Ep 33

 

[Karen]

 

Welcome back to Chasing dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese History and culture through historical Chinese dramas. I’m Karen, and Cathy. Today, we are discussing Episode 33 of The Story of Ming Lan, 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。

 

This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain chinese phrases spoken in mandarin Chinese. Today’s drama episode is rather light on history but rather interesting in plot as we bid farewell to a character we’ve wanted gone for a while.  

 

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[Cathy]

 

After the events of the last few episodes where 4th daughter 墨兰 essentially threatens the futures of the rest of the Sheng family, she successfully secures marriage with 梁晗, son of a Count because Grandma Sheng decided to go to the Count and Countess to propose. Episode 33 begins with 墨兰 being let out of confinement and rushing over to see her mother.

 

墨兰 and 林小娘 are ecstatic about the fact that they are going to get everything they wanted. 墨兰 is going to marry into nobility! What’s not to be excited about. The marriage is set for a fortuitous day in the month which is rather abrupt but they don’t have much choice.

 

3 observations in this tearful reunion.

  1. 墨兰 is not grateful at all for Grandma Sheng helping her seal the deal. 墨兰 even calls her grandma an old witch which I’m like…uh excuse me?
  2. 林小娘 thinks that all it’s going to take for her to return to power is to be sweet again to her husband and all will be well. She doesn’t recognize the depth to which her deception hurt the Sheng family which we will see in a bit is unforgivable. 
  3. 林小娘 is naive to the extreme that the amount of dowry she has to give to 墨兰 will help her at her husband’s house. In this scene 林小娘 provides a few deeds or properties to 墨兰 as a way to provide a level of independence at her in-laws. To me, it’s laughable because we will see in later episodes what it means to be truly wealthy. Such small amounts to 林小娘 is a lot but to nobility, it’s not even worth mentioning. 墨兰 says she won’t need this in her husband’s family but she still takes the best properties with her. This, to me, already shows what her future will be like. 

 

[Karen]

Shortly after, 墨兰 is wearing her wedding dress and getting ready to be married. Weddings are supposed to be a happy occasion right? But 墨兰’s wedding is more akin to a funeral. No one is happy, except 林小娘 and perhaps 墨兰 but 墨兰 is tearful because her once doting father is now extremely cold towards her.  

 

Now people will ask, why is she in a green dress? Aren’t brides supposed to be wearing red? That’s what chinese people wear for weddings right? We will talk all about Song dynasty wedding traditions later in the drama, in episode 40 so let’s hold that thought. I DO want to point out though that 墨兰‘s wedding outfit, hair accessories and even the fan she uses to cover her face is so simplistic it’s a little sad. She is marrying into aristocracy but what is she being married off with? Very little. Save this image of 墨兰 for future episodes because the contrast is quite stark between this outfit vs 明兰’s outfit. On one side it’s because the wedding was put together rather abruptly. On the other, 墨兰 burned so many bridges that it can be assumed no one in the family wanted to provide her with any expensive accessories. Her mother is also only a concubine so where will she get money for a good outfit?  Madame Wang at least begrudgingly gave 墨兰 a jade bracelet. 

 

[Cathy]

As per wedding traditions, the husband and wife of the house are sitting at the head of the hall. When the time came, 墨兰 is escorted out by her father and Madame Wang who are both stoic. For them, it is not a happy occasion. Her father, 盛纮 is especially cold towards 墨兰 and pretty much says that now she’s married, she can no longer rely on her maternal family. All the pain and glory will be for her to manage. And I’m like, yea! 墨兰, what did you expect? You essentially blackmailed the entire family and you want them to wish you well? SMH.

 

The last scene after 墨兰 leaves is my favorite and it shows to me again that Madame Wang is not as bad as her temper suggests but it also shows what burdens there are to being the wife of the family. The family is greater than individual likes and dislikes.  After 墨兰 is walked out with her older brother, 王大娘子,turns to her husband and says that there are many guests outside and they should go spend time with them. Her husband agrees and immediately readjust their demeanor. A moment earlier, she and 盛纮 were sour faced and cold, but in order to save face, the turn those frowns upside down and prepare to greet the guests with a more cordial manner. I personally found that to be quite powerful and showcased great acting abilities.  

 

[Karen]

林小娘 on the other hand, still has not learned her lesson. She wants to escort her daughter off to be married but as a concubine, that is out of decorum so she is kept inside. She’s certainly been spoiled too much to realize how much trouble she’s in and how much trouble she’s caused. Back in her room, she starts throwing things and screaming before regaining her composure because I think her inner monologue is that you know what, I am the mother in law to the proper wife of a son of a count. Wow, that’s a mouthful. She thinks she’s made it in life…only to be promptly dragged to the Sheng Family shrine where 盛纮 is kneeling.

 

林小娘 is brought to the shrine and placed on the ground where she is then beaten repeatedly while 盛纮 has his back to her. Honestly, i’m like FINALLY. He sees the light whereas she is begging for mercy. She doesn’t really think she’s done anything wrong. She begs him to stop and how he can be so heartless. Soon she passes out and Sheng Hong can’t conceal his concern and anguish. He tells his servants to stop and to leave them. He finally turns around to see 林小娘 as he’s crying over what happened. To me, he’s more heartbroken to find out what a conniving woman she is than she’s actually hurt.

 

[Cathy]

Our main character who has been somewhat in the background lately, stands outside hearing all of this unfold. Her father, 盛纮, orders 林萧娘 to be moved to a farm,never to leave. The maids that helped 墨兰 with this ruse are to be beaten to death. The other servants in the yard are to do hard and menial labor until there is an opportunity to sell them off. This to me is huge because this type of activity is normally for the wife of the family to determine. I have yet to see the husband of the house partake in matters of staff. But this reflects how important it is for 盛纮 to take action because this mistake is irrevocable. 林小娘 cannot come back from this.

 

At long last, 明兰, kneeling in front of the 2 paintings she has – 1 from her mother, and 1 from 墨兰, kneels in front of both. 明兰 has finally achieved the revenge she sought for her deceased mother.

 

[Karen]

Later that night, the injured and disgraced 林小娘 is sent to a rural farmstead to live out the rest of her life. Under the pretense of following Grandma Sheng’s orders, 明兰 follows the carriage carrying 林小娘 into the farmstead. Who else is at the farmstead? 明兰’s Aunt! She’s paying off some of the servants. This perhaps will contribute to the events later

 

明兰 walks into the room of the farmstead to see 林小娘 in a pitiful state. 林小娘 is surprised to see 明兰 and asks her if she’s here to laugh at her current state. 

 

明兰, emotionless, just sits down. 林小娘 doesn’t understand why 明兰 is actually here and rattles off who could have sent her, 盛纮? Madame Wang? 林小娘 goes off on a monologue definitely stating that once her daughter gains her footing with her husband, she (林小娘) will be welcomed back to the Sheng family with open arms. 明兰 should be envious. 

 

明兰 point blank tells 林小娘 that she never wanted to marry into the Count’s family. A lightbulb kind of goes off in 林小娘’s head and immediately ties everything together. It was 明兰 that made them believe 墨兰 had no choice and needed to secretly meet 梁含. Just as quickly, 林小娘 asks, why did you do this? WHAT DO YOU KNOW? How could you know?

 

[Cathy]

I’m impressed, even in her weakened state, 林小娘 is one sharp cookie. 

 

[Karen]

明兰 doesn’t say anything, she just has the painting that 墨兰 actually gifted her when she moved out to her own courtyard displayed. It’s called 舐犊情深 and it was originally a jab from 墨兰 because 明兰 of course doesn’t have a mother anymore. 

 

林小娘 finally reveals everything. To her credit, she bluntly says, she’ll destroy anyone in her path. 明兰’s mother already had 明兰 and was pregnant with a potential son. 林小娘 was not going to let that happen. She at first says that she’s not afraid but you can see that she’s frightened 明兰’s presence, especially since 明兰 doesn’t say anything. 

 

林小娘 desperately screams to 明兰, what are you plotting? What do you want from 墨兰? Come back?

 

明兰 remains silent this entire time. She doesn’t say a word. She absorbs this scene and leaves. 林小娘, despite her injuries, screams to 明兰 to come back and tries to crawl on the ground to grab her. 

 

Outside, 明兰 finally lets out a smile and goes home. 

 

[Cathy]

Let’s give a round of applause to 高露, the actress for 林小娘. We’ll talk about her more in depth later but let’s give credit right now where it’s due.

 

At home, Grandma Sheng is waiting for her. She wants to understand what happened. Man, the ladies of the family are wicked sharp, except for 王大娘子 of course. 明兰 refuses to say anything. Grandma Sheng is disappointed and has her grounded for a few days.  

 

Not long after, news travels to the Sheng family that 林小娘 died at the farm. First to hear it is Madame Wang. She was a little surprised to hear this because Mistress Lin was only moved there recently. How did she suddenly pass away. It turns out that after her beating, no one would let her see a doctor. So her injury became infected and resulted in her death. It dawned on Madame Wang that the reason this happened must be because her husband made it so. Her husband ordered his  servant to beat Mistress Lin and had to know how hard she was being beaten. 

 

[Karen]

Uh – i also think Aunt Wei might have had a hand in it, like she was buying off servants so maybe they didn’t summon the doctors when needed?

 

[Cathy]

But why did he punish her this harshly? The reality of why Mistress Lin miscalculated so badly this episode was actually analyzed to perfection by Madame Wang. Madame Wang noted that 盛纮 hated that Mistress Lin lied to him all these years but what’s worse is that at the end, she decided to stop lying to him and showed her true colors. He hated that she didn’t simply continue lying to him. That is what 盛纮 could not forgive. He saw her for what she truly was. If in the last episode, Mistress Lin didn’t threaten 盛纮 the way she did and told him how the entire family needed to help her daughter, their relationship might have been saved. But no, she had to destroy any last affection 盛纮 had for her. That is why he beat her and moved her to the farm forever. Her belief at the beginning of this episode where she says as long as she plays coy and is sweet to Sheng Hong, she’ll be fine was highly miscalculated.

 

[Karen]

If you take a look at this scene, I think 刘琳 the actress for Madame 王 also does an amazing job here portraying the fear that Madame 王 felt about her husband. I think she also finally realized how cold-hearted her husband is. Before, she was mad that he preferred his concubine to her but I think for her, that’s just like par for the course for men. She was always more pissed off and jealous at 林小娘 rather than 盛纮. Here, she finally grasps the fact that there are certain boundaries that even 盛纮 will not tolerate, such as anything to endanger his career. She’s seeing him clearly as a ruthless man who will kill even his beloved concubine if she threatens his career prospects. 明兰 understood this early on, but now so does Madame wang. At the end of the scene, Madame wang starts tearing up. I think it’s a mixture of emotions. She’s happy that finally 林小娘 is dead but also she’s fearful that it’s her husband who authorized this. 

 

And now that this news is out, 明兰 proactively seeks out her grandmother to explain what happened. 明兰 presents written evidence of all the crimes that Mistress Lin committed towards her mother. After dismissing the rest of her servants for privacy, 明兰 explains that Mistress Lin’s death was all a plot. Again, Grandma 盛 kind of deduced this already when her own maid mentions possible murder. However, 明兰 confesses to everything she’s done, from pushing 墨兰 and 林小娘 to plan the secret relationship, to leaking that information to Madame Wang to expose this relationship. Grandma Sheng is shocked to hear this and asks why would she do this?! Did you think about your own future?

 

Here is the most important line from 明兰 for the drama. 

 

明兰 says “I’ve thought about it. But I needed to avenge my mother’s death. Who cares about appearance, reputation, or marriage?” She continues – 林小娘 deserved her death. 

 

[Cathy]

Man – I think this is the most emotion I’ve seen come out of 明兰 ever!

 

[Karen]

 

Grandma Sheng is stunned. How did 明兰 transform into the scheming woman? 明兰 begs for punishment. To my surprise, Grandma Sheng actually slaps 明兰! But she immediately hugs her beloved granddaughter. Grandma Sheng is mad at herself for never thinking about revenge for 明兰. The two reconcile and promise to never reveal the details of this to anyone else. It’s a truly touching scene.

 

Well we end the episode with the news that rebel forces have been defeated and 顾廷烨 returns back home. 

 

—-

 

[Cathy]

That’s that for the episode recap. There’s not much history that we want to dive into so we’ll do a deep dive into 林小娘!

 

高露 – Let’s talk a little bit about 高露 the actress for 林噙孀。Born in 1982 in Beijing, she was exposed to the arts and acting from a young age as her mother was an actress. She studied at the Beijing Academy of Drama or 中央戏剧学院 which is one of two schools in Beijing that produces many actors and actresses today. She has had an illustrious career and we’ve been fans of her since 2006 when she starred in A Mischievous Princess with Korean actress Nara Jang and taiwanese star Alec Su. In chinese the drama is called 刁蛮公主 starring 张娜拉 and 苏有朋。You can tell we’ve been Chinese drama nerds for forever. In that drama, 高露 played a princess and was serene and sweet. Fast forward a few years and we saw her in 家的N次方 which translates to Family to the Power of N. It came out in 2011. In that drama, she played 薛之荔。Cathy was obsessed with that drama and absolutely fell in love with 高露‘s character. 栗子姐 or Chestnut Sister as she was referred to in the drama was poised, elegant, soft spoken but determined. The epitome of what a kind, thoughtful and family oriented person should be. I don’t know if there are english subtitles available for this drama floating around but it was fantastic. For that role she won several awards for best actress. Sadly, she was never an A list actress. She certainly has acting capabilities and we’re very happy to see her succeed but 赵丽颖 for example has more commerciality than 高露 even though 高露 I would say also has high output and high quality dramas.

 

[Karen]

In the roles we saw her in, she was typically a good person. Her, i guess, bone structure and overall demeanor draws you to like her. That’s why in the Story of Ming Lan, it was so fun to watch her play this shameless, calculating, power hungry and gold digging woman when the drama came out. I immediately wanted to like her and then was like, oh no, she is not a good person. The drama is so different from what we’ve seen before. In behind the scenes clips of 高露,she says that for this drama she rarely stood up straight. She clearly knew her role as a concubine which is to ensure her husband is happy at all times which means she’s generally bowing or is looking down to show a meeker attitude. I talked at length in the last episode about her fantastic scene with her husband, but her final confrontation with Ming Lan was also thrilling to watch. 

 

To close out – I want to give kudos to the costume department for really complementing 林小娘’s character. She only wears pink but with many lavish designs. As a reminder concubines could not wear certain colors. Pink was primarily what was worn by concubines to catch their husbands attentions. 

 

[Cathy]

Book differences

Let’s end with some of the major book differences. 

 

First and foremost – in the book 林小娘 doesn’t die. She is simply sent to the farmstead to live out the rest of her life. We don’t see her much in the book after these events. In the book 林小娘 isn’t really a big character. The drama does a great job showcasing the selfish nature of 林小娘 and exactly how she’s able to triumph against Madame Wang every single time.

 

As I mentioned in the last episode, 明兰 had no hand in 林小娘 and 墨兰’s decision to plot a meeting with 梁含 nor cared too much about her own mother’s death. She was more just an observer of these events in the book and didn’t really participate. 

 

Let’s compare in the drama – 明兰 directly had a hand pushing 墨兰 and 林小娘 into their final situation. I’ve refrained from commenting much on the actress, 赵丽颖’s portrayal but I want to spend some time now to discuss 明兰’s reactions towards the events of episode 31 through episode 33. I don’t know if it was a directorial choice or what but 明兰 just seemed pretty lifeless and maybe spaced out during these episodes? I don’t know. It didn’t really work for me, in the sense of, why is 明兰 doing all of this? She wants revenge but she doesn’t show much of that burning emotion until she confesses to her grandmother?

 

[Karen]

Especially when 明兰 meets 林小娘 at the farmstead for the final time, she simply just stared at 林小娘. Is she happy that 林小娘 died? She smiled when she left but like, I feel like you should show SOMETHING to your mother’s murderer. Perhaps she was trying to act cold? But Madame Wang and Sheng Hong did a MUCH better job a portraying a coldness during 墨兰’s marriage. As much as a like 赵丽颖, I don’t know if she really grasped the essence of 明兰 in these few episodes. She just seemed there. I wished I got more out of her.

 

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