Nirvana In Fire/Lángyá Bǎng/琅琊榜 (2015) – C-Drama Review

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by Ruby Gege

Hello all! It has been a while since I last reviewed something here. Work (and laziness) have unfortunately been occupying most of my free time. Other than that, I am simply just a horrible human version of a seal, preferring to lie on my bed all day long instead of thinking hard about the quality of dramas and films I just watched. But then, a few weeks ago, I came across this Chinese drama called Lang Ya Bang or Nirvana In Fire and decided… hmmm this seems interesting. At this point, the whole international fandom was going crazy over this wuxia historical drama and I was like whatttttt???? Of course I had to check the drama out and hell yeah, I was not disappointed!

My review of this 54-episode drama can be summarized in the following hypothethical conversation I’d have with myself –

Me – Eh, so how’s Lang Ya Bang? Hao bu hao (good or not)?  

Me 2 – OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO WATCH THIS DRAMA I CAN’T EVEN TALK PROPERLY THIS DRAMA IS LIKE SO FUCKING GREAT HELL IT IS SO DIFFERENT FROM OTHER DRAMAS I’VE WATCHED IT’S LIKE AMAZING SO AMAZING YOU’VE NEVER EVEN WATCHED SOMETHING SO AMAZING THE STORY THE CHARACTERS THEY ARE ALL AMAZING IT IS LIKE A RELIGION OH MY GOD I DON’T MIND WORSHIPING THIS DRAMA DAY IN AND DAY OUT OH MY GOD! 

Me – Are you crazy? *smug face*

Simply put, this drama is everything their fans, viewers and critics alike have made it out to be. It is one of the best Chinese dramas to ever been made.

Why? Ah… so many reasons, I am not even sure where to start. Let me just mention 2 reasons here – 1) the story and 2) the characters.

STORY – 

The premise of the story is of a young general of an army, Lin Shu, who survived a battle 12 years ago. After his whole clan and followers, the Chiyan army, were declared to be traitors of the kingdom and were massacred, he changed into a new identity, Mei Changsu and became the Chief of the Jiangzuo Alliance (some sort of a kungfu/warriors’ group or something). And during this 4th century China, apparently there was also a ranking system made by the distinguished Langya Hall – a think-tank that ranked all things important from wealth, intelligence and warrior skills. Our Mei Changsu here was given the title of the Divine Talent by the Langya Hall and was pursued by the Princes competing for the throne. However, when Mei Changsu entered the capital city using the name Su Zhe, he chose to serve the least powerful prince who was his best friend when he was little. The story revolves mainly around how he worked to increase the best friend’s influence in the imperial court and how he manipulated the factions of power around him in order to put his best friend on the throne.

CHARACTERS – 

Since the drama is also famous for having a shitload (and by shitload, I really mean shitload) of characters, I will only talk about the characters I feel most attached, in a good and bad way.

Lin Shu/Mei Changsu/Su Zhe

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The man here had 2 sides of him – the caring, kind Lin Shu and the brilliant, manipulative strategist that is Su Zhe. With people he trusted around him, he was their beloved leader and friend. However, as a strategist, he was damn cold and distant. The first twenty episodes will get you thinking – aiya, this guy so heartless one arr? Why you never think of other people’s feelings? But that is what makes his character to rationally brilliant. He entered the capital with only one goal in mind – to put his friend, Prince Jing on the throne and consequently clear his clan’s name. He had to cut ties and destroy lives in order to achieve what he wanted and that, he did ever so confidently. He is, by far, the only hero of all the dramas I’ve seen to be unaffected by sentiments and emotions. It is fun and fascinating to watch both sides of him and oh my God, Hu Ge’s portrayal of this character is awesome. He, as other people would say, lived and breathed Mei Changsu – from his style of walking, his words, his mannerism and his facial expressions. I literally felt that he carried the whole drama by himself. Can someone award this man with a Golden Globe, please?

Prince Jing, Xiao Jingyan

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He is one intense dude. Like, really really intense. In the beginning of the drama, Prince Jing was a military general not involved in the competition for the throne. His father, the Emperor disliked him for his bold and brave nature, especially when he chose to stand true to his belief that the Chiyan army and his brother, the late Prince Qi were innocent of the treason charge. With the help of Mei Changsu, he slowly rose to the ranks, eventually succeeding the throne. The relationship between Prince Jing and Su Zhe is the main focus of this drama. Unbeknown to him, his advisor, Su Zhe, who had been supporting him through thick and thin, was actually his best friend and cousin who had been declared dead years ago. Prince Jing as a character is fiercely loyal and righteous, too righteous for his own good, to be honest. Without Su Zhe restraining him, he would have not achieved half the things he accomplished.

Princess Mu Nihuang

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Representing the subtle romantic element in the drama is our Princess Nihuang, Lin Shu’s fiance and also the general of the Southern Army. Alongside Prince Jing, she was among the few who believed in the Chiyan’s army innocence. Nihuang, though a character of moderate importance, is awesome and I love love love her immensely. She is a high-ranked military personnel, powerful in her own right, fearless and extremely respected by the people in the capital. Similar to Su Zhe, we only get to see their softer sides when they were with each other, somehow becoming their younger betrothed selves. She was also one of the few persons (Prince Jing included) that could unnerve Su Zhe of his calm collected self. Several of their scenes had made me cry, especially the part where the Princess brought Su Zhe to Lin Shu’s old house just to test his reaction once she suspected his true identity. Even though I wished so badly for her to have more scenes in the drama, I do understand why the writer kept her the way she was. It made more sense, story-wise. In the end, though, she remained our main character’s true love and despite unable to be together, their relationship was one based on trust and unconditional support.

Yan Yujin and Xiao Jingrui

 

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Even though most fans went gaga and huha over the bromance between Mei Changsu and Prince Jing, it is the friendship between Yujin and Jingrui that I find to be able to relate most. The fact that their fathers belonged to different sides does not hinder their bond. Before all the crisis in the drama began, they were travelling buddies in the martial arts world and brought Mei Changsu into the capital. Their personalities differed so much – Jingrui was the goody-two-shoes, serious son while Yujin was the carefree cheerful one. They spent their days hanging around the capital, visiting their friends and celebrating life in general (this was before all the crisis happened, of course). Not to mention these two are the most consistently good characters from the beginning to the end. The one touching scene I remember most is when Jingrui was about to leave the city with his sister and Yujin chased after him with his horse, asking him to come back without even asking him why he was leaving like all best friends would do. Despite being side characters, I love watching their moments together compared to our main bromance couple, whose affections for each other are just too intense for me to handle. (Aiyo, will shippers of Prince Jing and Mei Changsu kill me for saying these? Haha)

Prince Yu, Xiao Jinghuan

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Among the many princes fighting for the throne (Prince Qi, the Crown Prince, Prince Yu and Prince Jing), I enjoyed the character of Prince Yu the most. He is multi-dimensional – evil yet rational, calculative yet intelligent. He does not push for the throne directly yet worked to amass support and build his network of power meticulously. Prince Yu felt like a dual-role for the actor, Victor Huang, whose performance was convincing. Prince Yu was charming and noble from the outside but merciless and cruel from the inside. It was his battle of wits with Mei Changsu that made me so attached to the drama – wanting to see how Mei Changsu would defeat Prince Yu’s incomparable influence in the royal court. A part of me did not want him to die – I would love to see how Prince Jing fight him once Mei Changsu is out of the picture. Sadly though, that is not going to happen. Isk, isk… Prince Yu.

The Emperor of Liang

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My favourite character in the whole drama is… unexpectedly… the Emperor himself. As the drama progressed, I found myself not being able to support or hate the Emperor in entirety. Is he kind? Yes, he can listen to reasons. Is he cruel? Yes, he sentences people to death very easily. Is he a good father? Yes, he awards his princes accordingly. Is he a bad father? Yes, he made his princes fight against each other. Is he a powerful ruler? Yes, he is extremely charismatic, energetic and clever. Why, then, everyone around the emperor viewed him as if he is the cruelest man on earth? He said it himself in the drama – because he is the emperor and being an emperor, people changes. Everything in the drama – every events, conflicts and achievements – all of those boiled down to one thing, that is appeasing the emperor. In the end, it is his word that mattered, his order to be followed and his graces to win. He was the root of all the problem (he ordered our hero’s clan to be executed) and he was also the solution for it (he ordered Prince Jing to re-investigate the case).

Consort Jing, mother of Prince Jing

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Mother of Prince Jing, Consort Jing had endured many years of being a low-ranked concubine. Like her son, she remained mostly ignored at the beginning of the drama, which seemed to be her strategy of survival in the royal court. Prior to being a concubine, Consort Jing was actually a female doctor. Even within the confines of the palace, she still practiced her medical skills regularly, studying herbs and medicines. Unlike her son, she is the epitome of grace and resilience. She never let her emotions defeat her and embraced every challenges and praises with calmness. The only time she ever cried was when she discovered Mei Changsu’s real identity (she was actually Lin Shu’s aunt). Despite her personality, she is a sharp woman, knowing how to detect traitors and spies in her palace.

CINEMATOGRAPHY 

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I know this is not one of the main point BUT Lang Ya Bang would have not succeeded without the supreme cinematography. Every angle and every shot made me feel like I was watching a wuxia film, only that it lasted for 54 hours. The crew must have put in a lot of thought and ideas behind each frame, for all of them seemed to be conveying a meaning – from the way Mei Changsu moved his fingers to the way the wind moves inside the palace area. Among the things to look out for  are any tea-related scenes. It seems that even people during 4th century China took their tea culture seriously. The way the hand moved the pot, the way they poured it to the way they drank it.

ALL IN ALL – 

Lang Ya Bang is a drama centred on human relationships, revenge, court intrigues and the fight for power. A lot of dramas had tried to use the same formula before but what set the drama apart is its brilliant execution. Anddddd the crew made the right decision not to drag any of the story-archs.The drama ended nicely at only 54 episodes (other wuxia/historical dramas usually got dragged until 80 to 100 episodes). However, be warned though, the mental exhaustion of watching Lang Ya Bang is real! It made you feel so many emotions, think and analyse so many conflicts and doubt your affections for every characters. Never had I experienced this as a drama-lover before since the 2011’s Empresses in the Palace. It took me a whole week of my Chinese New Year break to finish this drama, without any distraction and commitment. It almost felt, guys I am not joking, like a short-term marriage with this drama. Hahahahahahahaha…

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Takhta 3 Ratu – Drama series review

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

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I’ve been waiting for this kind of drama ages ago. We had so many stories in the period of Malacca sultanate but our film industry failed to take advantage of our history. Takhta 3 Ratu or in english it would be ‘the throne of 3 queens’ take us back on the sultan Mansur Shah period where he ruled Malacca in a glorious manner. According to history, Sultan Mansur Shah’s strength lies on diplomatic relation with many powerful countries at that time like Majapahit and China. In order to achieve their alliance, well, he married their princesses. This story is not entirely based on historical text. There are some things that Erma Fatima changed to match the story well. Why i decided to review this drama, i still couldnt figure out the reasons other than it was historical fiction and the main characters is 3 woman from different backgroud with similar mind set, to make sure their son take over the throne. Dont get me wrong, History text stated that Sultan Mansur Shah is always being fair to all his wives (yeah, Polygamous marriage has been practiced by royal families for so long). While we are allowed to believe otherwise, it would be nice to have someone to take a deeper look at his wives’s relationship and translate it into drama.

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The first 2 episodes, the story revolves between Sultan Mansur Shah and Raden Galuh Chenderai ; how Sultan Mansur Courting Raden to be his wife right after his queen died. Raden disagree to the whole marriage as she doesnt really know the sultan. His father, the Majapahit king already agrees to the marriage as it would do good to their county to add malacca as their ally. Sultan knew he should try to woo Raden herself. He relentlessly pursuing Galuh by imposing himself as shipping captain who just passing by Majapahit. They exchanges letters a few times until they first laid eyes on each other in the wedding ceremony. Raden knew that he would be a good husband and a great king to her. Who knew such happiness would be just in a short amount of time?

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The third episode when Malacca is under attack from few countries. The threat is getting bigger. Sultan Mansur Shah worried over his kingdom. He then heading to China to strengthen their diplomatic relation on Tun Perak’s suggestion. Raden knew that Sultan Mansur Shah left to take another wife when she overheard palace servants has been ordered to bring the best spices to China. As ridiculous as it sounds, Sultan Mansur Shah in this Drama knows how to cook and charmed all his wives, including Raden and Hang lipo via his culinary skills. Raden tried to stop Sultan Mansur Shah from going to Malacca but it was too late. She was stopped by Hang Tuah. Hang Tuah felt symphatetic towards Raden but His loyalty towards Sultan is his top priority. This, most of us knew, that Hang Tuah placed his loyalty towards Malacca and Sultan above everything. He even killed his best friend, Jebat for Sultan.

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Raden mended her feeling by confiding it to Hang Tuah. Hang Tuah and Raden become close friend when Raden learned Silat from him.However,Their feeling and attraction grew stronger each day. Hang Tuah put his own feeling hidden and rejected Raden nicely. After few months, Sultan returned from China with Hang Lipo. Tuah has been ordered to shift Raden to another palace. Raden felt sad and disappointed but she obeyed. On the other hands, Hang lipo felt suffocated and couldnt find anything that she would like in Malacca. She felt frustrated and Sultan Mansur Shah couldnt find any time to entertain her. Raden took her chance by being a good wife and serve his husband right. However, Sultan Mansur Shah returned to Hang lipo’s side when she managed to get herself pregnant. It was unfortunate to Raden as she couldnt get herself pregnant even married to Sultan for years.

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Raden knew she had to do something. She visited Hang Lipo and tried to appear nice as she can be. Sultan Mansur glad to know about it and wanted his wives to treat each other nicely. Little did he know that it was all an act between his 2 wives. They envied amd couldnt stand each other. Raden hated Hang lipo for bearing son first and Hang lipo hated Raden because she is always the Sultan Favorite. The facade of visiting and spying between each other is normal. They will do anything to let Sultan favor them a little bit than others. Hang Lipo gave birth to son and Raden felt insecure for not being the first one to give Sultan Mansur Shah, an heir though at that time, she’s already pregnant.

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The following episode focuses on how Malacca again is under threat from other prominent states like Inderapura and Siam. Sultan Mansur Shah send Hang Tuah to investigate the issue. Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat went to Inderapura and met Lelawangsa, Inderapura’s princess on the way there. Hang Tuah seize the moment and kidnapped Lelawangsa right away. Sultan Mansur Shah fell sick and the tension arises at the palace. Hang Lipo went to Sultan’s side right away and pretend to care for him as Raden wont be able to do so. Raden is weak at that time prior to her condition after being in labor. Hang Lipo went on badmouthing and accuse others infront of Sultan Mansur Shah after his health has been restored. Sultan Mansur Shah believed her and put Raden in Jail. Puteri Lela Wangsa on the other hands stuck in the situation between wrath of 2 queens after arrived there with Hang Tuah. I wouldnt spoil the ending to you. You guys should watch it in order to know whether Puteri Lela Wangsa end up marrying Sultan Mansur Shah or ran away with Hang Tuah. I bet most of you already know how the ending would be.

Raden Galuh Chenderai portayed by Feby Febiola

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This girl could act. I mean for local standard, her performance is outstanding. I like her character more than others. Yes, she is wicked but she is not 100% evil. What she did in the palace is for her own survival. She never know that Hang lipo will turn more evil than her.

Hang Lipo portrayed by Soo Wincci

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She supposed to be evil. I felt she fell a little short in her character. She just a mean bitch you may have met in High School. Her command in Classic Malay is okay. She can act but not in this role. I guess not everyone could play a convincing evil role.

Sultan Mansur Shah portrayed by Azri Iskandar

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Come on, need i say more? He has a pure talent in acting compared to those group of actors who just depends on good looks. He managed to be a sweet talking husband, sometimes being an unfair assholes to his wives and a sultan who is easily swayed by rumors and false news. I like him when he successfully portrayed this role and i dislike him because this role is just everything that i hate in man ; unfaithful, unfair and pessimist.

Hang Tuan portrayed by Awie

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After the epic tale of Puteri Gunung Ledang of Tiara Jacqueline, i felt no one could bring Hang Tuah alive other than M. Nasir. However, Awie live up to the expectation and didnt disappoint me in the role. I dont know how others felt about it but to me, he nailed it. You can felt the agony in him of loyalty to the Sultan and wanting to follow his own heart. Just watch Awie past films esp. In the 90s, though some of it is very cringing but dude, he performed in each role.

Hang Jebat portrayed by Beto Khusyairi

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I felt he was too intense and emotional in portraying Hang Jebat. In my understanding, Jebat is somehow more rational compared to Tuah. I dont know whether Erma Fatima wanted to Beto to portray Jebat like that or Beto wanted to bring his own depiction in the role. Jebat in this drama always questioning everything, accusing or throwing accusation before investigate it and always being cynical to others including Tuah. If thats how beto really wanted to put his own twist in Jebat character, i guess he did it. Its just me that hate those twist.

Tun Perak portrayed by Datuk Rahim Razali

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Any local film maker knows that having Datuk Rahim Razali in the historical film is an added advantage. He will be perfect for any given roles ; be it advisor, treasurer or warrior. He delivered well in his potrayal as Tun Perak. As a man full of wisdom, he remain composed whenever Sultan Mansur Shah being reckless and lacking in making his own judgment. Aside from his fake wig, i dont have any problem with his role.

Puteri Lela Wangsa portrayed by Erra Fazira

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Puteri Lela wangsa, in my opinion, is the character though short in appearance but making such a big impact to the Drama. Lela wangsa before being kidnapped by Hang Tuah is childish. She has been promised to Siamese Prince and They have been engaged ever since. She is playful and a spoilt princess. After being kidnapped by Hang Tuah, she fell in love with Him during the journey to Malacca. Again, both of them try to hide their feeling. She’s becoming more mature and confronted Hang Tuah about her feeling (whether Hang Tuah did accept it or reject it, i will not spoilt it.) Go watch it, guys.

Coming Home/ 归来/ Guīlái – 2014 Chinese Film

BY RUBY CHINGU

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Ouh, yours truly have been absent from the world of blogging for oh-so-long. Things have been changing so much and so fast, at times I feel like I can’t breathe. BUT hopefully my blogging craze has finally returned. My duties as an amateur film reviewer shall continue!! (dear God, please don’t let me be lazy!)

After my three months absence, what better way to start my review with a film by my most favourite director of all time, Mr Zhang Yi Mou? I know – there is no better way. 

Coming Home is a film that reminds us why Mr Zhang is a force to be reckoned with. Truth to be told, I have been experiencing difficulties to enjoy Mr Zhang’s post-2000 films in comparison to his pre-2000 films which I have always worshipped such as Raise the Red Lantern and To Live. However, Coming Home reminded me of the rawness and endurance of human emotions, much like his previous work. 

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Coming Home is a simple tale of a family whose life had changed dramatically due to the Cultural Revolution. There are three main characters in the film – Lu the father, Yu the mother and Dandan the daughter. The film began with Lu, who had been imprisoned by the government for more than ten years for his rightist political leanings, escaping from prison. His wife, Yu was a school teacher who had been taking care of their daughter on her own. Upon receiving contact from her husband, she was exhilerated, desperately yearning for a reunion with her long-awaited beloved. 

However, their daughter, Dandan hated her father. Due to the bitterness of being a political prisoner’s daughter, she reported the reunion to the authorities in hope to receive the main role in a ballet performance in the national dance academy. Having separated her parents, she did not receive the main role as promised by the officer, cast away by her mother who was afflicted with an amnesia-like mental illness a few years later and gave up dancing to work in a textile factory. 

Simply put, Dandan was struck with guilt for tearing the family apart. 

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After a few years, Lu returned home. However, Yu failed to recognize him due to her illness. Despite that, Lu did not give up. For years, he stayed close to Yu, becoming her neighbour, driver, letter reader and even a piano tuner for the sole purpose of taking care of his wife. The touching part of the film was that Yu, despite not realizing that her husband had been in front of her all along, would wait for him on the 5th of each month at the railway station. They stayed like that for many years – together as a family – despite Yu’s non-awareness of the people she loved had been around her all along.

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Shit, the film is so sad… *wiping away my tears* 

That is the specialty of Chinese films. They start off sad. Then, they get sadder. And sadder. Without any moments of happiness and humour. Life is challenging. Life is difficult. Some people never get what they deserved. Deal with it and keep marching on. 

The film displays how policies and action by a bigger foce ie the authorities affects the lives of its people, especially family based on the film’s context. Loneliness and self-reliant led to the conditions of a parent raising the children on his or her own as their partners had been taken away by the government for the purpose of ‘rehabilitation’. Children, who barely knew their imprisoned parent, would grow up to be complicated individuals as they had to bear the labels of ‘criminal’s children’. 

Simply put, families were torn apart and forced to be made incomplete. 

The main question is – how would they find themselves back together? How would they mend all the lost times? 

The father was relentless in his devoted love for his wife. He stayed with her despite his wife not knowing him anymore. He became the father his daughter finally needed. The daughter asked for forgiveness and moved on. With each other’s support, they cared for Yu the mother. 

Chen Daoming (Lu the father) and Gong Li (Yu the mother) were amazing in their performances. Completely in character and superbly realistic, I shall not drag the review with praises for them. Like… c’mon, we know they can act! The daughter, played by a newcomer Zhang Huiwen, was great, too.

I hope there will be more films like this in the future – realistic, poignant, simple and heartrending. At times, we do need films to entertain us. However, at times, I would like to lie down on my bed and let films teach me a thing or two about life…

It’s A Girl (2014) – Documentary Review

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

My Rating : 4.5/5
My Rating : 4.5/5

You don’t want a girl of your own,

Yet you crave one for your son,

Oh lord, what a twisted world that I live in.

                        This sentence suddenly popped out of my head when I was watching this documentary. Why this kind of unfair treatment boys over girls did still exists when we are on the peak of world’s modernization still bothered me a lot. We even witnessed how mankind first took a first step on the moon. We applauded when every single achievement that man and woman did regardless of what are their fields because any success are meant to be celebrated. First car, hand phone, television and every single thing that you can think of were first invented. Unfortunately, this means nothing when some part of the country still think that girl’s value less worthy than boy. Some of you may ask ‘Is there any relevancy to this?’ Just think when a girl in this particular country got treated the same way as boy, she may one day become successful and in a long term can contribute to the economy of the country just like a man in her own country. It really is saddening when some of the mothers that confessed has been killing their daughters and didn’t felt any remorse at all. It was disturbing. I didn’t like kids (mostly because they are annoying but it doesn’t mean i can kill them) but seeing how those mothers proudly demonstrated how they end their daughter’s life made me cried so hard.

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                        One of the social workers went to Tamil Nadu, India to interview some of the mothers and was shocked by their reaction. They are willing to share the method to kill their daughters without any hesitation. I seriously asked where they all leaved their humanity. For 9 months, those mothers carrying their baby and have bonded the relationship ‘mother-children’ yet when it comes to the delivering the baby, they rather killed the baby when they knew it’s a girl. For those who didn’t kill the baby, the girl might not even have a chance to live. That’s because those mothers live in the extreme poverty. They wanted a son because of the whole dowry thing. If you gain a daughter in law, you get a big payment and gifts. However if you gain a daughter, you have to give a big payment and gifts to your in law family.

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The social worker is demonstrating back the killing method told by the mothers around him.

                        This whole dowry thing sickened me to death but I am in no place to criticize it because it is not my culture. People often say, they are not yours so shut your mouth. India already banned it (the dowry) yet it is widely practiced in the country. When the burden (dowry) is being put on the daughters, nobody wanted to have one. I wanted to say we can change this via education but first, we have to let this daughters live first. Statistic shows that the gap between boys and girls population in India is increasing steadily driving the country on a verge of where the scarcity of girls might be possible.

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Powerful Image but it is a sad truth for both countries, China and India.

                        China on the others hands, would be a whole lot different story. Their country are widely known for a policy of 1 child 1 family which right now has been increased to 2 child 1 family (if their first children is not son, they will be given another chance to have another children to get a son). The problem arises when your second children is still a girl. You can choose to keep the children but you may lose a chance to have a son. Forced abortion is permissible by China Government. If there is any family that has been found out try to have more than 2 children ( in many cases, they are expecting their third children) , forced abortion will be done right away. If the children did survive, he/she will not have any access to any government facilities and services. They are considered as Illegal citizen, up to some extent. This documentary showed China as one of the major contributor in the feticide cases.  Social worker in China interviewed one couple who had to run away to hide from the family planning enforcement officer. They are having more than 2 children and all of them turned out to be girls. They have been pressurized to abort the third children by their relatives but both of them didn’t want to do that. They separated their children and given to their relatives. I wonder how people look at them for making this decision. They both went into hiding.  The income that they earned, they send it back to relatives as a source to feed their children. I remember when one of the relatives commented that they should abort because it is a burden but the mother of those children said that it will be her burden to carry not yours. Listening to her answer made me feel so touched.

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Their parents went into hiding fear of the retaliation and the punishment by China Government

                        One of the most unforgettable scenes in this documentary is when one couple shared their experience that their daughter has been a victim of a bride kidnapping. Yeah, I thought it happened in Kyrgyzstan only but turned out China also had this case. This couple told the horrible story when their daughter has been taken from them. After a few months looking for the girl, they got information claiming that their daughter has been kept hidden in a different city, a few miles from their home. They got back their daughter (safe and sound) but what made me feel so uncomfortable is the intention of kidnapping the girl. The kidnappers (both husband and wife) actually wanted to have the girl as the bride to their son. It is a true story but yet it made my jaw dropped because the girl is so young. This is one of long term effects faced by China for a huge gap between the population boys and girls.

                        Overall, if you wanted to know the serious issues behind the gendercide, feticide and infanticide, this is one of the documentaries that focus on the listed topic.

I DO / 我願意 / Wǒ Yuànyì [2012 Chinese Film Review]

BY RUBY GEGE (AND HAPPY FIRST ANNIVERSARY, THREECHINGUZ!! THIS BLOG IS OFFICIALLY ONE YEAR OLD!!! JUST WISH TO SAY THAT I LOVE MY FELLOW CHINGUZ AND CO-WRITERS, THE GORGEOUS PALAH CHINGU AND MAERTAI FATMA. AND DEAR READERS, WHOEVER YOU ARE, THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR READING!!)

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Only now I realize how great a joy it is to watch a romantic comedy film once in a while. For a good few hours, I get to laugh, cry, be touched and melt over the romance looming around my laptop. Ouh, such happiness!! I stumbled upon I Do in Youtube and randomly downloaded it. I have to say, I was not disappointed! Not that I’ve ever doubted the gorgeous Li Bingbing’s talent. I should really start collecting more rom-com in my hard disk since they are great stress-relievers. Life sucks. So why not use some cinematic medicines to cure that sucky-diseases? 

U4350P28T3D3560970F326DT20120222074900Set in the metropolitan Beijing, I DO revolves around Tang Weiwei (Li Bingbing), a super successful and super gorgeous and super confident sales director in her early thirties. She has been single since she was 25 years old after her boyfriend left her and had a pregnant best friend who often helped her with blind dates, which never really seemed to work out anyway. Then, she encountered Yang Nianhua (Sun Honglei), a man a few years older than her seemingly of a middle-class background. Even though Nianhua was not as successful and ‘upper’-ish as Weiwei was, they got along well, starting a friendship and courtship at the same time. 

During the courtship, Weiwei’s ex-boyfriend, Wang Yang who left her seven years ago came back to her life, now as a rich jewellery company owner. Weiwei supported Wang Yang for many years while they were dating, through thick and thin, through his unemployments and failures in life. Thus, she was still very bitter and disappointed by his decision to disappear just like that from her life. Wang Yang made his intentions clear that he wanted to resume their romance and pursued Weiwei, asking for her forgiveness.

I find it most surprising that the love-triangle in this movie is so enjoyable to watch. Truthfully, I hate all the cliches one can predict in a romance film. Yet, the three main characters here played their roles with great confidence and ease that watching them navigate their love lives around each other is fascinating. Even though there were tensions here and there, they were never over-dramatic, giving the film a very ‘adult/mature/grown-up’ feel.

Weiwei, for once, is a great character and role model for women. Even though she is independent and successful, she is a realistic person. She wants a husband, a partner in life. Even though she’s comfortable being alone and is a bit sarcastic about the idea of love, she has yet to give up in searching for someone to live her life with. She wants a partner yet she is not too extreme about it. She might be a workaholic sales director but with her love life, she prefers to take it slow and easy.

It’s not important that he has money or not. He has no money, I can earn money. Why do I need too much money? I want a man. Do you understand what a MAN is?” – Tang Weiwei, defending Nianhua when the latter was criticized by Weiwei’s rich ex-boyfriend. (Oh my God, girllll…. I totally get you!!)

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Which made Yang Nianhua the perfect man for her!! Their relationship is my favourite aspect of the film. It is the kind of relationship I want (if ever I have a romantic partner. Oh God, pleaseeeeeeee!!!!!!!) Nianhua is a simple outgoing guy who likes Weiwei for who she is. Despite the lack of interest she showed for him in the beginning of their courtship, he was always there for her. They started of as friends and confidante and slowly, he displayed great reliability and kindness with her. Who does not fall for that?!!! He is a relaxed kind of guy who brings her dinner, has a sense of humour and is very supportive. If that is not perfection, I don’t know what is.

It is also very interesting to see the contrasting dynamics Weiwei shared with her ex-boyfriend and her new romantic partner. She had had an intense long history with Wang Yang and they knew everything about each other. Yet her heart had been crushed by him leaving her without any explaination years ago. When he tried to woo her again, Weiwei was angry at him at first. Only later that she finally showed signs on why she rejected him – she no longer yearned for him. She was disinterested. She wanted nothing more from him. Their time had passed. 

With Nianhua, Weiwei felt easy. As if he had been a very familiar presence in her life. He makes her happy, supports her and sits down to talk to her. He listens to her and most importantly, is a friend to her. I think that is how Weiwei fell for Nianhua despite the presence of the ex-boyfriend (whom she truly loved years ago). 

I Do 我愿意  (2012)  [full length movie-english subtitles] Chinese Movie.mp4.opdownload_002254907

“If you think that I cheated on you, my mistake was that I hid my fortune. How about you? You hide your heart. Your heart is like a thick suit of armor. Needle cannot go in. Water cannot splash in. Reject everything that comes into your heart.” – Nianhua, persuading Weiwei to forgive him once she finds out that he’s actually a filthy rich businessman beneath his laid-back appearance. 

The film had a happy ending, with Nianhua proposing to Weiwei. Wang Yang finally let Weiwei go, wishing her all the happiness in the world. I have to say, though, that scene is the most touching scene in the film. 

“When something is lost, maybe it never comes back. But it makes my heart aching forever.” – Wang Tan, finally accepting that his relationship with Weiwei is over. 

I am beginning to enjoy a lot of modern films from Mainland China after being so absorbed with the films from the 90s and 80s which dealt with more serious socially-conscious elements. Modern Chinese films may seem more glossy and pretty but they also deal with problems I can and will relate to. The issue of successful career-women seems to be on the rise. It cannot be denied that even though marriage is no longer a priority for women, it does not mean that they DON’T want to get married. It’s just that they don’t want to get married to the wrong person. With success and independence, they don’t cling to the presence of men in their lives. People should start expecting to marry a person/individual instead of a wife to manage the household and be the mother of their children.  

When the search of love fails, people marry for practicality. To have a companion. To have children. To start a family. 

“When I was your age, I was afraid that men cheated on me. But now at my age, I am most afraid that I am not useful to men. Life has several stages. After I turn 50, do I still need a man? If I have a son, it’s enough.” – Weiwei’s collegue in her 40s on marriage and partnership.

One thing I kind of dislike about the film is that it has an ‘upper-class’ feel to it. Most characters are filthy rich, successful, have great jobs with impeccable wardrobes and expensive cars. But maybe that is the way it is in the city of Beijing now. I read online that there is a surge of ‘new money’ in the city for the past few years. People are getting richer, the young ones are getting more ambitious. Life is busier, more hectic and unfortunately, more materialistic. It applies to every metropolitan city in the world, including Kuala Lumpur itself. 

On the whole, I DO is an enjoyable romantic-comedy film. The acting is great (like… duhhh, look at the cast. All critically-acclaimed actors, people!) It displays romance in an appropriate dosage and proves that love does not have to be intense and passionate all the time. Love can be kind, understanding, supportive, and reliable. 

I Do 我愿意  (2012)  [full length movie-english subtitles] Chinese Movie.mp4.opdownload_004501057

Awww… these damn feels…

P/S – Ruby Gege wants to return to school so badly. She has been reading a lot in preparation for her PhD proposal. Will she get what she has been hoping for? Will she not? Will she fail? Will she succeed? Can she do what she enjoys in the future? Soon? Pleassseeee? Ruby Gege wishes she can read all day, every day. 

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The Road Home/我的父亲母亲/Wǒ de Fùqin Mǔqin – 2000 Chinese Film Review

by Ruby Gege, who is officially addicted to Zhang Yimou’s films

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I have to say, amongst Mr Zhang’s many works, The Road Home, which I watched not more than three days ago, is my favourite. His style, which weaves the elements of misery, realism and hope so beautifully, speaks to me as an audience. Each of his films seems to have a life of its own. Watching the stories unravel is akin to getting to know a new person in your life. It is not just a film; it is an experience. (I think I sound over-dramatic but who cares?)

The Road Home is a welcoming shift of mood, I have to say, in a string of Mr Zhang’s films that I watched. Most of them always dealt with the bitterness of life and human survival. However, The Road Home, though essentially maintaining those characteristics, is special as it presents its love story in the most hopeful and inspiring manner. And for a brief 30 minutes of my life, I believed in love. Ah, what a sweet moment it was!

Yusheng with the older Zhao Di
Yusheng with the older Zhao Di

The story begins with Luo Yusheng, a city man who returned to his hometown in frosty rural China to arrange for his father’s funeral. He went to see his mother, who insisted that his father’s body be carried from the morgue to the village by foot, a demand other villagers found to be quite demanding as it was winter and not many young people were strong enough to help carry the casket. However, his mother was adamant. The story, then, shifts to the past, decades ago, telling the love story of his parents.

the younger Zhao Di
the younger Zhao Di

His mother, Zhao Di was a girl not more than 18 years old and the most beautiful girl in the village. She spent most of her time taking care of her almost-blind mother. When the village received a new teacher, Luo Changyu, a young active 20 years old man, Zhao Di was instantly attracted to him. Thus, she took several efforts to catch his attention. She would cook her best dishes for the villagers to lunch, potluck-style, for three days in hope of him picking her dishes (which he did not). She made a red cloth requested from the villagers and delivered them to the school in hope of seeing him (but she did not get to). She purposively fetched water from a well near the school in order to catch a glimpse of him, when there was actually a nearer well by her house. Most amazingly, she would wait for him, hiding behind the hills as he walked his students back to their homes, in order to meet him ‘coincidentally’ so that they could smile at each other. They never really talked, mind you. Most of their courtship developed through mutual intrigued glances and smiles. At times, the words they spoke to each other did not exceed five. Yet, it was obvious that they were attracted to each other. 

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Zhao Di and her beloved, the teacher

I love how hopeful, confident and hardworking Zhao Di was as a young girl pursuing the man of her dreams. She really put in the efforts yet never forced him to like her. She would silently stare from afar, hoping for him to feel the same. Thank goodness he did, though. There was this very staunch sincerity in her I find so endearing.

Their love story was cut short when the teacher was summoned back to the city. That day, Zhao Di made him mushroom dumplings, knowing that it was his favourite food. As he was forced to break his promise to visit her house that afternoon, Zhao Di grabbed the bowl of dumplings with her and chase the horse carriage that was taking her beloved back to the city. I’m not sure how many miles she ran, but she ran hard. She ran and she ran, the dumplings in her hand, wanting so desperately for him to taste them. She fell, the carriage left and the bowl was shattered to pieces.

What a heartbreaking scene! *cries*

Zhao Di waited for him to return, as he promised to come back by 27th of a certain month. By this time, her heart was already with the teacher and she lived through her daily lives in emptiness. She improved the conditions of the village school, changing the paper on the window, cleaning the classrom and sat there for a long time, missing him. On the promised date, Zhao Di waited for the teacher to come home in the freezing winter by the street side, her heart leaping at every carriage that passed by the village.

Zhao Di waiting for her beloved amidst the freezing winder
Zhao Di waiting for her beloved amidst the freezing winder

He did not return. Zhao Di ended up falling ill for three days. Upon waking up, she realized that the teacher had returned to her upon receiving news of her condition. The teacher had to leave to the city the next day to complete his punishment and they were separated again for two years. The teacher came back again to serve the village and never left Zhao Di’s side until the day he passed away.

The story then returned to its present time. The love story explained the older Zhao Di’s stubbornness in insisting her late husband’s casket to be carried home. She did not want her late husband to forget the road home, which had been so symbolic of their love as the younger Zhao Di waited for him devotedly, never giving up on him.

*cries, again. Oh, this is so touching!*

During the day of the ceremony, it turned out that more than 100 people came to help the mother and son to carry the casket. They were Zhao Di’s late husband’s former students, who considered it an honour to be able to participate in the ceremony.

I have to say… The Road Home is a far more pleasant memory that I expected it to be. First, I am used to seeing Gong Li in a Zhang Yimou film. Thus, when their relationship ended and Mr Zhang found a new muse in Zhang Ziyi (who played Zhao Di), I was greatly sceptical. I was like… “hmm, can she be at last half as good as Gong Li? Because really, Gong Li is AMAZING!” How wrong I was. She carried the film like a top-notch actress (she was barely 20 while filming this, her debut film). Her character, Zhao Di is the heart and soul of The Road Home. Whilst watching her journey, we cannot but to be absorbed in her giddiness upon seeing her beloved, her happiness and hope, her fears and worries of her love unreturned and her steadfast belief of her beloved’s return to the point that we wish the teacher would come back to her as much as she did.  

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I should have watched it a bit earlier to appreciate the innocence of love portrayed by the characters, which is quite rare amongst the collection of Chinese films I have. It has managed to put a smile on my face each time I think of it, making me think – if I can encounter a love like that, how nice it would be. 

Coming back to real life, of course I won’t! Urbanization is a cruel thing. It takes away the innocence in people. And limit your chances to ever have this kind of experience, people.  

THE PALACE/ 宫锁沉香/Gōng suǒ chénxiāng – 2013 Chinese Film

BY RUBY GEGE WHO IS HAVING HER EXAMS THIS MONTH BUT CAN’T SEEM TO SHAKE OFF HER OBSESSIONS WITH HISTORICAL CHINESE DRAMAS AND MOVIES. ARGH!!!

 The dramatic poster, which I love!

the dramatic poster, which I love!

The_Palace_Chinese_Filmthe sweet poster, which I equally love as well!

REVIEW: 4 DURIANS OUT OF 5 (Because it made me believed in love, for like… 10 minutes)

PLOT SUMMARY

The Palace is essentially a love story set during the reign of Kangxi Emperor of Qing Dynasty between the 13th Prince Yinxiang and a palace maid by the name of Chen Xiang. If you guys remember, quite a number of dramas was based during this era ie Bu Bu Jingxin, Gong I and also Gong II. But I can definitely understand why drama writers seem to be super obsessed with the era of Kangxi Emperor. He sired many princes who would fight and compete for the throne. In the movies and dramas, they always make the princes handsome and extremely charming. Amongst the instrumental princes who contended for the throne was the 4th Prince, the 8th Prince and the 14th Prince. Other princes who didn’t really want to be emperors had to choose sides in order to survive the game.

Liu Li and Chen Xiang
Liu Li and Chen Xiang

This film, however, doesn’t really revolve around the political crisis. It did touch a little, but yeah, only very little. It is mainly about Chen Xiang (Zhou Dongyu), an innocent palace maid who had been best friends with Liu Li (Zhao Li Ying), a vivacious naughty maid as well. As they grew up, the palace maids dreamed of entering the palace ranks by being taken as wives or concubines by the princes. Therefore, they often bribed the eunuchs to provide them information about the location of the princes so that they could meet them ‘coincidentally’ and tried to capture their hearts. Liu Li was one of the more ambitious girls amongst the lot. One night, she threw herself at the 9th Prince, hoping to be accepted by his wife. Little did she know that the 9th Prince was only using her and had no intention to do as such.

lifPkK90Xk3QAt the same time, Liu Li asked Chen Xiang to replace her for a duty or something. Chen Xiang, who covered her face with a handkerchief (cause that’s how the ancient ladies did it, people, to appear more… I don’t know, mysteriously pretty?), had a sweet encountered with the 13th Prince(Chen Xiao). They caught butterflies together in the middle of the night, had some sweet chit-chatting and generally fell in love with each other ever since. However, the 13th Prince had no idea what Chen Xiang looked like and had a clue only in the form of the handkerchief she dropped. A few days later,  a manhunt for that ‘mysterious girl’ was conducted. Liu Li came forward and claimed that she was the one as the handkerchief that Chen Xiang used to cover her face was actually hers.

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Liu Li and the 13th Prince. Chen Xiang was standing behind Liu Li, becoming her personal maid

Thus, the role reversed and the ambitious Liu Li finally got what she wanted. She was trained to become the 13th Prince’s wife and won his affections overnight. Which still baffled me. I mean, even if the ‘mysterious girl’ covered half her face, couldn’t the 13th Prince tell that their facial symmetries were COMPLETELY different? Chen Xiang’s eyes were small and pretty, Liu Li’s eyes were round and bright. But then, what are fictional historical films without the baffling illogical twists… I’ve somehow grown accustomed to expecting no explanation at all arising from unreasonable plots.

Thus, Chen Xiang accepted her fate of the lost opportunity to marry the 13th Prince, whom she began to fall in love with. She became Liu Li’s maid. However, the 13th Prince and her started to get close as the Prince was always bothering her for help in finding out Liu Li’s likes and dislikes. For such purpose, he cooked for Chen Xiang and took her horse-riding. Tell me, people, who wouldn’t fall in love with a man like that?!! If it was me… damn it, I would just scream to the Prince and confessed who I really was.

Misfortune struck the 13th Prince due to his failed rebellion against his Emperor father to save the 4th Prince, whom he admired. He ended up blind and was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life, to be visited by no one and to live his remaining days in isolation. His soon-to-be wife, Liu Li abandoned him and joined the 9th Prince household – whom she was having a love affair with – as his concubine. Literally, at this time, 13th Prince had no one to rely on. Blind and alone, his world was full of darkness and misery (over-dramatic alert! )

20130807-a6ae21a06d2cc429The only person who cared for him was Chen Xiang. Thus, she tried everything to get into that guarded section of the palace he was locked in. She sought the help of Liu Li, who forced her to walk on burning coals (which she did in the name of love). Upon meeting the Prince, she was again mistaken for Liu Li. I literally banged my head in frustration – you stupid bastard, not again! But then, who could blame the Prince? He barely knew his former fiancee. He barely talked to her yet he fell for her already. Therefore, when a young lady came to visit him in his chamber, he instantly thought that was Liu Li whom he had been waiting for. Chen Xiang did not deny it. Maybe because she wanted to spare him the misery of being abandoned by the woman he loved. To gain continuous access to the Prince’s chamber, Chen Xiang became an experimental guinea pig to the royal physician. She suffered and suffered, all due to her devotion to the 13th Prince, who did not even know who she was. She gave himself to him, she comforted him and became his only hope to live.

201308170309329cb38It was so sweet I almost cried. It would be perfect if only the Prince realized that the lady was actually Chen Xiang and not Liu Li.

As the 4th Prince ascended the throne, the 13th Prince was freed. By that time, he had heard about Liu Li’s affair with the 9th Prince and told Chen Xiang (whom he still thought as Liu Li) to leave him as he supposedly stopped loving her. Chen Xiang did exactly that, thinking that it was over between them.

I don’t fucking get it, Chen Xiang. Just tell him the fucking truth. What is with all this super innocent suffering-loving passive heroines in ancient China? Why do they love this kind of characters so much?

Of course, in the end, the 13th Prince finally learned the truth. Liu Li passed away and Chen Xiang reunited with her lover. The film ended sweetly, like a caramel candy that melts in your mouth.

REVIEW:

I have to be completely honest with you. Despite the grand scale of the film – it being a luscious costume piece – the story is really not about an epic political commentary or even about two different women living in the period of Qing Dynasty. It is, simply, a love story. A simple sweet one, I must say. Our main two characters are simple-minded people who believed in love and naive at hearts. What made the film a little better than your usual romantic piece are the complex supporting characters, especially Liu Li.

The first thing that I love is the innocence of the love story between the 13th Prince and Chen Xiang.

Img378499290You can’t help but to go… awwww. Awwwww. *Cries* and then, awwwww again. The 13th Prince initiated a friendship with Chen Xiang, whom he thought was instrumental in helping him develop a connection with his future wife. Chen Xiang, already in love with him, asked nothing in return. Her feelings for the Prince was pure and selfless. When they were together, you cannot help but to smile. When you see Chen Xiang suffering for the Prince’s sake, you can’t help but to cry along with her. It is just too…. sweet. Arghhhhh!!!!!!!

714236f3jw1e6t97idjofj218g0t0k40The second thing I love is, of course, Liu Li.

20130720091927492She is essentially an evil ungrateful bitch in this film. From a palace maid, she evolved into a prince’s fiancee and a royal concubine. Without her, the film would inevitably walk the dull path. Unlike Chen Xiang who was all innocent and passive, Liu Li was aware of her desires. If she saw an opportunity, she took it. If there was anything she desired, she grabbed it. One misgiving I have about the film was how it displayed an unbalanced portrayal of two types of women in that era. Somehow, I feel that the film stereotypes women who are aggressive as manipulative and cruel whilst the soft–spoken women are kindhearted and sincere.

The third thing I love is the costume, the set designs – basically everything visual in this film. The costumes are crazily detailed and so so so pretty!!!!!! Somehow, the great regal visuals in the film elevated it to more than just a romance film – it gave the film its epic kick!

The fourth thing is undoubtedly….. the 13th Prince.

urlkkkmOMG, each time he appears on the screen, I freaking blush! How can he be so cute and charming and handsome and charismatic at the same time?!!! OMG!! HIS SMILE IS TO DIE FOR!! *swoon* This is not healthy, this is not healthy. Okay, I don’t give a damn. The actor who played him, Chen Xiao is 20 times more good looking in modern attires. He is now officially my favourite mainland actor, second only to Liu Ye.

Him in real life. OMG, how can someone be so good-looking?
Him in real life. OMG, how can someone be so good-looking?

The film is not a great epic historical piece, that’s for sure. However, it is a good entertaining film that would be able to touch your heart in certain scenes. It has a sweet love story as its focal point and the sumptuous designs to accessorize the whole film. Trust me, it will make you delusional and started fantasizing about finding a prince of your own, which will never happen. So, that kind of sucks. But who cares when you have films like this to satisfy your never-ending desires? Hahaha