The Chinese fantasy drama is dizzying, mind-boggling and sizzling
The Chinese title of Eternal Love, the Chinese fantasy epic, translates floridly as "Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles Of Peach Blossoms", which is the whole idea.
Strip away the dizzying flourishes of make-believe and digital wizardry and the show turns into a pumpkin - another musty story about the pain of loving someone who won't quite love you back.
It may be far more fun to fall under the drama's spell and succumb to the pleasures of its labyrinthine plot, with all its tendrils of fairy-tale romance, palace drama and pure silliness.
Admittedly, the first 10 episodes - which lay down the rules of a mythical world, as well as the backstory of fox princess Bai Qian (Yang Mi), her master Mo Yuan (Mark Chao) and their battle against a power-crazy warlord - are a trek. (The mathematics of immortal years is mind-boggling - this is a show where a 20,000- year-old is still a kid, and yet 70,000 years elapse in a second of screen time - though it gives rise to jokes later about how no one in heaven bats an eyelid at May-December relationships.)
Then, in the 11th episode, the would-be lovers, Qian and dragon prince Yehua (Chao) finally come face-to-face, kind of, in the mortal world and the romp begins.
She mistakes Yehua for a handsome snake because she picked him up in a cave where he was resting in his serpentine form. He takes Qian for a regular human because a hex has been put on her, robbing her of her identity and memory.
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Theirs is a romantic comedy of errors, which changes into a melodrama, which transforms into a sexy story of courtship: Namely, after Qian returns to her world and forgets her sojourn in the human realm, Yehua has to win her affections all over again.
Speaking of sexy, Chao commands much appeal as Yehua. The character of the crown prince is almost a cliche, following a long line of impassive men who are passionate in love, who include the fourth prince in Scarlet Heart (2011) and the lawyer in My Sunshine (2015).
But Chao approaches his character differently. His Yehua is less a man of ice than a reserved gentleman with a hidden sense of roguish mischief - the kind of guy who, as opposed to K-drama heroes, actually knows the trick for making a girl's clothes disappear.
He has a sly touch, which is exactly what the drama needs.
The show, like many trendy Chinese dramas in recent years, is adapted from a novel series. Aptly, it maintains a tone light enough to keep many balls in the air.
One of the notable characters is a mid-ranking deity, the show's resident hack who plots out mortals' lives in his Book of Destiny. He is also the go-to guy for immortals who want a taste of human suffering and need him to write melodramas they can live out for a while in the mortal world.
This is one of the drama's clever tricks. On the one hand, it is poking fun at the artifice of stories, including itself. But on the other hand, it knows it is human feelings that make stories true.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Lose yourself in the labyrinth of love'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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