Monday, October 21, 2013

TV Adaptation of Eastern Han Dynasty Romance Novel expands on love focus: Big Tree General and his concubine

If you have been following mainland Chinese entertainment filming or Ms. Koala's Playground, or you just happened to be a big fan of mainland actor Yuan Hong, I am sure you already know a bit or a lot about Ruby Lin's second big investment project - Xiu Li Jiang Shan: Chang Ge Xing (roughly translated into Beautiful Land and River: Long Ballad March). This latest historical production centers on a piece of Chinese history that has not been heavily adapted on the small screen before. (P.S. I am actually quite happy mainland Chinese TV productions finally drifted way from the heavy Qing Dynasty backdrop and explores other epochs. Guys with a nicely groomed hair bun is much more soothing to the eyes than half-bald guys sporting a braided queue). The drama chronicles the rise of Empress Yin Lihua and endowed her with modern sensibilities.

Though I do not know much about Eastern Han Dynasty's history, I have definitely chanced upon reading about the story of founding Eastern Han Dynasty's emperor Liu Xiu 刘秀 and his beloved second empress, Yin Lihua 阴丽华, during my obsessive research on my favorite Tang Dynasty's couple Li Shimin and his Empress Zhang Sun (old post about this couple here). The gist of this history goes something like this: pauper royalty Man X (Liu Xiu) married his sweetheart Woman Y (Yin Lihua), then abandoned her to marry Woman Z (Guo Shengtong 郭圣通) with prominent connections. Woman Y then turned down the offer to become empress and became a secondary consort. Woman Z got the empress title. Man X treated both women like a baby-making machine and knocked out five sons from each woman in sequential order.  The end: Woman Y outlived everyone and vindicated herself by becoming empress #2. The original novel Xiu Li Jiang Shan gave this piece of history a new twist by making Yin Lihua (Woman Y) akin to a Mary Sue character. Actress and producer Ruby Lin stars Yin Lihua while heartthrob Yuan Hong co-stars as Liu Xiu. 
Complicated Relationship Diagram
Personally, I cannot picture Ruby Lin and Yuan Hong as a convincing onscreen couple and feel extremely awkward that they are playing a famous historical couple with a wide age gap where the wife initially calls the husband "uncle" (which is a converse of Ruby Lin and Yuan Hong's age gap).  Consequently, my interest in this adaptation shifted to the secondary characters, particularly General Feng Yi and his concubine Ding Rou.  The original novel actually does not have this story arc. Ding Rou was just a few character text in a sentence on perhaps one line of the novel. Feng Yi was one of the nth male character in love with our almighty female protagonist and a tool to provoke her husband's jealousy. Fortunately, the scriptwriter has more conventional ideas more aligned with my taste and decided to eliminate the complicated hexagonal love revolving around Yin Lihua. I heard the drama series will not have Feng Yi be romantically involved with Yin Lihua. Though this may be a bad analogy, but I am going to translate these characters into famous figures in U.S. politics. Imagine this. Yin Lihua is like Hilary Clinton having a one-night stand with Al Gore to get Bill Clinton back for having an extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. In history, Yin Lihua has absolutely NOTHING to do with Feng Yi. Putting them together just sounds awfully repugnant to me.
Li Jiahang as Feng Yi
Anyway, the historical Feng Yi was a humble accomplished military general that aided Li Xiu in his effort to re-establish the fallen Han Dynasty. While his colleagues like to rave about their own military accomplishments during banquets, he tended to shy away the boosting and partying by sitting quietly under a tree. Thus, he earned the famous nickname of "Big Tree General" from his soldiers.

In the drama adaptation, the scriptwriter decided to amplify the relationship between Feng Yi and Ding Rou. I read on the Chinese forums that Ding Rou doesn't even actually "appear" in novel but only gets mention in a passing through the mouth of other characters. She became the target of Guo Shengtong's dissatisfaction against Feng Yi and gave her a good beating. The TV adaptation will definitely expand on this short story arc and transform Ding Rou into the love of Feng Yi's life. YAY! No more Feng Yi + Yin Lihua romance!

Li Jiahang 李佳航 (Er Kang from the new Huan Zhu Ge Ge) and Riyiza 热依扎 (debuted in Zhen Huan Biography as Yelanyi) stars as Feng Yi and Ding Rou respectively. Though I never expected Li Guihang and Riyiza to collaborate onscreen, I like them both enough to not harbor not adverse feelings about the pairing. In a fan recorded video, I can feel they even look better in motion than in stills. I am very curious how Ding Rou succeeds in breaking Feng Yi's cool exterior and really hope their love story becomes one of the highlights of the drama production.

Riyiza and Li Jiahang during the opening press conference for Xiu Li Jia Shan with Ruby Lin and Yuan Hong.

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