Friday, May 11, 2012

TV Series on Famous Chinese Poet/Statesman Su Dongpo to Broadcast + Beautiful Ending Theme Song

If I have to name a TV drama that I waited the longest time for its release,  the "honor" would undoubtedly go to this biographical adaptation of a famous Song Dynasty poet/statesman Su Dongpo (penname) or Su Shi (personal name). The historical series will trace 60 years of Su Shi's life, from a youthful lad traveling to the Song Dynasty's capital to take the civil service examination with his younger brother to his death. Lu Yi (Zhuge Liang in the new Three Kingdoms) will play Su Shi and Ruby Lin will star as his first wife, Wang Fu.

I first tracked this drama production series back in 2007 when it first started shooting. After five long years of waiting and when I've finally concluded that the Chinese government probably banned it for its political ramification, Lu Yi announced on his Sina microblog it's going to air soon! Some news article reports the official broadcast date to be May 16, but I don't trust that source completely. BUT YAY! YAY! YAY! *screams of joy* I'm super excited about this series! I personally think Su Shi is perhaps one of the most fascinating figures in Chinese history.

 Check out the GORGEOUS ending theme song!

Su Dongpo isn't your typical Chinese period dramas with ton of court women plotting or melodramatic romance. It's a quite serious drama densely packed with substantive historical details and the dialogue is spoken mostly in classical Chinese. To add more credence to the writing, the screenwriter is actually a professor from People's University of China in Beijing who spent years writing the script. It may also mean the story might be too dry and boring for some people. For Chinese history aficionados, this is a must-watch drama!

Even though Su Shi is most famous for his poems, he was also once the magistrate of Hangzhou, governor, engineer, talented calligrapher, teacher, writer, pharmacologist, and gastronome,  In other words, he was the quintessential Song Dynasty's version of the "Renaissance man." I think either historians or Su Shi's contemporaries once commented that there wouldn't be another talented man such as Su Shi for the next one hundred years. Despite his talent and high intelligence, his straightforward forward, overly optimistic, and devil-may-care personality frequently got him in trouble. Because of the intense fractional strife within the Song Dynasty's government, Su Shi often became the target of political persecution and his life went up, down, up and down.

I actually first got interested in Su Shi not because of his literary accomplishments, but only after I read about his concubine's devotion toward him. There were three important women in his life: his first wife, second wife, and concubine.

First wife Wang Fu:
She probably had the most influence on Su Shi. A very intelligent young woman who married Su Shi when they were both teenagers. She gave him very valuable advice in his early career and they had a very happy marriage. Unfortunately, she died from illness only after 10 years of marriage and left behind a young son, Su Mai.
Su Shi (Lu Yi) and Wang Fu (Ruby Lin)
Second Wife - Wang Runzhi
She was a younger cousin of Wang Fu whom Su Shi probably married to give his young son a mother and take over the domestic management of his household. Unfortunately, she might have been illiterate and didn't share Su Shi's passion for the arts and literature. Su Shi and Runzhi still got along together. Their marriage lasted 26 years and she bore him 2 sons, Su Tai and Su Guo. She was a very good mother, even to her stepson.

Concubine - Wang Zhaoyun
Despite their 26 years age gap, Su Shi probably saw Wang Zhaoyun as his soul mate who shared his love of music and arts. When no one seemed to understand Su Shi, Wang Zhaoyun somehow could just read his mind.

Are you all curious why even his concubine has the same Wang surname as his wives? Su Shi was probably  the person who gave her this name and also the person who taught Wang Zhaoyun how to read. Wang Zhaoyun came from a very impoverished family and was sold to a entertainment/courtesan house at a very young age. She probably received some musical training at the courtesan house. When she was 11 or 12, Su Shi or Wang Runzhi purchased her from the  courtesan house to serve as Runzhi's personal handmaid and to help out with the household chores.  Hence, she took her mistress' surname. Historians have no idea when Wang Zhaoyun became Su Shi's concubine. We only know she gave birth to his youngest son, Su Dun, when she was 21 years old.
Wang Zhaoyun and Su Shi taking a scroll around the West Lake of Huizhou in present day Guangdong Province
In Su Shi's late years, he suffered another harsh political setback. This time, he got banished to the deep southern frontier - Hainan Island. During the 11th century, this small island in the South China Sea was isolated, remote, and undeveloped that no civilized Chinese man wanted to live or visit. Only Hainanese aborigines, criminals, and political outcasts resided on this island where sanitation was poor and diseases were rampant. Su Shi did not expect himself to survive his long journey to Hainan nor his exile on the island. So he disbanded his household and sent his wife/sons off to live somewhere else and decided to take the punishment on his own. He also wanted to grant Wang Zhaoyun her freedom to start a new life. Concubinage in the Song Dynasty did not equate to marriage. Wang Zhaoyun had no legal protection of a marriage contract. Legally, Wang Zhaoyun was more like Su family's property than a Su Shi's spouse. To Su Shi's shock, Wang Zhaoyun adamantly refused to leave him and insisted on accompanying him to Hainan. Unfortunately, Wang Zhaoyun did not survive the harsh living conditions of southern China and died in Lingnan (modern day Guangdong Province). Su Shi did end up surviving the journey to Hainan and spent his last few years there. After her death, Su Shi lamented and wrote quite a few poems to commemorate Zhaoyun and to show his gratitude for her devotion. She really stuck with him in times of sickness, hardship, sorrow, and till death did she part him.

Official Stills

 Lu Yi and Ruby Lin groofing off during shooting...
Anyway, Su Shi composed one of the most famous love poems in Chinese literature. This poem gets recited and used countless times in Chinese cinema and in the works of well-known authors such as Qiong Yao (creator My Fair Princess or Huan Zhu Ge Ge). Despite not loving to read poetry and possessing a rather disinterested attitude toward poetry, I'm surprisingly a big fan of this particular poem titled Jiang Cheng Zi.

The beauty of this poem gets lost in translation, so bear with the rough English translation. He composed the poem one night after dreaming about his first wife, Wang Fu.

《江城子•乙卯正月二十日夜記夢》
十年生死兩茫茫,不思量, 自難忘。
千里孤墳,無處話淒涼。
縱使相逢應不識,塵滿面,鬢如霜。
夜來幽夢忽還鄉,小軒窗,正梳妝。
相顧無言,惟有淚千行。
料得年年腸斷處,明月夜,短松岡。

Ten years living and dead have drawn apart
    I do nothing to remember
    But I cannot forget
    Your lonely grave a thousand miles away ...
    Nowhere can I talk of my sorrow --
    Even if we met, how would you know me
    My face full of dust
    My hair like snow?
    In the dark of night, a dream: suddenly, I am home
    You by the window
    Doing your hair
    I look at you and cannot speak
    Your face is streaked by endless tears
    Year after year must they break my heart
    These moonlit nights?
    That low pine grave?


(Translation Credit to wiki)

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