April Rhapsody

Reviewed by: purpleprose

October 03, 2006

Rating: three

Huang Lei as Xu Zhi Mo
Liu Ruo Yin as Zhang You Yi
Zhou Xun as Lin Hiu Yin
Yi Neng Jing as Lu Xiao Man

Synopsis (Spoiler Warning):
"April Rhapsody" is a biographical sketch of the love story of renowned Chinese poet Xu Zhi Mo. The plot follows Xu in his quest for a soulmate, a quest that led him to relationships with three remarkable women. These three women each typified a part of the culture in China during the early 20th century, and together, they defined the emotional world of the young avant-garde poet.

Zhang You Yi was Xu’s wife by arranged marriage. Only aged fifteen at her wedding, Zhang lived by the behavioral standards of traditional Chinese women. Her unquestioning submission and social limitations, however, added to the arranged nature of her marriage with Xu, caused Xu to divorce her while she was visiting him in Europe. Zhang never re-married, and she continued to serve Xu’s parents and raise her two sons while remaining on friendly terms with Xu.

Lin Hiu Yin was the talented eldest daughter of Xu’s colleague. Xu considered the musical, artistic, and poetic Lin to be his kindred spirit, and the two maintained close correspondence during their studying furloughs in England. When Xu divorced Zhang to marry Lin, however, the latter could not battle the social pressure in China and chose instead to marry historic architect Liang Si Cheng. The romance eventually died out between Lin and Xu, but her person continued to stand as a source of inspiration for the poet throughout his short life.

Lu Xiao Man was the most controversial among Xu’s women. Although already married herself, she involved herself in an affair with Xu and later divorced her husband to marry Xu. The couple was sweet during their courtship and early marriage, but Lu’s worldly childishness soon clashed with Xu’s artistic lifestyle, and their marriage began to fall apart. The couple had no children and oftentimes stayed apart for months at a time. When Lu and Xu finally came near to reconciliation, Xu died of a plane crash on his way to Beijing, thus abruptly ending his illustrous literary career.

Cast Performance:
Huang Lei renders a strong performance for his role as the famous poet. He does not attempt to make viewers identify with his character but merely tries to portray the historical Xu Zhi Mo. He is stiff in certain scenes depicting surprise, slightly incapable of capturing passionate moments, and utterly incomprehensible when speaking English. Yet even so, he does a wonderful job with the many emotional scenes in the series and easily makes the audience equate him with the real Xu Zhi Mo.

Liu Ruo Ying deserves a best actress award for this series. Her depiction of a shy, traditional, but very committed wife to an extraordinarily liberal-minded man is very natural and concise. She has amazing acting capabilities that help her capture minute and subtle expressions. She also plays Zhang You Yi’s gradual evolution into a strong urban women very convincingly. This is an excellent performance.

Zhou Xun does her job well in portraying an educated girl in a changing country. Her tears in dialogues with Xu are very moving, although all her dreary expressions throughout the series keep her from looking as pretty as she could be. She invested extra effort for the series in learning to speak English and to play the “Moonlight Sonata.” Unfortunately, both of her intentionally acquired skills prove far from convincing. Still, she has a job well done.

Yi Neng Jing lacks the depth of the other three actors. Her acting is quite skin-deep, though she quite fits in the role of a flirt. When one considers the fact that she is a singer and not an actress, she can be credited with a good performance. Her character is the most irritating and anti-traditional among the three women, so Yi must be commended for her courage to take up such a role.

The mood and tone of the entire series is extremely slow, literary, and nostalgic. The story is simple, and there are hardly any surprises. This series is the equivalent of an art film. Its charm lies in its artistic quality rather than in budget proportions or an original plot.

The music of the series definitely deserves a special mention. The theme song itself is beautifully written, with words fashioned after the style of Xu’s poems. The background music succeeds in enhancing the sentimentality of the series. The soft melodies are played with piano, accordion, or woodwinds, and they give a much-needed continuity to the long dialogues.

The camera is slightly disappointing. More movement would be welcome, although the compositions of the still captures are very pleasant. The sceneries of Europe are amazing, and they alone give quite a visual feast.

The script is very slow and simple, and there are certain episodes that make me want to fast-forward through them. The literary quality of the lines, however, is very exceptional, further convincing the audience that they are watching a poet’s story.

Reasons to Watch:
1) The series gives insight into the history of Chinese literature and poetry.
2) The series, with its singular theme and tone, is a collector’s item.
3) The series is definitely one of its kind, something you will certainly remember, whether fondly or not.

Reasons Not to Watch:
1) It is the slowest series I have ever watched in its entirety, and there is zero excitement throughout the series.
2) The lead character is not portrayed to be admirable.
3) The scenes tend to become lullabies with the soothing music and poetic dialogues.
4) The lighting is poorly done.

This series is worth watching for experience’s sake. It is definitely singular in many of its components, and the glimpse into Chinese history makes the series memorable. Watch it for the satisfaction of artistic impulses, but not for entertainment. Watching this series is akin to reading wordy classic novels, it will bore you, but it’s still beautiful. Ladies and lovers tend to adore this series while men don’t. This will also not work for family entertainment because young children will never comprehend the long, literary conversations, and adults will not have time to explain due to the sheer length of the scenes. Rent or borrow it first, then decide if you want to collect your own copy.

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