With lack of something to watch aside from the Arashi variety shows, I finally succumbed to my first period drama, thanks to recommendations from aehyu and @GailT. I’m talking about BU BU JING XIN (also known as SCARLET HEART or STARTLING BY EACH STEP).
To be honest, I am not a fan of period dramas and I may be one of the few people in this part of the world that has not watched JEWEL IN THE PALACE. And don’t get me started on why the English title of BU BU JING XIN is also STARTLING BY EACH STEP, but I had this thought from the first episode that it may be so because of the misstep that the present day Zhang Xiao made and ended up 300 years back in the Qing Dynasty as Rouxi. (Excuse me for my ignorance, your servant does not dare think further.)
Anyway, for some reason, I am scared to watch anything where the characters wear some exotic costumes (except maybe in GOONG). Maybe because I never really liked history as a subject back in school, but I like the time travel aspect of BBJX. It’s very amusing to watch a character who finds herself in a part of history that she knows the ending so well.
And as Rouxin says as she struggles whether to help the Eighth Prince and warn him about the impending disaster:
“No one can change history. History is still history.”
There is so much potential for situational comedies in having a present-day girl land in the Qing Dynasty era, and the drama gives pleasant takes on this. I’m glad the writers did not opt to go slapstick when it comes to this and create the Rouxi character into some caricature. Her conflict of knowing the history and how the characters she is interacting with ended up while being careful of not revealing her story (otherwise, she would have sounded loose in the head, especially during those times), was genuine and amusing.
But still, I wish there were some tweaks here and there about the outcome especially on the fate of the Eighth Prince. Of course, I need not explain what the plot of BBJX is since I am a latecomer to this drama and so many drama sites and blogs have recapped, reviewed and written about it. So I’ll just add my thoughts and the memorable quotes after watching episodes 1 to 10.
One thing I enjoy about BBJX is how it tells the story gradually. Not familiar with Chinese history, I had to read on the available resources online about the House of Aisin Gioro, the Manchu family that ruled under the Qing Dynasty. It’s very educational and interesting as well, especially the glimpse of the politics and culture that they lived in during that time. Not that there has been any change in current times because politics and culture still decide much of everyone’s fate and attitude towards one another.
And with regards to the complicated relationships inside the Forbidden Palace, with the wives and the concubines and their ranks in society, thanks to divorce and legal separations, or even casual relationships, these days we don’t have to be confused with the number of women a man has, and the brothers that you have with the same father.
The drama also shows how women were treated during those times, though with the way the story is told, it’s amusing to find that the male characters are more like vases at times. A reversal of roles, somewhat.
This relationship chart may also help when watching BBJX:
The entanglement of Rouxi with many of the brothers reminds me of San Cai in METEOR GARDEN and how she got entangled with all four (and she was not even pretty to start with). Aside from the Eighth and Fourth Princes, there’s also the Tenth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Prince. No wonder, a girl–no matter how pretty she is–can get so confused (just like the viewers):
I don’t really blame her because it can get confusing especially when surrounded by powerful men with various personalities. There’s gentle and sweet Eighth Prince, quiet and reliable Fourth Prince, Laid-back Thirteenth Prince, Fearless Fourteenth Prince and of course, the
foolish uncomplicated Tenth Prince. Despite his present entanglements (first and second wives), I like the Eighth Prince though. His romance with Rouxi started gradually and blossomed, and though as a viewer, it was uncomfortable watching the prince fall in love with his sister-in-law, it was understandable how it was unavoidable.
I mean, who can resist the love letters he wrote to Rouxi like this one (that I assumed he sent on the night of Tanabata)?
“Among the beautiful clouds and shooting stars,
Over the heavenly river they cross to meet.
A night of rendezvous across the autumn sky
Surpasses all the joy on earth.
Moments of tender love are akin to a beautiful dream.
They endure the parting at the magpie bridge…
But if there is true love between them,
They don’t have to be together everyday.”
But alas, their love is not meant to be (it seems, from some of the spoilers I have read and even news of the spin-0ff). That’s why this other love letter that Eighth Prince wrote reflects the tragedy of their romance:
“The night is coming, why aren’t you back?
If not because of me, you wouldn’t be cold in the damp night.
The night is coming, why aren’t you back?
If not because of me, you won’t be in a difficult position.”
Among the brothers, my favorite is the Fourteenth Prince because he speaks his mind especially when he got caned after standing up for the Eighth Prince. My favorite scene is when he is telling his full-blood brother the Fourth Prince off for being quiet while he got punished. I find the Fourth Prince so passive-aggressive and tend to agree with the Fourteenth Prince that he is quiet because he just wants to protect himself. He does not want to create trouble for others but it’s more like he does not want to create trouble for himself. No wonder he will eventually become the emperor (and I will not be able to watch that because I am stopping with the 10th episode, maybe).
It’s no surprise that he would advise Rouxi:
“The wise should steer clear from trouble.”
Wise but selfish? No thank you.
I love this dialogue between Rouxi and the Eighth Prince:
“You have to give up something to gain something.” – Rouxi
“To gain something, you must first give something.” – Eighth Prince
It just reflects the nature of the Eighth Prince; I wouldn’t say he is selfless because in wanting Roulan, he made her his second wife and deprived her of her true love. But I like his sweet and protective nature, just a pity that his own father mistrusted him. He would have made a better emperor than his calculating brother, maybe. But then, all heart is not good too.
However way this drama ends, and how history ended, I do agree with what Rouxi said:
“A simple ending actually has so many painful process.”
The drama deserves the commercial and critical success it received because of the scale of production. I love the winter scenes and the costumes, especially the headdresses and jewelry that the women wear (those exquisite rings!).
It just gets disconcerting that in the course of the story, through many years, the characters never age. As @GailT said, it became kind of creepy.
Here’s how the cast members look without the costumes:
And here’s my favorite pairing:
Disclaimer: No more shipping for me.
Let’s end with this quote from Rouxi:
“Yes, history is still history. But if I don’t do my best to stop it, I will live to regret it.”
Guide to tea ranking here.
P.S. So Kevin Cheng is out of the sort-of-sequel. From here, I think I’ll proceed to watch another Kevin Cheng drama.
“A rumor repeated thrice becomes the truth.” – Tenth Prince
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