The Ghost Husband

Reviewed by: TKL

August 18, 2004

Rating: three-point-five

The Plum Flower Trilogy include three series:
1. "The Tatooed Flower" starring Vivian Chen and Steve Ma
2. "The Ghost Husband" starring Yue Ling and Li Zi Xi.
3. "Between Cloud and Water" starring Vivian Chen and Steve Ma.

"The Ghost Husband" is set in the early period after Ching Dynasty. Like any other Qiong Yao’s stories, it is about unrequited LOVE, fate and destiny.

The series begins with the Yuan couple on their way to their sister’s house. However, the wife goes into labour under a blossomed plum tree. She gives birth to a girl with the help of Ke family. The baby girl has a flower shaped birthmark on her left arm and is named Yuan Le Mei. The two families make a pact that Le Mei would be betrothed to Ke Qi Xuan, the younger son of the Ke family. They then travel together but are stopped by robbers. The robbers held Le Mei's mother and her as hostage and asks Ke Si Pang, Qi Xuan’s father, to give up all the valuables. Si Pang pretends that he does not care about Le Mei’s mother so the robbers will not hold them hostage. Yet Le Mei’s father is so concerned for the safety of his wife and daughter that he does not understand Si Pang’s intention. He then gets himself into a fight with the robber and Si Pang interferes. Unfortunately, while fighting for the knife, Si Pang accidentally stabs Le Mei’s father. Because of this incident, there is hatred between the two families.

About 20 years later, Le Mei (played by Yue Ling) grows up to be a very beautiful young girl. Her cousin, Hong Da is very much in love with her. He takes her out whenever he has a chance. One day, when they sneak out from the house to watch a season’s celebration in a village, Le Mei meets Qi Xuan (played by Li Zi Xi) who is now a very handsome young man. Qi Xuan is immediately captivated by Le Mei’s beauty and gentleness. While trying to rescue a fox from being sacrificed, Le Mei is injured by Qi Xuan’s best friend, Yang Wan Li. She runs away but Qi Xuan follows her and recognises her as his betrothed wife, due to the birthmark on her arm. His family has always regretted about the incident. Though his father has come to Le Mei’s house many times to ask for forgiveness, Le Mei’s mother never forgave them. Knowing that she is his betrothed wife, Qi Xuan sets out to win her heart and to take care of her. Le Mei also falls in love with Qi Xuan despite her mother’s objections. As they continue to prove their love to her mother, she finally gives in and agrees to the marriage.

During this time, Qi Xuan’s house has a new maid named Zhi Yen who appears to be very caring and smart. However, they do not know that she comes with one goal only--to avenge her mother. Her mother was a maid of Qi Xuan’s grandmother and was pregnant by a cousin of Qi Xuan’s father. Zhi Yen’s mother asked Qi Xuan’s grandmother for acceptance yet Qi Xuan’s grandmother was very angry and did not agree since the supposed father is going to marry a girl from a very respectable family. Zhi Yen’s mother ran away, gave birth to Zhi Yen and later, became crazy. Unfortunately, she never knew that Qi Xuan’s grandmother then regretted and searched for her everywhere.

Zhi Yen is loved by everyone in the house, especially the grandmother. She attempts to poison the grandmother a few times without success because she feels guilty and because of the grandmother’s affection for her. One night, she decides that if she cannot kill anyone, then she will destroy their wealth by burning the storage house down. Unfortunately, the fire then spreads to the main house and despite her effort to call out everyone, Qi Xuan is trapped in the fire. He is saved but is badly disfigured. He has to wear a mask to cover his face. Seeing his state, he is determined to call off the wedding to Le Mei since he does not want her to suffer. During this time, no one tells Le Mei about the fire and she still happily prepares for her marriage. Qi Xuan, knowing Le Mei’s love for him, asks others to tell Le Mei that he is dead so she will be able to forget him and move on with her life. Yet Le Mei’s love for Qi Xuan is very strong and she commits suicide but fails. She then begs her mother to let her marry Qi Xuan’s name. Since they think that she will calm down and accept the reality later, they agree to organise the wedding. However, once Le Mei is in Qi Xuan’s house, she still misses him and he, under the new identity as a gardener named Lao Ke, still looks out for her. Zhi Yen, who by now deeply regrets what she did, tries to help the lovers reunite by bringing Qi Xuan’s poem to Le Mei. This leads to Le Mei’s false belief that the spirit of her husband is still with her. Will these two ill-fated lovers be united? Will Le Mei be able to convince Qi Xuan that her love for him is very strong and no matter what he becomes, she will always love him? Will Zhi Yen’s real identity ever be discovered?

Out of the three series, this one is the best due to the cast and the story itself. However, in order to watch Qiong Yao’s series, you have to really train yourself to stand the crying scenes and never-ending dialogues. Qiong Yao has a reputation of being meticulous to details in producing her series therefore, there are no complaints about the scenery and costumes of this series.

Yue Ling was perfect as Le Mei. She is exceptionally beautiful, looking very fresh and innocent, in this series and fits very much into the role of a gentle and devoted girl. The reason that this series was so much more bearable than the other two parts is because of the main actor. I have never really liked Steve Ma as his acting is really exaggerating. He was also the reason why I did not bother to finish the last part of the Plum Flower Trilogy, "Between Cloud and Water". However, Li Zi Xi is at ease with his role. It must have been very difficult to act in this series. He has to play the part of a very passionate, caring, devoted, handsome, and fearless young man initially who would confront anyone, and do anything to be with his loved one. Then half way through the series, Li Zi Xi’s character changes into a disabled, isolated, angry person who wallows in self-pity and rejects everyone. He manages the transformation extremely well. As a result of the fire, Qi Xuan’s voice changes, his whole body is covered with scars that he has to wrap himself up with clothing and scarf and gloves, his face is badly burnt so he has to wear a mask, and he is also crippled. So in the later half of the series, Li Zi Xi has to act with his eyes which always have this anguish look. The chemistry between the leading actor/actress was convincing. I have not seen any other series of Li Zi Xi before but he seems to be a talented actor. The way Qi Xuan courts Le Mei is cute and shows how much he wants to be with her. However, it would have been more convincing if more scenes of Qi Xuan and Le Mei before the fire were added. In the series, they only meet around 4 or 5 times. How is it possible for a person to develop such strong feelings for another, even sacrificing themselves, after meeting only 4 times? The later half of the series was too dragging. There was one really long scene in the series lasting 30 minutes. It was the scene when Le Mei’s mother finally tells her that Qi Xuan is not dead. She then has to convince her mother that she does not care about Qi Xuan’s appearance. She then runs to meet Qi Xuan’s family and repeats exactly the same thing.

The only male character that I like in the series would be Yang Wan Li, Qi Xuan’s best friend. He is very decisive in what he wants and who he loves. Qi Xuan in a way is too selfish. He treats Le Mei very cruelly by lying to her that he is dead. It is understandable that he does not want to burden Le Mei because of his disability. However, seeing her committing suicide time after time for him, he should have known that she would not move on with her life. But then, there would have been no series if he just comes straight to her in the first place.

DRAMATIC SCENE: the scene when Qi Xuan looks into the mirror for the first time after the bandage is removed. There was another scene in which Le Mei tries convince Qi Xuan that she loves him no matter what. He then pushes her away and falls to the ground. Le Mei desperately holds onto his hand but the gloves slip and she is shocked to see the scar on his hand. These scenes were very moving.

ROMANTIC SCENE: as it is a Qiong Yao’s series, there are many romantic scenes in which the two leading actor and actress exchange goose-bump-raising dialogue.

THE VILLAIN: surprisingly, there is absolutely no villain in this series, not the usual figure of an evil mother-in-law or cunning, jealous brother-in-law or extremely strict and traditional grandmother. Everyone in this series is like a saint.

FAVOURITE COUPLE: have to say it is Le Mei and Qi Xuan. They look very good together and the sparkling chemistry between them was undeniable.

AWARD: if this series should be given any award, it would deserve the awards "The series in which the characters try to kill themselves MANY TIMES" and "the series which demonstrates the most useless and painful ways to commit suicide". Almost everyone in here tries to kill themselves at some stage in the series. It starts with Zhi Yen’s mother trying to jump into this well. If you have seen the series, you would have noticed this tiny, fake well in the yard. With that size of a well, you would die trying to fit your head down that well. And not just Zhi Yen’s mother, Qi Xuan also tries to fit himself down this well. It was so hilarious seeing them committing suicide this way. Zhi Yen also tries to commit suicide but is stopped by Yang Wan Li. Le Mei’s mother tries to hit her head into a big rock in front of the whole family but what a pity, Le Mei stops her. Qi Xuan tries to kill himself by smashing his head against the wall but fails to die. Yet the person who should be congratulated is Yue Ling’s character, Le Mei, for her endless effort at committing suicide. She tries to bang her head against Qi Xuan’s tomb, then a tree and various effort to smash her head against rock, pole, anything in the way but is stopped by her mother. She then tries to drown herself but again is saved. When she wakes up, she tries to kill herself again with a scissors but is then stopped by her mother. Le Mei must have been a very strong girl who sustains many head injuries but recovers splendidly. If she was a real person, I am sure her name would appear in some world record book. I know that these scenes are meant to be dramatic but one or two would have been enough, too many of them ruin the effect. And by the way who ever come up with the idea of committing suicide by smashing one’s head against rock, tree, wall, etc? I have seen this act being carried out in most ancient series. It must be the most painful and useless way to commit suicide. After watching this series, I understand why Taiwanese series, especially Qiong Yao’s series, has so many supporting actors/actresses. They are there to cry, scream, laugh, yell, and to stop or pull back the leading actor/actress if these main characters attempt to kill themselves.

WHAT I HATE ABOUT THE PLOT? The dragging last few episodes turns Qi Xuan into a really selfish person who would treat Le Mei rudely and make his whole family suffer. It is understandable that he suffers a terrible fate but it is unjust to make everyone else suffer as well. His family loves him, cares for him but they also have their own lives, and their lives cannot revolve around his life only.

WHAT I MISS MOST IN THE SERIES? Of course it is Li Zhi Xi’s face in the later half of the series. Though he is not what I would call handsome but his eyes are very expressive. He is one of few actors who can act with their eyes. When he looks at Le Mei, his eyes are full of gentleness and at the same time, filled of anguish and pain. Anyway, Qiong Yao was very clever in not showing Qi Xuan’s burnt face. The viewer only gets the idea of how badly burnt his face is through others’ reaction when they see him.

Though I give many critical comments about this series, being a fan of Qiong Yao’s works and Yue Ling, I did manage to enjoy the series. However, if I were Qiong Yao, I would add more scenes between Qi Xuan and Le Mei, cut out most of the committing suicide scenes, shorten the series to about 5 tapes instead of 7. Well, if you are a fan of Qiong Yao, I’m sure you would have watched this series. And for those who are not fans of Qiong Yao’s series or Taiwanese series, do not expect anything like HZGG.

I was going to give this series three stars but then I realise that I gave "The Tatooed Flower" three stars instead of two. This series is much better than the other one so the rating is adjusted.

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