Tag Archives: chinese drama

Eternal Love (2020) – Epic Chinese Fantasy Themed Love Story Albeit Too Lengthy 三生三世十里桃花 / A Spoiler Free Review

Lately, I have watched a good number of Chinese TV dramas. While I enjoy the shows – more because of my Chinese background and I can relate better – most of them tend to be too lengthy.

Take Eternal Love (2020) as an example. 58 episodes equate to 58 hours of entertainment. I reckon a number of subplots could easily be edited out into perhaps 30 episodes (or made optional maybe… imagine a future of TV viewing whereby viewers get to define how concise the show they wish to watch).

The leading actress Yang Mi is amazing in terms of acting.

All in all, story writing is top-notch. Chinese TV dramas are prone to plot flaws or plot holes. This love story spans over “three” lifetimes by and large makes sense. For those who are familiar with Chinese fantasy such as the path to immortality, the trials that entail, cultivation and essence, etc., Eternal Love is authentic.

The real gems of this TV drama are the leading actor and actress Mark Chao and Yang Mi. Their onscreen chemistry is believable. Yang Mi is such an elegant actress. Every bit of her acting I can see was carefully orchestrated. I look forward to their scenes, which is where the problem lies. The rest of the scenes are just not as good. Most of the supporting actors are just not as good. Hence my first observation, this TV drama is too lengthy.

Another flaw I would like to call out though is that the women of this TV drama are not well represented in today’s world. Men are too dominating. Most if not all the battles are won by men. Women are either hopelessly not as useful or purely wicked. In today’s standard, I am finding it hard to relate. Most of the time, I would just sigh or facepalm.

Also, if I were the scriptwriter, I may have wrapped up the story in a more grand and triumphant way, one that is worthy of 58 episodes of wait. Then again, I am not.

And why ain’t there more Yang Mi’s work on Netflix or Viu? That is disappointing.

The Long Ballad 长歌行  (2021) – A Chinese Drama, An Afterthought with and without Spoiler

I am mostly into Korean drama. But once in a while, I indulge myself in Chinese drama. I am not going to lie. I have always been wanting to watch a TV series with Dilraba Dilmurat as the main actress. She has unique facial features that make her look Asian but not Chinese (she is actually of Uyghur ethnicity). Should you watch 49 episodes of The Long Ballad (~37 hours)? Part 1 is a spoiler-free review. Part 2 has spoilers.

3 boys and 2 girls. 1 boy is not getting any 🙂

Spoiler-free Review

Set in the Tang dynasty, Princess Li Changge (played by Dilraba, also hence the drama title) escaped the Palace and the capital due to court politics. She faked death, disguised as a man, and promised herself to return one day and seek revenge against the new emperor. What follows was a series of life-changing events for her and the main cast.

There is a good amount of plot and acting brilliance that would make you fall in love with the series. I cried at a number of scenes, was awed at some of the very clever plot tweaks, loved some of the military strategies, and I mostly binge-watched the entire 49 episodes in just a few days.

There are also moments of very good cinematic whereby you witness a vast size of armies in conflict. The cinematic also at times supplements with the comic-drawn scenes, which tell a pretty good story (where the root of the series belongs).

I particularly love the character development. Each main character grows into a different person. There are moments of heroism and sacrifice, intrigue and danger. The main difference between Korean and Chinese drama is that Chinese writers don’t seem to hesitate to kill off characters. That makes Chinese drama very memorable.

The Long Ballad is not without its flaws. In my mind, the entire series is roughly divided into 5 chapters. The first chapter was great. The second chapter is amazing. The plots are so clever. You would get to love the characters (even the villains). The problem is, this drama peaked too soon. From the scale of physical and emotional conflict to the cleverness of plot tweaks, nothing follows can compete with the second chapter. This drama also has a number of glaring plot holes that made me shake my head.

I like the concept of Central Plain versus Grassland versus Desert tribes. The story backdrop could have been so much more powerful had the final chapter been the climax of all. What a missed opportunity.

While some have great acting, most are average or one-dimensional. Personally, I think Dilraba acts well, but not exceptional. But her physical attractiveness and the exceptional heroic plot opportunities make up for it. I do enjoy watching Zhao Lusi played as Princess Li Leyan (cousin of Princess Li Changge) and she has acted in The Romance of Tiger and Rose, one of my favorite dramas.

All in all, an enjoyable watch that I don’t regret watching.

Warning: Spoilers follow.

Spoilers & Interesting Observations

Following is a list of observations I have made while watching the drama, which made me face-palmed or in awe. If you have watched this drama, you should be able to relate.

  • Arrows, so many arrows to the chest. When the first arrow shot at Princess Li Changge’s chest while she was hanging by the broken bridge, I gasped. While saved by Ashile Sun (refer to as Li Changge’s lover from now on), one of the division leaders from Grassland, she insisted to pull the arrow out of her chest by herself (because she was disguised as a man, which at that point in time, her soon-to-be lover already knew that she was a girl). And she did! Cut to the defense tower where she stood when Ashile Sun lay siege to the city she attempted to defend, an arrow again shot to her chest! She fell, but got up, and pulled the arrow out, which boosted the soldiers’ morale. She survived, once again! Not one man in the series could do what she did. Cut to her on a horseback chased by a group of armed Grassland people. Someone on a horseback behind her shot an arrow that went through her chest and saved her the hassle of her pulling the arrow out from her chest this time. She fell from her horse and was saved by a swordmaster and an old doctor. Once again, she survived! Cut to one of the palaces, an assassin shot an arrow at Li Changge’s lover who at that time was sitting next to the princess. It seems like a heavy injury but her lover survived! Cut to yet another palace, a Grassland soldier shot an arrow at Li Changge’s maid, also one of her best friends, and the maid died in Li Changge’s arm (technically speaking, the maid died in her lover’s arm shortly after). There are so many arrows to the chests. So dramatic. I really thought that the maid would survive looking at the pattern. Well played, scriptwriter.
  • People have super healing power. I would have thought that when one gets shot at, in the chest, even when the arrow misses the heart, there must be some serious injuries, be it to the lung or the rib cage. But no, both Li Changge and Ashile Sun are able to get by fine the next day. Princess Leyan’s lover was beaten to a pulp while trying to win the wedding competition. The next day, he recovered and went on helping others with farming! A general was tortured in Grassland with cuts all over his body. It was a failed attempt to escape and in his final hour, he could still fight like a healthy warrior against a group of mobs. Ancient people were strong indeed.
  • How powerful is Princess Li Changge? Now, this bugs me a lot. Li Changge led men into battle against a horde of Grassland army. She literally slaughtered a lot of them as Commander Li (granted she was wearing armor … but still, many characters in armor died in the series). Yet, later on, she and her lover who is equally strong struggled to fight off a small group of rebels inside a temple, needing the help of Tang’s soldiers (with arrows). And there is one Chinese official whom she was really terrified. She nearly got killed by him one time. Who is he? The one that was beaten to a pulp above.
  • How powerful is Ashile Sun (Changge’s lover)? Cut to the scenes when Ashile Sun faced the evil princess alone. Sure, he had chains on his hands and feet but I reckon he could still fight. Mind you, he was on a death sentence soon to be executed. Surely, he could take down an unarmed evil princess with zero martial art skill? Ashile Sun was the most powerful leader in Grassland, worshiped as God of War. Yet, he didn’t even put up a fight at all, ready to embrace death. Really? He must have known that help was coming 🙂
  • Those kissing scenes are so lame. I know Chinese drama is not well-known for kissing scenes. But I have not seen anything this lame at all. When the main characters Li Changge and Ashile Sun finally kissed, the entire scene was blurred. Blurred! What was in focus was two green birds kissing each other at different angles in front of them, in close-up! When princess Li Leyan kissed her lover at her wedding, the scene froze, turned into a black and white comic book style drawing, with the lips still an inch away … what?! The only legit kissing scenes in this draw are the ones between Li Changge’s maid and her lover. They are still bad compared to Korean drama. But at least, the lips touched.
  • Where did that palace come from? I often think that the Grassland tribes stayed in tents on the grassland. When the evil princess took over the Grassland tribes, she decided to move the capital back to town. Now, it wasn’t clear to me if the town belonged to the Grassland people (more like the previous dynasty’s I suppose) or the Tang dynasty. But it appeared to me that the evil Chinese princess from the previous dynasty who married the Khan’s (plural) in the Grassland still have a well-maintained palace for her to move back to whenever she wanted. Mind you, she hasn’t moved out of Grassland in the last 30 years. Surely, the Tang royal families wouldn’t let the royal families from the previous dynasty still occupy a palace? Or was the town already taken over by the Grassland people? If so, it wasn’t at all clear to me.
  • Finding people in the Central Plain can be so hard and so easy at the same time. Many episodes I have spent watching characters trying to look for Princess Li Leyan and Princess Li Changge, only to see these characters narrowly miss each other. Many times I have seen Li Changge found by characters out of nowhere. It can be so confusing at times.
  • Oh wait, what did I just see or not see? There was a scene where one brother mourned the death of another brother. It was an interior of a tent. The brother poured wine into a small cup, just when he was about to pour the wine onto the floor in memory of his lost brother (who did not die), there was a close-up scene of the cup, as the wine hit the wooden floor in slow motion, the wine splashed at the back of very dramatic music score. The camera zoomed out and wait, where was the wooden floor? All I could see what a thick rug inside the tent where he sat, the rug where the wine would have landed. Cut to the scene of Princess Leyan’s wedding. Her lover’s dad was dying so they wanted a small wedding, with just the two of them and their dads. In the end, the emperor (the princess’s dad) was not in the scene and there was no explanation whatsoever. Did the actor who acted as the emperor take a medical leave that day? Or something lost in translation?
  • Missing scene? There is no closure on the recovered Great Khan. It would have been a moving scene to witness the reunion of Great Khan and his adopted son Ashile Sun. What a missed opportunity.
  • The parallelism is brilliant. Towards the end of the series saw an emergence of a subplot. A princess of the previous dynasty married into Grassland executed a plan 30 years in the making to seek revenge. In one of the ending scenes, standing face-to-face with the evil princess was princess Li Changge. Two princesses separated by one generation experienced similar family pain, one took the path of revenge while one didn’t. The contrast cannot be more impactful, an answer to what-if Li Changge took a different path. In the end, make peace, not war.

The Legend of White Snake (2019) Ending Analysis & Afterthoughts (Spoiler Alert)

I have just finished watching 36 episodes of The Legend of White Snake (2019) that totaled up to 27 hours of TV entertainment. The first post is a review, with no spoiler. If you are interested to read my thoughts on its ending, read on. Spoiler alert!

Rating: 9/10.

White Snake 2019 has a complex event that leads to an interesting ending. Now, is it a happy ending? If I could borrow a repeated response from Fahai the Buddhist Monk, that would be a Yes and No (which my boss at work would have hated it).

It is a sad ending in the sense that Suzhen the White Snake gets locked up inside Leifeng Pagoda for what could have been at least 20 years. To Suzhen the 1,000 years old white snake spirit, 20 years seems fleeting. But she can’t see her husband Xu Xian during that time, also missing out on her child’s upbringing. That punishment of her seems pretty harsh, though still better than being executed by the gods.

More so for Xu Xian the Physician and his mortal and short life, not able to see his wife for two decades, also missing out on his son’s upbringing while busy curing people for free in order to seek redemption for his wife’s sin.

But in the spirit of reincarnation – which is the theme of White Snake 2019 – two decades or more may well be a sand inside an hour glass. Because there is the next life to look forward to. When these people believe in eternity and especially eternal love, missing out two decades in this lifetime doesn’t seem that bad.

Let’s not forget that Suzhen who was so close to immortality through 1,000 years of ‘cultivation’ with progress unknown even as the credit rolls.

The happy ending though, is that the family gets to reunite after two decades or so, which is possibly the best ending given the pretty terrible circumstances as Xu Xian was so close to be toasted together with Mind Demon inside the temple.

Before we agree that this is possibly be the best ending, let’s look at some of the alternatives.

Alternative Ending #1 – Just Walk Away

Upon receiving the elixir that trapped the Mind Demon, Xu Xian the Physician could have just passed that to Fahai the Buddhist Monk and walked away. Let the guys with supernatural power deal with the problem. And if Mind Demon is going to turn into a Prime Evil (like in Diablo games), let the gods deal with the situation. After all, did it not take the god of lightning one single strike to take out Mind Demon without killing the host in the actual ending?

Xu Xian could have followed his wife Suzhen the White Snake and retire happily in Emei Mountain raising their son Xu Shilin. He probably wouldn’t be able to play as a hero for a brief moment, nor his wife as a villain for a brief moment.

But alas! Since Xu Xian is a dude with big heart (and a pure heart according to the show), he wouldn’t have been able to walk away from saving the city, which ironically as his wife tried to save him, wiped out the city.

Alternative Ending #2 – Xu Xian Gets Toasted with Mind Demon

This could be rather tragic, though Xu Xian could have died a hero for those who know his true intention (read: just a handful). It would also be rather painful for us to watch Suzhen witnessing her husband getting toasted by some holy fire from Emei Mountain with her power being restrained by the Monk her “own good” (what could have been a few more days to immortality).

And since Suzhen the White Snake was pregnant with a deity reincarnate, let’s skip the alternative ending of her getting sacrificed instead.

Alternative Ending #3 – Mind Demon Gets Defeated by Snakes and Monk Combo Plus the Heavenly Army

That would have been my favorite ending. Suzhen the White Snake manages to overcome the influence of Mind Demon just before the flood hits the city. Heaven and Earth join forces to defeat Mind Demon a.k.a. Prime Evil. And a truly happy ending.

I guess this ending would have displeased the purists as it deviates from the original story too much without mentioning Leifeng Pagoda. I honestly don’t care. Maybe Guanyin can reward the two snake spirits to study at the pagoda and accelerate their path to enlightenment.

In the End, Almost Everyone is At Fault But One Takes the Punishment

From Suzhen the White Snake’s perspective, after going through so much to save her husband so many times, the final act is a no-brainer. Just that this time around, it is a bit hard to justify, when innocent lives are lost (and restored by the goddess). Hence, all down to the flood. Let’s break that down.

The idea comes from Jingsong the Golden Mouse, who by the way gives up yet another mysterious heavenly relic to restore Xiaoqing the Green Snake’s 500 years of cultivation, which she lost during a fight with Fahai the Monk. Jingsong’s plan was to threaten Fahai with the flood so that Fahai would give up toasting Xu Xian the Physician.

Xiaoqing the Green Snake is the one who steals the water token from the dragon god of the eastern sea, passes it to Suzhen, and strongly encourages her to use the token to call forth the flood. For lack of a better word, she is the accomplice.

Fahai the Monk does not give up toasting White Snake’s husband knowing very well that innocent lives will be lost. He has stopped in the past given similar situations. Why does he not this time around? The Monk has decided that sacrificing the city is justified when he could have stopped the ritual. I still don’t get why Fahai has to restain White Snake’s power when Mind Demon is at large and White Snake has demonstrated time and time again her power has proven to be useful. This Monk makes bad decisions.

Xu Xian the Physician should have shared his plan with his wife, especially when time and time again his wife the White Snake has managed to think of a solution of saving people, even saving the same person multiple times. But he goes ahead with his plan with full knowledge that his wife will certainly intervene.

Let’s not forget Suzhen the White Snake angered by the crowd’s lack of empathy is under the influence of Mind Demon when calling forth the flood. In the end, almost everyone is at fault but one takes the punishment.

To close off these ending afterthoughts with a bit of lightheartedness, I would just blame the Mind Demon, which by the way, has been vanquished by the god of lightning (Thor!) all thanks to the White Snake calling in the flood.

That One Question Unanswered

With this type of fantasy story genre, I am often flexible when it comes to whether or not a plot is believable. So long as it is consistent with reasonable support by Chinese culture or beliefs. For example, Suzhen does not participate in Jin Ruyi’s funeral nor visit Ruyi’s gravestone. It is because according to Chinese culture, pregnant women should avoid such events.

There is however one question unanswered. Ruyi towards the end of her own story line was alone, with no friend nor servant. Let’s just be a bit open minded and accept the part about her being able to throw her body into the furnace that is smaller than her. I mean, she was possessed. She could do ‘stuffs’.

But who then delivered the elixir from the furnace inside a cave that very few knew when no one even knew the existence of such elixir in the first place to Xu Xian’s home? Together with Ryui’s dress gifted by Xu Xian at the mid autumn festival?

It can only be supernatural.

The Legend of White Snake (2019) Review (Spoiler Free)

I have just finished watching 36 episodes of The Legend of White Snake (2019) that totaled up to 27 hours of TV entertainment. The first post – which is this one – is a review, with no spoiler. If you are interested to read my thoughts on its ending, click here instead.

Rating: 9/10.

I have grown up watching White Snake in a Chinese opera house in Hong Kong decades ago. My dad was used to work in a theater. I was very small. I could hardly remember the story despite the fact that I must have watched it numerous times thanks to free family tickets. I remember the opera version of White Snake as a tragic fantasy love story. But I don’t remember the specifics.

The Plot

Fast forward to 2020, I have zero expectation on this modern adaptation of a story about love and obsession. I am more used to Korean drama – short-and-sweet (16-ish episodes) and more often than not, a happy ending that is heartwarming. Watching Chinese drama (or reading Chinese books) can be a roller-coaster experience. Any character – whether he or she is good or bad, whom you love or don’t – can die in any episode. It is full of deception, betrayal, poison and prison, sacrifice, and more sacrifice. White Snake 2019 is no exception.

Plot-wise, there are plenty of twists. At times I wonder, how many times can the same person be poisoned or put into yet another life-and-death situation that requires yet another hard decision to be made, which on top of all that, leads to misunderstanding and more misunderstanding that will take a few episodes down the road to resolve. If you are looking for character development, White Snake 2019 has plenty. If you are looking for extraordinary plot twists, White Snake 2019 has plenty.

The Main Cast

I am not going to lie. Whenever Ju Jingyi (who plays Bai Suzhen a.k.a. White Snake) appears on the screen, the story literally lights up. Chinese fans dubbed her as ‘once in 4,000 years idol’ (she must have some really hardcore fans in China). Japanese media somehow translated that to be ‘once in 4,000 years beauty’. That branded her as the most beautiful woman in China, ever.

Ju Jingyi plays Bai Suzhen a.k.a. White Snake

I like Ju Jingyi’s acting in White Snake 2019. Or rather, the character that she plays has offered her the opportunity to express a wide spectrum of emotions – innocence, smart, playful, joyful, thoughtful, falling in love, anger and rage, despair, determination, stubbornness, empathy and sympathy, sadness, and content. The acting is natural to watch, hence convincing.

I must say, with a few exceptions, the video clips without her in it feels longer to watch.

I also found Xiao Yan who plays Xiaoqing a.k.a. Green Snake a delightful watch. She can be reckless, has terrible manner, but super faithful to Suzhen making her a superb support character.

I have nothing against Yu Menglong (Xu Xian the Physician). His character does get more interesting passing the midway point. It is pretty hard to match up against Ju Jingyi – in my opinion. The chemistry perhaps could have been better. At times I wonder, what attracts Suzhen to fall in love with Xu Xian?

The Cinematic

Out of the three categories, cinematic is something I can often overlook if the plot and cast are great. Compared to say, The King also produced in recent time, White Snake 2019 pale in comparison.

It is hard to describe. But it seems like the brightness has been boosted while contrast is lost. At times, the character’s face may look too ‘flat’ losing that 3D effect (all white without contrast). The color vibrancy is not there, contrast at times is not there, and CGI is so-so (still better than other Chinese dramas I have briefly watched lately).

In Closing

I am entertained and happy that a classic story has been remade into a modern adaptation. I am fortunate that I don’t have any expectations for this remake. Because the only version I could compare this against would be the Chinese opera I have watched decades ago. Any adaptation would have beaten that.