Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jade Palace Lock Heart / Gong


It's been years since I watched a Chinese drama in its entirety. Out of all the major Asian dramas, Chinese ones are in my opinion the most poorly produced in terms of plot, characters, and aesthetics (I'm ethnically Chinese, so don't take this personally). Not only are the topics fairly dry and limited- most involving the imperial age or communist war, but the acting is also exaggerated and the voices nearly always dubbed. In fact, even for Gong, the things I dislike vastly outnumber the things I like. The only reason I watched it was because the main actors had good chemistry and because of my long-lasting affinity for Hana Yori Dango.

Which brings me to an aspect that I found especially sad, even if it's what kept me going as I watched - how the love story is about 90% ripped from HYD. The scriptwriter, Yu Zheng, very obviously copied entire scenes out of Meteor Garden / Hana Yori Dango (not to mention BBJX). I don't even get how he thought he could get away with this on a national TV show in a country where Meteor Garden is considered a classic and has already been ripped from (in the terrible, retard-named Let's Go Watch Meteor Shower).

Plot

Although the plagiarism aspect weighed on my mind as I watched, I tried to enjoy the drama for what it is, a motley mixture of time-travel + HYD + historical drama. The story and scenes got a bit messy and outright inadvertently hilarious at times, such as when Qing Chuan brings out a bowl of ice in the middle of the summer (from what, underground? Imports?) or when the acting by the side characters was so ridiculously overdone (pretty much all scenes with that eunuch lover of Concubine Xi) and the super random plot twists (an exact twin of Qing Chuan suddenly appears, and also when giving birth causes Concubine Xi to go bald and results in a "hair-eating monster"). I actually enjoyed laughing at the silliness of the drama, although I'm sure it wasn't the story's intent.


The show as a whole is fast-paced, with new storylines cropping up before old ones get too old. This serves as both a disadvantage and an advantage, for while the viewer's interest is maintained through the makjang elements, the story's overall relateability and merit fades.

However, there's a stretch from the late-teen to early 20 episodes that was almost unbearably dry and boring. I actually stopped watching for a bit to skip to the end and see what happened, then liked the ending enough to try going through it again. During this stretch, our main characters are separated and we get a plethora of rather boring storylines like the crown prince inheritance issue, the stuck inside a cave issue, and very little of our dear 8th prince. Luckily, the drama picks up somewhere around episode 25 and doesn't slow down much after that. Overall, I would describe the phases of the drama as follows:

Episodes 1-13ish: HYD Love Phase
14-late teens: Boring filler crap
20ish: Super dramatic but interesting
Later 20ish: More drama, kinda repetitive conflicts (Truthfully I skipped about 6 episodes here)
35: Ending- last five minutes of cute

Like other Chinese dramas I've seen, there's a tendency for extreme, unnecessary torture-like scenes with OTT acting, such as when the eunuch purposely burns his hands to hide his identity. Such parts added very little substance to the drama and I feel that they could've been toned down or cut out entirely.

Characters


Qing Chuan



She was fairly average; I felt she went from quirky and interesting in the beginning with her modern-day speech and wit (slightly overacted in some scenes) to the typical old-fashioned bore who speaks so. slow. and. dead. like. The actress was alright, and made up for lackings by the good chemistry she had with Feng Shao, who plays 8th prince (supposedly they are very good friends in real life, and that shines through in their comfort with one another on-screen). The song she sings is also one of the highlights of this drama, melancholy and emotionally rich.

8th Prince

He was adorably played by Feng Shao, who isn't the best looker but has plenty of charm and excellent comic timing. He was what motivated me to keep going. I love Domyoji almost regardless of who plays him (he's such a fun-to-watch and heartwarming character, it's pretty hard to screw him up), but it always helps when the actor who plays him understands the character's childishness and naive sweetness. Feng Shao definitely did and really ruled the screen both in the happy and sad moments.

4th Prince

Very deadpan guy. I'm sure everyone hated him until about episode 12 when he started to be a human being, but even that wasn't enough to ever make him a likable character. Maybe one to be pitied, but not liked. Also, I wouldn't really call it acting, more like glaring and scowling throughout the whole series.

Su  Yan

She was pretty pathetic in the beginning, doing nothing except for the 4th Prince's bidding, and wasting her life on an unrequited love in typical Chinese drama fashion. That unfortunately never changes, but she does show some kickass traits towards the later part of the drama. I actually came to really like her and almost admired how determined and cold she was towards everything.

Xiao Chun

Another character that I came to like later rather than earlier. He seems to have an issue with falling for any woman he's around, but luckily grew more mature later on in correlation with his mustache.

Liang Fei

There's sooo many character inconsistencies in this drama, as is typical for C-dramas. The worst example of this here is the 8th Prince's mother, Liang Fei, who is undoubtedly my least favorite person in the whole series. She starts off quirky and likeable and even remarks on how sooner or later Qing Chuan will marry her son. Then, I suppose in an attempt by Yu Zheng to follow the HYD story more closely, she becomes the mother from hell who tells Qing Chuan she's not good enough for her son (in complete, unexplained opposition to her initial encouragements) and acts in a downright primeval manner despite the fact that she's from the 21st century, where doing things like punishing a girl to kneel outside your door for the whole night would be considered inhumane. It seems like she was meant to be written as a decent, moral modern woman, but fell woefully short of that goal.

One unintentionally hilarious part was during her flashbacks, when the same actress (a plump, middle-aged woman) had to play herself as a 20 year old cop/martial arts expert. The scenes of her being caught by the emperor like a damsel and being called "girl" by a person half her age were ridiculous. I mean, it couldn't have been that hard to actually find a 20 year old girl to play her in those scenes right?

I'm also not sure why when she was testing the twin Qing Chuan's identity the first time she didn't just take her aside and ask about their mutual knowledge of the modern world, something that only the real QC would know. Instead, she tests the ice dessert recipe which dozens of people saw QC make in front of the Emperor and which frankly isn't a very hard test if you put all the ingredients on the table. She was, as I mentioned, the character that I thought was the most poorly constructed and irrational.

Overall

Definitely not the best I've ever seen, but fairly interesting in how it meshes so many different genres together. One general complaint I have is that they didn't really play up the time travel thing as much as they could have. I actually started the drama at around episode 6 and had no idea until I researched it online that the girl was from another time period. Sure they throw in random historical trivia and wheelchairs but there was so much untapped potential. For instance, despite being a modern woman, Qing Chuan never acts like anything more than a typical imperial-age maid, aside from a few early scenes when she's with the 8th Prince. Eventually, I think everyone forgot this was supposed to be a time-travel drama, and it all faded into a typical imperial story. The whole why-history-can't-be-changed idea was also pretty stupid, I mean surely something more creative than "They disappear off the face of the earth" could have been deployed.


The ending was cute though and I'm very happy that they chose to mesh the modern with the imperial in that way. It's kind of how I wish Inuyasha had ended. Anyways, a decent drama to burn a few hours on, but I'd recommend many others before this one.

My Ratings


Addiction Level: Medium
Plot Quality: Saw-it-a-Mile-Away (Low)
Acting: Cardboard (Low) except for the leads (Medium)

4 comments:

  1. How to keep cool from summer heat in the former imperial palace?

    In addition, there were five ice cellars in there with ice cubes collected in winter. Ice could be used to cool food, the air and to make cold drinks.

    http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/beijing/forbidden-city/faq.htm

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    1. Ahh, got it. Glad to know they weren't just throwing random things into this story. Thanks for the link!

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  2. your comments are very biased because you are Taiwanese. I am also an ethnic Chinese (from Malaysia, therefore more neutral than you) and I strongly disagree with your biased negative review on mainland Chinese made dramas. the set and costumes are fabulous and the acting is far superior to Taiwanese or HK dramas. Three Kingdoms is a good example, an epic mainland Chinese made historical drama that neither Taiwan or HK could ever hope to surpass

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    1. Just to clarify, my family is actually from mainland China. I'll admit though that I got hooked to Taiwan dramas first (starting with Meteor Garden), which did bias me for a period. I have liked plenty of Chinese dramas in the past (including Princess Returning Pearl), but have continually found the more recent offerings to pale against other Asian dramas. It's nothing against the budgets/costumes, which are clearly great, and rather about the often simplistic plots, mediocre acting, and distracting dubs.

      However, I will say that Taiwan dramas have also been an enormous disappointment lately (as you can see from my most recent reviews), so I completely agree with your argument there. I haven't watched HK dramas, so have no opinion of them. Anyways, I wrote this review quite a while ago, so it's not reflective of my current thoughts, and of course I'm always open to being pleasantly surprised by a drama regardless of its country of origin.

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