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Telemad

The Dream Makers II is a fun in-joke while Legend Of Mi Yue is solid period action drama

The casts of The Dream Makers and Empresses In The Palace are back

The Dream Makers II, a self-referential romp that revels in the behind-the-scenes drama in a Mediacorp-like broadcaster, has really grown. The second season of the show, flexing a more developed sense of fun, is more ironic and more entertaining.

Three years ago, the first season began with Chen Liping as the vice-president of drama, coaxing one final, crucial take out of an injured leading lady on a stretcher. The second season, with Zoe Tay returning as Chen's replacement, starts similarly, but ups the ante considerably.

An important love scene has disappeared from a war drama hours before the broadcast, and Tay and her director (Qi Yuwu) have to reshoot it, although their stars (Jeanette Aw and Romeo Tan) are in different countries.

Racing against the clock, Qi directs his former girlfriend Aw in front of a green screen in Singapore, as Tay tracks down Tan in Australia. She finds Tan in a hopelessly drunken heap, actually, and what follows is a masterclass in improvisation.

  • VIEW IT / THE DREAM MAKERS II

    Channel 8, Mondays to Fridays, 9pm

    3.5/5 stars

    LEGEND OF MI YUE

    Jia Le Channel (Singtel TV

    Channel 502), Mondays to Fridays, 10pm, from March 24

    3.5/5 stars

Green-screen acting requires concentration that he isn't capable of now. Instead, Tay directs him like he is a young child, snatching his smartphone and dangling it like a bonbon to make him look at the camera with genuine feeling.

The set piece is a statement that human effort is still the key factor in a high-tech media environment. And it might be a wink at critics of Mediacorp: "Yep, some of us are phoning it in, but a few of us do know what we are doing."

Certainly, the show has the feel of a big in-joke, which is a strength. When stars such as Tay, Huang Biren (as Tay's new office rival), Li Nanxing (the VP of variety), Qi, Rui En (Qi's fiancee), Aw, Tan and Dennis Chew (Rui En's brother) all seem to be in on the joke, you want to get it too.

And when the show makes fun of an actor with a no-kissing policy, you want to scrutinise Rui En - the actress has such a rule herself - and see whether she is amused.

The love triangle between Rui En and her friends Qi and Aw was one of the focal points last season.

Now, it is the heart. The story of the trio - with new complications such as Li convincing the couple to televise their wedding for charity and Aw agreeing to be the bridesmaid though she is still in love with the groom - has become stronger this season.

It manages to be showy and yet true, as the friends try not to lose sight of each other despite the escalating media circus around them.

Legend Of Mi Yue, a Chinese costume romance that reunites director Zheng Xiaolong with actresses including Sun Li and Jiang Xin, is regarded as Empresses In The Palace II - and it has impossibly intricate shoes to fill.

Five years on, Empresses In The Palace remains the ultimate Chinese imperial harem drama, beautifully cast and flawlessly played, bewitching and bone-chilling.

Legend Of Mi Yue doesn't return to the same era, the lacquered Qing dynasty (1644-1911), but leaps back to the rough-and-tumble Warring States period (475-221BC), where Sun plays the title princess of the Chu state.

The setting is a strength and a weakness. The Warring States period is freer than the Qing, allowing Mi Yue to be more of an action heroine, the type who sneaks out of the palace with her sister Shu (Liu Tao), gets into a street brawl and bumps into the two sisters' future husband (Alex Fong), King Huiwen of the Qin state. But it gets Legend Of Mi Yue closer to the beaten track of period action sagas such as the 2013 South Korean drama, Empress Ki.

Also, although Legend Of Mi Yue has its share of indoor drama - in early episodes, the births of Mi and her brother to a low-ranking lady the queen resents are fraught with suspense - it lacks the special something (the putrid perfume of outer refinement and inner rot, perhaps) that made Empresses In The Palace irresistible.

Still, the show holds its own as a solid women's entertainment. It has not just cast Fong, a more obvious sex symbol than Chen Jianbin in Empresses In The Palace, but also designed a nightly ritual where the king, not his consorts, is undressed and objectified.

It feels a little like progress, doesn't it?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline 'Drama kings and queens reunite'. Print Edition | Subscribe