*WARNING: SINCE THE DRAMA REVOLVES MAINLY ABOUT THE HELPLESS SITUATIONS THE FEMALE CHARACTERS WERE TRAPPED IN DURING THE ERA OF HISTORICAL CHINA, MOST OF THE CONTENT HERE WILL REPRESENT A FREEDOM-LOVER’S POINT OF VIEW.*
RATING – 3/5 (Good Durian… Thought it’s philosophically bad, it’s still good…)
There is so many things I want to write about this drama. Generally, it is a good melodramatic drama. Wait, change that to super over-dramatic because I think there’s always someone evil creating new evil conflicts in each episodes. But then, rather than the evil characters themselves, the reason why I love and hate this drama at the same time are the misgivings I have about it. The drama touches on a wide variety of women issues such as freedom, marriage and societal expectations on virtue and purity that I think make the drama worth discussing here.
Standing up to its title, Desperate Love, this story REALLY is about a love so desperate between Princess Mei Li and Prince Jing Xuan, or whom Mei Li affectionately addressed as Jing Xuan Gege.
Our pre-evolution Mei Li is a bright and innocent princess of a Mongolian state, holding the title of a Gong Ju or a State Princess. Because of her outgoing and protocol-free personality, she was often ostracized by the members of the Imperial Harem. Gong Ju also signifies her to be of a lower rank than the Imperial Princess or Gege. Now I know the difference between Gong Ju and Gege! Nonetheless, she was the favourite of the Empress Dowager, who soon persuaded to bestow Mei Li the title of a Gege as well.
The title of Gege should have settled all of her problems with regards to her status. However, the sudden passing of her father made her an orphan, thus without any family and money to boast her reputation. Her only saving grace was the Empress Dowager’s love and attention towards her, which provided her with some importance in the eyes of other people. Other than that, due to all the problems she created due to her personality, she was not really favoured as anyone’s daughter-in-law and it can be said that all potential mother-in-laws with eligible bachelor sons avoided her like a disease.
Our pre-evolution Jing Xuan gege(which is also used to call someone an older brother) is the Emperor’s cousin and an important general in the empire. He was a super masculine man with a cold exterior, a manly man to the core. Which pretty much sums up everything about him. Mei Li loved and cherished him, and also looked up to him. Our Princess Mei Li and her Jing Xuan gege fell in love quite instantly, having a sweet romantic relationship.
Unfortunately, their relationship did not end well, particularly due to the fact that Jing Xuan gege had already been betrothed to another noble lady, Su Ying. Since betrothal was a serious family business back in the day, Jing Xuan somehow did not have a choice but to marry her. After a great deal of misunderstanding and conflicts, Jing Xuan and Mei Li eventually broke up.
Mei Li, after an accident where she unintentionally killed her foster sister, transformed from a bright girl to a depressed super sad melancholic woman. She was traumatized by the event, always blaming herself and somehow ended up punishing herself very severely. At first, I thought the grief would not last forever, but damn, it did. From that point onwards, our Mei Li gege turned to a weak and weaker person, becoming more and more helpless in controlling her destiny. She LITERALLY surrendered herself to fate, deeming herself unworthy of happiness.
Sometimes, I just want to shake her shoulders and shout “Live your life, woman!!”
Although Mei Li was heartbroken, she got over Jing Xuan gege after a while due to her best friend, Yong He, who had always been in love with her. She, too, was falling in love with him as well. Their relationship differed greatly from Mei Li’s previous experience. Unlike the macho dominant Jing Xuan, Yong He was a laid-back humble guy, who treated Mei Li as an equal. His love, therefore, seemed more sincere.
Unfortunately, our Jing Xuan gege refused to let Mei Li go. He turned into an obsessive bastard and started bothering Mei Li, forcing her to return to him. Even though Mei Li had stated very clearly that she was in love with Yong He, Jing Xuan refused to believe it. The three of them reached a point of no return when Jing Xuan literally BLACKMAILED Mei Li to marry her, forcing her to leave Yong He.
It was interesting to note that Jing Xuan tried his best to break his engagement with his betrothed, Su Ying. However, since the betrothal was granted by an Imperial decree, he could not get out of it because it would signify that the Emperor’s words carried lesser value. He accepted the fact that he had to take Su Ying as his first wife and Mei Li, the love of his life, had to accept the rank of a second wife. However, he decided that he would hold the wedding ceremony with Mei Li first, as he wanted to spend his first wedding night with her.
It was sweet in a very disturbing manner. I felt bad.
However, Jing Xuan really earned my hatred when he discovered that Mei Li did not bleed after their first night. From then on, he deemed Mei Li as an impure woman and was convinced that she had slept with Yong He before marrying him. Which really angers me. I mean – what the fuck were you thinking, Jing Xuan?!!! Who the fuck told you to force a woman to marry you? She CLEARLY refused you but you were so persistent anyway. Now, when she failed to exceed your expectations, you got mad??? Are you fucking serious? Can I just slap you in the face? Or anywhere that hurts? You said you loved Mei Li. You NEVER said you loved the virgin her!
But then, he was a man from the 18th or 19th century. What to do… Virginity of their brides meant the world to them. Haish….
Mei Li’s life turned from bad to worse after she married Jing Xuan. Stuck in a marriage where her husband had always the suspicion of her impurity, she gave birth to a premature child, whom Jing Xuan was convinced was not his but Yong He. Furthermore, Mei Li had to endure endless abuses from her mother-in-law and Su Ying, the first wife who was so bitter and jealous towards her as Jing Xuan clearly favoured Mei Li. See, polygamy never works people. Sharing a husband is not a fun thing!
However, from a tormented husband, Jing Xuan evolved to a loving husband and father. Even though he thought Mei Li’s son was not his, he treated him like his own son (but Mei Li’s son was actually REALLY Jing Xuan’s). He cared for Mei Li more than his own life and over the years, they really had a beautiful loving marriage together, marred only by the stupidity and anger of his mother and his first wife.
As usual, our Mei Li was helpless. I am not sure what was wrong with her but there was definitely something wrong. When Jing Xuan was away or outstation, her mother-in-law and the first wife would beat her, scold her and treated her like garbage. What angers me is that she NEVER fought back. She did not stand up for herself. She did not say no. She did not try to find justice. Somehow, just because she was the second wife and held the most junior position of a lady in the house, she thought she deserved the abuses as well. Only when her child was treated badly that she begged her husband to interfere.
What the fuckery is this? For God’s sake, Mei Li, you were a fucking IMPERIAL PRINCESS!! A GEGE!!! GEGE, MIND YOU!!!!! THE EMPEROR PROMOTED YOU!!! THE EMPRESS DOWAGER WAS YOUR GRANDMOTHER!!!!!!!!! WHY THE FUCK DID YOU ACCEPT THE ABUSES SO WILLINGLY??? WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOUR SENSE OF SELF??!!!!!
So, how does the drama end? Are you guys wondering will Mei Li ever stand up for herself? Well, worry no more… Because guess what – she killed herself. In the end, she committed suicide when Jing Xuan was out of the city. Why? Because the rumours of her being an impure wife was widespread. The mother-in-law was going to kick her out of the house. For Mei Li, suicide was the only way to retain her honour. She killed herself to prove others wrong (for the love of God, I still don’t see the connection between virginity and suicide. No, sex and death don’t go together!!).
Jing Xuan blamed his mother and his first wife for Mei Li’s suicide and instructed that if he dies, he wanted to be buried next to Mei Li and his first wife’s burial plot shall be 300 miles away from them. It was a huge insult to the first wife, as the gravestone is considered the eternal home after death in Chinese culture. After a few years, Jing Xuan died a hero during a war and was re-united with Mei Li in the next life.
Now…. aside from the great dramatic feelings I gained from this drama, allow me to clarify this – I find no valuable lesson at ALL. I mean… what great lessons for improvement can one take from this drama? How can one be inspired? Indeed…. how can one possibly do that when the main characters are either weak, irrational or completely dependent the notion of love? Like… can’t you guys move on??!!! Not just Mei Li but everyone. The drama really lives up to its title, Desperate Love, as everybody seemed so desperate to love or be loved.
Mei Li was essentially a prisoner in this story. A prisoner of imperial culture, of obsessive lovers, of discrimination due to her Mongolian roots and second-wife status, of the marriage trap, of impurity rumours… so many things chaining her, at times I felt like jumping into my laptop screen and saving her. How can a heroine have ZERO individual improvements in a plot? How can the writer be so evil and heartless? How can you represent a heroine like this… or even the hero…. Where are the evolution from bad to good to better? Why did everything turn from bad to worse to very detestable?
Still, I really enjoyed the drama. Because it had all the dramatic elements that make a series so addictive. It could have been so much more, though. Mei Li in the beginning had so many potentials – outspoken, able and free. She could have been lifted up so high. But all I could see was her fall, which ended in her death.
Damn it, drama, why do I hate to love you so?