I started off writing a pseudo-review of Glory of Tang Dynasty (GOTD) segueing into the first impression of GOTD2 and realized that most of my comments relate back to Li Chu (and Allen Ren who plays the role). So, I decided to do a special piece on him. Why does he rock? Let me count the ways:
1. He is an awesome husband. He doesn’t just loves Zhen Zhu, but he understands, supports, and respects her. Although he is not a faultless one (he is prone to fits of jealousy and keeps secrets from her for the greater good, leading to misunderstanding in GOTD1 and unnecessary pain for Zhen Zhu in the early episodes of GOTD2), but they share a genuine, deep love bonded by mutual respect and desire. He forgives her faults, trusts her wholeheartedly once he realises that she has no romantic feelings for An Qing Xu, defends her vehemently (even to the advisor, Li Bi, despite the strategic big picture that love should be sacrificed for the throne) and fulfills his promise to her to seek revenge for the massacre of her family. I loved that scene in Ep 6 of GOTD2 where his first reaction to Dugu Jingyao, when she showed him the Dugu family token that can be used to invoke their power was that it was the item which resulted in Zhen Zhu’s family being annihilated rather a chess piece part of his strategy to be Crown Prince and ultimately King. He always has her in the back of his mind even when he is not with her.
2. He has a career. Unlike many great-in-love male leads in c-dramas, Li Chu actually takes his job seriously (helping the King run the kingdom), has career aspirations (he is not unabashed in his aim to be Crown Prince), manages his finances (being the behind-the-scenes owner in many profit generating establishments to fund his strategies), and plans ahead (private security force anyone?). This aspect makes his character whole – not just a romantic goody two shoes, but a family man with grand vision who tries to implement his strategies while living his life. As he told Li Bi, Zhen Zhu would not be another Yang Guifei and he would fight the hardest to honour both his love and his responsibilities
3. He is not a love cheat. Could have put it in (1) above, but I thought this important enough to stand alone as he is not just faithful in his love to Zhen Zhu, but also in clearly drawing the line with Dugu Jingyao. He doesn’t manipulate Jingyao (who has demonstrated time and again her willingness to be manipulated) because he respects her as a comrade-in-arms, but should she marry him, he would not love her and it would be purely be a political marriage which would be unfair to her. I thought it was wise of the show to not make him indifferent or completely adverse to Jing Yao (unlike Concubine Cui) because he is after all, a man. As a married person, one encounters many temptations along the way – what differentiates one from another is how they react. He is not obsessive as An Qing Xu (who would never be unfaithful to Zhen Zhu), but yet he is clear to the other women that there is only one in his heart. I thought it was stunningly realistic that he still had to bed Concubine Cui (as she was related to the Yang family and their marriage could not be in name only to prevent attacks on that front), but he was upset that the timing was off hence resulting in her possibly siring him an heir. Strategic!
4. He is a fantastic brother. Ah, Li Tan. You poor, poor fella. Especially since he and Murong Lingzhi were such a cute couple. The scene where Li Chu was pleading with the King in his capacity as their father to spare his son was truly heartbreaking.
5. He is a good son. Despite the awfulness of his father (played most excellently by Wang Jing Song as a selfish, weak man), he did not plot to overthrow him, but instead worked within the boundaries to try and protect the kingdom and his loved ones.
How did Allen Ren do to bring this multi-layered character to life? I think he did really well. It is my first time watching him and he totally impressed me with his micro-expressions, posture and gait in conveying the nuances of Li Chu in all his interactions. I love how he and Li Tan are really close without the obvious brotherly gestures (Qin Jun Jie is also a good actor)in the way they exchange a look or stand together against the world. He also has great chemistry with Jing Tian (my first time watching her) and they make a really believable rootable couple from the way they glance at each other or even a simple hand clasp
If the show follows history, it’s going be heartbreak for the OTP so I am hoping that there will be some artistic licence applied to give them a little happiness after all they have been through. They deserve it!
Can the show be better? Definitely. But, for now, the top-notch acting (even the supporting cast), the beautiful Tang era costumes, and interesting (albeit tragic) storyline is keeping me watching
PS. Special shout-out to Empress Zhang (played most calmly by Vivienne Liu) who is an absolute b%^ch. But, at least, her scheming is to benefit only herself to be the power player behind the screens, and not driven by the typical female palace reason to solely be the only one loved by the King