☯ The Pristine Trinity Sect ☯

"Everything in the universe exists in a state of perpetual flux. Permanence is an illusion. Human "progress" is an illusion, for "progress" is impossible in a zero-sum universe. Humanity is riding a ferris wheel, spinning around in circles without aim. This corresponds in an essential respect with hedonic adaptation. Your entire life can be summed up as one big dopamine rollercoaster. Everything you do in life is about getting your next dopamine fix. There is nothing more profound about your existence." #redpill

Sunday, July 3, 2016

少年四大名捕 The Four (2015) — Review and Photo Gallery

One of the most satisfying wuxia series produced in recent years.  What makes The Four so great is that it doesn’t stagnate—every episode moves at a brisk pace, with exciting things actually happening.  Not just lame characters standing around talking to each other in poorly written dialogue.

What sets the series apart from all of the other draggy, barely watchable snoozefests produced recently is that it never allows itself to slow down.  The story is told always at a reasonable pace, with something to move things forward in every episode.  This should be the standard for all costume dramas, but sadly it’s an exception.

The plot is fast-paced—more happens in one episode of The Four than three episodes of the average dragfest costume drama.  The series delivers a generous helping of action and drama every single episode, which puts it far ahead of the curve.

The Four is a great example of why a fast-paced ensemble with several story arcs being played out simultaneously is far preferable to two lead actors dragging out a story.  The plot, while far from awe-inspiring, entertains owing to relatively believable acting and realistic dialogue, both of which can do wonders for an otherwise mundane story.

The weakest part of the series is the constant drawn-out exchanges at the Divine Deputy Bureau, in which the drama apparently feels the need to reiterate exactly what is happening, sometimes two or three times, to any very stupid viewers watching, by way of Zhuge Zhengwo’s mostly redundant expository monologues.

These damned idol dramas are always using lame, cheesy plot devices like jade pendants and chit--come up with something fresh, pls—and The Four, regrettably, is guilty of this as well.  One in particular is An Shigeng using the blood of the protagonists to open some gay door—cringeworthy, to say the least.

Though hit and miss, the acting is largely above average compared to the majority of idol dramas.

Female lead Janine Chang is an effective actress, and this makes for an engaging story, even when it's uneventful.  The story is told at a brisk pace, rarely dragging—this coupled with a competent female lead, makes for an entertaining romp.

Zhang Han’s Cold Blood is a grounded and rootable main character, but his hardened, emotionless facial expression never changes in this series.  Not one time over the course of forty plus episodes.  Although Zhang Han is not the most competent actor, his utterly emotionless portrayal of Cold Blood actually works well here, and I much prefer his personality to that of the unfailingly irritating Life Snatcher.  

Jia Qing is at her best here, and the love triangle between the lead actors is executed expertly, not at all cheesy as you might expect it to be.  But her character's development in the last dozen episodes is contrived and difficult to swallow.

William Chan is annoying in this series to the point of being intolerable.  Every time he opens up his mouth, you reach for the mute button.  That said, some of the lines he delivers are genuinely funny.  His Life Snatcher is by far the worst character in the story, excruciating to watch, his incessant beta whining and useless scenes constantly interrupting whatever else is happening that’s far more entertaining.

Bai Bing plays the alluring Nine-Tailed Fox in a short stint.  Zheng Shuang and Zhang Meng both have blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos in this series, their existence in the story largely nonessential, doing nothing to advance the plot or help develop the main characters.

The “Four Great Evils” in this series is a shameless ripoff (or is that, “homage?”) of the similarly labeled characters from Demi-Gods & Semi-Devils, identical down to the baby-snatching tendencies.

Mickey He shines as usual playing the super maniacal, ultra creepy main antagonist.  His performance is very effective, if a bit exaggerated.  The lyrics of the end theme are sung by him, in the perspective of the story’s villain, which is a unique and nice touch.

An Shigeng is a diabolical mastermind, capable of manipulating the situation and those around him to fit his needs.  The villain is highly reminiscent of Mickey He’s equally calculating Yinzhen in Palace (2011) and Palace II (2012).  It's nice to see him finally branching out from Yu Zheng productions.

Unfortunately, aside from Ji Yaohua and to a lesser extent, An Shigeng and Cold Blood, none of the other major characters see much in the way of character growth.  In fact, of the Four Great Constables, the other three seem less like central characters and more like sidekicks playing second fiddle to the spotlight-stealing Cold Blood.
THE VERDICT:

Story — 9.0/10
Writing — 8.0/10
Acting — 8.0/10
Direction — 8.5/10
Production — 8.5/10
Music — 9.0/10

Entertainment Value — 8.5/10

Friday, June 24, 2016

Critical Review of 新萧十一郎 The Shaw Eleven Lang (2016)

Xiao Shiyi Lang is one of the most engaging and compelling wuxia productions of all time.  Anyone who enjoyed Horizon, Bright Moon, Saber (2012) should appreciate this latest adaptation of a Gu Long classic.  The two dramas are very similar in that although the story doesn’t always move along in a brisk pace, the dialogue and acting are always on point, and there are plenty of melodramatic exchanges, making every episode an entertaining romp.

Xiao Shiyi Lang is probably the best adaptation of any Gu Long story I have ever watched, and I usually despise them.

The drama is genuinely humorous at times, the sarcastic, witty tone of the dialogue taking nothing away from the dramatic storytelling.  The tone is bizarre and the characters eccentric, salient reasons as to why the story is so engaging.

The plot is intricately crafted, everything taken into account and coming together neatly by the climax.  While Gu Long’s novels may not boast as large a cast of characters as Jin Yong’s, Xiao Shiyi Lang’s plot is clever and engaging, driven by deeply developed characters and commendable performances by the entire cast.

The pacing nears perfection, and although you are not quite sure where the story is going, it’s always moving somewhere and never fails to engage the viewer.  The writing is clever and witty, some of the most inspired dialogue of any wuxia production.  Unrequited love is one of the major themes in the story, and it is too much real life.  Other themes commonly seen in Gu Long works, such as corruption, treachery, and deceit, are prevalent here as well.

The set pieces are incredible, especially the party's journey through the Underworld locale in which the big bad resides, as well as a scene in which a horse carriage with Shen Bijun inside comes dangerously close to catapulting over a cliff.  Strong production value is strong.

The weakest link happens to be the martial arts, ironically.  Not that it’s poorly directed or choreographed, but I wish the producers had hired a decent editor—fight scenes are inserted into the story too frequently and last for too long, constantly interrupting the flow, at least in the earlier episodes.

Yan Kuan and Li Yixiao really showcase their acting chops and exhibit brilliant range as actors—this is probably the best I've ever seen the either of them.

Xiao Shiyi Lang is a rootable, grounded protagonist, easy to sympathize with.  He is a likable character—not overbearing, yet also not a pushover.

Li Yixiao gives far and away the best performance out of the entire cast, her Feng Siniang delightful in a uniquely psychotic way, the most colorful character in the series.  Second to her is Xiao Gongzi, with her squeaky, mousey demeanor and murderous, sadistic tendencies.  When the two of them are in the same scene, it's difficult to tell just what'll go down, but it's always something far removed from sanity.

The unfortunate part is that Feng Siniang’s existence in the story is wholly extraneous—removing her from the drama entirely would not alter the course of the story whatsoever.  Nevertheless, Li Yixiao is scary good as Feng Siniang—emphasizing on the word “scary."

Gan Tingting's Shen Bijun, while likable, is a somewhat bland, run-of-the-mill female, whose biggest role in the story is playing the weak damsel in distress.  The actress' performance, however, is commendable.

Xiaoyao Hou is a peculiar character, though ultimately just blows a lot of hot air.  I wasn’t really impressed with his philosophical monologues, most of which really isn’t all that profound.  Xiaoyao Hou is a bit too cartoony as well, giving off a strong egomaniacal supervillain vibe.

This series is extremely character driven, and if Yan Kuan, Gan Tingting and company had been replaced with actors I didn't care for, I may have dropped this series by the seventh or eighth episode.  The writing is insightful when it explores the themes of love and gender dynamics, and this is a salient credit that keeps it a worthwhile watch.

But I reiterate again, that the producers should have hired competent editors.  In the first half of the series, dialogue scenes are much too long, with characters rambling on and on.  The earlier episodes see strong character development at the price of a slow moving, sometimes agonizingly so, plot.  The first half suffers from inconsistent quality and pacing, often with too much draggy filler between action-packed and thrilling episodes.

The last stretch of the plot is too campy—the “magical manor” seems like something Gu Long probably dreamed up and decided wasn’t too retarded to include in his story.  I also don’t appreciate when swords are used as mystical plot devices to drive the story forward—it’s juvenile, lazy storytelling, but this is exactly the role the Deer Carver plays.

Not certain why the series doesn't simply end with episode 35—that’s when everything comes to a head and is pretty much resolved in a climactic finish.  Immediately, we are thrown a curveball that refuses to let the story draw to a close with anything but the most tragic of endings in mind.  My guess is that the last twelve episodes of the series adapts material from the sequel to the original novel, in which Lian Chengbi steps intoliterallyXiaoyao Hou's shoes to become the antagonist of the story.  He is, by the way, the biggest scumbag out of the entire cast of characters, and viewers will definitely despise him by the end of the series' run.  It is actually mind-blowing how evil he can be.

Fortunately, dissimilar to the majority of costume dramas, Xiao Shiyi Lang actually grows more entertaining over time, becoming grossly engaging by the drama's last two legs.  The story sees plenty of twists and turns, especially in the final stretch.

Xiao Shiyi Lang starts off quirky and bizarre, slows down for a while, and then starts right back up with a whole new batch of crazy plot devices—a roller coaster ride in every respect.  The action is very well executed, though sometimes dragged out too long.  Forgivable, considering this is a wuxia story first and foremost.

It's everything that Detectives and Doctors should have been but wasn’t.  It's everything Horizon, Bright Moon, Saber was, only better.
THE VERDICT:

Story — 9.0/10
Writing — 9.0/10
Acting — 9.5/10
Direction — 9.5/10
Production — 9.0/10
Music — 9.0/10

Entertainment Value — 9.0/10

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