C-dramas and I have a very love-hate relationship. I desperately want to love them (because they can make grand epic spectacles), but I almost always end up hating them because the story inevitably ends up being stupid and the execution plodding. It’s like listening to a song that is just a half-beat off for the entire composition. If I watch one C-drama a year that ends up being good, I’ll be happy. Presenting my #1 most anticipated C-drama of 2011: a remake of one of the most famous TW-dramas of all time The Four Brothers of Peking (京城四少).
Before idol dramas took over TW in 2000, TW-dramas used to be mostly period dramas, wuxia dramas, and family dramas. I grew up with those, and one of the best and most famous was 1991’s The Four Brother of Peking. With a huge cast of every major actor in Taiwan at that time, it was sweeping period epic that chronicled the story of four brothers who were split up at birth, and meet up again as adults unaware of each other’s identity. I’ll give a brief synopsis of the story and the main characters after the jump, but this drama is so good people are still watching the original today because it stands the test of time.
(The classic with Roy Liu, Morni Chang, and Grace Yu)
The new C-drama remake takes the original story, which was set at the end of the Qing Dynasty, and modernizes it by moving it forward to the early years of the Republic (think 1890 vs. 1915). The story is about an upstanding government official who is moving back to the capital Peking after serving a term in an outlying province. He has four sons, the eldest being around 6 years old, and the youngest just an infant. His entourage is carrying gold, and is set upon by bandits in countryside.
During the ensuing melee, his first wife dies as the second wife protects the baby, while the older three sons become separated from their father. The eldest hits his head on a rock and faints in the cart of the head bandit, waking up with no memory. The head bandit uses the gold to become a legitimate businessman, and raises the eldest son (but knowing who the boy’s real father is). The second eldest is handed to a bandit lackey to dispose of, and he pities the child and secretly takes him away to raise.
The third son was protected by a servant of the father, who manages to take the boy to the house of a relative, but dies before he can inform them of the boy’s identity. A concubine of that family who has just been kicked out of the house finds the third brother, and in her loneliness raises him as her son. The father and his second wife have only their youngest baby left, and vow to find their three missing sons. Each of the boys carry a quarter jade pendant which, when put together, form one jade circular talisman. That is their only identifying marker.
The first and the fourth brother each have their own OTPs in the story, while the second and third brother end up fighting over the heroine. The TW-version cast then-pretty-face-who-can’t-act Grace Yu as the leading lady, and she was so horrifically bad I still cringe to think of her “acting.” But everyone else was spot on, and the story was so substantive and gripping that it didn’t matter much.
The 2010 C-version has fast-rising starlet Yang Mi as the lead, and all four brothers look perfectly cast. The eldest is a businessman, sharp and forward thinking. Second brother is an idealist, fighting for reform and equality. Third brother is a street hooligan, fast on his feet and straightforward in his view on the world. Fourth brother is spoiled and sheltered, a kind boy who lives his entire live knowing that he’s the only son his family has left.
Yang Mi’s leading lady is a girl who is masquerading as a songstress at a club, while lying in wait to avenge the death of her parents at the hand of a powerful and ruthless general. Third brother grows up with her, and adores her. But she falls in love with the idealistic and dashing second brother, who also loves her back. Who she ends up, will she choose love or vengeance, will the four brothers reunite and settle outstanding scores, will anyone lose an arm or a leg in the process – you’ll have to watch and see. The original story is excellently constructed and plotted, so this is one C-drama I know won’t go wonky as the story unfolds.
The original TW-version had a very famous theme song sung by Sally Yeh called “瀟灑走一回” (literal meaning is A Casual Stroll), and if you have ever heard older generation Chinese people singing the karaoke at a wedding, you have heard this song. I bet my kidney that you have heard it many times before.
TW-version opening credits with theme song:
What almost made my weep from happiness is when I discovered that the new C-remake actually is using the SAME theme song, except with a fresh, up-tempo beat, as a homage and tribute to the classic original. I think they even got Sally to sing the new version! I have now watched this opening credit too many times to count, and it looks so good I almost want to knock on wood and not jinx myself.
Click here to watch 2010 C-version opening credits with new theme song.
Of all the Chinese period dramas, which have thousands of years worth of Chinese history to cherry-pick an era, hands down my favorite period is the early Republic years. Other than wuxias which are fantasy period dramas and you can dress the characters in whatever weird outfits you want, an authentic period drama needs to be suitably grubby and realistic.
I really don’t like Qing Dynasty epics (not a fan of the braid), but I literally start drooling when I watch an early Republic period drama where the guys wear vests and three piece suits, despot generals appear in full regimentals, and idealistic college boys wear their robes or student uniforms and the girls don the skirt and top combos. Whoever had the brilliant idea to stage the remake in the early Republic era, you have my eternal gratitude and thanks. Below are some gorgeous stills from the drama. It’s schedule to air in the middle of 2011, and I’ll be checking the listing to find its airing date.
(from left to right on this picture: third brother-the street kid, fourth brother-the dandy, first brother-the businessman, and second brother-the revolutionary).