Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Hua Mu Lan (花木兰), a Romantic Perspective

Besides Jin Yong/Louis Cha’s Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, there is only one other series that could make me watch all its remake. That series is Hua Mu Lan.

Hua Mu Lan is like an answered prayer for the haters of damsel in distress and her ilk, an extremely attractive heroine who is impossible to resist.

A girl who doesn’t cower in front of daunting prospects? Check. A girl who kicks ass? Check. A girl who lives in a man’s world and climbs to the top of the hierarchical ladder? Check.

It doesn’t matter whether Hua Mu Lan is a real historical figure or not. It doesn’t matter if she is only a myth/folklore. What matters is the fact that her story stays and withstands the passage of time.

For me Hua Mu Lan’s biggest appeal lies in its romantic prospects. I want to see her love story that is just as epic as her bravery. Or half epic. Or a quarter epic.

Alright, I’ll stop asking for the moon. Let’s leave epic alone and just give me good.

If asking for a good love story in a supposedly war drama is too unreasonable I want to see chilling war scenes, lots of strategizing, jaw dropping martial art skills, and memorable war theme songs.

Still too much to ask?

In that case at the very least I want my female general to be badass. No? *sigh*

Honestly, I don’t understand why the most famous female general China has ever had couldn’t be an awesome badass.

With all those not happenings what do I have left? Let’s see there’s still cute and funny. Okay, just give me cute and funny so I could giggle and laugh out loud. That should be enough to keep me happy.

What? No cute and funny thing in a war zone?

Okay, I’ll take silly and bad (NOT that bad) as long as there is a happy ending. That’s all I want. No, on second thought, it’s not a happy ending but an ending that makes ME happy.

I’m very easy to please. Why some drama still fails to deliver that very low requirement is beyond me.

Let’s have a look at some Hua Mu Lan’s adaptations.

There are quite a few Hua Mulan’s adaptations for the big screen, but to my knowledge there are only four Hua Mu Lan’s adaptations for the small screen. Two in the late 90s and two more quite recently.

The oldies are a Taiwanese’s Hua Mulan in 1999 and a Hongkong’s TVB’s A Tough Side of a Lady in 1998. The newbies are a mainland’s Female General (帼大将军) or Jin Guo Da Jiang Jun and a Taiwanese’s Legend of Hua Mu Lan/Hua Mu Lan Chuan Qi (花木兰传奇)

Out of these four I’ve only seen the 1999 CTV’s Hua Mulan and the mainland’s Female General Jin Guo Da Jiang Jun (帼大将军).

The 1999 CTV’s Hua Mulan casts Anita Yuen (袁咏) as Hua Mulan, Vincent Zhao Wen Zhuo (赵文) as General Li Liang, and Vincent Jiao En Jun (焦恩俊) as Yu Cheng En (Mulan’s childhood’s friend).

For you who are not familiar with Hua Mu Lan’s story, particularly on the romance side, the most common version of the story is that there are two significant men in her life.

The first one is of course the general (the one she meets in the army) and the second one is the childhood friend (the one she has known long before she joins the army).

Mind you that the producers, directors or writers could create their own version regarding the men in her life but this is my favourite version.

For the sake of fairness, I have to let you know that my biggest bias towards this series is my love for its casts.

I love Anita Yuen a lot. As an actress I don’t think she is that beautiful but every time she appears on the screen she outshines other more beautiful women.

And as if her presence alone is not enough, the show has two Vincents in it. The two guys who are also my favourites.

At the beginning I was torn between rooting for Vincent Zhao or Vincent Jiao. Both of them are great actors and have enough presence to burn your screen, especially Vincent Jiao.

He has something that makes me want to cheer for him in whatever role he takes. And as I look at his old photo I just notice something about him and Mike He.

If there is no generation gap they could be brothers or twins with their uncanny resemblance.

This is Mike He:

Don’t tell me I'm the only one who sees the similarity.

My first instinct when I watch Hua Mu Lan is to ship Vincent Jiao. I want him to be the man who gets the girl.

The problem is, although I want to root for Yu Cheng En the story doesn’t allow me to because he doesn’t love Hua Mulan. Not the way she loves him.

His jealousy when Mulan starts to side with Li Liang doesn’t stem from love. It comes from his jealousy of Li Liang himself and perhaps from a sudden realization that he is no longer the number one man in Mulan’s life as he used to be.

I can understand why he doesn’t like Li Liang. He hates people who use their connection to get what they want, and he thinks Li Liang is one of them. But deep down inside I think he is jealous that Li Liang could become a general at such a young age.

But the thing is Li Liang is great without even trying to be great. I fall in love with him long before Mulan does. I jump from Vincent Jiao’s ship to Vincent Zhao’s ship.

I never jump ship before. Had I not like the OTP that a show is forcing on me I simply stop watching.

However, there are shows that don’t show you right away which guy is the Mr. Right. Sometimes you end up watching it just because you want to know the answer.

The Female General Jin Guo Da Jiang Jun is one of them.

If I knew about the final OTP in the Female General, I won’t waste my time finishing the series.

I may sound like I’m pissed because my heart is broken when the heroine ends up with the wrong guy. The irony is I’m not in love with the other guy either.

But what worse is that I don’t love the female lead.

Considering the fact that this drama is touted as the large scale period drama with a year long preparation, how could I not love the three main characters in this show?

How could I not love Hua Mulan?

Jin Guo Da Jiang Jun is directed by Tian You Liang and supported by Ellane Kong as Hua Ruo Lan, Chen Si Cheng as Prince Yang Jun/The General and Yuan Hong as Zhao Yu (Ruo Lan’s childhood friend).

The big scale screams big budget. The year long preparation promises greatness. What I get is a disappointment.

The first time I saw Yuan Hong as Zhao Yu I was asking myself whether they really want to set him up as Hua Mulan’s, oops, Hua Ruo Lan’s husband for real.

Yuan Hong is very easy on the eyes but Zhao Yu is definitely not the kind of guy I envision for the great Hua Mulan. However, since the Hua Mulan in this show is not that great either perhaps I should give them my blessings instead.

I find it hard to fall in love with Hua Ruo Lan. Not because I have such high standard for my female warrior – well, actually I do –  but I would already be in heaven if she has the slightest clue of how to do a decent kick and throw punches.

But, this girl.....this girl cowers and hides like a genuine damsel in distress. And although later on she gets a great martial art teacher she still sucks at fighting.

While watching Female General I secretly wish for a scene where a sword or an arrow would strike and mortally wound her.

How a girl that weak could survive years of fighting a horrible war is a question that the director/writer of this show needs to properly justify.

Anita Yuen’s Hua Mulan doesn’t duck when she sees a sword or a fight coming her way. She doesn’t run and hide from a villain. She chases and fights the great General Li Liang one on one when she thinks he is a law breaker.

Her fighting skills are at a level that would make any male soldiers under her leadership proud. Nobody would raise their eyebrows when they learn that she wins battle after battle for regardless of her gender she’s a good warrior.

Although unfortunately despite its very capable Hua Mulan CTV’s also attributes her successes to the interference of Su Ji Lie the kitchen God.

Unlike Ellane Kong’s Hua Ruo Lan who is clueless of the goings on around her (apparently her little sister is the one who is blessed with the wits and the guts), Anita Yuen’s Hua Mulan is wise enough to see what’s behind other people’s actions.

When she leaves the war zone and marries General Li Liang, she uses her wits in a domestic battle against Li Liang’s mother who hates her guts. She makes me laugh and proud just watching how she deals with things that come her way.

Hua Ruo Lan? She makes me want to stop watching the moment I saw her. But you know how it is with your favourite series, you keep praying that it’ll get better, so you keep on watching until the bitter end.

Okay, I know it has a happy ending. If that’s what the director wants to call it. But I beg to differ.

I want Hua Ruo Lan to end up with Prince Yang Jun. Not because I’m madly in love with this couple but because he loves her and she loves him. Or at least I think she does.

And that my friend is another bone that I have with this show.

CTV’s Hua Mulan doesn’t fill with cute romantic scenes where we could see a lot of skinship. The chemistries between the characters are not sizzling either but compare to the Female General’s what they have is perfect.

If you want to ask me about the romance in Jin Guo Da Jiang Jun I’ll say what romance?

And as a sucker for a romantic story, that’s the final blow against this show.


If romance is the least of your concern you can enjoy so many other things in both dramas. CTV’s Hua Mulan is quite funny while Female General has more court’s intrigues. 
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