Beyond the Realm of Conscience: First Impressions

(L-R: Moses Chan, Susanna Kwan, Tavia Yeung, Charmaine Sheh, Michelle Yim, Kevin Cheng)

Okay. I totally realize I have way too many projects going on here. I’m in the middle of one Meteor Garden episode (which is really the first of the HYD shows I’m doing), one Cinderella’s Sister episode, and now this… To be fair though (to… who?), I’m really only going to summarize this instead of my recaps with an ungodly amount of screen caps (now with gifs!). That, and endlessly compare it to Dae Jang Geum.

I was one of many who freakin’ loved Dae Jang Geum when it came out. I even bought the complete set from YA Entertainment for about $90 (it was on sale). In retrospect, it’s rather repetitive (Jang Geum does something, is thwarted, then unthwarts herself in each episode, and during the entire run of the series itself), so I may have enjoyed it solely because it was different from the other dramas that I’d watched around that time. (I.e., Poor girl has struggles, catches the eye of two guys, girl dies or is really sick, everybody cries.) But, I love historical fiction and dramas, and it was well-acted, so it’s all good.

BTROS, obviously a HK production based on the English title alone (seriously, Revolving Doors of Vengeance? I’ll give you points for creativity and uniqueness, but I’m not gonna stop chuckling when I say that name), is loosely based on DJG. It was one of the “grand production” dramas to celebrate TVB’s anniversary last year. This show was actually on my to-watch list, but since it’s shown up my satellite TV — well, I can just knock that one out of the park without… Internetty means.

That means mostly walls of text! So retro, like my VM summaries! Oh and I’m not taking notes. Because TVB’s other 2009 grand production drama that is also on my to-watch list is currently airing, almost immediately after BTROS. That’s just… too much, man. Oh my, with such scheduling I feel like I’m really watching Hong Kong TV…! IN THE PAST. Hurrhurrrrrrrr

So I may get some info wrong (when I’m not being facetious, that is), or more accurately, I’m going to use “for some reason” a lot.

Why I Use “For Some Reason”:
1) I forgot the reason
2) They didn’t give a reason
3) I didn’t understand the reason (I have a weak understanding of formal, old-timey Cantonese, at best.)

On with the comparison!

We start en media res with Sam-ho (Charmaine Sheh) arguing with Kam-ling (Tavia Yeung). I think it went like this: “Rrrrrrrrrrrr hsssssssssssss rrrrrrrrahrra, rawr, ssssssssssssssssssss!” They were once close sisters, but what happened? That’s right, time for the childhood scenes!

In DJG, we start at a more logical beginning: the beginning.

Both Sam-ho and Jang Geum’s mothers are on the lam from the royal palace for some reason (did I mention that that is my favorite kind of reason?). Well, for Jang Geum, it’s much more convoluted than that: Jang Geum’s mom originally escaped from certain death when her friend secretly diluted a poisonous drink given to her because she was falsely accused of something involving food. (My memory is rather fuzzy, so forgive me if the details are wrong.) She is found by a former palace dude who nurses her back to health, and they eventually marry, leading to their precocious daughter, Jang Geum. One day, Jang Geum blurts out that her father was a royal dude and knows martial arts and can kick all yo’ asses, which leads to his arrest, and presumably, death. (I remember reading he would pop up later, but I guess they changed it???? That kind of stuff can happen when episodes are taped THE WEEK BEFORE IT AIRS. [Actually, I’m not sure if that’s how it went during DJG. But it definitely happens in South Korean TV, so, there.]) This means his family will also have to be punished, so they go on the run, but the mom dies for some reason and Jang Geum can only bury her mom by putting rocks on her corpse. JG is adopted by the stereotypical comic-relief family, and somehow makes it as a palace girl in order to fulfill her mom’s dream.

This is fertile land, you guys

We have Sam-ho’s mother already on the run, with her daughter and Kam-ling, their child maid. Also, I totally mixed up which little girl would grow up to be who, because I based it on looks.I thought the child Kam-ling would grow up to be Charmaine Sheh, and the child Sam-ho would grow up to be Tavia Yeung. It’s my fault though, ’cause really, which Hong Kong TV show or movie casts child or younger actors who could actually look like the adult? SHAWN YUE GREW UP TO BE TONY LEUNG CHIU-WAI WTF. Anyway, Sam-ho woke up early to collect citrus fruits (which is a little hilarious considering the location looks more barren than a tumbleweed setting), and escaped the capture by the royal guards, but eventually found her way back to the palace and thus to her mother, thanks to a kind-hearted eunuch.

These girls…

…grow up to be them?

Sam-ho’s mother doesn’t die yet, because they need her for some reason. Haha, just kidding, she’s a genius at crafting jewelry, and for some reason the current Royal Department of Jewelry suck big balls at making this specific piece: a hairpin in the shape of a phoenix with multi-colored feathers for the Empress Dowager. The Empress Dowager is a meanie, and also the phoenix cries tears of blood, which is inauspicious. Sam-ho’s mother receives corporal punishment for wrongdoing and when she finally appears to the two girls she is on the verge of death.

At her deathbed, the mom tells Sam-ho to remember the meaning behind her name (literally “three good”), to do good deeds, to bring goodness, and something about goodies. Then to Kam-ling, who has been crying as well, she’s like “lolbyebitch,” and dies. With nowhere else to go, the two little girls will have to grow up in the palace.

Here’s a screen cap of them for no reason (my second favorite kind of reason), except that Sam-ho’s face cracks me up

With the general summaries out of the way, we can go deeper! The most obvious similarity is that its setting is set in the imperial household, where the people behind the traditionally “important” characters (emperor, empress, concubine, that guy) are the main characters instead. Jang Geum ended up in the kitchen department, so DJG was Joseon-Dynasty food porn, but Sam-ho and Kam-ling end up in the embroidery and jewelry departments, respectively, so BTROC is Tang-Dynasty fashion porn (mm-mm I love me some of that good stuff). The most obvious difference? There are two main characters instead of one! Jang Geum rises from apprentice cook to royal physician, whereas both Sam and Kam are destined to rise through the ranks, but by divergent paths. (But it seems Sam-ho is the “real” main character, because she’s “good” and we can’t have all the guys falling ass over head in love with the wicked girl, right?)

The daughters take after their mothers, working in the same occupations as they once did. Jang Geum pretty much caused her parents’ deaths, because she’s a big mouth. Kam-ling was the source of her mistress’s misery, because as she snuck a look at the phoenix hairpin in the cover of darkness with only a candle to guide her, red candle wax miraculously fell onto the phoenix’s pearl eye AND NO WHERE ELSE so it looked like it was crying blood later on. So, yeah, good luck with that guilt, although she admitted it to her when Sam-ho was out of the room and she basically forgave the child. A CHILD?!?!? HOW DARE YOU FORGIVE YOUR CHILD MURDERER, SAM-HO’S MOM.

In both, the emperor takes in an interest in the “main” character, although in BTROC the future emperor (Moses Chan, who fills in his brows in every costume drama he appears in, apparently) is interested in Sam-ho much earlier… AS CHILDREN. IT’S TRUE LOVE, GUYS. EXCEPT NOT. The relationship of Sam-ho and the Prince Lee Yi is interesting in that it’s terribly clichéd with the trappings of “young love” — they meet as children, he gives her flowers for her dying mother (well to be fair it just fell into his hand, but he still gave it to her), she comforts him as he has to leave the palace and is super nice to him when he returns as an adult with his turtle, and discovers his secret that he is not actually mentally incapacitated. (Long story short: Empress Dowager is a meanie, remember? She is constantly plotting against him and his mother, one of the previous Emperor’s consorts, so he, beginning from ten-years-old to present time, pretends to have sustained a concussion that facilitated his brain impairment, so he’s able to leave the palace, thus removing himself as a threat to his queen mother and saving his birth mother. FOR NOW.) However, in a cliché-breaking turn that is probably actually a cliché unto itself, Sam-ho does not return his feelings in that way and falls in love with a palace scholar who knows martial arts… JUST LIKE JANG GEUM!

It’s kind of ridiculous when she spends more time with every other guy than the guy she’s supposed to be in love with. I barely remember the times she met with Kevin Cheng, who plays the scholar. (Oh, Kevin. He just looks too modern to be hanging around back then.) The story is telling us they are TRUE LOVE, instead of letting us see for ourselves. And for me, it just looks forced. She’s nice to EVERYBODY and treats everyone the same and tries to help them all out, really no different from Kevin Cheng’s character. Sam-ho is so friggin’ nice and lucky, she should just be called Ho-choi (Lucky), because when she’s nice, even when taking the fall, she’s rewarded. But when Kam-ling tries to be nice, she always gets punished. And you wonder why she decides to eschew Sam-ho’s mother’s teachings.

Kam-ling, who eventually turns into the “villain,” is much more interesting to watch than Lucky Mary Sue. You slowly get to watch how she transforms from a young, naive girl to villainous imperial consort using her cunning, scheming mind. Sam-ho could fall into a pile of shit and find a million dollars. Every thing seems to come easy to her, and she gets no hardship. The most trouble she seemed to be in so far was getting caught in the claws of a rabbit trap and two — TWO!! — guys save her. Gimme a break. It was as if they split Jang Geum’s character in half and created two new people — the kind and talented girl who uses her wits to beat those who are always trying to plot her downfall becomes a boring Mary Sue and the interesting antiheroine. And the message seems to be (from an “official” summary I read, to the way the drama is acting out) that you should be good in order to win, like Sam-ho! Well, she’s boring as fuck, so shut up.

I like watching interesting characters evolve, for better or for worse, with warts and all — not boring-as-hell people that the show is saying, “THIS GUY IS THE BEST!!” Sam-ho is blemish-free and also, she shat out a rainbow once. It was so fucking amazing everyone fell in love with her. Kam-ling also shat out a rainbow, but they blamed her for shitting it out during lunchtime, when few people could enjoy it, so they punished her by punching her in the face.

Final thoughts:

  • I’m only up to Episode 9, but I know how it plays out, generally.
  • I really like looking at the costumes. (Tang Dynasty’s my fave.)

Edit: I totally forgot about the political parts and palace intrigue going on in this show. I LOVE PALACE INTRIGUE! And so does TVB, apparently. They always have a palace intrigue show annually or something. DJG didn’t show the royals or any high-ranking officials much, unless they were interacting with the Imperial Household Staff. Corrupt eunuchs wheelin’ and dealin’ are a constant (haha obviously, this is Imperial China we’s talkin’ boot), and there are always secret conspiracies, discreet talks, and passive-aggressive power plays happening as well. So yeah, that’s definitely a major difference. I remember Jang Geum always talking about food and she lost her sense of taste and then they had to cook whale meat, and when she became the royal physician she was talking about medicine and pills and then she performed a C-section.

I’m pretty sure I neglected to post the parts I truly liked about BTROC when this first went up was because I didn’t know how to make fun of it. I only do it because I love! Or because I mildly enjoy its smooth Marlboro flavor. Or because I hate it. So… I just make fun of everything.


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