Remember about 2 months ago when I wrote about my misadventures with Chinese drama Across The Ocean To See You? I sat through all 44 episodes of that show, against my better judgment, and lived to regret it.
This.. is kinda another one of those times, my friends. Sigh. I watched all of Moonshine And Valentine, and now with 20/20 hindsight, I’m sorry to say that I don’t think it was a good decision after all. I mostly didn’t have a good time with this one either, unfortunately.
On the upside, this one was 25 episodes instead of 44..? 😛
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Helan Jingting (Johnny Huang), who is an alien fox prince who’s lived for hundreds of years, is searching for his reincarnated human first love, whom he believes to be rookie entertainment reporter Guan Pipi (Victoria Song). Helan has his work cut out for him though: not only does Helan need to win over a skeptical Pipi, he’s also racing against time to reverse a curse on his beloved. Will Helan be able to win the heart of his beloved, and save her?
STUFF THAT WASN’T GREAT, TO ME
As you’ve probably guessed by now, there were quite a few things that I didn’t love, in this show. In the interest of not being too much of a downer, let me attempt to be relatively concise in listing it all out for you guys.
1. The acting’s not great
This one was one of the biggest issues for me, with this show. I didn’t think anyone on the cast was a particularly strong actor, our leads included, and this was problematic, to me. Victoria Song did better between the two leads, with Johnny Huang showing very little range or depth of emotion. I tried to rationalize Helan’s lack of expressiveness (he’s hundreds of years old, he’s an alien, he feels things differently), but that didn’t really help. No matter which way I sliced it, Helan just was not showing a range or depth of emotion that was suited to his situation, and that made him pretty unconvincing, to my eyes.
[VAGUE SPOILER] For example, in the earlier episodes, when Helan was doing all kinds of things to win over Pipi, I couldn’t feel like Helan actually liked Pipi. It felt more like he was almost robotically going about re-establishing his relationship with her. This, despite Show telling us that this is the first time that she hasn’t liked him at first sight, which means that this is the first time that he’s had to work much at all, to re-establish their relationship. Just for that alone, I would expect to see more emotion on his face and in his gaze. But, mostly nothing. His expressions are quite flat. Beyond that, if he’s supposed to have loved her for hundreds of years, and is now faced with the prospect of her possibly not loving him anymore, his expression ought to be a lot more complicated than what we see. [END SPOILER]
I was willing to give Johnny Huang the benefit of the doubt, like, maybe his expression would deepen as things got more involved and more complex, but y’know, I watched the whole of this show, and that also added up to mostly nothing.
To compound the problem, this made the OTP interactions far from engaging, to me. The writing around the growing of the OTP connection is at fault too, but the lack of chemistry between our leads, and the less-than-desirable acting prowess, particularly on the part of Johnny Huang, made it hard to buy into the OTP’s love for each other. To be brutally honest, I mostly felt like I was watching two people play-acting on my screen, instead of actually being in love, on my screen.
As a silver lining, the male actors in this show are mostly good-looking and rather buff, and Show isn’t afraid to capitalize on its strengths. This shirtless workout scene was helpfully served up in episode 2:
2. The writing’s not great
I read that there was a last minute switch in the lead actress for this show, which resulted in the production scrambling to re-film scenes on a very tight schedule, and which also resulted in some massive re-writes to increase the screen time of the secondary characters and therefore alleviate the pressure on the need to film so many scenes involving Pipi’s character. Which already tells you that the writing in this show isn’t going to be great.
We get fillers galore on a regular basis, and often that filler would feel obviously shoved in there for no other reason except to take up screen time. As a silver lining, some of the filler was halfway endearing, like the little love triangle between Xiaoju (Liu Yongxi) and Helan’s two fox boys, Kuanyong (Leo Li) and Xiuxian (Li Shen). I say halfway endearing, because while I liked the concept of this little love triangle, I didn’t feel like Show fleshed it out in a way that was believable.
At other times, the filler leaned way more annoying. [SPOILER] Like every time the focus shifted to Pipi’s (ex-?)boyfriend Jialin (a very, very wooden Xu Kai Cheng), and his attraction to / relationship with Pipi’s so-called best friend Tianxin (Xu Fang Yi), I wanted to throttle the writer. [END SPOILER]
3. The funny isn’t all that funny
There were occasions when I found Show rather amusing, but to be honest, most of Show’s Intended Funny didn’t work for me. So for every instance that Show managed to tickle my funny bone, there were easily several instances of Intended Funny that fell flat, for me.
Something that amused me was the whole concept in episode 12 where the high priest had to mate before everyone else could mate. I found the idea of everyone having virtual access to Helan’s sexytimes status quite funny, and I legit giggled at my screen.
On the downside, here are a couple of instances where Show’s brand of funny just didn’t land well for me:
E5. The whole dinner conversation between Pipi and Helan is played for comedy, with him giving her wild-sounding answers to her questions, while wearing a deadpan expression. The scene is backed by sound effects that indicate that I ought to find this scene funny. I didn’t find it funny at all, unfortunately.
E7. The arc where Helan gets a makeover from Xiuxian is obviously filler, and unfortunately, while the tone is meant to be comedic, I didn’t find this very funny either.
E13. I found all the 4S stuff.. kind of meh. And quite childish, to be honest.
4. Logic lapses and other inconsistencies
Sometimes Show isn’t super strong on the logic and consistencies fronts, which didn’t really help. Here are a quick handful of examples, just for the record.
E13. If Helan is so powerful that he can wave his hand and people fly into the air, like we see in earlier episodes, why can’t he blast open the door when he’s worried about Pipi coz she’s passed out?
E18. At one point, Helan says to Qianhua that the person he is saving is Pipi, not Huiyan. Which is confusing, and also, inconsistent, because on the one hand, Show is saying Huiyan is Pipi and Pipi is Huiyan, and on the other hand, Show is also saying that Pipi isn’t Huiyan. What gives?
E22. The continuity in this show is problematic. When Jialin is healed by Helan, Xiuxian and Kuanyong clearly say they’ll take him home because all he needs is more rest, and he’ll be fine. And yet, he’s actually taken to hospital.
E21. Helan’s transition from shivering-like-he’s-on-the-brink-of-death, to kissing Pipi, is completely unbelievable, and also, very awkward. How am I supposed to believe that he’s so exhausted that he’s barely holding it together, and yet suddenly – and quite magically – he has the strength for sexytimes?
E21. The script is problematic. The turnaround from stubborn noble idiocy to open communication between Pipi and Helan is sudden and very unconvincing.
5. Show’s internal mythology is kept mysterious for too long
Given Show’s fantasy premise, from the beginning, we get many scenes involving the fox clan, and fragments of information regarding the truth behind Pipi’s curse. While that is all fine and good, I feel like Show took too long to allow these fragments to come together in a cohesive way. It was only at episode 15, out of Show’s 25 episodes, that I finally had a grasp of how everything tied together, and how Qianhua’s mission fit in the overall scheme of things. That’s a pretty long time to keep your audience guessing about something so central to the logic of the narrative, I feel, and I would have liked to have had a little more information, earlier.
BONUS: The time Show made me mad [BIGGISH SPOILER]
In episode 17, Zhao Song (Jiang Qi Lin), who’s nursed a crush on Qianhua (Zhang Bai Jia) for literal centuries, rapes her in a fit of rage. Show makes it very clear that Qianhua is crushed by the event. The fact that Qianhua gets raped is bad enough, but Show makes little effort to acknowledge the violation, except for a scene of a tearful and disheveled Qianhua, post-assault.
What makes it all worse is that Qianhua seeks no redress for the violation, and save for treating Zhao Song coldly and stiffly as she says goodbye to him, we don’t see a great deal else. The worst thing of all, is that Zhao Song never admits that he did anything wrong, and even proceeds to do all kinds of terrible things to subsequently harm her and Helan. There’s even a scene where he remarks flippantly that he’s no longer attracted to her.
ALL of this made me SO flippin’ mad, seriously. I mean, yes, MUCH later, we see that Zhao Song still has feelings for Qianhua, but this whole thing was SO NOT COOL. Urgh.
STUFF THAT KEPT ME GOING
By now, you must be wondering why I watched this show to the very end, given how problematic I found it, right? I asked myself the same question, ha. Here’s what kept me hanging on, in spite of myself.
1. The premise itself
Even though I found myself not all that interested in the development of the OTP, I found that the mysterious bits of the drama worked quite well, to keep me watching. All the fragments of information about the fox clan intrigued me, and I wondered how everything fit together.
2. The flashbacks to our young leads
Show opens most of its episodes with flashbacks, and many of those flashbacks are of the past timeline of when Helan and Pipi first met, when Helan was a youth and Pipi was Huiyan. I found myself very drawn to the scenes from this timeline. Both of the young actors who play young Helan and young Huiyan (Victor Liu and He Haha) are very good, and I found them consistently expressive, engaging and believable. They made the young love in that timeline feel wistful and pure, and I always found myself wanting to see more, from this timeline.
3. Some moments shone brighter than others
Despite Show’s downsides and missteps, there were definitely some moments that worked better than others. These better moments were like little highlights, for me.
Here are a few of those highlights:
E7. That scene where Xiaoju, Kuanyong and Xiuxian stepped up and put the user boy and his girlfriend in their places was very satisfying.
E8. The little bromantic arc between Xiuxian and Kuanyong is sweet. I mean, to lie about being vegetarian, just to protect your friend, and then keep it up for the next several hundred years, is so quietly loving and loyal.
E8. I rather like the voiceovers that we get regularly from Pipi. It lends a thoughtful touch to the show, and also ties the episode together in a thematic way. This episode, it’s about how we start to avoid people without realizing it, when we think that we’re about to get hurt, or are about to hurt others.
4. I was sick and wanted some mindless fluff
While I was in the earlier stretch of my watch, I fell sick, and found that this show was easy to consume in large servings. Despite its multitude of flaws, this was easy to slurp up, and that’s how I found myself suddenly in Show’s later episodes.
5. I just wanted to know what happened
By the time I reached Show’s later episodes, it was a lot less fun to watch, and I found that I no longer had the stomach for more than one episode a day. But, because I was curious to see how Show would resolve everything at the end, I kept on going, even when the going got a lot less fun.
QUICK THOUGHTS ON SHOW’S LATER STRETCH
Essentially, Show’s second half was messy and it felt all over the place. Our leads got less and less screen time, and we got more and more filler with secondary characters. The episodes started to feel distinctly draggy, and I found myself quickly becoming bored and disengaged.
Additionally, episode 24 felt strangely shoved in, even though the backstory was rather endearing. Basically, we spend all of episode 24 in a sudden deep flashback, where we see how Helan had gone to great lengths to prepare for Pipi’s birth.
Even though I rather like the idea of this backstory deepening our understanding of the current-day relationships, the placing of the episode in the overall scheme of things, does feel like Show is stalling for time. Like, here, watch this, while we figure out what to do with the finale. It just felt weird.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
The central conflict that Show sets up is a conundrum that is very hard to solve. I feel like this is what dramas often end up doing; they draw in audiences by creating central conflicts that are compellingly hard to solve, but which audiences desperately want solved, and that’s how they get audiences to stay with the show until the end. And that’s when they throw an underwhelming ending at you, almost like they’re shrugging and saying, “What? You think I could’ve solved THAT?!?”
Given that I knew going in, that this ending was something that the writer came out and apologized for, I’d say that this was not a great ending, but it was also not as terrible as I feared. Bear in mind, though, that I had very, very low expectations of this ending.
In principle, I rather liked the idea of flipping the equation. We start the show with Helan loving Pipi, even though she had no memory of him from her previous lives, and therefore, ending the show with Pipi loving Helan, even though he has no memory of her, feels rather apt. Plus, the curse on Pipi is finally lifted, and that’s something that Helan had been working towards for centuries. There is a bittersweet quality to this ending, but at the same time, Show paints a picture of hope for the future – and for a possible sequel.
In execution, though, I did feel like the ending could’ve been better handled. It sometimes felt like Show was cycling in place to use up screen time, like when Pipi went off on her apple analogy during her interview. That analogy was really stretching it. Also, all four interviewers seemed not at all shocked, when she started talking about meeting her prince, who just happened to be an alien whose heart beat only 3 times a minute. That was kinda bizarre.
At other times, it felt like secondary characters got additional screen time, in order to create filler, also for the purpose of using up screen time. The entire arc around Kuanyong and Xiuxian preparing to save Helan by transferring their powers to him felt strangely relaxed, given that they said Helan was running out of time and would die if they didn’t save him in time. And yet, they had time to pick up Xiaoju, and take a bus ride out into the countryside, and have some time for chit chat, hugs and assurances, before finally setting off to save Helan. I mean, it’s not that I begrudge the boys some final conversation time with Xiaoju, but the relaxed and meandering pace of this arc just didn’t jive with the situation at hand, I thought. The boys thereafter hanging out at the cafe in fox form is a cute thought, but it did seem problematic to me that a cafe that serves food would be allowed to keep foxes on its premises.
And then there’s the thing with Qianhua and Zhao Song. This bit bugged me the most. First of all, how did Qianhua know to use the mirror to light the fire on the sacred wood? I don’t recall that there was ever any mention of it, and suddenly, both she and Zhao Song seemed to know exactly how to set that piece of sacred wood on fire. Second of all, I am so angry that even after Zhao Song raped her, and did all kinds of terrible things, and hurt Helan to the point of almost-death, Qianhua is tearfully declaring her love for him. WHUT. I seriously hate that Qianhua’s rape basically goes unacknowledged this whole show. And then, to have her destroy herself, while tearfully gazing at her rapist with love in her eyes, that just bugged me no end. I mean, sure, Zhao Song was destroyed too, and he did have a moment of regret, but I say that was too little, too late. I wanted him to disintegrate into smithereens; I just didn’t think Qianhua needed to go down with him. ALSO. He never apologized for raping her either. HOW IS THAT OK?!? Grr.
Do I regret hanging on to the end, with this show? Unfortunately, I’m gonna hafta say, mostly yes. Apologies to this show’s fans, but this was.. not great.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Better in concept than execution, in just about every way.
FINAL GRADE: C+