Telemad

TV review: Sun Li drama an entertaining tale of a woman in imperial China

Zhou Ying (played by Sun Li) plays by her own rules in Nothing Gold Can Stay. Jordan Chan and his son Jasper in Dad Where Are We Going 5.
Zhou Ying (played by Sun Li) plays by her own rules in Nothing Gold Can Stay. PHOTOS: NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY/WEIBO, DAD WHERE ARE WE GOING/WEIBO
Zhou Ying (played by Sun Li) plays by her own rules in Nothing Gold Can Stay. Jordan Chan and his son Jasper in Dad Where Are We Going 5.
Jordan Chan and his son Jasper in Dad Where Are We Going 5.PHOTOS: NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY/WEIBO, DAD WHERE ARE WE GOING/WEIBO

Nothing Gold Can Stay tells an entertaining tale of a woman's adventures in imperial China

A shape-shifting epic set in the dusk of China's imperial past, Nothing Gold Can Stay has the sweep of a period romance, the prettiness of an idol drama and the stickiness of a family drama. But it becomes something more unusual - a satisfying story of female adventure that, like its heroine, Zhou Ying (Sun Li), doesn't always play by the rules.

It begins, most aptly, with a series of tricks. Ying and her adoptive father, Zhou Laosi (Liu Peiqi), are itinerant performers who pull a con on a sympathetic crowd.

Taking a break after her show, she sees another trickster at work. A man claims to have been hit by a palanquin whose passenger, Wu Pin (Peter Ho), is too nice to call his bluff. So Ying can't resist having a go, too, and sidling up to Pin, the son of a prominent business family in Jingyang, Shaanxi, with a sob story.

There is a hint of a star-crossed love story, as Ying is sold to the family of a playboy, Shen Xingyi (Chen Xiao), as a housemaid, defies his decision to marry her and escapes to Pin's household.

By a quirk of fate, she becomes a daughter-in-law in the house of Wu and the show becomes a comedy about her adjusting to her in-laws and them to her.

But the tale of Ying doesn't truly take shape, until a few of the men in her life are killed off in a political conspiracy and it falls to her, the streetwise outsider, to revive the family's fortunes.

Here, the show moves off the script of the usual woman's melodrama, following Ying to the wild west of Urumqi and the razzle-dazzle of Shanghai, and through her ups and downs as a businesswoman in a man's world.

  • VIEW IT / NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY

    Star Chinese Channel (StarHub TV Channel 822 or Singtel TV Channel 507), Mondays to Fridays, 9pm

    3.5 stars

    DAD WHERE ARE WE GOING 5 

    China HunanTV Official Channel, YouTube, new episodes available on Thursday

    Hub E City (StarHub TV Channel 825), Thursdays, 8pm, from Nov 16

    3 stars

In the face of personal tragedy and resistance from patriarchal society - on the eve of the Boxer Rebellion, she can't so much as speak to a foreigner without causing a scandal - she triumphs with her sense of humour intact.

Nothing Gold Can Stay is nowhere as exquisite and spellbinding as Empresses In The Palace, Sun's 2011 hit that has become a standard against which subsequent Chinese period dramas are compared. Its dialogue is unadorned, giving less pleasure than Empresses' silken language and its camera movements can be distracting.

Nonetheless, Nothing is highly entertaining.

Early in the drama, Zhou Laosi declares he and his daughter are destined to live like water, drifting from one town to the next. The metaphor, from Chinese astrology, grows in meaning as a picture of the turbulent times they live in emerges and even the Cixi empress dowager goes into exile briefly in Jingyang.

The drama has a choppy flow of its own and might just carry you along in its currents.

Chinese television is dominating water-cooler chat increasingly, also because it is where all the stars in the Chinese-speaking world are going.

In Dad Where Are We Going 5, you have Hong Kong actor Jordan Chan, Bruneian singer Wu Chun and Taiwanese singer Will Liu submitting themselves to be judged as fathers, as they take trips with their children around China.

Many Singaporean parents should be able to relate to Chan and Wu, who have to coax their English-speaking children to speak Mandarin for Chinese TV.

The children acquit themselves admirably, though. They are charming in more than one language, even when they are, say, lost in a tunnel in an ancient castle.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese TV strikes gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe