Xiao Zhuang Mi Shi


Reviewed by: sukting

September 02, 2003

Rating: three

How long
22 vcds/38 episodes

Foreword
This marks a return by Liu De Kai after a long break (his last series was 'Princess Xin Yue'), so don’t miss his performance in here. I must confess though that I do get rather impatient when it comes to Qing dramas and thus would fast forward through most scenes.

Introduction to the characters

1. Duo Er Gun – Ma Jin Tao
He is the actual heir to the throne but his mother decides that he isn’t up to the task so the post goes to his 4th brother. He also knows that his mother was forced to die. Later, Da Yu Er is forced to marry Huang Tai Ji and Duo Er Gun returns too late on their wedding day. Driven by despair, his wounds sustained by the war take a long time to recover. He still pretends that everything is normal in front of Tai Ji to gain his trust. It's a pity that he still doesn’t get Yu Er in the end after his brother’s death as she doesn’t dare go against tradition.

He is a very talented general and is well respected for having won many battles. But his love life is a mess. He is furious when Da Yu Er tells him to marry Xiao Yu Er to comply with Huang Tai Ji’s instructions. Out of spite he decides to take a concubine. However he isn't able to hide his anxiety when he finds out that Da Yu Er is going through a difficult labour. He sends a midwife from his residence to help her. He even waits outside her residence and nearly faints from relief upon knowing she's all right.

After his brother’s death, he has thoughts to usurp the throne but later helps Shun Zhi be emperor instead. However, he holds power as military consultant and wishes to marry the widowed Da Yu Er. But Da Yu Er only agrees to marry him if he gives up his riches. He hesitates and decides not to marry her. He later loves a maid, Xiao Ni Zi, because she resembles a younger Da Yu Er.

He is power hungry and wishes to be emperor. He has even prepared the robes. But he never expected his elder brother to leave evidence of his oath that he will help Shun Zhi be emperor instead. If he even so much as desires to be emperor, he will die. He is upset when Da Yu Er uses this evidence to remind him of his loyalty. But he is contented when she finally comes to see him, telling him that she only does it as a last resort. Both reconcile in the end.

Poor man – he is so badly affected that he dies in war later. While some wish to confer him the title of emperor as a posthumous honour, others oppose it. The emperor robes are later discovered in his keep, so all his riches and titles are retracted, leaving him a bad name in history. All he did, he did in vain.

Ma's acting is still very exaggerated and his actions are all the same. It is annoying to see him repeat them. The only scene of his that I liked was the bit where he turns up the next day after Tai Ji and Da Yu Er's wedding. Tai Ji comments that it is indeed double happiness for him as he is now married and that Duo Er Gun is able to escape death. A despaired Duo Er Gun vomits blood and faints when Yu Er kneels before him to offer him tea according to custom. When he awakens, he insists on leaving despite being unable to do so because he is determined not to die in his brother’s home. This scene really shows his despair well.

2. Duo Zhe – Zhao Hong Fei
He is the 15th prince and Duo Er Gun’s only blood related brother. A rebellious man who doesn’t know how to hide his feelings of hatred, Duo Er Gun has a hard time trying to subdue him in order to gain Huang Tai Ji’s trust. He is a resourceful general and dies in Da Yu Er’s arms after forgiving her for being harsh to his brother as he has always treated her like an elder sister.

3. Huang Tai Ji – Liu De Kai
I really hate this man. He likes Yu Er and demands for her. This disgusts me – doesn’t he know that she is his wife’s niece? Later he forces Duo Er Gun to marry Xiao Yu Er, wanting to use her as his spy. Thus ruining their happiness. Upon knowing Da Yu Er’s past, he becomes wary of her and neglects her. He is a greedy man who wants her whole heart. He falls in love so quickly with Yu Er’s sister, Hai Lan Zhu, and marries her. This makes his first wife lose confidence in him. This man doesn’t seem to be as formidable in war strategies as he should be because from what I see, he only spends time with women.

He often has nightmares of the empress dowager demanding redress for killing her. The death of Hai Lan Zhu affects him very much too and these start to affect his health. Liu acts very well and looks every inch a ruler. Ma should learn more from him.

4. Mong Ge - Bai Qing Lin
Huang Tai Ji’s first son who is determined to be the next emperor. But he later decides to help the 11th prince instead. Actually, I don’t understand why he is not given the throne. Isn’t this the practice?

5. Ah Min – Xu Huan Shan
The evil second prince who kills the empress dowager. When he loses power and is imprisoned by Huang Tai Ji for defying him, he pleads to Duo Er Gun to release him. Duo Er Gun hates him so much that he melts the lock with fire – signifying that he will be imprisoned forever!

6. Dai Shan – Xu Min
He is actually kind and doesn’t wish to kill the empress dowager. He treats Duo Er Gun well and that is why Duo Er Gun doesn’t resent him. In order to preserve order in the country, he makes sure that Duo Er Gun agrees to support Shun Zi by forcing him to write down his oath. He lies that he will take the oath with him to his grave but passes it to Da Yu Er secretly, for fear that Duo Er Gun might harm Shun Zhi later.

7. Zhe Zhe – Wu Qian Qian
I don't understand this woman. She is Huang Tai Ji’s wife yet she persuades her own niece to marry her own husband? Is she that open-minded? The thought of it just disgusts me. Later even when she finds out that Da Yu Er likes Duo Er Gun, she still pretends that she is shy and agreeable to the proposal. She persuades Da Yu Er to regard her tribe’s safety and to consummate the wedding if she wants to return to Duo Er Gun. What a selfish woman!

Later to please Xiao Yu Er, she persuades Duo Er Gun to marry her. When she fails in her task, she makes Da Yu Er do the dirty job. Duo Er Gun is so enraged that he ill treats his wife and takes a concubine as a form of silent protest. It is strange that she can accept Da Yu Er’s presence but she can’t accept Hai Lan Zhu. Both are her nieces, aren't they? She tends to protect Da Yu Er more.

Before she dies from illness, she begs Duo Er Gun to forgive Huang Tai Ji. Although Duo Er Gun is grateful to her for her kindness, he can never forget the hatred. He will help the future emperor but he still wants to hold military power, which he feels he deserves. The poor woman dies a miserable death.

8. Da Yu Er/Empress Xiao Zhuang – Ning Jing
She is initially immature and talkative. After Duo Er Gun’s ‘death’ at war, she decides to seek vengeance on Ah Min by marrying Huang Tai Ji. Weighing the importance, she has no choice but to continue with the wedding to save his life. She puts up with the blame when Duo Er Gun thinks that she has forsaken him. But she gets his understanding in the end when she helps him escape death. He had wanted to keep the long lost emperor's seal for himself to regain his power. But Huang Tai Ji knows of its existence and waits to see whether or not he will present it to him. Da Yu Er quickly sends Su Mu Er to tell him the news so that he can dispel Tai Ji's suspicions. She accepts her sister's marriage to Huang Tai Ji.

She is neglected by Huang Tai Ji. She is in danger when her maid fails to inform Huang Tai Ji. Luckily Duo Er Gun saves her on time. When she gives birth to Fu Ling, red clouds hang in the sky but this poor son is so neglected that he only got to see his father 3 days after his birth.

When her son is made emperor, she has a hard time disciplining him. She arranges for him to marry her niece but he is unhappy with that decision. Shun Zhi is also enraged when he finds out that she is going to remarry Duo Er Gun. Knowing that she will face a lot of objection and Shun Zhi will live in shame, she backs out from the marriage proposal and gives up her own happiness. She realizes that Duo Er Gun is a changed man but she still loves him just as much.

She is unhappy when Shun Zhi doesn’t fancy her niece but she still forces him to accept her as his empress. She suspects that he loves Wan Ru so she arranges her to be with the 11th prince instead. She is angry with Shun Zhi for still wanting Wan Ru even after the 11th prince kills himself in protest of Shun Zhi’s decision to marry her. She tells him to face up to his responsibilities and to be loyal to his brother. But when Shun Zhi talks back at her and questions why she can bring herself to marry Duo Er Gun, she isn't able to answer and has to accede to it!

Initially, she doesn’t like Wan Ru and rejects her. But after finding her to be gentle and caring, she begins to like her. When she finds out that her niece had poisoned her son to death, she gets Shun Zi to demote her to a concubine. However, she gets quite pitiful when she grieves for their deaths later and has to concentrate to bring up her grandson.

Ni Jing puts in a very powerful performance. She is pretty as the young princess although initially she looks childish in her headgear as the concubine.

9. Hai Lan Zhu - He Sai Fei
Another important woman in Huang Tai Ji’s life. She is at first a widow and an innocent woman who is very sickly. But her maid, Hui Ge, throws discord between her and her sister. This causes both to be enemies and she doesn’t even allow Su Mu Er to inform Huang Tai Ji when she is in labour. Later, she gives birth to a son but he dies due to fits because he is too weak. She influences Tai Ji into believing that Fu Ling caused her son’s death. She nearly goes mad when Tai Ji dreams of the empress coming back for him. She believes that the late empress dowager is coming for her son too. She later dies of illness but repents before her death. Unfortunately Huang Tai Ji believes that Da Yu Er is the cause of her death.

10. Xiao Yu Er- Li Ling Yu
She has always been interested in Duo Er Gun since young and always tries to get him. She is jealous of Da Yu Er and has considered her her enemy. Despite her being unreasonable, I sympathesize with her because she tries very hard. She even tries to clean his horses and builds the sheds. She gets him in the end through undesirable means. Can you imagine her loneliness when Duo Er Gun gets drunk on their wedding night and later runs away shouting Yu Er – but it's not her that he's calling! She is unhappy as he always scolds her for being too stupid to be his wife. She later ends her life knowing that she will never get his love.

11. Su Mu Er – Hu Jing
She is a very loyal servant who serves her mistress faithfully. At first, I had the wrong impression that she loves Duo Er Gun when she comes to care for him after he refuses medication when he finds out about Da Yu Er’s marriage. She explains on her mistress’s behalf and always helps them when in need. Surprisingly, she also objects to Duo Er Gun’s marriage proposal. It is sad that she is destined to be single all her life. I thought she was in favour all along?

12. Fu Lin/Emperor Shun Zhi - Yan Kun
Da Yu Er’s son who is unhappy with his life. He is just a puppet emperor who has no power. To think he even had to approve of his mother's remarriage! To prevent this from happening, he seeks the help of his first uncle and his loyal subjects. He succeeds in the end but his love life is a mess. He loves Concubine Dong E but she cannot be his empress. Knowing that the 11th prince likes her, he is still persistent and keeps her as his concubine even after his brother's death because he loves her so much. He wanted to make Dong E’s son the crown prince but he is poisoned and dies.

Dong E is badly affected and dies of an illness later. He is so upset that he decides to be a monk. He only returns to the palace reluctantly after Da Yu Er’s persuasion. But still, he is so unhappy over her death that he dies from illness soon too.

This man looks too thin and undernourished to be the emperor. When he adds a moustache, he doesn’t look elderly to me. I don’t really like this actor’s stiff acting but the last 4 episodes are on him. What a torture!

13. The empress – Si Qin Gao Wa
She only appears for 2 episodes as Duo Er Gun’s mother. She is benevolent to let Huang Tai Ji have the throne. She knows that her own son is too young for the job and many will kill him instead if he is given the throne. But she never expected Huang Tai Ji to kill her to seal the secret. She agrees to hang herself but upon hearing her son’s voice, she changes her mind and wants to see him for the last time. However Ah Min kills her ruthlessly. She is quite a good actress although the death scene drags too long. The way she talks reminds me of an opera actress though.

14. Concubine Dong E/ Wan Ru – Shu Cang
Young, beautiful, kind and talented, she loves to go around in a man’s disguise. She wins Shun Zhi’s love easily. But she is troubled that he isn’t a common man. She marries him under pressure because she feels guilty for having caused the 11th prince’s death. Their happiness is short lived though. It's a pity she has such a short life. The actress is good but she was paired up with the wrong man.

Interesting facts

Ning Jing, Hu Jing and Wu Qian Qian promoted this serial in Taiwan. All were appalled when Ma Jin Tao gave Ning Jing a big kiss and also a lift in his S$200,000 sports car. Many wondered whether their disagreement over the set was real. Ning Jing says that this was common between artistes and both have resolved their differences. Ma joked that the paparazzi would be waiting for them right outside the entrance of the hotel to take pictures of them!

Ning Jing was very upset over Cheung Kok Wing’s demise (both had worked on the movie ‘ShangHai Grand' and became close friends) that she couldn't bring herself to attend his funeral. Whether or not she attends his funeral, he will still always be alive in her heart.

Liu De Kai joked that Ma Jin Tao lured him out from his semi-retirement. Both men could have worn headgears but they decided to shave their headinstead. Ma only shaved the first half to protect his scalp while the rest of the pigtail is woven into his own hair. The price he had to pay: not being able to accept other jobs for months. This is his second serial in which he had to shave his head. The first being ‘The Ci Xi Story’.

Conclusion

I am afraid that most Qing or historical dramas don’t go well with me. I often end up forwarding most scenes because I can’t stand the long dialogues and stage-like acting from most of the artistes. Still, it was a pleasure to watch Ning Jing’s acting. She is very competent as the intelligent empress who is level-headed and calm. She was an excellent choice. Liu De Kai is equally commanding as the ruler, Huang Tai Ji. Ma Jin Tao is a BIG let down because I expected more from him. The only consolation is that he still managed to look youthful despite being 40 years old.

The story sickens me with too many tragedies – especially the parts where Zuo Zuo arranges for Da Yu Er to marry her uncle, and Duo Er Gun had to marry Xiao Yu Er. Also Shun Zhi being emperor had no say in his choice of empress. I thought that Da Yu Er, having gone through the agony of not being able to be with the one she loved, would be able to plan well for her son. I am so disillusioned by how they link marriages and political power together.

As expected, the pace is very slow and you will need a lot of patience to digest the dialogues and know the history. I hated the last few episodes where Ma and Liu’s characters went missing. The lure was no longer there. The love story on Shun Zhi and Dong E was simply too boring and long-winded. Luckily, Ning Jing was there to save the ground. I will advise those who dislike tragedies to skip this serial. It won't be suitable for you.

On acting : * * * (Scale of 5)
On story : * * * (Scale of 5)


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