Saturday, August 31, 2013

Lan Ling Wang/ 蘭陵王 (2013)

Lan Ling Wang (2013)

Well, I'm rather surprised I wrote this post so quickly and so soon.  The series just finished.  *sigh*

What part of extreme disappointment do I begin at? Cuz this series started out extremely good.  Really, really good.
It was so good, then around 20th episode, it took an extremely unnecessarily crazy nose dive off the writing cliff. It got so annoyingly predictable and painful to watch I wanted to cough up blood from the internal injuries and sufferings of having to watch.

And the ending, oh gosh the ending...thank goodness the great actors and actresses still made it somewhat watchable.  It was overall so overwrought it became boring, right before they stabbed you one more time and twisted that knife a few times scraping bone.  I, personally, do not like it when people try to force emotions onto others and the ending was like one big pity-fest for everyone. 
Seriously though, what is it with these bittersweet endings in Chinese stories? I am sick of it!
 


First the good.

The acting was superb through and through.  Absolutely wonderful to watch where blinking was painful because something would be easily missed in the character's expression.  Each actor and actress was so realistic and invested.  I know a lot of people were saying that Feng Shao Feng was not exactly one of the prettiest look male actors for the role, but I have got to say...I have never seen such great acting.  His every movement and facial expression was something incredible to watch.  Simplest example, the few episodes when Lan Ling Wang was hiding his identity and only his eyes and sometimes his mouth was showing...the actor fully revealed every thought and emotion to us the viewers.  Not many people can do that. 

The other male lead, Yuwen Yong was great.  His progression as a character was almost the most consistent and much of it had to do with the actor.  He was great...they all were.

Our few antagonists, like Gao Wei and Zheng Er - their acting was equally heartbreaking and crazy where I felt equally love and hate for them because of the acting.  The characters themselves, not so much because in the end, they caused their own sadness with their personal jealousies and pettiness.  The acting was awesome though. 

Even the secondary characters, Chen Xiao Dong, An De Wang, Xiao Cui, General Hulu...the list goes on and on.  Everyone was great... The writings, stories, and visuals were nice, but nothing beat this cast.  It was incredible to watch.

Although I must painfully point out one sad thing, my favorite actress...she definitely needed to work on that pregnancy/childbirth bit. I did not come close to believe she was in labor. Otherwise, she was awesome in every other aspect.  Especially the part when she took poison...I mean, omg, she really looked like she was suffering from a seizure reaction or something...awesome.

Then...
I was beyond disappointed as the story came to a close.  This series...the story really could have been something incredible, but they chose the most cliche (and easier) path. Sad.  Let me just say: Just because all your friends are doing it, that just because it was how it was always done, doesn't mean you should do it! I found it to be full of missed opportunities.  The moment they veered off course into the unexplored woods of unique stories, something pulled them right back into the status quo.  Ok, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point.   

For me, although many of the plots and characters were nothing new in the world of fiction, everything had blended very well together.  Each character and the story they were telling were very unique and special.  It was refreshing in it's own way and was extremely addictive fun to watch.  I really really enjoyed every moment.  It was exciting and willing to make things complicated.  People had their own reasons for making the decision they made and it brought a refreshing view to some old subjects about people, fate, and choices.  Then, it got to the halfway mark.

After around episode 20, the almost ALL the characters were acting really out of character.  Their personal growth took a leave of absence.  Everything started to become cliche and really really prolonged sense of dragging everything out.  Then I found out it was supposed to be 35 episodes, but they ended up with 46 to make more money...*sigh*
It didn't help that the story was doing more "telling" than "showing".  Before, the flashbacks were good since it allowed me to invest more into the story.  Later, it's just a lot of repetitive "talk" and got me really bored/annoyed.

When a story forces the characters to act so out of character in order to move the story forward...well, you know you're in trouble.  That's exactly what they ended up doing here and that was the biggest let-down.   While this series started off with a soul-sucking addictiveness, it dragged on into a typical storyline...which just meant it became another typical show.  It was no longer as different and unique as it started out to be. 

They stayed pretty historically accurate, which was extremely surprising for me.  That's both good and bad.  Good because when I watch things, I want the writers and storytellers to be as accurate as possible, or at least attempted to do the research.  Nothing annoys me more than those wallpaper worlds where everything can be manipulated to fit into the plain flat background to showcase something or another.

Certain historical aspects were changed, sometimes timing, while other subjects and themes where integrated.   They did make some changes, like merge Lan Ling Wang, Gao Changgong (高长恭) with Hulü Guang (斛律光) in terms of importance with the upcoming battles since Emperor of Zhou mentioned of Hulü, "If he were still alive, how can I get here?"(此人若在,朕豈能至鄴!) (source).  Even though I was rather excited to see him make an appearance.  So cool.  They even killed him in the same manner, although for different reasons.  So they get major points for all the history.  I was seriously surprised by it.

They did bring up an interesting question of destiny/fate vs. free will, is it possible to change your destiny?  It's not a new question, but they did put forth several different ideas. 

It's impossible: Grandma trying to change Xue Wu's fate to not be involved in the outside world and be an average normal girl, yet cannot change the fact her role as Heaven Maiden.
It still thundered, and a chicken easily led Xue Wu out to meet Lan Ling Wang.

It's possible: Xue Wu and Lan Ling Wang was not fated to be together, but they ended up together because fate changed to ensure that things still sort of qualified into fate.  Same with Lan Ling Wang as he was fated to die. 

Changing fate has consequences:  The woman that's supposed to be Lan Ling Wang's wife...well, she turned cruel and evil instead of the devoted wife, but it stayed within character (sort of).  It could just be the actress was really good. Lol.
Another consequence, Xue Wu died in place of Lan Ling Wang. 

I know the male leads have, what's the word? shippers? I don't know.  Anyways, aside from whom is better for our Tien Nu, Heaven Maiden, I rather liked the focus on the characters.  What I felt they did was a very interesting portrayal of what it took to be a true leader.

A good person does not make a good leader.  A good leader does not mean a compassionate person.  People that have similar life experiences does not turn out the same.  Just because they were good materials does not mean they can fit the roles.

Gao Wei was portrayed as somewhat the worst because even though has the capability to navigate politics, he falls easily to jealousy and doubt, thus easily swayed by those around him.

Lan Ling Wang seems the best, but even as he was admired and great skills on the battle field, he lacks the manipulative and sneaky nature needed to navigate politics and easily falls for traps.
He willingly risked his life (as a Prince) to save his brother in arms.

Emperor of Zhou, Yuwen Yong, ends up being the most suitable.  Even though he has his compassionate side for those he cares for and he's fighting for the same reason an Lan Ling Wang - for a peaceful world, but is much smarter, manipulative and equally cruel.  Whereas Lan Ling Wang willing risks his life for one person, Yuwen Yong was willing to kill his loyal friend in order to clean out all the villains in his mists...

All three "leaders" really had the exact same goals.  They wanted to be able to bring peace and happiness to their people, to be good leaders and lead their country, yet they all went about it in different ways.  Even as all three had to go through personal losses and problems, the way each individual dealt with the problems showcased their leadership abilities and we all know who the winner will be.

Mainly, Lan Lin Wang and Yuwen Yong are like mirrors of each other.  If not for being from different nations, they would probably be very good friends.  If they were in the same country, they'd probably easily until the entire place.  They're very similar, with a very obvious sector of love for Xue Wu.  Oh well, fate works in it's own ways...


The overall story archs were very tight and that was a great boon for this series. A few things that annoyed me:
Xue Wu lost some of the characteristics I adored, her fearlessness got replaced by an almost tstl moments that really annoyed me. It made her much weaker as a character and felt more like the writers changed her personality to fit the storyline.

Same with  Lan Ling Wang.  I would say his character from 1-20, 25-30, 31-40, and then 41-16 were completely different. He went through change after change after change in character and actions that did not complement each other.  It was too forced and even though the actor was great at each role, it made the character Lan Ling Wang too inconsistent. 

Favorite characters: All the grandmothers.  Omg, do I love them.  It's so tragic, but I loved all three.

A side note: Grandmas.  There were so many grandmothers in this series, it was so wonderful.  I love grandmothers in stories.  It made me miss my  Granny a lot. 

So, I most definitely recommend this series.  I personally enjoyed the costumes and actions.  The storyline was great up to a point, so I will basically skip all the parts I don't like just to rewatch. Lol.  I can't stay away even if I wanted to, but to save myself some grief and sanity, I'm going to avoid certain parts and episodes then make it a happy ending in my head. *sigh* 

No rating, but glad I watched it.  More thoughts in my head, but I'm going to go distract myself. Excuse me while I go distract myself with something happier. 

P.S. Picture sources are from www.spcnet.tv/forums and asianfanatics.net

P.P.S. I still love the music.

 

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Night of No Return/An Invitation to Sin by Sarah Morgan

A little novel romance to follow the romantic tv stories I'd been reviewing.  The source!  Granted, these were more...er..."normal" and less of a...creepy-scariness.

It would be safe to say that between Jeannie Lin and Sarah Morgan (plus a few others), my faith in Harlequin may be close to restoration. Granted, it'll never be the peak it once was with auto monthly books, but I do stand in front of the devoted bookshelf lined with category romances in the bookstore. Plus, I am looking them up more often the before.

 

This was more classic story of boss and employee...the employee having loved the cold-hearted closed off boss from afar.

One thing I did wonder about was what Emma saw in Lucas. Emma was an admirable and well rounded person. From the two years they had worked together, I didn't see any of Lucas' action that deviated from his shell. Not kindness to strangers, supporter of any specific causes, etc. etc. So, although their relationship overall was believable once together, it was hard to see what Emma saw in Lucas for so long.

Once we were shown the inner Lucas, it got much better.  Ms. Morgan was always good at striking a balance between those gruff alpha males and not go towards the a-hole personality.    A definite good read, even though I'm not big on the boss/secretary stories.  It definitely helped that the story itself dealt with some of the basic issues I had with this type of theme and I was really happy with how Emma acted. 




This one was rather interesting with it's departure from the typical story. In this case, both the H/h were public figures of sort. I liked how this private/public life of celebrities was portrayed.  More than anything, I'm glad for the characters to be more human.

Taylor had made mistakes when she was young and was trying hard to overcome them as an adult.  That was something I much appreciated.  The guy though, while I liked his maturity, Luca still much retained certain Harlequin Present characteristics of being a rather dominate character.  Luckily, I always like how Ms. Morgan never overdoes the heroes.  And the women always hold their own.

A side note though, I was surprised by the age of the scandal...wouldn't part of that be like statutory exposure?

Both were pretty fun to read.  A simple and clean category romance with characters you don't want to kill or makes you tear your hair out. Lol. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lan Ling Wang/The Masked Beauty Lin Lang General 蘭陵王 - currentlywatching

Um...I'm busy right now.

Watching this: Lan Ling Wang

 (omg, Chinese ballads are always so beautiful and sad and beautiful)

Yeah...I caved and watched it early.  It's almost over.  Done this week, so yeah...I'll be in a daze for a while.



Can I just say, despite everyone saying "this pair" or "that pair" I personally just loved all the acting?  I've never seen so many pretty criers before.  I mean, seriously, every single actor and actress were so great in their role! And they cry so prettily, even though it's sad times.



This series is so soul-sucking addictive.  My whole family is watching.  Dad and Mom (she hides and tries not to) and Sis too.  Lol, my family is funny, haha.

Anyways, back to watching...I hope it ends well, but knowing Asian cinema with their crazy ideas about life being tragic thus it's the journey that counts - I kind of guessed where it's headed.   If that's the case, and done poorly, prepare for my crazy rants.

Omg, this is also one of my favorite songs now.

(omg, more ballads...makes me want to cry)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It Started with a Kiss/They Kiss Again

It Started with a Kiss/They Kiss Again
惡作劇/惡作劇2吻

This was going to be a short review just because I loved it so much, I don't have much to say... I got sucked in watching this non-stop. 

Itazura Na Kiss
(1991-1999)
Manga

OMG, if the previous two posts were about tv shows of romance novel equivalent , then nothing will beat this series.  It has been adapted so many times and it's still so good.

(I only found 3 books out of my set, freaking boxes!!! where are my books!)
 
I don't know how to even explain this series because it started as a manga, which was awesome.  It never finished though, since the mangaka (artist, writer) passed away half through the series.  What's great about this series, for me, would be how it grew as a series itself.  It started with high school romance, goes to college and when it ended, they were already working .

The basic story was about Kotoko, a really stupid (school-wise) high school girl. She was in the bottom class, does terrible in her studies, but was a very earnest and hard working girl.  It started with her love letter confession to Naoki, the smartest (seriously, IQ was over 200), popular and very handsome guy.  He completely ignored and rejected her.  As fate would have it, their parents knew each other and when an earthquake destroyed Kotoko's house, she and her father moved in with Naoki and his family...

I'll be talking about the Taiwanese version made in 2005. 
It Started with a Kiss
Joe Cheng, Ariel Lin and Jiro Wang

This series followed the manga pretty faithfully.  Ariel Lin played, Yuan Xiang Qin, the simple hardworking girl that was in love with Jiang Zhi Shu, played by Joe Cheng.  This series followed them through their relationship and courtship from high school into college.


There were so many aspects of this series that has been so enduring after all this time.  Part of it was the beginning.  The entire story really captured the essence of puppy love, but changed and grew.  As the characters matured so did their relationship.  It's equally sweet and heartbreaking.  I cannot help but love watching this series.  This was also the series that really made me a huge fan of Ariel Lin.  I was already a fan before, but this one cemented it. 

Even while it followed closely with the manga storyline, there were still some changes and I felt it was made better.  Everyone was more expressive and the humor was top notch.  Omg was everything funny.  They way they filmed and the way the actors/actresses interacted was great.

Although this was a wonderful mix of a romantic comedy and school romance, I think the best was the the character growth.  It was a great coming of age story, of growing up and following your dreams vs. responsibilities/expectations.  The characters had their personal struggles, the friendships and life, even stuff like choosing majors and careers.  More importantly, if there was one thing why I think this series was so enduring was this discussion of dreams and goals.  It very much captured that youthfulness, sometimes the idle and unsure as well as the strength and endurance to chase after one's dreams.  It's so wonderful.

One thing I loved was how family and friendships were all an integral part of the storyline. I love how the parents are friends.  One aspect I also loved was that they all had their own friends and the friends weren't all pairing up.  Instead, the focus was on our two protagonists and their growths.  Actually, all the character grows and we grow up with the characters. It's so good. 

The two main characters acted in character for this side story/mv.  So good.



It first of the series was so popular that they actually made a second season...which, to my knowledge, tends to be very extremely rare.

They Kiss Again 2008

The entire cast came back and literally picked up when the first one ended.  Honeymoon!



Even as a young girl, not that I that young when this came out - moving on, I always preferred stories about what happened after the "ever after."  Courtship were always fun and wonderful.  Couples overcoming all forms of adversity always made juicy stories, but I wanted to see the life after these initial courtships and romances.  This definitely delivered.  So many stories end with marriage, but many people understand that marriage was merely the beginning.  I wanted to watch how these people we have cheered on and loved continued to adapt as they were faced with greater responsibilities.  I adored the fact that the original manga went into these chapters.  The fact they even produced a second season attested to the popularity and the awesome greatness endurance of the stories. 

They did make quite a few changes and I am conflicted-love with the ending.  They left it open with a dedication to the writer since it was unfinished when she passed away. ;_;  It's ok...this series was wonderful.  Also, I take to heart that they had so many kissing in this second series that I fully LOVED every second.  It's hilarious since the first series only had 4 kiss scenes.  This one had it non-stop.  *dreamy sigh*

Ok, I just re-read this and it's very evident I've said nothing except how much I love these two series.  Hahahaha.  I'm sorry, I was rewatching and then I just forgot about blogging.  It's so good and addictive.  I might as well just learn to do recaps and summaries. One posts can hardly describe the many depths and stories and characters, the changes and growths.  I loved every character, especially the mom.  *happy sigh* I love it. 

Rate is 9 all around. Watch it. Just watch it.  Or read it. And watch it.  I'm going to go rewatch it again.  When I start watching, I cannot stop until I finish and I want more, so I rewatch.  Excuse me while I go silent for goodness knows how long rewatching all my favs. 

P.S.  When I watch this series, I'm completely transported back to my school days.  Old Man was wondering why I was screaming, giggling, jumping around, running around like a teenager while watching this.  >_<

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fated to Love You 命中注定我愛你 (2008)

I loved this series.  Another one of those top notch shows that totally reminds me of some romance category romance, but I can't put my finger on it.  This time, I must say it's much more fun with less controversy.  It also had Joe Chen whom has been one of my favorite actresses for quite some time.

Fated to Love You 命中注定我愛你 (2008)



It had moments of total Romance-Land clichés, but I felt they had a very realistic approach to most of the storyline.  Even under all the jokes and laughter, they tackled some real issues that I think often get glossed over.  I appreciated the approach they had to a lot of these issues and all the while making it fun to watch.  It's almost like a modern take of Cinderella, but with modern issues as well. Lol.

Basic story: Wealthy powerful guy already in a relationship with a beautiful successful ballerina going on a cruise to propose.  Non-descriptive "post-it" girl (easy to come by, use and toss) on her first overnight vacation cruise with very crappy boyfriend.  Guy gets stood up and drugged (by someone else to use the opportunity to take indecent photos for blackmail), girl took some cold medicine and walks into wrong room.  Well, one night stand - resulting in unplanned pregnancy. 

They end up getting married for the baby's sake and the story was about how the two of them were fated to be together.  There were many misunderstandings, problems and confusions.  It's mostly portrayed in very hilarious ways, but the underlying story was actually very touching.



Ji Cun Xi - our very wealthy owner, CEO, etc. of a soap company was probably our weakest character, but he also had one of the greater character growths.  He sincerely and truly loved his girlfriend, Anna, but in Chinese, their Yuen Fen was very weak and both want different things.  From the beginning, he wants to settle down and start having kids (although he never pressured her to), all the while he gets put into a back seat to Anna's career.  He's a very nice guy, but very confused and conflicted between his responsibilities and whom he starts to care for.

Chen Xin Yi - our heroine has been continually described and accepted her role as a "post-it girl" as mentioned above.  She's very plain, simple and always gets the short end of the stick.  She doesn't have any close friends and gets used by everyone around her.  Not because she's a super nice girl, but because she doesn't believe in herself and never stands up for herself.  She has the greatest character arch.

Anna - the actual girlfriend was our typical smart, beautiful and career-minded woman.  She also has character growth, mostly in the sense that she never really knew what she wanted.  Her background comes out and we actually learn why she was so driven in her career as to abandon her boyfriend in pursuit of her career.

Dylan - the other guy that equally supports and ends up falling for Xin Yi.  He's also very talented and a good guy in general, but I sometimes felt he was there just to make things happen. Lol.  He ended up being more important later on with his own storyline.

What I found fascinating was that there were no real villains.  Even the supposed "villains" were more for laughs and the problems so easily resolved within an episode.  The main conflicts were the characters themselves.  Their wants, desires, and characters were what was being tested.  Each must overcome their own inner problems.

On the surface, this was just a romantic comedy about some mix-ups and such.  Unlike the last series I reviewed (Sealed with a Kiss), this series actually should be analyzed and looked at.  Everyone has their own backstory with their own meanings.  I especially like the fact they tackled a lot of issues and problems.  One of the topics I found was abortion.

After their one night stand, Xin Yi ended up pregnant.  One of the options that was discussed was abortion, which they almost undertook.  It was done without any moral preaching and approached realistically.  Cun Xi himself said something very realistic: two people that don't really know each other shouldn't bring a child they cannot take care of into the world.  Although they ended up taking the usual Asian drama route (they kept the baby and wanted it, but miscarried), it was a very honest thing to say.  Given that they did marry because they felt it was more important to take responsibility for their actions, it was also an important point to make on all counts. 

One thing I would like to point out just because: medically speaking, the picture they showed during the ultra sound for the abortion was a fetus that was much older than the 4 weeks they claimed it was.  It's just used for effects.

The core of the story, I felt, was about people being honest with themselves and each other.  More than anything, I think part of the story was about the idealized romance vs the realities.  As Cun Xi and Xin Yi spent more and more time together, they begin to fall in love with each other.  Cun Xi started to fall in love with Xin Yi's earnestness and kindness, whereas Xin Yi started to grow into a stronger person with Cun Xi's support and his kindness as well.  All the while, each continued to held onto their idealized version of love.  Problem was, it always fell short.  Cun Xi loved the idealized Anna and the reality of Xin Yi would never match up.  Xin Yi continued to idealized Cun Xi and often caved to whatever he asked, thinking that if she did what was expected then it would all turn out well.  Even Anna with her idealized version of her life let other chances slipped by.  The weakest part to this whole thing would be Cun Xi being a complete idiot and not being forthcoming about the whole situation with Anna. 

Granted, it was sort of like Anna dumping Cun Xi when she picked to go to New York after telling him she was going to meet him on the boat, it still felt wrong.  Even though Anna picked her career (which she ended up getting sabotaged and lost anyways), she was kept in the dark for the most part.  Her actions really couldn't be blamed (not fully anyways since she unintentionally caused the miscarriage), but her selfishness did bring herself to the situation.  Cun Xi was weakest because he was really the one hiding from his feelings the whole time.  Xin Yi's lack of self-esteem in herself allowed a lot of the outside forces to control her life.  Dylan was pretty perfect, but I think he had some unresolved guilt issues in there and sometimes really felt out of place in the whole story at times. It also didn't help that no matter how well they portrayed him, Dylan's character was more underhandedly selfish.  Example was his treatment of Anna.  Not a bad person, but probably more realistic than the other three. Lol.  Fun to watch though.



I loved how they even fast-forwarded the time and we saw how this experienced changed all of these characters.  They all grew and it was great.  I liked seeing how each character changed and how it took time and effort.  Their experiences shaped them to become better people. It was the growths that finally were able to resolve their inner problems.  Romance at it's best, I tell you.  To this day, when I re-watch it, there were points where I'd still sniffle because the show was really good at it's portrayal.   I could keep digging the layers of the various social commentaries about this show.  It's really great.  It also helped they goofed around all the time, and the fact everyone's hit Cun Xi over various reasons. Hahahaha. 

On a side note, my favorite character has got to be the Grandmother Pearl (Ji Wang Zhen Zu).  She's hilarious throughout the series.  I loved how she also had a backstory as well.   Xin Yi's family was also hilarious.  It's very sweet in it's own way to show how their family held together, so the mom Chen Lin Xi Shi, was probably my second favorite character, hahaha.  The side romance between Anson was also very cute.

Let me just say this, I absolutely loved watching the actress Joe Chen. Her Chen Xin Yi was so endearing and sincere. Her character could have been annoying, but honestly, she played this character so well, you cannot help but love and want to encourage Xin Yi. Maybe another actress might have made Chen Xin Yi annoying, stupid, or weak, but not with in Joe Chen's capable hands.   Instead, in most cases, I felt very sympathetic and close to her character.  Xin Yi was instead a great character that carried on the show (more so than any other character).  Her changes, growth, and ability to overcome all the adversity made her all the more endearing...*happy sigh*.  If you actually watch her interviews or any of her other films, you'd also realize just how good an actress she was.  I loved a lot of her other shows before, but it was this series that made me a big fan.  Joe Chen was incredible and so pretty. 

To tell you the truth, the story could've gone terrible and there were so many things that could've gone wrong. So so wrong.  Luckily, the writing, the story, the actresses/actors were all great.  It came together extremely well.  All I can say was that this story has been fun and touching to watch after all these years and really exemplified how a lot of romance stories hold true even now.  Ah happiness. Ignore me while I watch this series another time. So good.

Ratings:  I'm just going to be bias and go for a 9 overall.  I meant to analyze more, but when I went to rewatch so I could write more, I just got sucked backed in watching.  So, I give up trying to write anything. Lol.

Also, I don't know why but every time I watch this series, I'm transported back to when I first met and started going out with Old Man.  ;)

Going to end with two videos.  The happier MV someone made and then the piano of the song that I adore. 





Monday, August 26, 2013

Sealed with a Kiss 千山暮雪 (2011)


Since it seems like I've been having some weird TV/Movie theme, it's only right to go back to where TV and romance merge.  Let's start the week off with a series very much like a romance novel.
Heck, it was originally a novel first.



Sealed with a Kiss

This was pretty much a classical romance novel, like a classic romance novel in tv form.  If I really thought about it, it would be like a combo of old school historical with a huge emphasis in Harlequin Present.  I'm not even kidding about the similarities and I meant it in the best way. They also had a lot of the same pitfalls, but still, it makes one think about some of the romance novels we read when you see actual people acting it out. 

Some great places that already discussed this story thoroughly.

Basically, guy blackmails girl (because her uncle embezzled money) to be his mistress as revenge for when her father took a bribe and sold the guy's father's business secrets, which in turn caused guy's father's death.  We later find out, guy was forced into political marriage in exchange for money to save his family/father's company for 10 years.  They ended up being together for 3 years, while the guy remained conflicted between love and revenge, while also being cruel to the woman he loves in order to protect her from his crazy wife.  It gets very complicated and very very intricate and oh so juicy, but I loved every moment even though I shouldn't have (minus a few forced kisses, etc.).

The guy, Mo Shao Qian, was very much your typical cold, smart, powerful guy.  The great part was how the actor played out the conflicts.  Despite him being creepy and cruel for the most parts in the beginning, the actor was good at portraying the conflicts and by the end, you really feel for the guy.

The girl, Tong Xue...well, she sometimes fall into the martyrdom/tstl at times, but what I really enjoyed was that it gets repeated pointed out.  Where even at the end, the Tong Xue herself said that she was so stupid to not realize what was happening.  Again, I also felt it was more so in the tv show.  In the novel, she's not only younger so that thus actually more understandable that she wasn't as strong a character

The political wife, Mu Yong Fei, was absolutely ruthless. Oh gosh was she crazy.  The actress was awesome though and played her so well, there were times you'd feel so bad for her...if not of the crazy she pulled right before and after. Oh gosh, she's absolutely brilliantly crazy.

With all the insane problems and dramas, I felt this was a great story still because at the core of this story was about the contrast of love, obsession and possession. 



The novel was in first person, so it wasn't until the inner monologues of Mo Shoa Qian and Mu Yong Fei came out did we really see some of the deeper dynamics.  In this aspect, I really enjoyed the tv show because they allowed a lot of the inner monologues and actions to be revealed to us the viewers whereas in the novel, it wasn't really revealed.  The TV version incorporated a lot of these monologues really well and I totally appreciated the confrontation where everything was revealed, even to the family.

The bottom all contains spoiler.

In the novel, we weren't really sure when or how Shao Qian (until monologues, etc) actually fell in love with Tong Xue and it felt more cruel given the situation.  In both cases, we later found out that Shao Qian actually always liked Tong Xue and that he's cruelty to her was two folded.  One, he felt extreme guilt and anger at falling in love with the daughter of the man responsible for his father's death.  The more he cared for her, the more he hated himself.  Two, she was the only person he really ever loved, but could really have given she was hung up on her ex.  Related to two, was three, his crazy wife.  It was rather incredible that Shao Qian actually hid the fact he had a mistress for almost 3 years from his wife, because he knew how his wife would react.  The nicer he was to Tong Xue, the higher the danger it posed to her. 

The line up was: he liked her, found out who she was and decided to both possess and punish her, then he loved her and wanted to protect her (by being mean to her?!!!), .finally he realized how much he loved her and have you everything for her.  We also later find out that the political marriage, was never consummated and that actually, the guy actually tried to ask for a divorce the night of the wedding.  The different in the TV show was that the marriage was entirely fake, without any papers.  Novel-wise, they were actually married but again, never consummated.  Shao Qian had actually only ever been with Tong Xue despite most of it being in the grey area of non-consensual.  The novel was the same but for the greater part, Tong Xue was not as victimized and that some of the physical encounters weren't as bad as the TV ones.  Still a bunch of grey areas though -_-'.

A big difference was the expansion of the roles of the Shao Qian's mother and Mu Yong Fei's father.  Both were a plus, since they were played by my favorite actress and actor growing up.  I loved the layers and the relationships they brought in. They also made a lot of the situation a lot more tragic while making the whole story come together. The interactions and end with Shao Qian's mother was also a good way to show his true personality which was good for the story.

The final reveal in the show was just plain scary.  When Mu Yong Fei was finally confronted with proof and spoke up about all her schemes, it literally freaked me out.  The actress had this perfect edge of passion, sadness and insanity.  You gotta love a villain that's pitiable and more than anything, intelligent.  She was the most intelligent person in the entire show, yet was also the craziest.  She let her love become obsession and ended up causing herself the most pain. 

Basically, she was the one that set up the bribes, the corporate espionage and controlled everything from the beginning.  She actually caused the death of Shao Qian's father.  When her brother asked why, all she said was like 6 words: Dad wanted money, I wanted person (him, Mo Sha Qian).  O_O
She literally schemed everything just to marry the guy thinking that if she worked hard enough, she could get him to love her. It was insane.

At the same time, even with her obsession, I still loved how the author even attempted an explanation. She herself said that if her father didn't favor the brother (gender) to take over the company, she wouldn't have the time to care about a man.  My entire body went chilled and got goosebumps all over at that. She sounded so scary. Logical yet everything she said was so freaking evil.

Now, onto the grey areas.  Ok, this was blackmail, so by my standard, most of those sexual encounters (that we don't see) would count as coercian and forced seduction. According to the novel, the girl had more sexual power and was stronger in personality, but it didn't make any of this better.  From the clips I've read, she was much more snarky and sarcastic.  In the show, she acted more like a scared bunny for the most part and rather stupid.  It was kind of understandable in the novel since she was younger there (they made her older in the tv show).  I liked the end a lot more because we saw how their interactions were more equal.  She's hilarious at times.  In the show, she almost had no strength and simply acted as she was told (which was again pointed out in the show itself).



I think even though I was very uncomfortable with their sexual interactions and the fact the entire relationship was based on force, it brought up a lot of very interesting issues I had thought about.  In romance novels and rom-land, a lot of the older novels as well as historical novels (sometimes even paranormal and erotica genres), there's the discussion of those blackmailed relationships, forced kisses, coerced relationships and how unrealistic or just plain-out wrong.  Well, I am using this show as a way to show that yeah, it's creepy and scary and WRONG.  Even if you loved someone, those actions were simply bad.  Which was most of the first 20 episodes. Lol.  While watching the show, I sometimes kept asking myself what am I doing watching this.  For some reason, I couldn't stop. -_- I would like to say it was because of the acting, but that's only a partial truth.  The story itself was very addictive.  As I mentioned earlier, I really felt the story was about the variations of love and what it truly meant to love.

Tong Xue's love was almost childish.  It made her weak on all counts and was unrealistic.  I think that's what her ex-boyfriend also encompassed.  Tong Xue continually clung onto the memories of her ex-boyfriend because it was during her youth, when she was carefree and didn't have any worries or responsibility, ergo, childish for the most part.  Even her love for her family was childish.  The reason she was being this rich married man's mistress was because she was helping cover up a crime.  She thought somehow this martyrdom was love.  It wasn't...it's stupid.  When the uncle finally realized what happened, he turned himself into the police because, seriously, this wasn't love, it was childish.  Even in the tv show, where Tong Xue let herself be used a second time to save her best friend's family, we kind of saw how she was growing up in her relationships.  The last step where she did as the crazy wife asked - to say horrible things to Shao Qian to protect him...I guess it was to show maturity, but it just annoyed me.  Nothing annoys me more in love stories when the characters weren't truthful to each other.  I always felt if they put their minds together, they would be able to at least not have misundestandings.  Still, one thing about her that was admirable was her ability to still live a relatively normal life.  She still worked, had friends and that's also a testament of her strength.  Stupid, oblivious, optimistic strength, but strength nonetheless.  Side note, she really seemed to be stronger in the novel than the TV so the shift at the end wasn't as abrupt as it looked.

Mu Yong Fei's love was the unhealthy stuff. It's equally obsession and possession, thus still very immature in its own way.  She fell in love with Mo Shao Qian at age 20 and did everything possible to possess him, thinking that it'll make him love her.  Yong Fei's love was all about having him to herself, the unhealthy sort of love...if at that.  At some point, I figured it was because she never really felt loved or valued the way she wanted.  She even pointed out during the confrontation; her father was powerful, she was the jewel in everyone's eye, she was beautiful and smart, the fact that Shao Qian rejected her advances 10 years ago only made her want him more.  It kind of dimmed that love into possession, etc.  Especially the part where she basically said that if she could it all over again, she'd still do the same thing. O_o 

Shao Qian's love was like the combo of the two and probably ended up being the better of the two.  We later find out that he really truly ever only loved Tong Xue and never wavered.  Even when women threw themselves at him, he just moved away.  At the same time, he was still possessive, obsessive and super jealous.  Heck, he blackmailed her into being with him.  At the same time, Shao Qian didn't delude himself that she would love him.  He just wanted to be with her for however long he can.  Even in his own monologue, Shao Qian hated himself for not being good to her...yet he continued. Ah, stupidity.  He probably matured the most out of all the characters because he was finally able to let it all go and just love Tong Xue sincerely.  He gave up his father's company, his career, most of his money, as well as finally letting go of Tong Xue all because he truly loved her.   Took some time though since there were times he was just too mean and cruel.  BUT, as with all romance novels fantasy, he did make it up to her.  Seems like when a guy let the woman he loves go (to do whatever she pleased) and sacrificed his career, family business, and fortune all to protect her, it kind of counts as enough groveling. 

A few side characters I thought were pretty cool: The best friend Liu Yue Ying was a very fun and intelligent character.  The crazy woman's brother, Mu Zen Fei, was also great.  He's very intelligent and was somehow a great medium to all the craziness going around.  And I already mentioned the parents. :)

Overall, I liked all the characters, even when they act stupid and crazy.  Even the villain, Yong Fei, was awesome to watch.  She's actually one of those really good villains that you love to hate. Ergo, gotta love every character.  On a side note, I love the actor * and actress * that played the respective parents. Loved watching them. 

A few final notes I found interesting:

The discussion of abortion.  I don't know how to explain it, but the stigma and discussion of abortion was very different in the way I was brought up than a lot of the current political environment where it absolutely makes no sense to me.  Ok, to not go into a complete rambling of this particular issue - I just wanted to point out how it related to this story.  The TV show made a change in that Tong Xue lost the baby at the end.  In the novel, she actually did terminate the pregnancy.  It was a rational and realistic decision and didn't go into some moral ranting.  

Also, in the novel, Mu Yong Fei actually ended more tragically to show that bad things happen to bad people.  The actress that was used in the series, well, Mu Tong Fei let it be known that the actress had STDs so she was ruined.  In revenge, the actress threw acid on Mu Tong Fei's face. 

Another difference was the ending.  In the TV, we're made to think they're separated.  In the novel, they actually got married after she came back from overseas.  Shao Qian didn't go to jail or anything, so the mini-series that came after this was complete nonsense. 

All I can say was to not to think too deeply about the characters because in the end, all you can say would be stupid.  Every single one of them indeed. Hahaha.  From what I could tell, the moral of this series was to not cling onto those we love and let them make their own choices.  In a sense, no one can control whom they love, but they can control how they act and react.  One cannot force another to love them either, as with all three characters.

Mu Yong Fei schemed and forced, threatened and pleaded, but could not get Mo Shao Qian to love her.  Mo Shao Qian blackmailed his entire relationship with Tong Xue, all the while showering her with expensive gifts, but could never get her to smile happily at him.  Tong Xue sort of waited around for a man that couldn't make a decision, but she remained strong and true to herself.  Tong Xue maintained friends, co-workers, and school even though she had no power and no choice and terrible terrible things happened to her.  It wasn't until Mo Shao Qian took a hint and became more like Tong Xue did things really started to work out.  Tong Xue ended up falling in love with the part of him that wasn't insane like Yong Fei.  Yong Fei, unable to fully let go remained miserable.

I know it sounded like a stretch, but the story and characters were well written. The level of complexity between every character as well as the business aspects were realistic, even when crazy.  I felt it was great at pointing out the problems in it's own story.  It was almost as if the author wrote out a typical romance novel, then broke everything down by showing all the problems with the typical stereotypes of unbalanced relationships and how the reality of those romance stories really weren't romantic. It wasn't until our H/h started to be more "real" did their relationship became realistic in order to have a happy ending.

The novel actually had an epilogue and the author wrote little snip-its of their married life together. It's very cute and has been translated here.  I personally liked the epilogue a lot better since there were still too many parts about the story that bothered me.  I'd almost rather read about their married life rather than the crazy courtship.  It's more fun and less...creepy.

So, conclusion - I am very conflicted about this series as it has pros and cons and very much fits into the category romance world.  Still, I was glad to have watched it.  Whether I wanted to or not, it made me think on the idea of romance, the nature of romance novels and the realities of relationships.  Even as I cowered into a corner at certain scenes, winced and fast forwarded certain parts, it was still an important experience within its own right.  Ergo, no real ratings.  It's more of a flip of the coin.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Boxes

Yeah this is where all my books are hidden. Lol.
I know keep complaining about the delays to my reviews because books were hidden...so, here's why:

Old man and I worked very hard to move everything from the garage into the house


I've started to stock up my two puny bookshelves while everything is still in boxes.  
Old man and I also worked very hard to bring this small looking, but extremely heavy bookshelf upstairs into my workroom.

There are actually still a few boxes at my parents house...and I'm sure I lost a few books when they got tossed out. -_-  I hope they were important books that I can't rebuy.  Luckily, I made sure to bring my faves. Lol.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Uh oh

I've gotten back into dramas and wuxia shows... this is bad. Bad, bad, bad.  Or is it good?  No wait, it's bad.  I haven't even gotten my books in order yet, why I am jumping back into these shows?


Can I blame books?  I think I'll blame books.  Or good stories.  Yeah... I'll just say that. 

Stories are like this:


 Sis about to give my cute nephew a yummy watermelon. 
I'm like my nephew...and that sweet, juicy and delicious treat (of a story) calls to me.
 

Friday, August 23, 2013

By These Ten Bones by Clare B. Dunkle

A nice Friday book review for a fun week filled with TV.  Since I went along the lines of comedy, I wanted to it with a nice note of young horror...and romance. Lol.  Onto the review!

By These Ten Bones by Clare B. Dunkle

A mysterious young man has come to a small Highland town. His talent for wood carving soon wins him work at the castle and the admiration of the weaver's daughter Maddie. Fascinated by the silent carver, she sets out to gain his trust, only to find herself drawn into a terrifying secret that threatens everything she loves.
There is an evil presence in the woodcarver's life that cannot be controlled, and Maddie watches her town fall under a shadow. One by one, people begin to die. Caught in the middle, Maddie must decide what matters most to her—and what price she is willing to pay to keep it.

The more I read Clare B. Dunkle, the more I like her books. Something about her writings, something hard to pinpoint, made this book just as fascinating to read. The only word I was able to come up with was refreshing. The author has a way of putting in a refreshing spin on familiar stories and placing them in very realistic settings. I mean, seriously, how often do we get Scottish highlander werewolf tales?

As with her previous book, there was a creepiness and edge of horror in every page.  Moments where you don’t quite know what was going to happen even as you clutched the book with a mixture of expectation, suspense and dread. Once again, as with this author’s previous book, by the time I reached the last page, it just irritated me how much more I wanted to read. I didn’t want the book to end, although not as much as the previous book.

Set in the Scottish highlands where the old ways were being pushed out, but the old beliefs were still too strong to completely disappear.  The author was able to show how sometimes, the old was able to co-exist with the new Christian religion. It was a very interesting dynamic that I felt often get left out of history books or religious discussions, since history and stories tended to follow the usual (and generally historical) reactions: where one was focused on as good and the other bad, thus led to bloodly battles.  Here, it was more "merged" where these conflicts were more subtle (for the most part).

The author has always been pretty good at showing how intentions does not equate good or bad.  My favorite side story was a minor comment from our protagonist about how even though two people dearly loved the same person, the loss of the person caused unyielding hostility towards each other.  I felt this was a very clear comment about society, intents, love and hate.  I would even say that was a comment about the whole book as a whole.  Without going too deal into the backgrounds and reveals, I just wanted to get a few things out.

One thing that did get to me was how fast the entire story went.  Although it sort of made sense and fit historically, I still felt somewhat rushed throughout the book.  It kept the tension high tough.  There were also a few things that gave me pause as I was reading through, but the overall book was so enjoyable I didn't really dwell on it.

It wasn't as complex as The Hollow Kingdom in terms of world building, but the world was very gritty and realistic with a touch of other-worldliness to everything.  This fit very well into the overall story.  I loved the fact that the author used the setting to ask a lot of interesting questions about people, beliefs and love, but since it ended so fast, I felt the answer she gave was kind of idealized.  Examples would be the werewolf explanation.  It's resolution, although intense and nerve-wracking, was also super clean-cut and somewhat unbelievable in the idea of love conquers all.   Literally, love conquers all - especially through self sacrifice.  Not my cup of tea these days.

Overall, very good book as a scary story.   Everything was very beautifully written and the setting/characters were top notch. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Jackie Chan Adventures

Jackie Chan Adventures
2000-2005  95 episodes
My last cartoon review for now and it's going to be super short.  I wanted to do Batman Beyond, but that would take way too long. Lol, so some fun Jackie Chan Adventures for us!

I actually remember watching this when it first came out.  After the last bout of online streaming, it suddenly hit me to search for this series.  Boy, was I glad I found it.  It was hilarious then and it was still quite funny now.  Several story arches with hilarious characters.  There was still a few cliches and stereotypes with the characters, but at the same time, the broke through a lot of them.

I very much enjoyed the focus being the interactions between all the characters.

My favorite character was Jade.  She was just so precarious, smart, and straight forward.  Even though she's a little girl, she kicked butt.  She was fearless, smart and very fast on her feet.  Jade really made the show that much better.  Jade definitely acted her age and more.  I wish there were more characters like her.  I'd love to see an adult version of Jade. :)

Uncle was hilarious, but my favorites tended to be with his rivalry with Toru's Mom.  Speaking of Toru, I very much loved how the characters had their own characteristics and growths.  They were very cute together fight evil magic.  Although both had very stereotypical traits, I think they stayed on the positive side in most cases.

Jackie Chan was more of a composite of certain characteristics of from the movies and utilized a lot of slapstick comedy. He was just super sweet for the most part.

Even the villains were funny.

If you ever find yourself with nothing to do and just want a nice bit of comedy, watch this show.  It's definitely worth it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Magic School Bus

So, I found out The Magic School Bus was on Netflix...and I went crazy. Then after I watched all season 1 in one day...I realized they only HAD one season.  Then just last week, it was announce the entire series has been posted online. OMG, I went crazy.

Then I realized, I needed more... So I went searching online.

My goodness have I been so out of the loop, I didn't even realize they had the entire DVD set for sale!!! On top of that, I found out they had science kits. Science kits!!! I loved these stuff, but we were always too poor for the ones that existed back in the day (not Magic School Bus one's of course). Nowadays, kits everywhere! Smithsonian ones, Discovery ones...now Magic School Bus ones. Be still my heart. I had to sit on my hands and hide my wallet to resist the urge to buy all of them. Even now, walking through stores...I want to buy them all!

The Magic School Bus

Onto the show~~~

There is quite nothing like educational cartoons. Something so unique and special about these older shows that makes me really wish they would do more.  A wonderful teacher that encourages her students to get messy and make mistakes, because that's how we learn.  A bunch of kids all with their own personalities and characteristics.  This was one of my favorite cartoons growing up.  The books were awesome as well (still ongoing ^_^), but just imagine...a cartoon that's educations. *happy sigh*  It had adventure and excitement, all the while teaching about friendship and all things science.

I used to race home after school and watch it on PBS. Or waking up early to watch it on PBS.  Even then, I always wished there was a truly magical school bus that could take me to see first hand how the earth works.  From a flower to seed to a flower again, watching decomposition, or going underwater.  Traveling around the world, learning all about the weather, every episode was a delight.  Learning about sound and the chemistry of cake, I loved it all.

Granted, some of the information were dated (i.e. Pluto), but overall this was still a very informative series about the environment, science, health, chemistry, etc. Even now, re-watching, I found there were more information I had forgotten.  Very educational indeed. If anything, they were very too vigilant to keep all the information very educational.  Almost all the episodes that dealt with the environment and such, there was almost no discussion about human caused problems.  The main morale was the environment took care of itself, almost as if the human factor didn't exist (with exception of the wetland episode).  Extinction, land erosion (not the water episode), pollution, global warming, loss of habitat, over-hunting, over-grazing, garbage...everything was very simple.  It's understandable given the age it was meant for, but the few times it was mentioned, it was still glossed over, with only a few episodes towards the end.  Instead, the stories were more focused on teaching the basics as well as about the characters learning, making mistakes and such.  Not too bad for a children's cartoon.
 
As for the characters, each character was unique with their specific personalities.  I loved them all.  Rewatching these days, I've noticed how the authors, writers, directors, and producers seemed to have made a conscious choice to go against stereotypes.  They were simply kids with their own personalities.  My favorite was, of course, Ms. Frizzle and Liz.  Also, believe it or not, I loved the Bus.  It has it's own personality and it was so cute. 

It made me rather nostalgic about a lot of good shows I watched growing up. These shows were fun and educational.  They had a wide range of cultural background.  Currently, I am saving some money to buy the box set.  More than that, they have science experiment sets now...my favorite.  We never had money to spend on these growing up and had to make due with what we had at home, which were valuable in and of itself.  I would still like to play with these just to see.  Hehehe, I feel like a little kid giggling at the thought of playing again with these.

P.S. This show made me love bats. Bats and lizards.  And muscles (ones in the sea ^_~). I love them all to this day. :)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Arrested Development - the mini/web series

Arrested Development (2013)

I actually really enjoyed the original Arrested Development series quiet a lot despite it continuing certain trend of the whitest OC, second to the whitest Sunnyvale in CA (sorry Master W)...who am I kidding, it's like all representations these days on TV, but that's an entirely different discussion.

The stories, characters and the writing were still very awesome.  It's a series the built upon itself and the fact it was all comedy was the best.  There were touches of politics and all about family.  Heck, I've had all the DVDs and re-watched to the point of memorization...plus all the commentaries...

Needless to say, it was with abated breath that I waited for the Netflix season (and soon-to-be-out movie).  Granted, I was worried as high expectations often lets us drop from said height.  The images in our deviously awesome brains often overshadowed the realities.

Maybe it was the change from the tv network to online (sort of like cable, I guess). Or maybe it was because I grew up (don't think so since I still love the tv series), but the Netflix season just wasn't as good.  Stuff that were once so subtle and thus made it all the more funny because too, I'm not sure if this was the right way to put it, but shoved in my face.  It also got a lot more sexualized overall.  Also, as much as I love cameos...there were wayyyyy too many. It's all over the place. Something that used to be like little surprises were made into full-on characters. These characters began taking on more and more of the storyline and instead of making things interesting, it felt awkward.  It's like one of those situations where a friend or acquaintance you knew from some time ago, you lost touch and when you're able to connect, you're so happy to meet up.  Yet when you met up, all they're doing was name-dropping. 

I guess it boiled down to the fact that a lot of characters I likes went from being clueless to vicious.  Then again, 10 years does that to people.  In a way, I appreciate the unique changes and dynamics of the new series.  This series continued to touch upon modern society and family.  Yet, I was rather uncomfortable with a lot of the character changes...if I could call it that.  Part of it was the fact that these very characters that once felt very genuinely oblivious in their own way, now have been made rather unlikable.

Before, they were a family forced together.  By themselves, they stayed in this "arrested development" in terms of their world and minds.  At the same time, by living and working together to face the obstacles, they would grow and become better people through each other.  Or at least, I thought that was the intent.  Maybe because they want to squeeze more stories out of this, but the newest series so far made all the characters much less likable.  They're more cruel, actually.  The very characters I liked became even more callous, losing much of the dizzy likability.  Instead of changing and growing, they all kind of just dwindled into a pitiful bunch. 

Instead of feeling happy, I felt like the writers were deliberately making me NOT like these characters.  The respect and care that was originally there all vanished.  I don't know, but it was disappointing. I'm probably going to keep watching anything new that pops up since they mentioned it was just short mini-series.

Maybe next season/mini movie will be better. I don't know...I'm not that excited anymore and maybe that's a good thing too.

Monday, August 19, 2013

More on TV shows

Recently, I gain access to online streaming and went crazy (if the previous posts hadn't been evident enough lol).  It was both good and bad...let's skipped the bad and move to the good.  I was able to catch up on some new shows as well as rewatched some beloved shows from before.   A few things occurred to me.  Show's need growth and change in realistic and good ways...  TV shows were still inherently entertainment, but even entertainment needs growth.  We as the viewers grow and change, therefore it's often expected for the entertainment we engage with does the same.  Even though part of the entertainment was also the "sameness" that helped us feel comforted and safe, it does not work for every show out there.

Stuff I still watch: Castle, The Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation (despite their hatred of libraries and librarians), Modern Family, Futurama (even though it's coming to an end).

These shows remained rather consistent in their stories and characters.  They're also great about changes and character growth.

For so many other shows that started with such a bang, full of depth and magic, they ended up fizzling away into weirdness and predictability.  There were also quite a few popular shows where I watched it and wished my life back.  I'd ask why they were on TV, or why they were popular, but I didn't want to go down that line of thought.  Luckily for me, I still have some good shows and still better books.  And my gardening.  I've been really into various cooking shows like Top Chef, Cupcake Wars, and of course PBS cooking shows.  Oh, speaking of PBS, I found that they still had a lot of good shows after the hiccups the past few years (imho).

So, since I'm going through a TV thing these days, I might as well do a TV week...where I can just ramble on about shows I watch (American English style, hahaha).  Enjoy~

Friday, August 16, 2013

Painted Skin by Pu Songling

Yeah, this was coming.  I'm always into a good Chinese folklore mood. Lol.  Other times, it's wuxia, but right now...folklores galore!  Let's end the week with a nice combo of book/tv. :D

As I have mentioned before, if you haven't encountered Pu Songling's - then you really should.  His stories were everywhere growing up. TV, movies, books.  There have been so many adaptions on all his stuff it's really incredible.  This time, I wanted to focus on a single story.  This entire post has spoilers since I'll be talking about it non-stop. Lol.

Painted Skin by Pu Songling

This story has been adapted so many times I've completely lost count (I think over 5 tv movies, movies, tv episodes, audio, etc.).  Not counting the oral stories I heard growing up, cuz who am I kidding, those were the best... I wanted to go over the few adaptions that stuck with me more.

The original story was more of a horror and cautionary tale about the dangers of beauty (or in my mind, being blinded by looks) as well as fidelity and loyality.

A man (scholar) met a young beautiful woman that claimed she needed help one night and was so enamored with her, he secretly hid her away to be a concubine.  The scholars wife felt something was off and tried to get the scholar to send the woman away, but was ignored.  Depending on the version, the Taoist priest/beggar (as priests/gods sometimes took the form of beggars) was either summoned or merely saw the guy and told him that he had been haunted/consorting with an evil ghost.

A talisman was given, but the man would not heed the warnings until he saw one time the young woman painting a female face onto a hide/paper for she had no face (again, it various based on version).  He ran away, but the ghost found out and was so mad she ripped his heart out chest and stolen it.  The wife went to beg for help and the priest humiliated her as payment to save her husband.  She saved her husband and the story ended with a lesson about how one should not neglect one's wife (because she only meant well) and to not be tricked by one's eyes/beautiful women.

Yeah, good stuff.

Despite some of the obviously historical gender issues, it was actually pretty modern of quite some time.  It cautioned against concubines, to not "like the new, forget the old" <~Chinese saying, taught about fidelity and to treat one's partner with respect. Pretty cool stuff if you asked me.

Now, onto the film versions, which I have a lot more to say.

Painted Skin (1993 film)
Adam Cheng, Joey Wong, Sammo Hung, Lam Ching Ying, and Wu Ma

This was one of the first and I honestly don't remember too much about it...only that it changed the original story of the woman ghost from evil to a benign spirit, which was kind of the beginning of the change for all future versions.  They also created an evil spirit-king to fight against.

It was pretty good in the sense they started making changes and extending the story to include more of the fact not everyone and everything was clearly good or evil.  The idea of the kind spirit/ghost was starting to take hold.  Granted, I had some problems with the gender roles, etc. still, but it was very fun to watch as a kid.  Plus, Joey Wong really was such a beauty.  Sammo Hung was awesome and my personal favorite, Wu Ma.  He's just so cool, even to this day when I think of supernatural stories.

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, or Liao Zhai (2005 TV mini series)

This was the one I had previously posted about.

By far, this was one of my favorite due to the extensive background and the idea of karma it was imbued.  The changes made also allowed the entire story to take on another very cool idea.    In this case, the scholar was extremely talented, but poor.  Still he wanted to go take his examination in the city and left.  There, he married the niece of one of the Emperor's favorite concubine (thus totally elevating him in the social standing).  He was commissioned by his wife's cousin to paint a beautiful woman onto a human hide.

He rescued a young woman that looked exactly like the woman in his painting and hid her away as his concubine.  By coincidence, he met a priest that gave him the warning about the young woman he now kept and then we get to the really juicy part.

The ghost was a woman he knew back in his old hometown.  She was a singing "geisha" girl - a woman that worked in a brothel, but sold her talent abilities rather than simply having relations.  A great beauty that brought in the wealthy guests.  This poor scholar pursued her with his literary blahs and promised to marry her after he finished his exam.  After a year of not hearing from him, she brought his mother and their child to the capital to search for him.  He claimed to have had all his stuff stolen (including the money she gave him) and that he had missed the examination so he was selling his paintings to get by until the next. We never found out if what he said was true, but he basically already met his very wealthy and connected wife already.  In a fight, he left her get burned to death so she came back to haunt him.  The mother left to be a nun, but remained quiet about the whole thing.

Yeah...very awesome and heavy stuff.  I loved this series the most because it actually gave background and motivation (the dude killed his own child too) to all the characters and it was super fun to watch.  Not that I agreed with a lot of it.  Heck, even if I loved a guy and didn't have the heart to kill him, I'd still kill him for killing my kid.  The mother, I don't pity her at all since he knowingly kept silent about everything.  The wife...well, she wasn't all the innocent either and didn't heed the warnings.  Overall, I felt this was one of the better adaptions.  I loved the creepy ending too...

Since you didn't ask and I wanted to rant - The scholar ended up letting his wife die in labor and passed the kid to his mother to raise.  It's because the Princess, cousin to his wife, wanted to marry him - they were carrying on an affair.  So the two female ghosts came back and killed them.

It was awesome to watch. Hahaha.


Painted Skin (2008 film)
Donnie Yen, Chen Kun, Zhou Xun, Zhao Wei, Betty Sun and Qi Yuwu

This version had an all star cast, but they dramatically changed the story.  The most dramatic was to change the ghost into a fox-demon/vixen/shifter, which I really didn't understand.  Changing her from a ghost to a fox demon...I mean, what purpose does it serve?  Ok, it probably does make more sense in the context of the story, but there were many other stories about fox demon.  I would've preferred they simply used those.  Then again, Painted Skin was a more famous story.  Well, since they made the change, all subsequent versions did the same.  Fox-demons everywhere! 

For me, that felt the entire intent of the story changed.  Fox-demons/spirits/shifters held a different social standing than that of ghosts.  These creatures were like organic creatures, they could be rocks, flowers, rivers, or any form of animals that had existed a long time.  They gain a form of self awareness where they would actively seek a way to enlighten - therefore empower themselves.  To gain power, they could go the route of compassion, meditation and the like, or they could steal other creature's energy/life-force as another way. 

Ghosts were human spirits, thus had the human problems and situations.  They had either not passed onto the underworld (punishment, limbo, waiting for reincarnation, etc).  In some cases, as with the 1993 film had some greater power/evil/regret that kept the human spirit from moving on. 

Ergo, in my mind, the two hold very different social meanings and stories.  The replacement really bothered me.  Oh well, not much I can do.

Oh, one thing I liked about the changes: they gave the reason to why she stole hearts.  She ate them (yelck!) to maintain her human form.  This was more of a quad-love conflict and focused on the love part.  Storyline was pretty weak, but it was very visually pretty to watch.  The actors and actresses were great and I enjoyed it for the most part.  I just stopped thinking of it as this story.  It took more from some of Pu Songling's other collections.  Oh well, I enjoyed it overall.



The gorgeousness and fame of this version led to a sequel.

Painted Skin: The Resurrection (a.k.a. Painted Skin II) was released in 2012.

This was very visually awesome to watch.  Like seriously awesome to watch.  The storyline was pretty much independent except for the same fox-demon.  She finally escaped her imprisonment in ice and now set turn herself human by having someone willingly give her their heart.  Literally, not figuratively.  The Princess and the Guard really loved each other and the Fox demon really want to be human.  Again, incredible to watch because it's just so pretty.  Although a little heavy on certain parts of the CGI, I saw that many of the stuff was real...like most of those underwater scenes.  The actor and actress was talking about how the clothes would be so heavy they sometimes almost drowned.  And the opening when the Fox demon was running, yeah, apparently she did it barefoot for quite some time.  The director and people behind the scenes were super worried since the actresses feet were cut pretty bad and she kept going.  Dedication indeed. 



Seriously, this one was very visually gorgeous to watch. Which in turned created... Painted Skin  (TV series 2011)

Although this was more of a tv retelling of the first 2008 film.  It was an nice attempt to give more story background.  I didn't like it as much though since I didn't find it as beautiful to watch.  The actors and actresses weren't bad, but since I wasn't fully invested in the storyline to begin with, it was kind of hard to connect with the whole thing.

Just imagine a longer version of 2008 movie was what you'd get.

Still, it was pretty popular.  Popular enough to finally lead to the most recent one.

Painted Skin 2《画皮之真爱无悔》(2013 version)

This was more of a retelling of the 2008/2012 film with great emphasis to Chinese mythology.  It also had a greater political backdrop. I actually liked this series to a point.  I didn't quite like the many love-this, love-that.  They have gotten all pretty serious about the romance aspect.  As much as I appreciated watching people's reactions to what they felt was love, it got a little much.  Sometimes I just wanted to slap a few of them.  Luckily, the writers were smart enough to have the characters smack some sense into each other. Hahahaha.  The cast was great, mainly for another reason (the princess and guard were in another show together...hehehe).  Overall, good to watch.



Now, to move a little into the analysis.  One reason why I always enjoyed re-tellings, adaptations and the sort was because it reveals a lot about the time period and the storytellers' beliefs, ideas, world and society.  Each interpretation had their own criticisms of the times as well as the longing.

From before, mutual respect and fear of the unknown to not everyone can be simply labeled good/bad based on their origins, to the horrors of love power of love. I would like to think because the current social environment has been pretty tough that a lot of the later adaptions focused on power, politics and war - especially the folly of the three.  Peace was really what everyone wanted and to be able to be with those they loved. 

My person criticism really should cover more than this story, which was the constant repetition of the sacrifice of love.  In and of itself sacrificing for love was a sound and very genuine thing.  In many, many stories nowadays, was this near martyrdom of women sacrificing themselves. Either that or be cast and labeled as a demon, villain or vixen.  I felt that although these stories were trying to analyze and alter this idea, they all ended up following said formula.  For a supposed demon/villain/vixen to be redeemed was to sacrifice themselves.  It's not bad, but it has been everywhere.  Even when I was a little kid, women were almost always taught in everything they see and watch that endurance of suffering led to some kind of magical happiness.  Screw that!  I got tricked once, no more! ;)  I half joke.  What frustrated me was that there used to be a good balance between the genders (sort of), but it has gotten less and less (compared to before). 

I watched another show the other day where one of the characters said something that really struck me as what I would like to scream at the book/tv say when the stories became oversaturated with this martyrdom-redemption (modern era story).  Rough translation: There must be 100 ways for this issue to be resolved, there's no need to choose the most vicious/deadly/dangerous one. 

Granted, I liked most of these versions because they attempted to work in a different ended.  The original, the scholar was lectured and saved so evil was banished.  The older movies, the good ghost along with everyone else, was able to get a second chance.  My favorite mini-series show, no one's invincible, we all have to pay for our crimes, etc.  The recent movies were more about the self-sacrifice of love and to not judge appearances. The final tv series was more "happy" so to speak.  I think they wanted to wrap things up all nice and happy.

I definitely recommend this story (all versions) to everyone out there.  I wanted to rate them separately, but am too lazy.  Lol.  I give this story a solid 8 all around.  Each version complemented the other.  Plus, they all had strong points and all had weak points.