TELEMAD

Scarlet Heart 2 is a robotic remake of the hit drama

Scarlet Heart 2 features Nicky Wu and Liu Shishi from the original hit drama, but fails to be more than a copycat. We Get Married’s Gao Yuanyuan and Huang Haibo (both above) portray love in a modern, pragmatic China. -- PHOTO: CELESTIAL MOVIES
Scarlet Heart 2 features Nicky Wu and Liu Shishi from the original hit drama, but fails to be more than a copycat. We Get Married’s Gao Yuanyuan and Huang Haibo (both above) portray love in a modern, pragmatic China. -- PHOTO: CELESTIAL MOVIES
Scarlet Heart 2 features Nicky Wu and Liu Shishi (both above) from the original hit drama, but fails to be more than a copycat. We Get Married’s Gao Yuanyuan and Huang Haibo portray love in a modern, pragmatic China. -- PHOTO: ZHEJIANG SATELLITE TV
Scarlet Heart 2 features Nicky Wu and Liu Shishi (both above) from the original hit drama, but fails to be more than a copycat. We Get Married’s Gao Yuanyuan and Huang Haibo portray love in a modern, pragmatic China. -- PHOTO: ZHEJIANG SATELLITE TV

Scarlet Heart 2 is not a sequel to the tragedy-tinged Scarlet Heart but a repetitive, robotic remake of the hit drama

Near the end of Scarlet Heart, the 2011 Chinese time travel hit, Ma'ertai Ruoxi (Liu Shishi) retreats to the desert, married in name to her friend, the 14th prince.

Far away from the love of her life, her brother-in-law the Yongzheng emperor (Nicky Wu), she is finally free to lose herself in reverie - to picture a happy Forbidden City where only she and he live, untroubled by his stormy political battle with his brothers.

She pines away and dies, then wakes up as Zhang Xiao in modern-day China. Still aching for Yongzheng in the finale, Xiao stumbles upon an exhibition of Qing history and comes face to face with a stranger with a striking resemblance to her emperor.

The ending of Scarlet Heart was alive to the misery of an impossible passion, yet it allowed you a glimmer of new possibility. It was the show rather elegantly letting you have your cake and eat it.

Now comes Scarlet Heart 2, which hits you in the face over and over with mouldy cake. Billed as a sequel, the show is more of a remake - and so misbegotten as to seem pirated. The early episodes are nearly comatose, twitching from one back story to another as Xiao (Liu) follows Yin Zheng (Wu), the Yongzheng lookalike, around.

But about five episodes in, the show stirs: Her memories of Yongzheng are wiped out in a convenient accident and she starts a slow dance of suspicion and attraction with Zheng, who might be a reincarnation of the emperor.

She is now a graphic designer and Zheng is her boss, but it is basically Scarlet Heart rebooted.

The story of her entanglement with him and his brothers - a stepbrother (Sun Yizhou) and a half-brother (Jiang Jinfu) who are, like him, heirs to a tycoon - follows too closely the tale of Ruoxi, Yongzheng and his brothers.

Much-loved scenes from Scarlet Heart are restaged in Scarlet Heart 2, as tear-streaked and rain-soaked as ever, and Zheng, like Yongzheng, has the best lines. But also some bad ones: When Zheng asks Xiao, "Will you be my girlfriend?" you have a sinking feeling that poetry is dying in contemporary China.

Between the first and second shows, about the only significant improvement is in Wu's hair: He shaved his pate for his role as Yongzheng, but sports a more flattering faux hawk as Zheng.

Essentially, the sequel can be recommended only to masochists, who can't turn away from depictions of romantic suffering, regardless of how pointless they are.

We Get Married, a Chinese romance which dispenses jokes and poignancy dependably, seems soulless, stereotypical and simply too neat at first sight.

A "leftover woman" (Gao Yuanyuan) who is desperate for a husband has a love-hate relationship with a man (Huang Haibo) with commitment phobia. Her mother, who is more desperate for a son-in-law, has a love-hate relationship with his mother. Gao's cousin is pregnant and, pretty soon, her husband turns out to have a pregnant kept woman.

But under the smooth, conventional surface of the show, there is an edge to its observations about the marriage, job and art markets in China.

In a development that is at once outlandish and cruelly logical, Gao loses her job as a hotel concierge after she is classified as a high-risk employee. A single 30-something woman, whose biological clock is ticking and who might take suddenly take marriage and maternity leave, is a liability, explains her employer.

In such a harsh employment climate, Gao's friend's decision to leave her job and go on blind dates full-time sounds sensible.

Similarly, the mothers' desperation for grandchildren is traditional yet radical. They want to be grandmas so badly that pregnant brides have become a cause for pride - and maybe moral victory - instead of embarrassment.

In the upside-down world of the show, it is Huang's cynic who turns out to be the biggest romantic. Like the civil servant he is, he proposes to his girlfriend in a businesslike way, putting on a table his car key, deed and two bank cards. They are not much, but they are everything he has and they are hers now, he declares.

And there is something down-to-earth yet earth-shaking about his announcement. It's romance, with Chinese characteristics.

woeiwan@sph.com.sg

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