This is as good a moment to stop for a moment and restate why this feature’s being done this way instead of the one post for close associates Puck (www.puckcomics.com) and Spying With Lana (www.spyingwithlana.com).
It’s probably the closest we’re all going to get to an Exiern TV series for now. I mean there’s a princess and everything, even if it’s as if the two main characters in Exiern got mashed into one in a sense. Also, there’s at least one regular reader of this feature who’s not only a regular reader but is actually just watching one episode a week to keep pace with the reviews. I know I suggested that as one possible way to experience this show, I never thought anyone would actually do it. Now I both have to see this through and be on time each week.
Still, however you watch it (be it weekly or all at once or somewhere in between), I hope you at least give a go to what I think is a genuinely funny show and uniquely to the reviews of it, something we can tie discussion of Exiern to as there’s certainly a lot in common. Could there also be discussion of some potential future developments in Exiern turning up here too? Well, for the answer to that question, you’d have to ask Scott… [Who hasn’t watched it yet. ~STH]
Anyway, on with the show. For today’s episode this is going to be split into “Before the Soccer match” and “Lead up to and After the Soccer Match”. Yes, that’s right. There’s going to be a soccer match.
Before the Soccer Match
Picking up from the end of the last episode, everyone turns up at the start of this one looking very pleased with themselves. Zhang Peng has a very vague memory of Lu Li carrying him to bed after he got blind drunk and is certain they finally did the deed. Well, as certain as he can be about a complete black hole in his memory.
This certainly does raise all sorts of unfortunate implications about people in a position of power forcing themselves on a subordinate who has no recourse and would never say no to anything regardless of what she personally thought. Yes, it was a different time back then but that’s kind of the point, it’s really something we’d prefer never have happened but failing that we at least want left back there.
However, for what it’s worth, Lu Li seems as happy as she’s ever been if not more so. Zhang Peng puts into action a few of his presumably best follow up moves, asking Lu Li, “When we go back, will we be able to continue this?” Even though he knows the theory (I don’t think anyone believes he just only watched a lot of Korean Drama), he’s not exactly sure what ‘this’ specifically is given he can’t remember at all. Still, Lu Li both seems happy and enthusiastically agrees, so it’s all good … right?
Cut to the Crown Prince facing Zhang Peng in his customary stony-faced silence. The big difference is that he’s sporting a huge hickey. Zhang Peng is incredibly pleased at this because it means another part of his plan is working. Having the Crown Prince away from him and having sex with his mistress and/or any of his other wives suits Zhang Peng just fine. Looks like all his plans are finally working after a string of (highly entertaining for us, anyway) spectacular failures.
So with things finally seemingly going his way, he decides to chill a bit with the Crown Prince, you know, just a couple of bros hanging out and trading tales of their respective conquests. Now if you’ve been paying any attention to the show so far, you’ll know this was a bad idea. However, you’ll also know that Zhang Peng’s not too smart so none of this is a surprise.
The Crown is getting both increasingly perplexed and confused at what he sees as the Crown Princess backsliding into talking gibberish again (the usual reaction everyone has to Future Talk) after seemingly making what he sees as progress in becoming more likeable and even bearable (unintended consequences as Zhang Peng was definitely trying to keep him as far away as possible all this time).
Things finally come to a head when Zhang Peng suggests that the Crown Prince and Prince Zhao are now truly brothers … you know because they’re both having sexual relations with Zhao’s Wife – or at least both have at one time or another. It would seem quite possible that Prince Zhao has been having a bit of a dry spell lately from what we’ve been seeing.
The Crown Prince yells at Zhang Peng to get out and that leaves Zhang Peng outside wondering what he’s done this time (once again, not too smart). We see a bit more of this society in action when we find Zhang Peng out on the roadside and find out that Lu Li was having to walk alongside the carriage.
This is where things get even worse for our main character. A brief heated conversation later, it turns out what actually happened was what I’m sure a lot of people suspected. The act of trying to repel the Crown Prince actually drew him closer and we find out that Zhang Peng didn’t have sex with Lu Li after all.
This is where Zhang Peng finally starts to remember. Turns out that we didn’t have a case of a power imbalance effectively leaving a subordinate in a position where they couldn’t deny a more powerful person’s wishes. Instead, it was a different troubling scenario where someone engaged in an activity that the other party couldn’t consent to.
Once again a different time but also once again, if we can’t have had it never happening, we really at least want to leave as far behind as possible. Certainly some situational irony in that inducing himself into a drunken panic about the possibility actually facilitated it happening as Zhang Peng was too drunk to be aware of what was going on, let alone fight it.
It especially didn’t help when Zhang Peng also remembers not only not fighting it but also not even lying back and thinking of England either. He just might have reciprocated a little bit. So, both the worst lesbian seduction attempt ever, and even if someone had unicorn privileges they’ve certainly lost them now if you know what I’m saying.
All things considered, Zhang Peng takes things fairly well. He only screams “Oh My God!” once, subsequent inarticulate screams are only about as loud as the time he found he’d lost his penis (I suppose he did get back in contact with one for a while, just not his … I’m terrible, aren’t I?) and finally, he only spends the next two days confined to bed vomiting.
He’s not queen (or its Chinese equivalent) yet bit he’s definitely ascended to drama queen status as he bemoans the horror of possibly having to repeat such actions as much as every 3 to 5 days. Not so great on the receiving end of such behavior is it? Yes, he deserved some sort of comeuppance for his conduct but all right thinking people don’t wish this on anyone who’s inebriated either.
Lead up to and After the Soccer Match
Well, things seem to have settled down in the next scene (at least Zhang Peng’s no longer in hysterics) where news comes in that there’s going to be a soccer match (quite a thematic segue, huh?) between a mixed collection of royals. Apparently it’s some kind of tradition. Not surprisingly at all, Zhang Peng tries to weasel out of it but they’re already way ahead of him by pre-emptively stating in the ‘invitation’ that saying you’re not well is unacceptable.
Then to seal the deal, the Crown Prince turns up in person to make sure Zhang Peng actually trains for the match. As far as he knows, the Crown Princess doesn’t have an athletic bone in her body. Zhang Peng is dragged off loudly protesting but to no avail.
Now I thought the way this was going to play out is that Zhang Peng was actually going to exhibit at least some skill not typically attributable to someone who’d spent a lifetime in the Royal Court but after the lead up seems to show that, it seems like he was more a legend in his own mind as he proceeds to repeatedly miss the ball entirely and dump himself on his backside over and over again. Watch this scene closely, though as there’s a really rare event, the Crown Prince oh so briefly cracks the faintest hint of a smile. It’s fleeting but it’s there.
OK, now we get to the match itself. At this point, I’m going to pause again to discuss the nature of the show. I wasn’t originally aware of this but for people in the know, apparently unlike a lot of Chinese dramas, this one had a really small budget (apparently $3 million spread across 36 episodes).
Apparently, such things as the costumes and footwear neither being historically accurate and also looking rather plain compared to their competing dramas and even looking like they’d been bought off the Chinese equivalent of ebay (probably because they were); everyone doing each other’s makeup and hair and countless other things to save money (apparently the same durian fruit gets recycled a lot in scenes) and there’s no more background actors than absolutely necessary (once again, seen the Emperor lately … or at all yet?).
The key point is that none of this matters if the story is engaging and in fact, apparently these facts such as corner-cutting and complete historical anachronisms have actually proven to be quite popular topics for discussion among the fans and part of what they like about the show. If anything, it’s all added to the appeal. It seems to have paid off as reportedly, the show made $1.5 million in profit and totaled 2.4 billion views for all episodes combined.
So, having said all that, I went from wondering if they’d had some version of soccer in past China to realizing that they mostly definitely weren’t aiming for anything remotely historically accurate. Any thoughts in that direction went out the window when I saw the actual soccer pitch.
Yes, it’s a soccer pitch. Complete with line markings and a synthetic surface. Zhang Peng even has a Nike swoosh symbol on his uniform. Yes, that’s right. They have uniforms. Very nice modern looking ones too.
So, how was the match then? Well, after a brief moment at the kickoff for both teams to pre-emptively beat the referee (might as well get the response to the inevitable disagreements out of the way upfront), Zhang Peng seems to have shown a sharp improvement from what we’ve seen.
I mean we did hear second-hand from the Crown Prince that he did eventually manage to connect with the ball but here he’s playing like someone with actual talent. OK, admittedly the first shot at goal that scored was the wrong goal but it’s early days yet.
He does get better during the course of the match right up to showing mastery of the slow motion Matrix-ing effect of hanging in midair for a seeming eternity before kicking the ball in (depressing to think that we’ll soon have to be saying ‘ask your parents’ about Matrix references to the youth of today, assuming that day hasn’t arrived already).
Anyway, everything seems to be going along swimmingly until as usual, Zhao’s Wife ruins everything by pulling her uniform apart on the field and trying to make it look like Zhang Peng did it. The match grinds to a halt as there’s accusations of uniform tampering and Red Card offences and all that.
At least the Ninth Prince (the other of the Crown Prince’s brothers that we’ve seen, remember him?) is being decent to Zhang Peng, the Crown Prince isn’t to anyone as he insists to Prince Zhao that he can’t carry his wife off the field after the worst stage diving you’ll see in any match outside a World Cup because apparently, Prince Zhao has hurt his hand. News to him but once again, he just stands there and takes it. I think when he eventually blows his stack, it’s not going to pretty at all.
Even the Empress is disgusted at this brazen behavior by the Crown Prince. There’s a reason why Open Secrets still have the word Secret in the title, you’re still expected to go through the motions. Zhang Peng protests to the Empress that he’s been wrongfully accused, the Crown Prince slaps Zhang Peng twice and tries to blame Zhang Peng for all this.
The Empress isn’t stupid (she is after all, the Empress) and tells the Crown Prince that Prince Zhao can handle his own wife. The Crown Prince storms off in a huff and everything’s back to normal with everyone hating each other again. Well, if there’s an upside to this whole mess, at least it looks like there’s not going to be any future expectations of the Crown Princess to have sex with the Crown Prince anytime soon, so yay for Zhang Peng, I guess?