I know this is hardly fair, but I can’t help comparing this drama to Lady and Liar due to the fact that they came out in the same time frame and that they are about almost the same things!! While the beginning and end pretty much align with L&L, this drama did have it’s shining moments.
Plot: Again, we have a super powerful Er Yei aka Zhou Zhen aka Triad Leader Supreme who controls all the economy in Shanghai. In the beginning, he hates getting entangled with women, finding them bothersome. Through some coincidences, he meets Jin Xiu, who is on the lookout for the evil people who killed her entire household. In Shanghai, she manages to meet her long-lost sister who absolutely hates her guts due to the fact that her dad pushed her and her mom into the streets. She indebted herself to the Japanese to make a living for herself and is now engaged to the most rich gentleman in Shanghai, Xiang. Through the beginning of the drama we have Jin Xiu struggling to stake a claim in Shanghai while her sister tries her best to kick her out. We also have Er Yei falling for Jin Xiu slowly and being very possessive of her. Meanwhile, Xiang’s little brother, YingDong, also tries to make a pass at her for a while in order to forget his past love with Jin Xiu’s sister, Min Ju. Add in a Japanese overlord, whose past lover looked like Jin Xiu, and now is dead-set on obtaining Jin Xiu in replacement of his Yangzhi, we have ourselves a right mess. The first half of the drama focused heavily on all of these people’s relationships with each other, a push and pull. Then our climax moment is when Jin Xiu falls fully in love with Er Yei and gets pregnant with his child. However, she is tricked by the Japanese overlord over who killed her family, and ends up losing the baby and separating from Er Yei for 2 years. The second half of the drama turns distinctly into a fight against the Japanese invasion in China. Jin Xiu, Ying Dong, and Er Yei have joined the Patriotic Rebel group that fights against Japan. In the end, some good people die, but of course not our important ones. By the way, the same set of side bros (smart bro and fighter bro) have issues and our fighter bro dies bravely for the cause. We are given hope against the Japanese invasion and a happy reunion between Jin Xiu and Er Yei. VERY RUSHED ENDING! I’m not sure what happened when they cut out the last 8 episodes, but it ended too fast, with too much unexplained and threads untied.
Characterizations: Zhou Zhen is your super badass triad leader, the epitome of stoic, but yet a softie on the inside to his brothers and his woman. He has mad knife fighting skills and a deep sense of moral values. He is also possessive over all his people, and of course is the silent type. Silent to the point where his woman misunderstands him and they lose their baby because they like talking in circles. Just tell her everything, gosh! Jin Xiu is like Jiang Xin v.2, where she wants to be “independent”, but doesn’t mind being taken care of by Er Ye at the end anyways. Also, she loves to misunderstand our main man even though the main man gives up his entire life for her. We of course almost have Jin Xiu kill Zhou Zhen a whole bunch of times as well. When she finally realizes her folly, of course it’s “forgive me”, and of course Zhou Zhen is still too in love with her. However, Jin Xiu has her cute moments where she is the only one who can use and abuse Zhou Zhen, and he just takes it instead of lashing out. Jin Xiu has accidentally “violated” his personal space so many times and even brings his greatest fear, dogs, into his household. Now for Ying Dong, he was an odd second lead where he is just bad getting girls because of his cowardliness and selfishness. He made a nice friend though, but I wish he grew a spine more in the story. Sissie Min Ju, I have a love and hate relationship with. I hated her in the beginning for her single-mindedness blaming everything on Jin Xiu. However, she untied that knot in her heart at the end and made up with Jin Xiu as well as her husband. She is much more tolerable when she is nice. Japanese overlord is CRAZZZZZY. In the beginning, he was really interesting because of his belief in reincarnation for Jin Xiu. I actually, shipped that ship for a while in case Jin Xiu and redeem him. However, he just become more and more twisted, complete with psycho expressions when he couldn’t have Jin Xiu. To be honest his character and Zhou Zhen’s are the most interesting.
Acting: This triad leader role was made for Huang Xiao Min. He is the epitome of playing gangster bosses ever since Shanghai Bund (cough cough). He has a really stoic face and that harshness needed for such an underworld leader. There was some funny knife posing after fights, but hey, that’s just me making fun of him now. For Joe Chen as Jin Xiu, she is good at the role, but nothing amazing in my opinion. Her crying scenes were definitely very well done though, they moved me. Ren Liang as Ying Dong reminds me of Lee Jun Ki in a way, a prankster type who is all smiles and charm. He is so playful and adds flavor for sure. Both Jia Rong as Min Zhu and Qi Ji as Ryuchi (Japanese overlord), take home the award of being crazzzy psychos at one point of the drama. Qi Ji has some of the more frightening ones though, I must say. The whites of his eyes showing, neck cricks, and evil giggling, YES GIGGLING.
Filming: Pretty up close, but so CGI from afar. The sets are similar to the ones in Lady and Liar, I swear they use some of the same mansions. However, those explosion scenes need some work. And what happened to the city-shot of Shanghai, it looks like they came out of picture books!
Themes: Family and stability are key issues here. Does blood mean anything when such tragedies have been spilled in between? We have the tension between Jin Xiu and Min Zhu, where the older can’t forgive the younger for having a better life than her. We have the tension between Xiang gentleman and YingDong who loved the same woman, but the brother two keep on butting heads on who loves her more. Ying Dong always felt second to his brother and doesn’t want to be seen as a leech to the Xiang household. He tries to make a name for himself, but gradually returns to the house as he realizes his immaturity. Xiang tries to be the bigger man and big bro/father to YingDong, but struggles to keep Min Zhu since his love can’t let her go. For Jin Xu and Min Zhu, they both crave stability. They don’t need riches or popularity; they want a stable life with the one they love. Min Zhu, unfortunately, only gets a taste of peace at the end as she finds the man who really loves her the most and is willing to give up his wealth for her. Zhou Zhen suffered poverty and back-breaking dock work to feed Jin Xiu when they were in hiding. Yet, they were happy because they were safe and had each other.
So Anti-Japanese, compared to Lady & Liar. Most of the drama was focused on how the Japanese were poisoning China with opium or addictive pipe materials. It made commentary on the fact that this is how Japan controlled the Chinese people. We also have Zhou Zhen who refuses to let the Japanese use his docks to transport goods. That is the ultimate sign of the anti-Japanese sentiment. The rest of the drama is focused on Zhou Zhen ferreting out the Japanese over-lord and obviously the over-lord is portrayed as a huge crazy psycho bent on twisted goals. Like Lady & Liar, the drama does not fail to show “China” or our Er Yei defeating the Japanese evil-doer and bringing hope to the rest of the people.
Though this review may seem harsh, I did enjoy watching the drama for the swoon worthy moments of cuteness between Zhou Zhen and Jin Xiu. I feel that if I had watched this before Lady & Liar, I would be more iffy about whatever I watched second anyways because of the similar material. It was a big undertaking of 40 episodes, but I love the Shanghai era dramas and love me some Huang Xiao Min!