"Conversations can make interesting scenes. That is until I watched this series."
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
Benny Chan - Emperor Chien-Lung / Ko Tin Chi
Charmaine Sheh - Empress Fei / Chi Ha
Yuki Hsu - Siu Yuk
Jia Yi Ping - Khoo Chi Kit
Liu Wei - Lin Yee
Yang Chao - Zhong Liang
Zhang Tong- Concubine De/Tak Fei
Mao Yu Feng - E Rong An
Note : The original version is Mandarin, the version I watched is Cantonese. Either way all dubbed.
No. of Episodes
Chien Lung just lost his beloved empress to some evil plotting by someone he have yet to find out. He then leaves the palace to explore Jiangnan (hence the title) with his trusted old minister, Kei Lou, his beautiful servant with a deep dark secret (she knows who poisoned the very pregnant Empress) and his bodyguard, Zhong Liang, who is secretly in love with Lin Yee. He also met with Khoo Chi Kit, the descendant of a very respected scholar, unfortunately intelligence and wealth didn't last until his generation. They also met Siu Yuk, a daughter of a very powerful General (or was it minister) and then they traveled, met various people, tried to be Justice Pao in several areas and then Chien Lung met Chi Ha, the girl who looked exactly like the Empress, but more brooding and could fight kung fu. She is actually a spy sent from the local rebel group (whom I have never heard about, more like religious cult), and she so happened to be the adopted daughter of the leader rebel, fiancee of the leader rebel's son who has a very fiery temper. But after some meetings, Chi Ha fell for Chien Lung but knew she would have to betray him because she serves another master. Chien Lung I guess suspected who she was but still took her into his palace and I think she became his concubine. The point is at last she couldn't betray him but to assert authority on his very corrupt ministers, he would have to kill all the rebels, Chi Ha included.
So could he do it?
The Ending (A Speculation)
Last scene we saw was Chi Ha about to be beheaded and then some years later (or was it months) then we see a girl looking like Chi Ha dancing and she looked at Chien Lung and Chien Lung looked at her and they smiled at each other. My theory is this; the writer forgot to insert a scene to show how Chi Ha was saved from execution in the last minute, to be replaced by another woman on death row and she was taken elsewhere, promising never to get in touch with the King again. Hence the weird ending. Or maybe this is a 3rd twin sister of the Empress and Chi Ha. Who knows and frankly with an ending like that, who cares? It's a happy ending and the king shall in his lifetime meet 3 girls who looks alike (actually all 3 is Charmaine Sheh).
My question is, is the Empress and Chi Ha related? Chi Ha is an orphan, so maybe she was a twin sister or something.
Anyway ending for other characters are like this;
Kei Lou continues to be a minister.
Servant girl continues to be a servant girl.
Zhong Liang (I assume this is the Bodyguard since I can't remember his name) dies, how I do not know since I missed it and frankly I am really not bothered how he died.
Khoo and Siu Yuk got married and chose to live a life as commoner as it safer as Khoo said, you never know when the King stops being your friend and starts being a king. Dangerous life to live next to a man who has the power to dictate your destiny. Anyway they met again at last, to happy ending.
The evil concubine and her brother was discovered of their plot to well, usurp the throne I guess. Anyway, the concubine given a choice of one person getting out of the room alive chose to murder her own brother and then the King made her Empress (what she wanted all along) and then imprisoned her in the cold palace for the rest of her natural life. Why he made her empress? She is some royalty from some distant land who was about to slaughter the Qing Dynasty so to pacify them, in name she was made Empress but in truth a prisoner of her own undoing.
How poetic. Possibly the only 2 nice scenes in this series.
The Real Plot
Thanks to AV89.com for summarising the plot with the names of the characters and actors, something which I could not do since I didn't watch this series episode per episode. So for any missing info up there, here's the real plot as the VCD sellers deemed fit to summarize it ...
Emperor Qian Long(Benny Chan) inherits his throne at age 25 whose as bright and diligent as his ancestors. One day when Emperor Qian Long leading his royal officials and Queen(Charmaine Sheh) to pray in a temple, the entire group is ambushed by rebels of a "Sun-moon cult" which includes many powerful martial art warriors such as the cult leader's son Zhong Liang(Yang Chao) and Zi Xia(Charmaine Sheh). Luckily, no one's life is in peril but this attempted assassination startles Emperor Qian Long's fav pregnant Queen so she takes a herbal-medicine from a royal doctor to calm down yet she dies due to posioning from the medicine. Therefore, Qian Long is furious about this tragedy and makes an order to investigate this matter. At the same time, local rebellion is happening in China that troubles Qian Long and he has suspicion about his concubines conspiring with royal officials. Hence for the sake of the country, Qian Long decides to travel to Jiang-nan to get a better understanding of the people and inspecting the royal courts, bringing with him are body guard E Rong-an, scholar Ji Xiao-Lan and Lian Er(Liu Wei) who previously is the Queen's maid. Swordswoman Zi Xia from "Sun-moon cult" arrives at Bao-Ding Province searching for the descendant Gu Zi-Jie(Jia Yi-Ping) of Gu Yan-Wu, a Ming Dyansty nobleman, hoping to rebel again. Qian long encounters Zi Xia who looks like his queen and the two fall in love at first sight, however, both do not know the other's identity. Meanwhile, Qian Long and his gang's money are stolen by Gu Zi-Jie but luckily there's a rich girl called Xiao-Yu(Yuki Hsu) who has the heart of a heroine helps them out to get the money back. From then on, Qian Long has a humourous and resourceful Gu Zi-Jie, and a mighty fighter, eloquent Xiao-Yu accompanying him on his journey to the south. After Qian Long beheads a corrupt official in Bao-Ding Province, he becomes daring and vigorous thinking that administering and leveling the political structure is easy. When he arrives at Ji-Nan Province seeing famine everywhere, he flares up immediately before comprehending the entire picture of this matter, and uses a scheme to get the governor there to open up the food-barn to feed the hungry citizens. By doing this however, make things worse because it delays a military plan, forcing a honest governor to commit suicide with indignantly. Qian Long is very guilty and decides to travel down to the south all by himself while simultaneously, "Sun-moon cult" deploys tight encirclement to capture him. In this test of strength, the conspiracy between "sun-moon cult" and "Na-Qin Duke" assassinating the queen exposed. Qian Long then finds out Zi Xia, the woman he loves is actually one of the rebels who want to assassinate the emperor! Queen mother of Qian Long continuously hurries Qian Long to establish Concubine De(Zhang Tong) as queen, basing only on a reason that Concubine De's father, a Mongol King having a huge impact on Qian Long's reign due to the mongol king's power. Yet, Concubine De in actuality is the killer who mudered the Queen. At the same time, Qian long's gang such as Ji Xiao-nan trying hard to persuade Qian Long to behead Zi Xia! Qian Long is so confused that suddenly he finds himself in a catch 22 situation...........
It's funny how two not very famous HK actors who can't speak decent mandarin more so converse using that language could end up with these two important roles?
Anyway, I love costume dramas about Emperors and how they met the woman they will love to their dying day and how they got together. I really do, maybe except long winded series like Princess Huai Yu which had no direction. This series reminds me of a very long travelogue. We see the same gang traveling, meeting people, eat, joke, be silly, talk, talk and talk some more. What is annoying is this series feel like real time series; as they walked from point A to point B, I felt like I was walking with them, which is long and tedious. And along the way their predicament, their drama, their topic of conversation never interest me. I long for consistency in this series, but what I got is like a theme of the day, theme's over and then another theme. It was as if it will never ever end.
Put that aside, I must compliment the costume, except for Chi Ha's costumes. In fact I see the servant girl dressed better than Chi Ha or everybody else. Now some costume had personality as loads of attention I guess was put into the costume to make it look at least Manchurian and ancient.
How I wish that same attention is given to all the characters.
The main flaw of this series is not really just the boring plot, the same love story we see over and over again. I find myself getting more involved emotionally watching Qing Yao love stories than this series. The love affair between the King and Chi Ha was too fast and too cliche. She looks like dead wife, he falls for her. He cares about him, she falls for him. In one sentence and like this series perhaps in just a few minutes. Courtship was far too simple because look at it this way, the writer did not want to waste time in what was to be the destiny of the characters anyway. So we see little why the King actually fell for Chi Ha (apart from looking like his wife) whilst I can understand why Chi Ha loved him (come one, Benny Chan looks way better than the actor who played her fiancee). But it was all too soon, too fast. Very unromantic if you ask me.
So that being out of the way, half the time we see these two having this sexual tension. Courtship is over, now is to decide whether they should just sleep with one another. Yes, because I saw this scene that made me cringe. It never made me cringe in Hindi films but here, it was so embarrassing and cringe worthy. This scene was the King being sick and Chi Ha took off all her clothes, and his clothes and they slept right next to each other, nose touching nose, man shivering, woman looking, embarrassed but still there. For endless minutes we see her nose touching his. Why not just show them kiss or he make love to her or something so that we can get over this pretentious scene? Worse still was I don't see how she can warm him when she wasn't holding him, cradling him in her arms. And that very scene convinced me these two stars were and still is having an affair. Yes, admit it, Charmaine Sheh and Benny Chan are an item. Moreover I don't see either of them do such a scene or kiss the way they did in that modern day drama (Carry Me Fly And Walk Away - ? - really ridiculous title) in a TVB series. And both of them seem to enjoy each other's company in such intimate scenes.
Anyway, apart from that Chi Ha is without personality. Some dilemma but really boring to watch. The King is like an emotional little kid, I don't see a king, I see a kid throwing tantrums, acting silly. No dignity and no integrity. It didn't help that Benny Chan had this Monkey King moments earlier in the series when the Empress died in his arms and before when he faced problems with his rule. And the way towards the end as he looked at Khoo was rather, dare I say it, a hint of homo-eroticism? True! I mean it was a touching scene as he kinda begged that man to stay and when he said no he looked at hims, tears welling, not willing to let go. Not very manly king if you ask me.
The rest of the characters fare even worse. The servant girl, Lin Yee was boring to the core. The actress looked stoned and her acting ... let's just say, she has been programmed to do what she did in this series. The bodyguard is even more boring and his supposed love affair with Lin Yee was a complete waste of time to watch. Kei Lou was too silly for such a wise old man. Then we have Khoo who fared better as the silly small time criminal who perhaps gave a decent performance for a decently written character but was not enough to not make me switch channels. And who else? Oh yes, Vivian Hsu, the singer, acting in a character who acts, talks and looks like a Japanese anime character (she plays Siu Yuk by the way). Big movements, big expressions, in fact to quote Simon Cowell, her mouth was so big when she talked a car can even parked inside her mouth. There was no restraint to this character or to the story. It was like the director said "Ok, scene 1, just act and I'll just say cut". This series lacked direction and it shows. The ending is of course as bad as Perish In The Name Of Love because again, some vital scenes are not shown so people are still guessing is that Chi Ha? My answer? As I have often repeated, yes yes yes.
So how was the performances of the actors?
Like I said above, Benny Chan makes a very inadequate King. He could be a very scholarly looking Prince, a very honourable duke but a young king who will be wise? He looks silly and it doesn't help he is making silly expressions. Perhaps you may say this is a king in training, since he looked so solemn at the end. What? Just a moustache and he is now a wise king? I beg to differ.
I watched this series for Charmaine Sheh, yes, because I saw how pretty she was in the pictures. I then realised the version I was watching was dubbed. How funny. Two Cantonese speaking actors, delivering their lines in Cantonese was perhaps dubbed into mandarin when the China version was released and then redubbed in Cantonese version. So what we here is not Charmaine Sheh or Benny Chan's voice. I wished it were, because I have something to look forward to and to criticise. The voice over actors did an admirable job but frankly I can't imagine Charmaine with that mature voice. Anyway, her acting. Quite ok, but I can't imagine her as an assassin. She looked to clingy, too dependent, too pampered to be an assassin with a heart of stone. Perhaps the King and Benny Chan melted her heart, who knows. Anyway this is Charmaine looking sullen. That's the only difference in her acting with every other series. But she looked very pretty. Her turn as the Empress was far better. I long to see this Charmaine because she really looked gentle, kind, happy, soft, elegant, and very very beautiful. She even looked like she was well fed! How I wished the Empress lived longer because she was like a sunshine to watch.
The other actors are not worth mentioning. Not one tinge of charisma and as a viewer, even their faces bore me. The only exception is of course is the actor who played Khoo Chi Kit, who was ok, but not fantastic.
Vivian Hsu was the worst actress in here and one of the worst everywhere else. She has neither restrained in her performance or the natural cuteness to behave like a woman with sub standard intelligence. It didn't help that she opened her mouth so wide, squinting her eyes so small and talk with her hair flying all over the place. Even her hair spoke of a mad woman. Very very bad performance. Also a very boring character.
All in all, I must say this.
I once read a review of this series where one reviewer wrote what was so interesting with a group of people walking and talking all the time. They walked too much. I disagreed at first, being the art movie me argued why not? Conversations can make interesting scenes. That is until I watched this series. If you're that reviewer and if you're reading this review, let me compliment you on your opinion. I totally agree, at least in this series' context which offers nothing new or thought provoking.
Now before I end my review I have a few scenes I must comment on for various reasons.
1. There was this scene Chi Ha wore flowery pink costume (god awful costume) and I think the shoes made from the same fabric. And then she wore the hat and I can't help but laugh. The hat (a woven hat) was covered with the same fabric as her costume. So did Chi Ha coordinated what she wears on her feet and body with that of what she wears in her head?
2. One scene where the Kei Lou and servant girl asked Khoo to stay in the palace and he walked all over and expressed why he couldn't stay. To me that was the best scene and very well done.
3. Did I see Benny Chan jumped when he got mad? Like hopping mad, LITERALLY??
4. One thing that annoyed me very much. Everytime they ride a horse, they must whip the poor horse and go "Hee yaa...Hee Yaaa... Hee Yaaa...". Imagine the whole group going hee yaa all the time, how noisy and annoying that would be? Did the people who dubbed this series added this hee yaa thing or maybe it was in the original? Have the writer never read Black Beauty? Must they whip the poor horse? Are they THAT in a hurry?
Anyway, a pure waste of time to watch.
Strictly for fans or for the deaf, blind and mute. Best avoid this series. To think I almost bought the VCDs from yesasia.com after hearing such glowing reviews. I realised it is best I see for myself and decide. I urge you to do the same but don't say I didn't warn you.