The Legend of the Butterfly Lovers

Reviewed by: TKL

August 18, 2004

Rating: two-point-five

The Legend of the Butterfly Lovers (New Liang Shan Bo and Chu Ying Tai)

Do you believe in the Buddhist theory of reincarnation? Do you believe that "love survives death into eternity"?

"New Liang Shan Bo and Chu Ying Tai" is the latest TV adaptation of one of the most popular Chinese folk stories that has been transformed into various artistic forms such as novels, movies, songs, and Chinese opera. I guess most people would know this story already, it is often referred to as "The Butterfly lovers" telling the poignant tale of a couple who could only find happiness in being reborn as a pair of butterflies.

At first, I was hesitant in renting the series because I know the story too well, however, I was too curious to see how the producer can transform such a simple story into 32-hour-long series.

Let me get on with the basic plot first for those who have not heard of the folktale. The series is set in ancient China period when a woman had no voice and no rights. Chu Ying Tai (played by Noel Leung Siu Bing), an innocent and sweet girl, is born in a wealthy family. She wishes to go to a boarding school to study but her father refuses because in ancient China, girls were not allowed to go to school. She then disguises as a man and because her parents could not recognize her, they allow her to go to school. Her maid named Sum in disguise as a man also joins her. On the way to school, she meets and makes friends with an honest and handsome guy named Liang Shan Bo (played by Alan Luo) and his servant Sz Jiu. Liang Shan Bo is the only son of a very poor family. His father passed away when he was very little. Liang Shan Bo and Chu Ying Tai become best friends and help each other in study.

Liang Shan Bo innocently does not know that Chu Ying Tai is a girl while Chu Ying Tai has fallen in love with him. Meanwhile, Chu Ying Tai’s father has arranged to marry her to Ma Wen Tsai (played by Garry Chan), a son of a very wealthy and powerful court official. Chu Ying Tai is not aware of the arranged marriage until she returns home. Shan Bo escorts her all the way down the mountain and Ying Tai gives him many hints that she is a girl and madly in love with him. However, Shan Bo does not realise this. Ying Tai then tells him that "he" has a sister and "he" would arrange the marriage for Shan Bo with "his" sister. Shan Bo is awaken from his foolishness when the teacher’s wife tells him Ying Tai’s secret. He is very happy to know the truth and asks his mother to meet Ying Tai’s parents but it is too late as Ying Tai’s wedding date has been set. Shan Bo dies of heartbreaking. On her way to the groom’s house, Ying Tai passes by Shan Bo’s grave, it opens up and she jumps in. Soon, a pair of butterflies appears from the grave ­ the ill-fated lovers have been reunited after death.

There are many changes in this series, the followings were added into the series:

1. Ma Wen Tsai: in this series, is a charming and educated playboy who refuses to marry Ying Tai in the first place. However, upon hearing her story of how she disguises herself, he becomes really curious and follows her to school. At school, he is captivated by her beauty and uniqueness that he sets out to possess her. In the original story, Ma Wen Tsai’s part is not very significant except the fact that he is an obstacle between Ying Tai and Shan Bo. Yet he becomes the main villain in this series causing the tragedy.

2. To make the story more complicated, the scriptwriter adds the hatred between the two families. Shan Bo’s father was killed by Ying Tai’s and Ma Wen Tsai’s fathers.

3. The subplot of Brother Lu’s love. Brother Lu is a good friend of Shan Bo and Ying Tai at school. He also has a devoted girlfriend and their marriage was delayed because of his father’s death. She follows him to school and disguises herself as a servant. Unfortunately, she was discovered but the teacher’s wife feels sorry for her and let her stay in one of the house. Brother Lu always protects Shan Bo and Ying Tai from other students in the school. His girlfriend follows him because she is forced into marriage with an old court official. This love story also has a very tragic ending.

4. Ying Tai and Shan Bo’s marriage.

5. Shan Bo is killed by Ma Wen Tsai in this series. In the original story, he died of heartbreaking. The series follows the folktale faithfully except the above additions. Even the dialogue between Ying Tai and Shan Bo when he escorts her down the mountain and she desperately tries to give him hints that she is a girl and that they are meant to be together, was written according to the original stories. Noel Leung, despite her age, plays the role of an innocent and playful Ying Tai to perfection. She looks very convincing as a guy. Alan Luo, though younger than Noel Leung in real life, looks very compatible with her on-screen and fits the description of Shan Bo as an honest, straightforward, honourable bookworm. The chemistry was set up very nicely between the two characters. For the first half of the series, we laugh with them, we share Ying Tai’s frustration because Shan Bo is not aware of her love, we even fall in love with them for they are such a young and innocent pair of lovers. While we may share their joy, we are also aware of the inevitable tragedy. The first half of the series is very entertaining however, the second half fails to live up to the audience’s expectation. In order to keep up with Taiwanese series’ tradition, that is to be infinitely long, the scriptwriter has destroyed the pity, the sympathy that the audience has for the couple initially. It is so dragging and filled with ridiculous events.

We might be frustrated with Shan Bo initially because he could not tell that Ying Tai is a girl but we love him for that because he is a straightforward and trusting guy. He believes what Ying Tai told him and never doubted her. However, this frustration soon turns into anger when Shan Bo becomes court official and he could not do a thing right. We were angry at his stubborness for putting Ying Tai’s father in trial and at his silliness for not having enough evidence to convict the guy. Well, he was supposed to be very smart but the way he tried to convict Ying Tai’s father was just ridiculous. He kept asking Ying Tai’s father this silly question: "Did you kill Mr. Liang?" Of course Ying Tai’s father would not answer yes to this question and then he gets really frustrated over it, duh?

So why did I hate the last half of the series so much? It is because of Ying Tai and Shan Bo’s crying. Every time they see each other they cry and everyone else cry, Ying Tai’s mother, Shan Bo’s mother, Ying Tai’s maid, etc. Everyone cry really well in this series. It is even worse than a Qiong Yao’s series. Tears flow out like river. I did not know Noel Leung could cry that well. The reason for why this love story was so poignant in the first place is because of the notion of unfulfilled love. The pair did spend time together, but it was unspoken feelings. Once they realise their love for each other, they could no longer be together. Yet in this series, they run away, have a wedding, live with each other for a period of time, then they are caught by Ma Wen Tsai and he rapes Ying Tai, then she loses her memory, then Shan Bo nurses her back to health, etc.. I thought the series would never end. My patience really ran thin towards the end of the series. If the director lets Ying Tai have a baby, I would not be surprised. So by the end of the series, there is no more pity left for the pair of lovebirds because even if Shan Bo die now, they should be satisfied because they did have time together. And mentioning Shan Bo’s death brings another frustrating point of the series to my notice, he took so long to die, like around one hour of being kicked around, coughing up blood, crying and be dragged around.

So would I recommend this series to you? For a true fan of Taiwanese series for whom tears would be enjoyable, this might be the series for you. There are no complaints about the actors or actresses, the cast was very good. Noel Leung proves herself to be a very talented actress since she can successfully portray different roles. It is such a pity that she left TVB. I have never seen Alan Luo before but his portrait of Shan Bo is also very convincing. In case you did not know, Gary Chan, the actor plays Ma Wen Tsai, is Noel Leung’s husband in real life. His portray of Wen Tsai is excellent. He expresses Wen Tsai’s love mixed with anger and hatred towards Ying Tai very successfully. Even Shan Bo’s servant, Sz Jiu was very good at bringing laughter to the audience. The costume might leave you confused because Ying Tai’s dress is a bit Korean, and Ying Tai’s father looks like a Samurai. For those who do not really like Taiwanese series, or who really hate changes from the original stories, I would recommend you to see the first half of the series, up to the point when Ying Tai returns home, then skip to the last tape. Believe me, you would not miss much. The series was very entertaining and even funny in the first half while they were still in school, being picked on by other classmates.. It could have been such a good series if the scriptwriter was not trying to be clever and added all these ridiculous events to stretch the series.

For those who cannot bear sitting through 32 hours watching this lovebirds’ tragedy. I suggest you go out and rent the movie version starring Nicky Wu directed by Tsui Hark. The movie is very moving and beautifully filmed.

Images from ATV

For more pictures and episode summary, take a look at
this website (it is in English) :

Or you could take a look at this website, but it’s in
chinese :

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