Lady Warriors of the Yang Family


Reviewed by: 12_reviewer

April 05, 2008

Rating: four

The novelty factor is high for this reviewer, not having heard of the eponymous heroines until this show came along. Historical accuracy is discarded in favour of having three of the Yang men escape death. Liulang, played by Huang Zhi Xian is the best of the lot as the inflexible war veteran. Silang is rescued by the Liao princess (played by Taiwanese water faucet Yue Ling), becomes her consort and has a son with her. This of course poses problems for the saintly first wife. Kudos to the actress for managing to pull off the saintly bit rather successfully. Wulang has a much less complicated fate--he becomes a monk partly out of guilt and partly to keep the Ediot's promise for him.

This sanitized version is quite entertaining--even if some of the plot developments tend to be rather farcical. Generally, the acting is consistent all round, with some memorable performances from a handful of cast members.

The majestic theme song merits a * of its own despite being overplayed at times.

Characters:

Lady She Saihua, the formidably self-possessed matriarch and the family's rallying force. Played by *Zhen Pei Pei, who, even with minimal makeup is still looking good and exuding magnificent gravitas when in uniform. She and Lian Kai are the most eloquent physically.

The same can't be said for Carmen Lee who plays Yang Bamei. At one point Bamei is racked with guilt but the whole story drags because Lee, too much of the time, relies on a constipated expression to convey grief, guilt, constipation... She does rise to the occasion but too infrequently to justify her lion's share of screen time, especially when compared with Ning Jing who has twice the pizzazz but only a quarter of the exposure.

Yang An, the family's bodyguard. Restrained but ardent. A central focus of the show is the relationship between Yang An and Bamei. Lian Kai's understated acting accounts for a third *-- Yang An is a little too good to be true but Lian's nuanced delivery never falters and they do have some genuine chemistry. On the whole it's very decently rendered but the "love transcends death" angle at the end suffers from a lack of necessary chemistry since Lee's acting has become utterly stiff by then.

Darren Lim plays Dust Bin with a perennial plastic half-smirk and squint. Had absolutely no chemistry with Lee.

Yang Paifeng, best friend to Bamei and Yang An. Theresa Lee is sweetly funny as a comic sidekick initially then adds a bittersweet flavour to the friendship. Paifeng is such a sweetheart that one feels most for her hapless torch-carrying for Yang An.

Wang Qin, the traitorous Privy Counsellor with the beetling brows and indispensable villainous squint. {Liang Jiaren}

The Emperor - surprisingly ambivalent initially. Neither stupid nor unconscionable, which makes him all the more aggravating and also harder to judge categorically. Ultimately, still the Ediot.

Daniang - the suitably middle-aged one.

Sanniang - the amusingly vain one.

Siniang/Luo Shinu - depending on how one looks at it, she's either a really understanding person or a doormat. Delivers one of the best farewell scenes.

Wuniang - the fierce one. Wuniang is not entirely unreasonable but she is usually being paired with Liuniang, the nice, if not the nicest "sao sao" and so appears at a permanent disadvantage. Most memorable acting came in the scene where she was pinned down by the monks' rods and labouring to deliver her speech whilst literally being under pressure. {Constance Song}

Liuniang/Princess Chai- The beauty of the family. The lovely actress has a distinctively willowy carriage, making her the most elegant warrior. An excellent casting choice for one can well believe her genteel demeanour is responsible for her son's similar gentility and the continuity is physically furthered in Ken Chang who plays grown-up Zongbao.

Qiniang/Du Jing-er- Initially superfluous but her acting definitely improves once she sheds her mannerisms and worse hairstyles.

Yang Zongbao - Dies too young and too violently but ideally mourned by two beauties. {Ken Chang}

Mu Guiying - The last * is courtesy of Ning Jing who shines as the fiery beauty Guiying. In ten episodes she shows off her repertoire which includes convincingly brazen insolence, wilfulness, childishness, and grief. Basically, Bamei's character is being fully and convincingly realized in her performance, despite being saddled with a contrived and rather trite romance.

Bad points:
The introduction of Du Jing-er in episode 10. The sao sao (excepting Liuniang) have yet to be realised beyond a quirk here and there and up pops another eager to join the Widows' Committee. After a relentless naturalization process, she makes the club and ends her days of lurking in the Forest of Timely Rescues.

Verbal humour leaves much to be desired. Bamei may be scripted as intelligent but her barbs directed at Wang Qin are anything but.

The relentless references to concepts such as patriotism, self-sacrificing spirit and honour--the distribution is too heavy-handed and the delivery too self-righteous. Call me picky but I don't like being bludgeoned into a point of view, even if it is the only one available.

The fight choreography is nothing to shout about but there are some good scenes. On the whole, most of the fights featured in the opening trailer proved to be utter anticlimaxes.

Highlights:
Episodes 4-12: Yang An unceremoniously knocking Bamei out when she throws one of her tantrums; Bamei being taken down a peg or two by Lady She; the tournament held to assess the lady warriors; Episodes 16-21: the search for and the retrieval of Patriarch Yang's ashes; Paifeng gets the rough end of the stick as Yang An hits his nadir; Episode 34: a lively episode that is well-directed, well-written and solidly acted all round, especially from Ning and Huang. Liulang, slowly going mad, comes to blows with Guiying when he tries to have Zongbao executed for getting married in the midst of war.

Villains:
One of the show's strengths is character conception and the "villains" are generally engaging. Empress Xiao, in particular, definitely comes across as a more honourable and far more capable person than the Ediot but this impression is undercut by her inability to control Ren Dao'an. Jiang Bin, wobbling between ambition and emotion, needed an actor with more finesse than the ham-fisted Lim. Wang Qin is essentially a stock type and Liang's hammy execution is right on target.


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