Gong Suo Chen Xian – The Palace Movie: Overall Review
Gong is a popular Chinese period drama series that most people seem to have a love-hate relationship with. First of all, it’s undeniably successful with three drama seasons (first season Jade Palace Lock Heart being the most popular) and one movie. There is no stopping the Gong series from making more and more spin-offs, especially since the Qing Dynasty drama trend continues to be very popular today. On the other hand, despite its overwhelming popularity, the dramas tend to be low quality (in terms of cinematography, costumes, etc.) and they are prone to nonsensical plots, unoriginality, etc. The stories are usually just fluff without much substance. Yu Zheng, the writer & producer, is really good at writing popular period c-dramas even though he is really bad at writing. >_>” There’s also a big controversy over Yu Zheng’s alleged plagiarism of other authors’ works in his scripts.
So I generally have a bad impression of the Gong series and I had really low expectations for the movie version. However I was pleasantly surprised by the movie because it turned out to be way better than the drama series! Granted, the movie is nothing new and it still has its flaws, but it’s definitely a step up from the usual Gong dramas. The cinematography, costumes, and settings are great, and the cast is easy on the eyes. 😉 Overall it is a breeze to watch and I would recommend it if you’re looking for a simple period romance flick.
-The only commonality between the movie & the drama is that they are set in the Qing Dynasty. You don’t have to watch the drama(s) to see the movie.
-Full title of the Gong movie is Gong Suo Chen Xian, but I’ll refer to it as Gong.
^Liu Li (left) and Chen Xiang (right)
The leading ladies of the movie are the heroine, Chen Xiang (Zhou Dong Yu), and the antagonist, Liu Li (Zhao Li Ying). The two of them served in the palace together ever since they were young, and they grow up to be the best of friends together. But their friendship starts to split once they enter into a complicated love triangle over 13th prince (Chen Xiao). Chen Xiang randomly receives 13th prince’s affections, but due to a mix-up, Liu Li ends up taking her place as 13th prince’s concubine….while Chen Xiang serves as her personal maid. The two of them are no longer best friends because they are now master & servant, and Liu Li takes pleasure in tormenting Chen Xiang.
The ending is predictable because we know that 13th prince will inevitably find out about the switcheroo & his heart will start leaning back towards Chen Xiang. IMO these kinds of stories are common in period c-dramas (i.e. War of Desire, The Legend of Zhen Huan), so there’s nothing really exciting about the plot. I think that Gong could’ve at least used the mix-up to create more suspense & intrigue but instead it falls sort of flat.
The thing I do like about Gong though, is that it FINALLY focuses on a prince that’s not 4th prince. If you’re unfamiliar with 4th prince, he is the prince that becomes Emperor Yong Zheng during the Qing Dynasty. He’s very popular as the leading man in period c-dramas, I guess since people want to see a love story between the heroine and the guy that will become emperor? O_O Thankfully Gong at least tries to be a bit different with 13th prince (who was 4th prince’s right hand man) as the lead instead! If you think about it..couldn’t they just make TONS of spin-offs by making the leading man a different prince in each drama!?!?! (I WANT ONE FOR 14TH PRINCE!!!!!)
Too bad Gong doesn’t utilize 13th prince to his full potential. 13th prince is charming and good but that’s all he is throughout the entire movie–just a nice 2D prince without much character development. I get that Gong is a love story, not a political intrigue story, which may be why it minimizes 13th’s role in politics & focuses more on his love life. It’s still unfair to the character himself because the movie doesn’t show enough of his background (family, politics, etc.) to make him into a compelling and fleshed out character. I would’ve liked to see the story from 13th prince’s perspective (most dramas about this is from 4th’s point of view) since it would be a fresh take on the story.
One of the reasons why Gong is fun to watch though, is Zhao Li Ying. I last saw her in Female Prime Minister, and most recently in the modern c-drama Boss & Me (Shan Shan Come and Eat)…both in which she played an innocent baby-faced heroine. So it was a HUGE surprise to see her stepping out of her usual territory (as the heroine) to play the role of an antagonist!! When I first saw her in the movie, I barely recognized her because she looked and felt so different! *MIND BOGGLED* I really hope Zhao Li Ying continues to choose roles that are more challenging for her, and not just her usual ‘good’ heroine characters. 😉
Zhao Li Ying’s character, Liu Li, is fiery, calculating, and ruthless. She gains her prestige and power by stepping over her best friend and continually exploits Chen Xiang to maintain her front as the ‘perfect concubine’ to 13th prince. Liu Li is the stock villain in most c-dramas; the kind that ends up crazily cackling at the end..but she’s actually really fun to watch!?!? I guess it’s because I was just so shocked to see Zhao Li Ying as the villain! I’d say that the one problem with her character though, is that we can never understand her motives & she becomes the antagonist way too quickly. We never see her transform from the well-meaning best friend to the mean-spirited and jealous love rival. Instead she just suddenly becomes ‘bad’ once she’s the master of Chen Xiang. O_O” Even her death is kind of WTF because she just goes around trolling 13th prince and overestimates her own prowess.
This is my first time seeing Zhou Dong Yu so I didn’t really know what to expect from her. She is a relatively new actress but she is also famous for her role in the film Under the Hawthorne Tree, and is generally known for acting in films. (whereas Zhao Yi Ling is more drama-oriented) I think Zhao Yi Ling has a really interesting face from all angles, and the facial feature that’s most interesting about her is her eyes. She’s really great at expressing herself through her eyes! Zhou Dong Yu is also very versatile in her different looks; she can look really young or mature all depending on her character. (ex. She looks so different in this photoshoot!)
I was rather impressed by Zhou Dong Yu here because she makes Chen Xiang into a sympathetic character that’s easy to root for and hard to get annoyed with. I don’t think Chen Xiang is a total Mary Sue, but she is pushing it. She always goes around sacrificing herself for everyone around her, without any regards for her own happiness and safety. This includes asking to be engaged to her eunuch childhood friend to save his life, agreeing to keep up Liu Li’s charade, getting experimented on by an acupuncturist just so she can meet with 13th prince, AND MORE. She is basically saint-status with all these sacrifices that she made. O_O I also find it frustrating whenever she laments about how it’s not her fate to be with 13th prince. T_T” But she doesn’t seem like a complete Mary Sue because she is not constantly going ‘woe is me’ or emphasizing how good she is. Chen Xiang is still a really tough cookie and she is just more passive about her love life because she doesn’t imagine any good prospects for her future in the first place. You can infer from the movie that Chen Xiang is used to having the limelight stolen from her by Liu Li, because after all Liu Li is more bubbly and ambitious whereas Chen Xiang likes to be in the background. So at the beginning that might be why she’s ok with letting Liu Li take her place as 13th’s concubine.
Although Zhou Dong Yu might (not sure since I haven’t seen many of her works) be the better actress in comparison to Zhao Yi Ling, she lacks in stage presence here. This probably has to do more with the limitations of her character rather than her acting since Chen Xiang is hard to make into an compelling character. There’s not much complexity to Chen Xiang, so even though I didn’t dislike her, I still felt neutral whenever she was on screen. She doesn’t evoke as much of a reaction out of me, whereas Liu Li with her spunk and extreme actions is more entertaining.
Gong is a quick and fun watch; it could’ve been better if it had more political intrigue and historical background, as well as deeper character development. However it also far exceeded my original expectations for the movie since it is way better than the Gong dramas. Hopefully Yu Zheng will take the hint and let this movie set the bar for future productions. This will tide me over as I wait for more period c-dramas to be released! 😛
I also just wanted to say that I love all the stills and photoshoots/promo posters for Gong! This one (on Cfensi) is my favorite: