffin that was surprisingly moving)—and the main team’s chilling experience in the Kunlun mountains. Unfortunately, that same enjoyment did not carry over to their experiences in the desert—actually the main segment and the “ancient city of Jingjue” aspect of the show. 

I actually found the hella tall zombie downright hilarious—in fact, most of the mystical creatures, with the exception of the huo piao flies in the Kunlun mountains, didn’t evoke that feeling of horror that it might have been intended to. But while the initial set-up was extremely well-integrated, even touchingly poignant, the main action of the show (in essence, the plot!) felt flat and aimless…until a lot later. 

I didn’t consider this while watching, but I realize now that one of the reasons the main arc didn’t translate well was that the team simply reverted back to “panicky, inexperienced mode” in the desert—as if they hadn’t experienced an entire journey in the Kunlun mountains. The students in their exploration team felt very separate, somehow, from our leads—very much like Ying Zi, actually—and I really didn’t need to be constantly reminded that that one dude was absolutely convinced all the archaeological finds were signs of alien intelligence (it felt very much like the show flailing to integrate the students’ presence into the narrative). In fact, Joe Chen’s “female lead” Shirley Yang, despite potentially being the most interesting of all the characters, felt unfairly sidelined. On the most immediate level, though, it was literally episode upon episode of, well, them camel-riding in the desert. (I did quite adore An Li Man, though.)

The other deal with CITT is that it’s very good at building up suspense—so good, in fact, that it was so frustrating. Quoth one of my Tumblr rambles, “along with the bursts of slowness, build-up, and anticipation leading to sometimes intense reveals [but usually sheer nothingness] is ultimately lots of frustration and an urge to fast-forward through everything”. I felt so desensitized that by the time we got actual action, I just numbly went along with everything. The revelations in episode 19—the queen of Jingjue, the impressive 障眼法, and superficially the pretty flowers and CGI (very dangerous)—immediately exploded into infinite directions the narrative could have gone…two episodes before the show’s end. *cue more frustrated screaming*

The most pressing issue personally was that I couldn’t quite comprehend the point—what message did the producers want to come across? Considering how Pang Zi‘s stupidity greed was a very major plot driver, perhaps the woes of greed? 

OVERALL RATING: 7.4/10


cd1c88183e108561596897a6177e5e7c

Oh, Jingyao…

THE GLORY OF TANG DYNASTY 

  • native title: 大唐荣耀
  • adapted from Cang Mingshui‘s 大唐后妃传之珍珠传奇 (lit. Tang Dynasty Consort Biography: Legend of Zhenzhu)
  • length: 2 seasons, 92 episodes
    • season 1: 60 episodes
    • season 2: 32 episodes

The brutal Anshi Rebellion and its angsty aftermath.

Note: Glory, despite my constant previous fangirling, is actually a show I feel rather conflicted about; therefore I found it necessary provide both subjective and objective ratings, as well as rate the seasons separately. Read as “subjective/objective”, both out of 10.

If you’ve been following me on Tumblr for a longer time, you might have witnessed my “GOTD fangirl” phase—my life was indeed quite consumed by the painfully angsty, addicting series revolving around the romance and tragedy of the messiest times of the Tang Dynasty.

I get the feeling that the writers longed to implement morally darker protagonists and greater political complexity, but the directors desperately wanted to pander to mainstream audiences, resulting in a production that appealed to neither the idol drama fans (who were mostly obsessed with Eternal Love anyway) nor “正剧” fans (not even close). But despite my animosity and disdain towards 欢瑞, a production company I associated with “crappy idol sh*t”, the gorgeous promotional posters and stills, as well as Wan Qian portraying badass female general Dugu Jingyao convinced me Glory would be a worthy watch, and it was so much more than that.

Though invariably flawed—certain arcs were admittedly on the dog blood side of things (e.g. Shen Zhenzhu‘s (Jing Tian) arc that landed her in Uyghur, but then it was so freakin’ gorgeous I found it difficult to complain) and I still want to angrily punch the scriptwriters—it, Season 1 especially, was well-paced, and there legitimately was enough rich historical context to cover 92 episodes. In fact, I found that there was too much historical intrigue that the scriptwriters were unwilling to ignore, resulting in a, in hindsight, bloated, slightly unfocused narrative. Covering three different generations of emperors is a lot. Naturally, the show is much more romantically inclined, but its fascinating time period and dynamic and intriguing presentation of court politics was laudable. The dialogue—more complex and better-written than in most other period c-dramas—and strong execution ensured that simply watching was a very engaging experience. 

Jing Tian was fairly decent as Shen Zhenzhu, who (at least in Season 1) was a refreshingly morally darker heroine who operated more on logic and rationale—I knew from the start where the clues surrounding her family assassination would lead, anyway—but not memorable, either; her acting weaknesses were especially highlighted when juxtaposed with more talented actresses including Shu Chang (Murong Lin Zhi), Wan Qian, and Li Wei Wei (Empress Zhang). It’s easy to get hooked on a show when you have immense fondness for the male lead, and I definitely squealed over Allen Ren’s impressive portrayal of Li Chu, who I consider one of the best-written and complex, but as presented in season 2, ultimately contradictory “idol princely male leads” ever (and others agree with me on this). However, aside from the ensemble of veteran actors from TVB and/or Nirvana in Fire, it was Qin Jun Jie and Shu Chang as the ridiculously heartbreaking and dysfunctional secondary couple, Prince Li Tan and his former wife Murong Lin Zhi, that stole my heart. While (or perhaps because) their characters operated far more rashly than our politically-inclined and involved lead characters, they displayed much more acting talent and range than our main leads. Like the cynical person I am, I found the Season 1 conclusion gorgeously stunning—I don’t even know how many times I’ve rewatched the chilling “rain-poison” scene of Ep 60. 

As Tiffany Tang and Luo Jin were initially cast as the OTP, a lot of money was put into producing the show, and it shows; Li Chu’s sword cost 300,000 RMB (!), and costuming came from the same department behind Empress of China

SEASON 1 RATING: 9.6/8.4

Season 2, which suffered from much sloppier editing, was a lot shakier. It didn’t know what to do with Jingyao’s character, whose role was to separate the OTP but then also fulfill the historical role of Imperial Consort Dugu—I read a Glory fanfic that did a much better job addressing this. Li Chu’s characterization came into conflict in the Dugu arc, too (highlight the text block for major spoilers): 

I ended up skimming the original novel, and while it’s invariably different (the novel feels more coherent but I find the drama characterization superior), the writers decided to keep Jingyao poisoning Li Chu as blackmail intact. In the novel, Li Chu impregnates Su Ci; Su Ci’s desperate efforts to protect her unborn child are more or less the same, but there’s a far more logical reason for giving her such a light punishment that inevitably pisses Jingyao. The drama obviously took out that critical part, and it was really awkward how they tried to work around it. 

However, while I was unreceptive to the angsty, problematic An Qingxu (Mao Zijun) in Season 1—dude literally commits (historically accurate) patricide as a wedding proposal—the show did a stellar job developing him in Season 2 (Mao Zijun was also far less wooden compared to Season 1) into a character so much more than as portrayed previously, someone defined by his daddy issues and dangerously obsessive love. By doing so, it both heartwarmingly and heartbreakingly subverted the “but he had abusive parents” trope, which I just loved so. Much. 

Glory overall ended on an appropriately, gorgeously sad note. Quoth @travelingstrawberry, “I did finish finish Glory of Tang…and just needed to lie down for ten years…”

SEASON 2 RATING: 7.9/6.7


LEGEND OF THE DRAGON PEARL: THE INDISTINGUISHABLE ROAD

  • native title: 龙珠传奇之无间道
  • length: 90 episodes

Lots of weird mix-ups happen, resulting in a Ming Dynasty princess with a terminal illness (supposedly curable by the emperor’s tears) with no idea of her real identity and betrothed to a fake Crown Prince entering the Forbidden City to help this secret organization overthrow the Qing Dynasty. Naturally, she and the young Emperor Kangxi fall in love, but for the longest time everyone is stuck dealing with corrupt officials both in the palace and in the countryside.

Starring Yang Zi (Battle of Changsha), Qin Jun Jie (The Glory of Tang Dynasty), Mao Zijun (The Glory of Tang Dynasty) and Shu Chang (The Glory of Tang Dynasty) as the real-to-reel life star-crossed lovers of opposing dynasties, the false Ming Dynasty Crown Prince Zhu Cixuan, and double-agent Xue Qincheng, it’s pretty obvious why I picked up Longzhu. Despite an abundance of egregious historical flaws, most especially thinking that Oboi (鳌拜)’s last name was 鳌, or “O” (lmaoo…), an incoherent plot, stagnant characterization, and somewhat sloppy editing (particularly in the earlier episodes), it was actually a rather pleasant and enjoyable watch throughout. 

Stellar acting and strong chemistry between the leads—and so much more than just romantically—and adorable side characters such as Eunuch Li and Suo E’Tu kept the show together. Though 90 episodes, I simply saw no reason to drop this show—I loved the cast and simply enjoyed watching the characters interact, dammit; furthermore, given its unique schedule of 6 episodes every Sunday, I legitimately would binge 3-4 episodes every Sunday and would finish the week’s quota by Wednesday at the latest. As watching this became implemented into my schedule (and I had just come off from testing), it became a routine thing. Though I skimmed through quite a lot—the Empress Dowager was one of the weaker links in acting, surprisingly—I legitimately did watch at least 5 minutes of every single 30-minute episode. Yang Zi’s heroine Li Yihuan, aside from being that typical role she’s generally always typecast in, was refreshing at first but frustratingly gullible and indecisive at times.

Due to the phenomenal acting, the angst culminated in the final episodes to maximum effect—I was legitimately tearing up there, and it completely passed me until after the show that it 100% ignored what viewers expected/wanted to see. Unfortunately, the intensity of the final stretch of episodes was marred by a very illogical ending (i.e. it sort of reminded me of Scarlet Heart: Ryeo…*shudders*, but I was a lot more receptive/less mad) that, aside from you-know-what, ruined my Qincheng x Cixuan ship but I still think the overall experience was worth it. 

I would say Longzhu, for the most part, is like its opening theme song: nothing deep, but very pretty in itself. 

OVERALL RATING: 7.3/10


DAGdEgNUIAE4856

THE ADVISORS’ ALLIANCE, SEASON 1

  • native title: 大军师司马懿之军师联盟 (lit. Military Advisor Sima Yi: The Advisors’ Alliance)
  • length: 42 episodes

It’s as much of a political drama as it is a family drama.

For a while, I loved The Advisors’ Alliance more than Nirvana in Fire—not because I consider TAA amazingly perfect, but because unlike a lot of people, I don’t find NiF the definition of perfection. Its characters are more morally ambiguous, as the show never endorses a particular side—protagonist Sima Yi (Wu Xiubo) is the standard antagonist of most Three Kingdoms narratives—and employs a much greater focus on its women. Superficially, I even consider the series more aesthetically pleasing and the directing/execution even better. Unfortunately, despite also loving various aspects of the second half, I can’t help but agree that the narrative did indeed take a turn for the worse. 

The first half of the show slightly resembles Nirvana in Fire, though the princes would be switched, sort of—Sima Yi works to place the ambitious yet unfavored Cao Pi (Li Chen) on the throne to succeed Cao Cao (Yu Hewei, who coincidentally was Liu Bei in Three Kingdoms) against the far too kindhearted Cao Zhi‘s (Wang Renjun) advisor Yang Xiu (Zhai Tianlin), as well as Cao Cao himself. In spite of its historical inaccuracies (most of which I was unaware of anyway), the show does somewhat expect you to be low-key familiar with the overarching history. Yang Xiu’s fall from favor (鸡肋, they all say), however, felt abrupt and illogical—Sima Yi spoke ominously of what I personally felt was a BS reason, given Cao Cao’s earlier approval of Yang Xiu’s strategy, that he needed to be publicly executed; only through the touching scene that Sima Yi and Yang Xiu shared was the arc slightly saved. 

Without the presence of characters such as Cao Cao, Yang Xiu, and Xun Yu (Wang Jinsong), the narrative simply wasn’t as cohesive as before, yet I also loved how the second half focused on its ladies, especially Zhen Fu (the breathtakingly gorgeous Zhang Zhixi) and Bai Lingyun (Janine Chang). Though I was really looking forward to how the narrative would progress when Cao Pi ascended the throne, however, it was actually the weakest part of the show.

Yet even when the narrative was at its most illogical (*coughs* Cao Pi as emperor *coughs*), the individual scenes were superbly written, and interspersed among the political turmoil was very well-integrated humor and 萌点 (cuteness). The dialogue is more difficult, but ultimately far more authentic than most period c-dramas (that more or less throw around the same few “poetic-sounding” phrases)—insults such as 忘八端 (I’m slightly disappointed that in English, it could only be translated to “asshole”) were authentically period-specific. I also really shipped Cao Pi and Guo Zhao (Tina Tang), though I personally felt annoyed that just about everything was connected back to Sima Yi. Especially when he started influencing the events of the Inner Palace, or more specifically, when Zhen Fu, banished to the Cold Palace, immediately sought Sima Yi’s assistance, I felt annoyed at how “saintly” and righteous our protagonist would be portrayed as, despite his well-written and increasingly morally darker character. It’s a pretty conflicting thing to love the execution (that epic scene when Sima Yi carried young Cao Rui in the rain to Guo Zhao’s palace!) but find the arc itself grating. 

@michyeosseo posted linked gifsets of what I think appropriately highlights just how well-written The Advisors’ Alliance is. 

I’m currently watching the currently airing Season 2, under the different name Growling Tiger, Roaring Dragon, which you can read about a few thousand words down the post. 

OVERALL RATING: 8.8/10


596dc37013273

THE ETERNAL LOVE, SEASON 1

  • native title: 双世宠妃 (lit. Beloved Consort of Two Lifetimes)
  • adapted from Fan Que‘s 爆笑宠妃: 爷我等你休妻 (lit. Hilarious Pampered Consort: Lord I Will Wait For Your Divorce)
  • length: 24 episodes

This real estate agent time travels into the body of noble lady Qu Tan’er (Liang Jie), yet Qu Tan’er’s original soul still remains, utterly confusing her husband, the kingdom of Dongyue’s 8th Prince Mo Liancheng (Xing Zhaolin), and her personal servant Jing Xin (Sun Yizhu). 

When hit summer webdrama The Eternal Love (not to be confused with the ridiculously popular but controversial xianxia Eternal Love, or Three Lives Three Worlds Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms) became the talk of the town, we were all tempted to compare this to Go Princess Go for its supposedly similar time travel premise. But if anything, the one show I’m inclined to compare this to is Love O2O, largely for its fluffy, saccharine tone and inexplicable popularity among international audiences. 

Watching this show was at first a breeze—I binged the first eight episodes in one sitting, squealing over the unfolding romance between our newlyweds, from when our beloved 8th Prince swooped in to kiss her to essentially them having lots and lots of sex. Though I kind of side-eyed Xing Zhaolin’s hair and actually didn’t drool all over his face like I might have done with Yang Yang last year (*ahem*), I came to find his lightheartedly “morally dark” prince very charming. There was a very cheap-looking (given that show=cheap webdrama, “normal?”), rather peculiar fantasy element on the side that I kind of ignored and fast-forwarded through, as I did through the awkward acting of amateur actors portraying the Emperor, Empress Dowager, etc., but for the time being, their role was to conveniently subject our OTP to life-and-death situations that resulted in, well, more skinship! 

The other point of the show is its fairly unique time travel hijinks—our modern and ancient counterparts are forced to share one body, allowing for the most unexpected of situations, yet also convenient conflict resolutions. It was quite fun watching Qu Tan’er utterly crushed and maligned by Mo Liancheng’s concubines—right off the trope list—only for our modern-day Qu “Xiao Tan” to emerge in hilarious retaliation (among other situations, because I love immediate catharsis). But unlike a lot of The Eternal Love fans, I actually found Liang Jie‘s acting quite lacking—it’s true that Tan’er and Xiao Tan are very easy to differentiate, but the way she melancholily stares into space (Tan’er’s default face) makes her look like she’s trying to portray this blind/constipated person instead. Xiao Tan’s assertive, boisterous persona is refreshing at first, but also particularly childish.

I didn’t mind their weird “soul switching” occurring quite inconsistently—at first, you get the impression souls switch when the body becomes unconscious, but then the show claims that the souls switch when the conscious party tells a lie—because I knew this was one of those shows to watch without any expectations for deep quality (also, 14th Prince’s glamorous pink fur outfit). It was hilarious how the show would silently roast its characters—Xiao Tan, urgently needing to “switch” to Tan’er (yes, it becomes a tool both characters actually resort to actively using), “claims” that Mo Liancheng is wholly unsatisfying in bed, only for the soul-switch to never happen. Ha. Also, arguably the best thing about this show is Sun Yizhu‘s stellar portrayal of Tan’er’s wide-eyed servant Jing Xin—her comedic timing is the best, and Jing Xin herself is a much more interesting character. Still, though, I was hoping we could get a more nuanced look into the original Tan’er rather than just set her up as this helpless, bullied, and cookie-cutter Mary Sue. Furthermore, given how the show kept emphasizing Xiao Tan’s former role as a real estate agent (I guess contributing to her personality? a stereotype I’m unaware of?), I wanted to see how her modern-day job might somehow contribute to the narrative. But I did quite enjoy how Tan’er’s previous relationship with the eldest prince Mo Yihuai at least gave the plot some coherency, to some extent.

Speaking of coherency (I mean, lack thereof), though it’s universally recognized that the show fell apart in its last four episodes (but I still think this show is very overrated), the narrative actually started falling apart for me around episode 16. I swear there were red flags all over the place that the show didn’t really get how to deal with its bloated supernatural element (and Xiao Tan, all excitedly exclaiming that she’s like “The One” from The Matrix, straight-on made me facepalm). Aside from that, I realized that an adorable, even electrifying OTP can’t quite salvage a show with incoherent writing, or get me all that far into a show (unlike previously?). But I still persistently stuck on, as if I would somehow be rewarded for my perseverance.

My issue with the OTP’s angsty arc in the CGI-filled 玄灵大陆 that dominated the last few episodes, aside from pacing issues and the general complaints (some of which I actually think were okay-ish for me), is how helpless and pitiful they make Xiao Tan, and that really ruined her character for me. It’s true that realistically, she wouldn’t know how to defend herself, but she was awfully Mary Sue-like over there. I don’t want to watch more episodes, but I actually really wanted to see Xiao Tan’s very morally dark incarnation (unfortunately, I personally doubt Liang Jie has the range), or at least Lord Liancheng reacting to Xiao Tan as he might have to his former lover (the aforementioned incarnation). 

What I didn’t find overrated, at least, is this show’s ridiculously addicting OST. GO LISTEN!

It’s pretty obvious that Season 1 ended so abruptly because then they were unsure if more seasons in the making was a viable option. Now, Season 2 actually is in the making. I won’t be watching. 

OVERALL RATING: 5.9/10


DJC1v7RVAAAGGRP

LET’S SHAKE IT! SEASON 1

  • native title: 颤抖吧,阿部!(lit. Let’s Shake It, Abu!)
  • adapted from Feng Diuzi‘s 颤抖吧,ET(Let’s Shake It, ET!)
  • length: 25 episodes

When human trafficker Abu Cha Cha of Planet Duo crashlanded onto Earth during Tang Dynasty China, she was perfectly content with morphing her soul with a tree for a couple hundred of years to wait for human civilization to advance before returning to her home planet. Rudely interrupted by assassins after Tang Qingye (An Yue Xi), Abu is left with no choice but to possess Qingye’s otherwise dead body, thus beginning her love-hate relationship with Qingye’s brother Tang Qingfeng (Zheng Ye Cheng) and involvement in alien-manipulated Tang Dynasty politics. 

There were quite a few solid c-drama and tw-drama picks in 2017, but if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that Let’s Shake It! takes the prize for being my favorite drama of the year. From its ridiculously adorable, wacky, and lighthearted premise to its more serious, angsty conflict in the second half, the series kept me on the edge of my seat—or doubling back in laughter—the entire time. With extremely tight production values, including impressive CGI, an appropriately eye-popping color scheme, gorgeous cinematography, and simultaneously authentic and adorably wacky costuming, I was simply thoroughly entertained the entire time. 

An Yue Xi is more than adorable as the eponymous alien Abu Cha Cha (and Xu Muchan’s cameo as the actual alien version of Abu is amazingly consistent), while Zheng Ye Cheng, aside from being absolutely stunning in Tang female garb, showed impressive range despite his character’s innate stoicism. Wang Yanyang as cat-humanoid, Planet Duo’s star fleet captain Duo Miao (he even dubbed the cat!) is hilariously comedic and shameless. Aside from our main characters, both badass female general Xiao Ruyi (Xu Hao) and Tang Qingyun (Chen Chen) were extremely tenacious ladies who arguably drove the narrative. The surprise cameo from Xu Hai Qiao was definitely a very welcome addition. 

Though I didn’t get all of the humor—for instance, there are people who love to smash their head with bricks and fall unconscious in perfect, symmetrical formation—I loved the tongue-in-cheek, “punny” humor, from Tang Qingfeng’s literally rock-hard abs to Abu’s interpretation of Buddha. It’s also purposefully set in the year 666 (because why not?), though I still haven’t figured out who the heck the corresponding historical figures are supposed to be. Sometimes its WTF-ery brand of humor also pokes fun at common drama tropes—for instance, I’ve interpreted Abu and Qingfeng sticking blades of grass in their hair as “disguise” as poking fun at how the lead characters in dramas can hide so easily. 

While individual events progress in the wackiest and unexpected of ways, the plot itself isn’t particularly new, but it’s so fresh and well-executed nonetheless. Of course, following the rule of thumb of period c-drama, this does get angsty down the line, but the shift in tone felt completely natural. 

I said I don’t know where subs are located, but I loved this so much that I do: stream/download English-subbed episodes at A Virtual Voyage!

OVERALL RATING: 9.6/10

Update: They’re doing a second season! *heart eyes*


DROPPED SNIPPETS

Because, as much as I fangirl over watching c-drama, a good portion of it is admittedly pretty dog blood. There’s simply far too much c-drama getting produced these days and no clear filter, so disappointments and tragic messes are definitely inevitable. Not that all of these were horrible—I’ve just learned to manage my drama-watching time better. I think. 

f5cHUex

Ending this show with a single teardrop.

NOBLE ASPIRATIONS (THE LEGEND OF CHUSEN), SEASON 2

  • native title: 青云志 II (lit. Aspirations of Qingyun [Sect])
  • adapted from Xiao Ding‘s 诛仙 (lit. Chusen)
  • length: 18 episodes
  • watched: eps 1, 17-18

To awaken his Sleeping Beauty Bi Yao (Zhao Liying), our resident Prince Charming protagonist turns morally dark and becomes Gui Li (Li Yifeng), the right-hand man to the Demon King. 

Note to self: Don’t bother attempting Season 2 of a show for “closure”, when you couldn’t even get through half of Season 1. 

Trying to “review”, even rant on what I watched way back in January now is proving quite the impossible task. (Maybe I should actually try working on this post throughout the year rather than stressfully and anxiously put something together during the holiday season.)

Though I was quite wary of the idol casting and in particular 欢瑞’s involvement in the production (recall that I had a very bad impression from The Lost Tomb, hadn’t quite fallen in love through The Glory of Tang Dynasty), I recall that the trailers were amazingly intense. As an absolute sucker for “moral decay character studies”, as well as really wanting catharsis after the mess that was The Journey of Flower, I was especially eager to immerse myself into a narrative questioning the morality of xianxia sects and, naturally, protagonist Xiao Fan‘s emotional decay into moral darkness.

(The exploration of light vs. dark is why the xianxia genre is so popular, right? Not because of pretty idols?)

While it was clear from the get-go it was an unabashed idol drama, the first few episodes (of Season 1) were intense—while I cringed at the child acting, its well-written set-up presented clear parallels and character foils from which the remaining narrative could have intriguingly developed. The production values of this show were surprisingly quite high, too—the CGI was actually in some instances gorgeous (which is very high praise in the c-drama world), and Chusen’s color palette is #goals. 

Yet the plot itself just kept dragging itself in repeating circles, boring and frustrating me until I dropped Season 1 around Ep 20—essentially, before Allen Ren‘s appearance, as that’s frankly what I’m most immediately concerned about (the bangs though!). But still curious about closure, I skipped all the way to the final episode…and….cliffhanger. From what I remember, the show is very upfront about its exploration (i.e., blatant character discussion and dramatic line recitation) of “good” vs. “evil”, but in the final moments of Season 1 and the Demon King’s sob-session (if I remember correctly—the direct aftermath of the “final battle” and Bi Yao‘s “death”. Right?) I got the impression that the show wasn’t really going anywhere with its “philosophical” discussion of morality. 

But still. I wanted to see Xiao Fan’s moral transformation, so I stuck through to watch Season 2, which really disappointed me given how his morality was written off as his love obsession with this Demon King’s daughter, someone literally in eternal slumber. Maybe I should have filled in on the previous episodes, as he’s actually pitted against the Demon King in the later episodes of Season 2 (but do I even care?).

One of the things I did appreciate, though, was how his former sect members still retained their faith in our protagonist (while I really wasn’t, in part due to Li Yifeng’s flat acting). But then again Lu Xueqi‘s uptightness (moral lecturing?) was, to put it very mildly, annoying, though I initially totally found her (and her initial badassery—what happened to Xueqi’s characterization?) extremely refreshing compared to the roles that Yang Zi tends to get typecast in. Frankly, I really didn’t care for a good 90%+ of the characters—one of Show’s biggest issues is by far introducing and rushing through too many character arcs, which resulted in IMO not even properly developing our main characters—but now I really wish the narrative was centered on Cheng Yi, or, in an even more far-fetched turn, Mao Zijun‘s Yan Lie (who was super charismatic!), even if I didn’t particularly like Bi Yao. /rant end

tl; dr: Season 2 also ended on a very frustrating cliffhanger, but I simply refuse to continue to waste my time facepalming at this convoluted, almost unsalvageable narrative. Yes, Season 3 is a legit thing, and 本姑娘不约. 


20161125041740_81507

At least I didn’t find General And I quite as bad as the hate it received, but obviously, this was still far from good enough for me.

GENERAL AND I

  • native title: 孤芳不自赏 
  • adapted from Feng Nong‘s A Lonesome Fragrance Waiting To Be Appreciated
  • length: 62 episodes
  • watched: eps 1-14, 17-19, 21, 24, 27-29, 36, 43, 46-47 + OTP reunion sexytimes

More like 抠图不自赏—ugly green-screen waiting to be appreciated.  When enemies-turned-lovers aren’t quite enemies-turned-lovers. 

If there’s one lesson I learned from watching and dropping General And I, it’s that I should have trusted my sixth sense—I wanted to drop this two episodes in, but decided to grit my teeth and pull through—ish—instead because friends were also watching. (And then they came back and really talked trash about this.)

Aside from the most prevalent criticisms—crappy CG backgrounds (Angelababy was pregnant during filming and didn’t film a lot of the outdoor scenes, the actors unable to actually ride a horse (?), which I find downright unacceptable), Angelababy being a crappy actress (unfortunately true, though protagonist Bai Pingting was still innately likable and I think Angelababy’s melancholy aura matched her character well), as well as mostly more [unfounded] hate against Angelababy in general—the series itself suffered from severe pacing and storytelling issues. If anything, it’s just your standard draggy Mary Sue/idol period drama (around the same quality as, say, The Princess Weiyoung—I really should have also dropped this within the first 5 eps) with a dash of crappy green screen.

Though Wallace Chung did display some nuance as the eponymous General Chu Beijie (especially given his initial stoicism, laudable microexpressions), his acting felt really disappointing compared to in other projects I’ve seen him act in (you need to see him in this Hong Kong film called Three). Furthermore, his skin looked particularly tight, as if he had Botox or something (good god, NO). Sun Yizhou‘s He Xia, Pingting’s formerly genteel master who eventually launches his epic revenge plan (that I didn’t see), was basically a repeat of his character in Bu Bu Jing Qing (BBJX’s disgustingly crappy “sequel” that I refuse to acknowledge, so I was not happy—also, do ignore the fact that I actually watched enough of BBJQ to observe this). Gan Tingting’s ambitious princess of Bai Lan and the conflict she faced attempting to assert power over the misogynistic ministers of her kingdom was decently interesting, at least. 

I skipped around a lot on this, but still, I know that the first 20 or so episodes flashed by far too quickly, despite the earliest set-up being the most intriguing of the entire series. Chu Beijie’s problematic, domineering character was initially too much for me—though I was legitimately intrigued when at the very beginning he snuck in the palace, masked, and threatened one of the enemy kings. Unfortunately, his more ambitious, intelligent character quickly degenerated into “dedicating his life to the female lead”—which I know sounds romantic, but I find that the more c-drama you watch, the more you want to throw up at that notion. 

The “military strategy” coming from ostensibly the most intelligent war strategist Pingting and the “God of War” Chu Beijie was laughably simple, but (of course) their enemies were dumber. And then I have no idea what the plot devolved to, but apparently, there was a 20+ episode OTP separation (OTP separations can be well-done—see The Glory of Tang Dynasty—but as a show that relied on its OTP to function honestly, not the best choice). 

Instead of the slow-burn enemies-to-lovers of opposing kingdoms that I was anticipating, the OTP got together far too quickly, in the messiest, most disorienting, and hilariously tropey way. But to their credit, I found that Angelababy and Wallace Chung actually had very impressively both cute and un-chaste chemistry—the kiss scenes, especially, were appreciatively intense and worth anxiously pounding the fast-forward button for. 

Here, enjoy (originally posted by thoureau on Tumblr)

tumblr_ola1s6B2OC1sz9a0xo2_540.gif

gai.gif1

tumblr_ola1s6B2OC1sz9a0xo4_540.gif


THE STARRY NIGHT, THE STARRY SEA (SEASON 1 ONLY)

  • native title: 那片星空那片海
  • adapted from Tong Hua‘s The Starry Night, The Starry Sea
  • length: 32 episodes (season 1 only)
  • watched: like less than the first ten minutes of episode 1

Unlike the other shows that I attempted, this deserves no featured still, no snark-synopsis, no anything, because less than ten minutes into the show, I was doubled over in laughter at how bad this show was. That means I probably shouldn’t have even included this in this post—huh. 

Still, that Season 1 was released in, like, February and I still recall just how much I cringed at Feng Shaofeng‘s wooden portrayal of this creepy merman, accompanied with cringe-special effects, as well as how I skipped over to Haden Kuo‘s wide-eyed and OTT non-acting (I couldn’t even make it to Huang Ming‘s part), speaks measures of its inherent crappiness. And I’m avoiding anything with Haden Kuo’s name attached to it. #sorrynotsorry

So obviously, even though I was more excited for Season 2 (a period drama) prior to this show’s release, I obviously didn’t bother. 

(One of my beloved Tumblr mutuals actually really enjoyed this show. It’s all personal preference, y’know.)


f08424b1703acb9ca93f104d55f8d98e

I’m mostly utterly confused about Gongsun Si Niang (Zhang Xinyuan)—she angrily disapproves of Samoyeds’ involvement in the task force in one episode, and then actually joins them, all blushing and in love?

DETECTIVE SAMOYEDS (SEASON 1 ONLY)

  • native title: 热血长安 (lit. The Righteous Ardor of Chang’an)
  • length: 24 episodes
  • watched: eps 1-4

A series of strange and unusual murders is causing a panic among the citizens of Chang An. A task force is formed to solve these so-called “supernatural” cases. The team includes the hyper-logical police Li Zhi, the human library Shangguan Zi Su, the explosive expert Huang San Pao, the forensic genius Tan Shuang Ye, the weapons specialist Gongsun Si Niang, and of course, the money grabbing know-it-all foreigner Samoyeds.

— Drama Wiki, because this show felt so bland, I couldn’t even come up with my own synopsis

Honestly, I was just very bored with this webseries, as I cared for neither the (cute, but flatly written and childish) characters nor its blandly written cases. Which was disappointing, because the set-up gave each member very distinctive personalities that could have rendered a very fun watch. The “medical examiner” of the group, Tan Shuang Ye (?), felt invisible half the time, as so did Shangguan Zi Su—my main impression of her and her mind palace was really just “Ju Jingyi is pretty”. Only Xu Hai Qiao‘s titular character Samoyeds and Gongsun Si Niang stood out to me as actual characters, and even then their moods and whatnot felt inconsistent and spotty. 

Though I remember particularly enjoying this show’s intense intro, Samoyeds particularly suffered from poor pacing—it felt to me that the script was a plain 流水账 (erm…it translates to “journal”, but like in the bad or lacking coherency way, so just read as “poorly written”). The worst thing they did, that ruined I think a lot of the show, was attempting to squeeze each individual case into a set 45-minute episode. Either let the case run for how long it needs to run episode-wise or make each episode adhere to how long each case needed be. At least of the cases that I watched thus far (which, frankly, I don’t even particularly remember), the conclusion always proved rushed and anti-climatic, and even the character interactions during investigation felt either forced and awkward or just plain boring.

A lot of the scenery was actually digitally processed, and while the CGI was more impressive than your typical C-production, the scenery at occasions felt unnatural—at its best, quite RPG-like (which stylistically is okay for me), and at its worst, disturbingly artificial.


1496222963049f7ff5f57-6347-4291-b900-ca7838abdb23KSwZQzPRBN

Remember when they released the first stills and trailer and it legit looked good? #shunninghunantv

PRINCESS AGENTS

  • native title: 楚乔传 (lit. Legend of Chu Qiao)
  • adapted from Xiao Xiang Dong’er‘s 11处特工皇妃 (lit. Princess Agent No. 11)
  • length: 58 episodes (director’s cut)
  • watched: eps 1-23, 28-29 + some Xiao Ce scenes + aftermath of Chun’er’s rape

Yan Xun (Shawn Dou) is forced to unleash vengeance on a paranoid, tyrannical king, interspersed with a narrative awkwardly forcing former slave Chu Qiao (Zhao Liying) into situations that only her former master Yuwen Yue (Lin Gengxin) can (secretly) save her from. (Yes, I’m very salty about this.) 

Three words: F*ck this sh*tshow.

By far the biggest disappointment of the year, Princess Agents, which suffers from the crappiest directing ever, ugly-as-f*ck set designs and costuming, poor, artificial-looking lighting, cringy action sequences, and its insistence on forcing its supposed “badass” heroine Chu Qiao to constantly fall into (why?) male lead Yuwen Yue’s arms, completely forgot its gorgeous premise of ending slavery. While the crappy directing was evident from scene one, the first episode actually thoroughly explored the unfairly brutal realities of slavery and promised an epic narrative that never happened.

I haven’t seen Zhao Liying in any half-decent drama since Boss and Me (2014), and her portrayal of the embittered and pretentiously self-righteous amnesiac assassin only highlighted her acting weaknesses. Lin Gengxin was wooden. I couldn’t stand morally dark! Yan Xun. Niu Junfeng and Ian Wang (Chun’er‘s (Li Qin) elder brother and annoying antagonist Yuwen Huai), both of whom I consider talented actors, were severely disappointing. The other side characters were mostly very plastic-looking 网红脸s. Li Qin showed impressive acting chops—in particular, the extremely disturbing but most well-acted part of the entire series, the aftermath of being raped—but was hindered by both her poorly-written character and sh*tty dubbing. Deng Lun’s cameo as the Liang kingdom’s Crown Prince Xiao Ce was cute, at least. 

My fingers are itching to angrily roast the hell out of this disgusting commercial venture—the only possible way to make every second of watching Princess Agents slightly worthwhile (yes—watch that crappy show so I can roast it on my blog later), but I also don’t think it’s worth it. 

(I didn’t know I had this in me.)


Lost.Love.In.Times.full.153261

I especially loved the darker muted color scheme, as it very appropriately reflected the strong presence of sorcery in Show’s universe. That is, I mean, both universes.

LOST LOVE IN TIMES

  • native title醉玲珑 (lit. Drunken Exquisiteness)
  • adapted from Shi Si Ye‘s Drunken Exquisiteness
  • length: 56 episodes
  • watchedeps 1-29, 32, 54-56

The love between Feng Qingchen and Yuan Ling that was lost…through creating an alternate universe.

Though everyone’s neighbor side-eyed the “artistically unique” hairstyles when the first promotion posters were released, the best thing about Lost Love in Times was by far its aesthetic appeal—the gorgeously detailed costuming (although I might have qualms about Feng Qingchen‘s (Liu Shi Shi) fugly rainbow dress), beautiful cinematography, cinematic special effects, and impressive directing under Lin Yufen, were, among its intriguing dark magic premise, what hooked me into the series—for a while. The hilariously creative and elaborate (though uncomfortably tightly-pulled) hair actually served as a nice visual finishing touch, if you ask me.

Adapted from a novel purportedly similar to Bu Bu Jing Xin (what I’ve surmised—modern-day girl gets cheated on by her boyfriend, so time travels into the past and dates 4th Prince instead…as if that’s what BBJX is about, LMFAO), I was initially particularly looking forward to this to for them BBJX feels. Aside from “male lead=4th Prince” and “female lead=Liu Shi Shi“, the two aren’t alike at all.

We all know the nature of Chinese censorship, so the production team creatively implemented the concept of alternate universes as a stand-in for time travel. The first four episodes basically flew by at the speed of light, serving to set up female lead, Grand Sorceress Feng Qingchen, and Fourth Prince Yuan Ling‘s (William Chan) epic romance. Though slightly shaky in execution, it was rather exciting watching Qingchen and the other sorceresses flying in with their army of butterflies, Tao Yao (Han Xue) and Xi Xie‘s (Han Dong) poignant tragedy, Yuan Ling’s palace coup, and Yuan Zhan‘s (Xu Hai Qiao) unexpected coup during the leads’ first wedding. It went by far too fast, however, for me to completely believe Qingchen’s deep and passionate love for Yuan Ling—he’s awesome and charismatic (William Chan, despite earlier doubts about his acting, is fine), sure, but I never felt the deep emotional bond between our two leads until a lot later. The scriptwriters did a decent job implementing characterization—in the novel, Qingchen’s animosity towards 7th Prince Yuan Zhan stemmed from his exact same physical appearance as her ex-boyfriend (who cheated on her in the modern-day); through implementing the coup, similar feelings could logically transpire. 

As I was watching this with a good friend (who was also reading the original novel), I got through the earlier episodes rather quickly—the plot, characterization, etc. went by relatively smoothly. It was pretty creative that main villainess Ding Shui (Zeng Li) was also Consort Lian/Yuan Ling’s mother, and that the princes would secretly engage in dark magic for ~political reasons~. However, I still feel that the scriptwriters ultimately just took the most cliched/safe route from its exciting set-up—that the sorceresses were actively persecuted in the new universe was an intriguing element that could have gone in so many other (far more interesting) directions.

really side-eyed 12th prince Yuan Li (also, low-key disappointed that Zheng Yecheng, the 玲珑使 in the first universe, didn’t get more screen time) and Ming Yan‘s (Mary Ma) romance—I find it both offensive and childish for writers to implement the very outdated “conflicted feelings stemming from his/her perceived gender” debacle and drag it out for the length of 10+ episodes. The same issue was prevalent throughout the Lost Love in Times Youku special featuring 11th Prince Yuan Che (Gong Jun) and Yin Caiqian (Xu Muchan). There was also quite a lot of awkward, deliberate queerbaiting, especially between 4th & 11th and 3rd & 12th.

Overall, Lost Love in Times, featuring decent acting from its main cast and powerhouse acting from veterans including Liu Yijun, wasn’t a bad show, but I simply got bored at one point—I just didn’t particularly care about anything quite enough. My favorite character Yuan Zhan had increasingly fewer appearances, and after the sorceress’ were finally avenged—somewhat—I didn’t know what to anticipate anymore. 

I did take a peek at the ending, and while it was a happy one, it was also far too rushed—it simply wanted to shove a fairytale-like conclusion down our throats, and the writers didn’t know how to use its alternate universe as an effective plot device.

Here’s a very, very detailed review (not by me) that I kind of /pretty much agree with, though I personally would rate this lower—perhaps a 7/10


dwbry2

It’s been a long time since I last set my eyes on a Yumama Yu Zheng production—while his dramas previously attracted ire for their painfully bright and fugly color palette, his dramas now (including the promos for upcoming dramas Yanxi’s Conquest and Untouchable Lovers) adopt a very muted, pastel-like color palette.

KING IS NOT EASY

  • native title: 大王不容易
  • length: 20 episodes
  • watched: eps 1-14

Body-swapping hijinks between palace guard Shao Yong (Zhao Yiqin) fangirl and court lady Da Xi (Bai Lu) and the ambitious, power-hungry, but young emperor Ji Man (Zhang Yijie).

Despite the inevitable trepidation, being a Yumama Yu Zheng production, I honestly adored this show—each episode is only ~30 minutes, and as a lighthearted rom-com, the plot didn’t need to be deep or serious at all to work. Both Zhang Yijie and Bai Lu nailed their roles—I was totally convinced that an animated fangirl was stuck in the king’s body and that an uptight, occasionally sarcastic emperor was stuck in Da Xi’s (I love Bai Lu’s “I really want to facepalm right now” face).

(Even though after the switch, I saw the limitations in Bai Lu’s acting—she’s a lot better at stoicism, and her interpretation of Da Xi, juxtaposed with Zhang Yijie’s animated portrayal, fell flat. Zhang Yijie, on the other hand, has found himself a new fan.)

I think the show overall did a great job considering the challenges our characters would face—Ji Man, aside from being very unaccustomed to being treated as a servant in the innately patriarchal world, had to deal with getting his (her) period, and of course being king wasn’t easy at all—aside from having no idea of how to run a country, Da Xi had to deal with avoiding sleeping with her (his) annoying-as-hell concubine, portrayed by Dong Hui, who was actually that child actress who portrayed the Empress in Schemes of A Beauty (2010)—that she’s an actual adult now makes me feel so old. The plot dealing with the Empress Dowager fell flat, though, and (an attempt to extend the show) the Wushuang Zong Ji and Shao Yong arc basically screamed Yumama. However, I loved the plot progression in terms of the main romance—aside from the OTP’s chemistry, their relationship was thoughtfully developed so that by the time we got to episode 13/14 I was wholeheartedly rooting for Ji Man (in Da Xi’s body) to pursue her. 

I was about two weeks behind the show’s airing schedule; everyone was shook and angry at the messed-up, convoluted ending (apparently a mix between WInception, and The Eternal Love, but also really bad—oh, Yu Zheng), so I just decided to drop this show (it was the mention of The Eternal Love that made me balk) with a good impression and at a happy ending. Yes, that’s right—this is the one show I dropped but would wholeheartedly recommend. Episode 14 is a pretty satisfactory stopping point if you ask me.

The opening credits are the cutest. 

OVERALL RATING, FROM NOT WATCHING THE ENDING: 8.2/10


THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS

Musings on both shows I temporarily put on-hold (because my schedule is way too hectic for consistent drama-watching) and shows that I’m actually actively watching. Again, this is not quite the order in which I picked these up, but here they are, in order of release.

GHgym4l.jpg

Though I’m not completely clear about how the show will present its generational shift in the later episodes, I’m really liking how we’ll get to empathize with the figures of authority, even as the later episodes will come to highlight their severe faults.

WHITE DEER PLAIN

  • native title: 白鹿原 
  • adapted from Chen Zhongshi‘s White Deer Plain
  • length: 77 episodes
  • status: 3/77, on-hold

I picked this up for the “younger generation” arc, which is a lot further down the narrative—it’s an extremely solid, sophisticated, though at times slightly “artfully pretentious” series that my biases such as Zhai TianlinLi Qin, and Deng Lun actually deserve. Even though this was previously adapted into a popular film, the film only focused on Tian Xiao’E (Li Qin in the drama adaptation) and her scandalous relationships that further fueled the feud between the Bai (“White”) and Lu (“Deer”) families on their once-barren plain in Shaanxi. (There’s also an actual this CGI white deer that’s like the symbol of vitality/fertility and Xian Cao (Qin Hailu) herself.) 

I’m still sticking out to watch from the beginning, though, because I like having empathy for characters such as current main lead Bai Jiaxuan (Zhang Jiayi), even as he comes to antagonize the other characters I anticipate rooting for. Thus far the show has focused a lot more on cute children and Shaanxi noodles than I anticipated, and the Bai and Lu clans are actually rather amiable. For now. But already there’s the totally friendly issue of needing a successor to the clan head of the area. 

There’s also a lot of very well-integrated heavy political context in the mix—only three episodes in, the writing already clearly demonstrates the effects of drastic social change on a rather isolated rural area. Surprisingly, the characters actually feel quite (too?) idealistic given its grim (but so far not that grim) premise and what I’ve surmised of the “younger generation” characters. The question is, when will I actually get to watch this?


t01a8e7489813857cdd

#xiaohongdeservesbetter

TEN MILES OF SPRING WIND CAN’T COMPARE TO YOU

  • native title: 春风十里,不如你
  • adapted from Feng Tang‘s Beijing, Beijing
  • length: 40 episodes
  • status: 18/40, currently watching

For the longest time, Ten Miles of Spring Wind successfully disguised itself as a “反套路” youth romance—I was legitimately fooled into thinking that the Show was those “sweet, but cutely aggravating” stories where our leads Xiao Hong (Zhou Dongyu) and Qiu Shui (Zhang Yishan) would sarcastically banter and brutally roast each other all day whilst secretly having crushes on each other, while presenting other cute side couples and relationships. With its vintage, indie color scheme and romantically filmed schoolyard scenery, the production plays on audience nostalgia like heck—even as someone who wasn’t in college in Beijing in the 1990s. 

The medical students’ restrictive yet wild (’tis a show full of contradictions) days in their mandatory military training was presented as a series of vignettes, with each episode having its unique story, almost, and title. Episode 6, for instance, is called 土豆阿土豆 (Potatoes, Oh, Potatoes).

There’s some very direct social commentary in this—Wang Xiuyu’s arc explored the brutal realities of both student-superior relationships and the entire “rural vs. urban Chinese” debacle, though in my opinion a bit too one-dimensionally (or idealistically?). Other, I personally think less deliberate, even unintended instances of social commentary felt much more genuine—in particular, “Xiao Bai” Gu Man (Chen Yilong), though not very convincingly an ABC, faced understandable conflict from cultural differences. (Mostly, though, his limited understanding of Chinese (but also a lot better than the average ABC)…sometimes…legitimately made for some good humor.) And then there’s Zhao Yingnan, the head commander’s daughter, who, despite outwardly being the model student & etc., still experiences much more privilege and wields the scary power to severely mar her “superiors'” political and career-based future. (That segment was actually not present in the 36-episode version. Huh.)

But fair warning: after the university students complete their military training, a six-year time-skip happens (I love how the editing was all, very informally, “So then six years passed…”)…and the rest of the narrative essentially inches closer and closer to melodrama

That’s right—a melodrama successfully disguised itself as a youth, almost idol romance. I’m screaming. 

In hindsight, I quickly realize how “series of vignettes” = character development and other stuff leading to tragedy. The writing’s most complex focus is at our leading ladies Xiao Hong and Qiu Shui’s official girlfriend, the “luckier”, more privileged Zhao Yingnan (You Jingru). The two characters are both clear foils to each other, and so are their respective relationships with Qiu Shui. I know the show knows it, but it’s still grating to see these two fascinatingly complex women set their selves on fire for Qiu Shui, objectively an asshole. An asshole that I simply can’t come to hate, in part due to Zhang Yishan’s ridiculous amount of charisma and freakishly good acting. It’s strange, as the story relies on quite a lot of voiceover narration (I suppose like in the original novel) by Qiu Shui himself (Yishan’s sexy voice though!), but fortunately takes a far more female-centric, omniscient perspective.


20170828160328-fb0b9ce301b44fe339ab50515c1032a3-desktop NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY

  • native title: 那年花开月正圆 (lit. That year the flowers bloomed, it was a full moon)
  • length: 74 episodes
  • status: 4/74, on-hold

Receiving rave reviews for its talented cast, vivid directing and execution, and engaging storyline, Nothing Gold Can Stay was something I was anticipating since pre-production; yet during its actual release, I ultimately never got the chance to pick it up. Now a bit late on the boat, I’m hoping to finally get to enjoy the dramatic occurrences evolving around protagonist Zhou Ying (Sun Li), historically the most successful (wealthy) businesswoman of the Qing Dynasty. (That is, despite the flood of upcoming shows, and far too many already-released shows I’m considering watching.)

It seems that I didn’t have good affinity with Shaanxi dramas this year, does it not?

Plot-wise, I really have little judgment call, given that the overarching plot rests on Zhou Ying becoming widowed and forced to take charge of the crumbling family business, and where I am so far she hasn’t even married the seemingly perfect but actually rather gullible Wu Ping (Peter Ho) yet. (My other question is, as a servant student at the Wu estate, how does she get to marry him, a wealthy merchant with (sort-of) imperial ties? As the main wife, no less?)

Still, the show is rather fast-paced thus far (but being 74 episodes, clearly that’s not staying)—the first few episodes very briefly yet memorably already established the main parameters—yet somehow retains this realistic, almost “slice-of-life” quality. (That is, if your life involves living as a con artist, being sold (by your dad, no less!) into servitude, running away to avoid coercion from your master, but then at a different estate also becoming the first female student to attend its business classes.) Zhou Ying’s mischievous and nonchalant persona, as well as her evidently lower-class upbringing (I didn’t know you could chug tea down your throat by the spout) is definitely a breath of fresh air compared to the typical c-drama heroines, yet also very reminiscent of Vicki Zhao’s iconic 小燕子. And obviously, very much like in HZGG, there are just so many Tumblr gifsets glorifying Zhou Ying’s hilarious attempts at “noble etiquette”. (Some of Sun Li’s derpier—yes, actually—reaction faces feel forced, but overall she’s amazing.)

Chen Xiao‘s Shen Xingyi is a carefree and spoiled rich dude, and the previously mentioned “master”. Already there’s a very prominent “push-and-pull” dynamic between him and our runaway servant girl—both go too far in antagonizing each other. Due to my fondness for Chen Xiao, I find Xingyi rather adorable, honestly, and given his older brother’s sudden death (and other stuff) I know tragedy will befall him, and I’m really anticipating his character growth. 

On the other hand, I’m dreading all the dramatic “business downfall”, “family ruin”, and corruption drama, because of what I’ve seen thus far, the business ploys and clan rivalry stuff are so campy and overdramatic, garnering a lot of side-eyeing from yours truly. Prior to Shen Yuesheng’s mysterious murder, in fact, I didn’t really care at all. I’m not quite ready to see Zhou Ying’s arc and the political-business aspect collide. 


1508683872-bc14cd43692da74998a7f952c1bd2a45.png

By far my favorite multi-character poster.

OH MY GENERAL

  • native title: 将军在上 (lit. General On Top)
  • adapted from Ju Hua San Li‘s 将军在上我在下 (lit. General On Top, Me On the Bottom)
  • length: 60 episodes
  • status: 18/60, on-hold

I’ve observed that I tend to stick to shows, regardless of quality, if I follow its airing schedule, which actually rarely happens. Oh My General, which aired only one episode a day on Youku, I managed to watch consistently during the first fifteen days of its release. Despite its extra bright color palette (of the 辣眼睛 sort) that I actually felt fit the tone of the rom-com, I was absolutely digging this show during that time. 

Produced by the same team behind Go Princess Go (with a lot more $$$), Oh My General has the same (occasionally overly awkward) humor, as well as some familiar faces from that show in this production. The sets and costuming are a bit too Japanese, but also deliberately inane, and they even brought in (probably) that same fan to blow wind from. Scenes such as Zhao Yujin smashing a bunch of vases felt like a direct nod to Go Princess Go—this time, flaunting that the production did have the money.

The first 15 episodes focused on how two opposites—”God of War” General Ye Zhao (Sandra Ma), essentially a Song Dynasty version of Mulan, outed as a female and the “weak” and feminine Prince Zhao Yujin (Peter Sheng)—forced into an initially unhappy marriage, came to share a deep and passionate bond, with social commentary on gender roles on the side. Which I really, really adore. Peter Sheng is very adorable and animated in this (i.e. I know his acting was downright bad in other projects but not here) and has sizzling chemistry with Sandra Ma, who is also amazing in this.

However, this being a 60-episode show, there’s obviously more to the story. After our OTP had lots of sex that one episode, Ye Zhao’s beautiful cousin Liu Xiyin (Wang Churan) visits the prince’s estate on the pretense of looking for a suitable husband in the capital city. And that’s where the show gets a bit shaky for me. 

Xiyin is a fan favorite—she’s lesbian and head-over-heels in love with her cousin, despite her many male pursuers, and Ye Zhao is hinted to be at least bisexual, given her conflicted tolerance for Xiyin. While a canon lesbian relationship in a mainstream Chinese drama is definitely laudable, I think Xiyin is actually scarily manipulative and the definition of the classic “green tea b*tch” (the only difference being that she’s harming the male lead instead of the female lead). I’m glad the show—or at least poor Yujin—knows this, but I don’t know if I can really stand this arc, so I’m putting it on hold for the time being. 

The other side characters—Yujin’s concubines, Yujin’s mom, Xiao Xia Zi, Hu Qing, Qiu Hua, etc.—are very likable thus far. 


9df35358-a014-4d5c-9fd7-eb8e695d36c4

Like the cynical person I am, the ridiculously toxic relationship between the Duan Dynasty’s current Emperor Muyun Qin and Empress Nanku Mingyi (Jiang Qin Qin) is actually what’s keeping me coming back for more. For now.

TRIBES AND EMPIRES: STORM OF PROPHECY

  • native title: 海上牧云记 (lit. The Chronicles of Muyun)
  • adapted from Jin Hezai‘s 海上牧云记
  • length: 75 episodes
  • status: 22/75, currently watching

Leaving the directing, producing, and cinematography to award-winning cinematographer Cao Dun resulted in a visually gorgeous (but I don’t like how they mixed “serif” and “sans serif” typefaces in their character/location introductions) but inherently problematic production. Read about more shady drama surrounding Tribes and Empires here

With the full knowledge that the 75-episode production only covers half the original novel (which is incomplete itself), I don’t know what I’m going to do with this. I’m such a sucker for aesthetics that I still don’t foresee myself dropping this (but that’s, like, a lot of time potentially wasted). 

2017-12-15 23_31_20

Saving this GIF for that tiny bit of catharsis (stolen online…somewhere?). Also, probably what the show will end up doing to me.

While Tribes and Empires includes the longest childhood arc I’ve ever witnessed, it also has my favorite childhood arc that I found extremely important—it established our three protagonists, the angry and problematic clan successor-turned-slave Shuofeng Heye (Zhou Yiwei), Grand General Muru Shuo‘s abandoned but wholesome son Muru Han Jiang (Shawn Dou), and the isolated half-spirit Prince Muyun Sheng (Huang Xuan) and their life-shattering prophecies, as well as totally immersed us into the rich fantasy world of Novoland. The child actors scarily resembled their characters’ adult counterparts and had the acting chops that put some adult actors to shame. Personally, however, I really wished one of the fated protagonists was female; to make things worse, the narrative is inherently misogynistic. 

While Kan Qingzi’s Princess Ji (of the previous dynasty) has her own epic revenge arc (that hopefully follows through), the rest of the female characters are either Villainesses (Empress Nanku Mingyi, her one-dimensional niece Nanku Yueli—this is the year Wan Qian‘s acting prowess is put to waste) or Love Interests (Xu Lu as Su YuningLan Yu’erRe Yizha as Jin ZhuhaiJanice Man as the spirit Pan Xi—literally my only impression is Janice Man’s hilariously thick Hong Kong accent). 

Jin Zhuhai’s arc pissed me off to the point that I just needed to take a break from this show. I eventually did come back and watch a few more episodes, but it hasn’t been the same since. Su Yuning’s character is so flatly written that I started shipping Han Jiang with 2nd Prince Muyun Lu (Sun Jian) when they fell into the secret assassin’s hunting trap (and it’s fairly obvious that at least the actors were deliberately intimating the dynamic). I’m actually at a pretty critical part of the narrative, so how the Show deals with the current arc I’m at will determine if the Show’s writing is worthy. 


djssmyzjslm1

I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with Cao Rui (Liu Huan) and his 男宠 shiguan.

GROWLING TIGER, ROARING DRAGON (THE ADVISORS’ ALLIANCE, SEASON 2)

  • native title: 虎啸龙吟
  • length: 44 episodes
  • status: 4/44, currently watching

Compared to its prequel, I feel far more conflicted about Growling Tiger, Roaring Dragon—the first episode felt quite slow, and the character introductions now come with an egregious black stroke outline that ruins its aesthetic appeals. Otherwise, the same strong production values remain, but with a shakier narrative. 

The court conflict between protagonist Sima Yi (Wu Xiubo) and Cao Zhen and Cao Xiu has officially reached Kindergarten-level pettiness (every time, I feel like facepalming, actually), rendering the new emperor Cao Rui (Liu Huan) the most intriguing of the characters—he is delusional, after all. Tina Tang’s Guo Zhao is particularly awkward as the Empress Dowager, which actually is probably deliberate, considering how her character constantly struggles but fails to gain leverage over her adoptive son. However, just considering Cao Rui, it feels like Guo Zhao was a very incompetent mother all these years. Though I like Sima Yi, I dislike how he’s touted as basically this legendary religious figure—we’re here to see him do very morally dark things, after all. 

I’ve finally reached the segment with actual battles happening (Zhuge Liang is finally here, though I am absolutely annoyed at him further preaching Sima Yi’s prowess…like yes, we get it!), so while court conflict has devolved into a rather unbearable state for me, hopefully, the intriguing historical context will pull the show back together.


IMG_0636.jpg

If only some of the money allotted to creating aesthetic opening & closing credits went towards better writing… But first, let the Zhang Yishan fangirl (yours truly) get her proper dosage!

SEVEN OF ME

  • native title: 柒个我
  • remake of k-drama Kill Me, Heal Me (2015)
  • length: 34 episodes
  • status: 14/34, currently watching

If you told me that Zhang Yishan would portray a chaebol in an idol drama, I would’ve laughed in your face. If there’s one thing I got out of watching Ten Miles of Spring Wind, it’s becoming head-over-heels obsessed with Zhang Yishan. So despite excessively cringing the first time I attempted the idol drama, I attempted it once more…and downed all six episodes in one sitting. It’s been a kind of fun, kind of cringe-filled watch since.

Part of the cringe factor comes from this show feeling too…Korean, in terms of both execution and the stupid business stuff/very un-Chinese Shen family dynamics I couldn’t care less about, which I don’t think is a legitimate thing I could observe given my very limited k-drama experience, but still. I feel like Elvira Cai isn’t a bad actress per se, but IMO she’s very obviously imitating the exaggerated k-drama style of acting, giving her character an overly ditzy vibe…because why? Neither Zhang Xiao Qian nor Zhang Yishan would do that, ever (though I will say Yishan’s very idol drama-esque single tear alarmed me!). 

Thus far I’ve focused on the OTP scenes and the cute dynamic between (actually not biological?) female lead Bai Xin Xin  (Elvira Cai) and her protective brother Bai Xiang Rong (Zhang Xiao Qian from Nirvana in FireOde To JoyCandle in the Tomb, etc.) solely. While I’m side-eyeing all the weird coincidences or “stalking” (do they really have to), Xiang Rong serves as legitimate and less petty conflict that I’m accepting. The show’s indication that the OTP went through child abuse together and both forgot is not something I’m particularly happy about—again, do they really have to? I also like Bo Qian, who really resembles the “faithful servant/bodyguard” in all the noble/royalty-centered period dramas.

Despite a lot of fast-forwarding on my part, it’s admittedly a decently addictive watch, especially for Zhang Yishan’s unique role. In any other case, I feel that I would be very uncomfortable given how they brushed away the “professional” patient-doctor dynamic like nothing, but ultimately I don’t even mind anymore—I realize it’s a realized fantasy of mine to have aggressive/possessive 霸道总裁 Cui Hao Yue kabedon me, probably (what can I say—Yishan is a swoony kisser).

The personalities themselves fit themselves nicely into common character tropes—the actual person, anti-social but gradually healing successor Shen Yizhen fits well into the 暖男 “warm man” category (although when he was able to take away Bai Xin Xin’s job just like that, I realize there actually is, appreciatively, much more depth). I do like it when the personalities clearly come to actually delve into Yizhen’s actual character—the two aforementioned, who make up the peculiar love triangle (though I could almost see it as switching on-and-off from being overly assertive, even borderline abusive, even if the show insists not to her), as well as Mo Xiao Jun, his “suicidal teenager” persona, clearly reflect the psychological effects of whatever abuse he experienced. Fangirl/brat Mo Xiao Na was hilarious at the shopping center (and especially the best when stuck in a regular suit), but for whatever reason overly exaggerated in the “Xiangrong is so handsome *heart eyes*” scene at Yizhen’s home. 

The show is very confused about what dissociative identity disorder actually is in its universe—it empathizes with Yizhen enough, like his condition is a legitimate mental disorder, but then also implements weird eye-color changing like it’s a superpower, almost, which is inherently problematic in itself. 


WATCHLIST ADDITIONS

  • crime/thriller shows: Cambrian PeriodBurning IceDay & Night: The latter two are among the highest-rated shows on Douban this year, as well as Netflix additions starting early 2018. Even though I’m unfamiliar with the actors, I’m definitely interested in taking a look. 
  • Yu Zui (2016): You know why :’). It looks a bit too vulgar and 山寨 for my tastes, but I’ve seen enough praise to perk my curiosity. Chinese censorship loves to ban this thus far two-season show, yet they did/are film(ing) Season 3, which is another incentive to watch.
  • Tientsin Mystic: Another 2018 Netflix addition. I don’t know much, but the words “steampunk” and “Chinese mythology” are associated with this show, which sounds innately amazing! Li Xian (Medical Examiner Dr. Qin) is a good bonus.
  • The Qin Empire series (2009, 2012, 2017)…including actors such as Chen Xiao, Zhang Bo (and more critically-acclaimed veterans), etc. & is super historically accurate, apparently, and highly-rated. 
  • With You (2016)My Huckleberry Friends (2017): I’ve never touched Chinese high school campus dramas, which is the thing these days. I grouped these two together because they’re both part of the same universe.
  • A Love So BeautifulWhere the Lost Ones Go (maybe?)
  • Cuo Dian Yuan Yang (2012): I just want a decent Zhao Liying drama. 
  • Nirvana in Fire 2: The Wind Blows in Changlin: Because, obviously. 
  • Wuxin: The Monster Killer, Season 2: I’m feeling some trepidation about this one, mostly because I loved Season 1 to pieces and the Season 1 ending personally 100% worked for me—for the longest time, I thought Wuxin was standalone. (Also, no Yueya D:) Compared to Season 1’s impressive 8.3 Douban rating, Season 2 has a questionable (although given Douban, still respectable) 6.3/10.
  • Your Highness: The one where Kenny Kwan’s character finds himself the Big Bad that everyone wants to kill in his favorite RPG. I’ve heard it’s hilarious.

FINAL MUSINGS

It’s still difficult to comprehend that within a year and within this post, I ended up writing about twenty-two different dramas. And within those dramas actually completing a 92-episode AND a 90-episode show. Compare that to literally, like, three a year previously. Paradoxically, greater stress and academia translated to a lot more TV consumption for me, and I definitely need to find some sort of balance in my life—for now, it feels like I’m vacillating between academia and entertainment.

If there’s one thing I did successfully realize from this year, it’s dropping dramas—not just when it gets unbearable, but even when you feel only mediocrity, and even more importantly, when, though you’re not caught up, the ending is purportedly “unbearable” (but then there are some exceptions—huh). Staring at the list of shows I ended up dropping, I realize I should stop watching mainstream idol dramas (?). Which…I don’t even know anymore because those are the actors I’m most familiar with. But I’m finding myself straying farther and farther from the mainstream, which is overall a good thing, given a far higher proportion of no dubbing and less inane writing. 2017 was a fairly solid year for me, at least cdrama-wise, providing the necessary escapism at times. There are a lot of titles I definitely want to get to, though, and also a lot of upcoming work for me to deal with, so who knows how it’ll all work out?

Here’s to a better 2018!

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Dramas, 2017: shenmeizhuang’s Year in Review

  1. That is an impressive round-up of C-dramas, all of which I’ve never seen, haha. I’ve only watched bits of NiF and don’t understand the hype since it didn’t draw me in, so I was curious about the comparisons between NiF and Advisors’ Alliance. Given how you’ve said Advisors’ is historically inaccurate (a pet peeve of mine) and sags in the second half, is NiF the better drama overall or does Advisors’ still edge it? And which one is Liu Tao more kickass in? I’ve seen clips of her parts in Advisors’ and she seems quite fiery.

    Like

    1. I’d say objectively, NiF is more cohesively written, and given that it’s 50 something episodes detailing a plot ish-similar to the first, say, 22 episodes of TAA, inevitably more complex-ish. But if you ask me, I actually find NiF very shuojo (and happens to be a high-quality production), which I think is why it’s so popular. Actually, both NiF and TAA had the same issues of becoming particularly preachy in their second halves (and the second half of TAA is very different, anyway).

      Because of personal preferences (like the emperor needing that level of brutality or moral darkness, more moral ambiguity overall), I think TAA still edges in…personally. I guess it depends on if you’re interested in family drama/ focusing on women, which helped mitigate the more facepalm-worthy moments. Liu Tao is more kickass in TAA, btw. 😉

      Like

      1. Haha, it’s the first time I’ve heard of NiF described as shoujo, but I think that’s also pretty apt. I think I was not impressed with what I saw of Hu Ge there, so I skipped it. As for TAA, I dunno though, when I see dramas on the 三國 era, I’d like to see more politics, more scheming, instead of shrieking women. The clips on TAA that I’ve seen are all about Liu Tao’s character (one even had her yelling at her husband over some woman), and I struggled to find one about Sima Yi strategising or plotting. Anyway, my initial impression is that TAA is kind of romanticising Sima Yi, which is what BBJX did to Yinzhen (really did not like that). But I could be wrong, of course.

        Like

  2. I’ve enjoyed reading your review very much! Thanks for writing it. I especially like what you wrote about Princess Agents. Lol. Happy New Year!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s