Was gonna write a post after the first 6 episodes but couldn’t find time so here we are up to episode 18 and happy to say – Still Loving It! It is not so much a sequel to the highly lauded Nirvana in Fire (“NiF”) -which I think is one of the best dramas ever- but rather a different story revolving around the descendants of the protagonists in NiF. A smart move, I should say, as it still has palpable ties for those of us who wanted more of NiF but yet able to stand alone as a separate story.
Things I love, love, love:
Familial ties:- that chummy and endearing brotherhood between Xiao Ping Chang (Huang Xiao Ming) and Xiao Ping Jing (Liu Haoran), the enduring and robust brotherhood between Xiao Ting Sheng (Sun Chun) and the Liang Emperor(Liu Jun) and that cosy, affectionate loving marriage between Xiao Ping Chang and Meng Qian Xue (Tong Li Ya). How delightfully characterized and storied! C-dramas (and Asian dramas in general) tend to over-preach with a sledgehammer the Confucian filial piety or family bonding but here it is done just right – no self-aggrandizement or pedestal story-telling but just plain heart and soul. Its also a nice contrast to the hollywood dramas where heart-stopping, grand romantic love always takes precedence.
Oh, they all can act!:- I can’t think of anyone not doing well. I read some news that people were not impressed with Li Haoran but I think he is doing very well as the sheltered, 2nd master – he is imbuing his character with the right amount of youthful pride in his own superiority without being downright annoying and yet still likable and decent. Huang Xiao Ming is totally owning it as the dependable, responsible older brother without being self-righteous – his combo with Tong Li Ya is so #marriagegoals – the depth of Ping Chang’s love/attraction for Qian Xue is bottomless despite no overt romantic or sexual gesture and encapsulated with they way they clasp hands or stroll together or look each other in the eye. Tong Li Ya, too, looks so beautiful and spunkily feminine. Perhaps the reason why I am fans of the Ping Chang/Ping Jing combo is that they are both intelligent men and use their wisdom tempered by common sense and grounded reality (more Ping Chang and less Ping Jing at this stage!). I am totally dreading the episode when Ping Chang meets his end and I can only hope that Qian Xue’s character stays on to the end.
Zhang Hui Wen who plays Lin Xi, Ping Jing’s (eventual) love interest, portrays calm and collected without coming off dull and colorless – I like how their relationship develops – its not sudden or cloying, or dramatic despite the many events that transpire around them but feels natural, organic and sure-footed. If I had not watched Guo Jing Fei in Decoded and totally loved him there, I would have definitely thought he is only meant to act in villain roles – totally nailing it here as Pu Yang YIng, Master Inciter with his mindgames and fiendish plotting. At this point, its still not clear what his endgame is (I really resisted the spoilers except for that major one relating to Ping Chang!)
All the supporting actors are carrying their weight. From Xiao Ting Sheng, a valiant general who loves his brother, family and country fiercely to the Emperor, a benevolent family man who didn’t have the best wife and the Empress (Mei Ting) -dangerous is a silly woman with too much power and cannot see the forest for the trees as well as her brother Prime Minister Xun (Bi Yan Jun), a man anxious to preserve his nephew’s power and legacy but not (yet!) blinded to machinations of his raze-all-to-the-ground allies to Yuan Xiaoqi (Wu Hao Chen), a man, who had to be a meek mouse due to circumstances and now at crossroads to decide what kind of man he wants to be and Xun Fei Zhan (Zhang Bo), the idealistic, loyal imperial commander who I suspect his Achilles Heel will be Qian Xue, all the characters are being brought to life.
The colors:- How can shades of gray and brown be so beautiful? All the scenes are beautifully shot and their costumes/props too are suitably colored – not flashy, bombastic and fanciful but a subtle muted beauty accompanied by the haunting music.
Drinking tea:- I want their tea pots/tea scoop, tea cups – the whole works! Somehow, juxtaposing the Changlin simple but elegant tea set or the steam from the pots that Linxi is always boiling gives the scenes a slightly wistful feel – the North maybe invaded and someone is dying from an evil plot but drinking tea lets us stop and savor the moment giving us the strength to deal with the next impending disaster.
So, 18 episodes in and I am eagerly anticipating the next episodes – what have I learnt so far? Life sucks and can be utterly random despite our best planning, your parents can be the worst humans ever (even if they are super nice to you) and everyone in Liang Kingdom has the loveliest winter coats / muffs!