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The Princess Royal (2024) 度华年

Summary: The Princess Royal Li Rong (ft Zhao Jin Mai) has held much power in the Xia Dynasty for 2 decades. She has fallen deeply ill and has her advisor Su Rong Qing (ft Chen He Yi) supporting her day to day affairs. In a tense conversation with her estranged husband, Pei Wen Xuan (ft Zhang Ling He), who is now Chancellor, the two part ways. Li Rong, poisoned by a mysterious substance, believes that it was Pei Wen Xuan who poisoned her and orders his assassination. The two die on the same day. Li Rong wakes up to find that she has returned to her 18 year old self before she married Pei Wen Xuan. She tries to change the events of the past by not marrying Pei Wen Xuan, but in a surprising twist, Pei Wen Xuan has also been reborn to his 20 year old self. The two of them face the realities of the day and must choose whether or not to repeat the events of the past.

 

Total Episode Count: 40

Initial Airing Date: June 26, 2024

Platform: Youku

*Note – English translations may not match official translations

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Initial Rating [first 12 episodes]: 7/10 – The interesting premise of double rebirth makes for a delightful period romance drama. Zhang Ling He finds his stride as the besotted husband but Zhao Jin Mai doesn’t quite meet what’s needed to be the Princess Royal

Li Rong 李蓉

ZHao Jin mai 赵今麦

Princess Royal of the Xia Dynasty and estranged wife to Pei Wei Xuan. Su Rong Qing has been her companion for 20 years

pei wen xuan 裴文宣

zhang ling he 张凌赫

Estranged husband to Li Rong and powerful Chancellor to the Xia Dynasty. He is politically at odds with Li Rong when the two fatefully die on the same day

su rong qing 苏容卿

chen he yi 陈鹤一

Courteous and handsome, he is the sole surviving member of the Su family. He’s been Li Rong’s advisor for 20 years but has ulterior motives 

Li chuan 李川

liu xu wei 刘旭威

Younger brother to Li Rong and Crown Prince to the Xia Dynasty, he tries to fight against the Clans who has immense power at court 

Hua Zhi 秦真真

Hu Lian Xin 鹤秋

Originally betrothed to Pei Wen Xuan, she had no feelings for him and reneged their engagement. 

gU yAN xI 上官雅

Wen Zheng Rong 成果

Daughter to the Shang Guan Clan, she only had one duty, become Empress. However, that was not the life she wanted

Shen Qi 苏容华

Bu Tai 易大千

Older brother to Su Rong Qing, he gave up his family duties to wander far and wide, leaving his brother to pick up the pieces

Initial Thoughts

The interesting premise where both main characters are reborn adds a nice twist to the typical rebirth drama. The drama is inspired by the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420CE—589CE) so the aesthetic, from set design to costumes pay homage to that time period. I rather enjoy the references as there aren’t too many dramas set in that time period. 

The main couple have decent chemistry with fans are really digging their off-screen marketing pushes for this drama. Zhang Ling He has found his groove in this drama. He’s much better in the two recent dramas that I’ve seen him in compared to his dramas last year. The drama has breached 10,000 on Youku’s popularity index, which is another win for Youku this summer. It’s taken the lead in July as the other offerings haven’t fared too well. 

I guess this summer is the summer where many of the books I’ve read over the past 3 years have decided to turn into dramas and air! This is a decent adaptation of the source material and fleshes out several of the side characters. I believe there’s at least one more of the author’s works are being translated to the small screen. 

 

 

What I liked

  • Zhang Ling He: This is my first drama where I finally “get” Zhang Ling He. I think this is his best leading man role thus far. He really embodies the character Pei Wen Xuan as a sunny, handsome, somewhat calculating, yet besotted young man. He can’t really pull off the “cold” persona that he’s forced to in his other dramas. He’s much more at ease and believable here as a man who wants to protect his wife and wish the best for her. I personally think when his hair is in a bun, he looks very clean and handsome. We can focus on his face! His other dramas where his hair is billowing behind him really detracts from his overall features and stature. 
  • Communication!: The two main characters actually TALK through their issues! Well, it took them a whole lifetime of guessing, scheming, and plotting so the second time around, the two decide to discuss their feelings. Oftentimes, when I thought the two would end up back in their own shells again, one of the two (usually Pei Wen Xuan) pushes to have a conversation on why they feel that way and how they can move forward. This is really the tactic for Pei Wen Xuan to win Li Rong’s affection this time around. There’s a lot less guessing and a lot more frank discussion which moves the plot forward!
  • Clan Warfare: A lot of Chinese books now focus on the power of family clans and I’ve been going down a rabbit hole as to how family clans had a stranglehold on empires in Chinese history. This drama does a pretty decent job depicting how families will stop at nothing to retain power in the name of family rather than for the best interest of the empire. It’s frustrating to watch but it’s understandable and gives more nuance to the motives to all of the characters in this drama.

What Could Have Been Better

  • Zhao Jin Mai as the Princess Royal: Zhao Jin Mai is the weakest link in this entire drama. Her acting is perfectly passable but she just doesn’t have the gravitas of a Princess Royal. She’s not believable that she’s lived 40-50 years as the Princess Royal, one of the most powerful women in the land, and has the dignity and presence to show it. Zhao Jin Mai was only 20 when she filmed the drama and she’s still only 21 now, and fits the age of the character but she doesn’t embody a Princess Royal. In the book, courtiers and officials shudder at her presence. I’m comparing Chen Zi Han who portrayed Princess Ping Yang in The Prince of Han Dynasty over 20 years ago. She was also only in her early 20s and you could 100% believe she had the grace of a Princess Royal. Zhao Jin Mai simply gives off the aura of a rather young and naive princess. 
  • Who is the main character?: This also ties to my point above. The main character in the book is The Princess Royal. She SHOULD be the main character in this drama but she’s not the star of this show. Zhao Jin Mai as Li Rong is constantly being overshadowed by Pei Wen Xuan and even Shang Guan Ya in the limited scenes that she’s in. In all of the scenes where the Princess Royal Li Rong makes a big speech, it falls rather flat because it simply isn’t really believable. Zhao Jin Mai and the screenwriter are both at fault here. The former isn’t able to capitalize on the scenes where she’s supposed to make a statement and the latter as devoted a lot of time to other characters. 
  • Zhao Jin Mai’s Costumes: I will go ahead and first praise the faithfulness with which the costume designers sought to recreate the costumes of the Northern and Southern Dynasties. The costumes themselves are lovely, especially for Pei Wen Xuan. The coloring, especially for the Empress and Princess Royal however, are quite a head scratcher. The formal outfits in red aren’t a proper red and look cheap. The costumes often times perform double duty of making Zhao Jin Mai look much older than 20 and yet also don’t give her any regal bearing. Zhao Jin Mai’s accessories look like I could have bought them from a random street market. This REALLY detracts from the overall viewing experience because I’m here to watch the Princess Royal slay in beautiful outfits, but the whole package isn’t doing it for me. There are a few outfits in blue that she wears that totally fit her demeanor and overall completion but again, not regal enough. This goes back to my first quibble that Zhao Jin Mai just doesn’t fit as the Princess Royal. 

To be continued!

Cathy

 

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