The problem with being fed romantic tales on TV, in music and in books, is that one tends to grow up with highly warped ideals of what constitutes love and romance. Little wonder none of my relationships could survive. Of course you can’t just blame the media. I’ve never been an easy person to live with, but that’s another post.
Warning: Extremely Spoilery Post on 《大漠谣》(Da Mo Yao), 《长相思》(Chang Xiang Si) and 《曾许诺》(Ceng Xu Nuo).
Chiong Yao adaptations on TV had been a staple in my teens, but I never read any of the novels cos my Chinese reading is crap. However, Koala’s Playground started doing English translations of some novels, which I devoured rabidly. These include historical romances by Tong Hua, the writer of time-travelling Bu Bu Jing Xin, which had been made into the immensely popular Scarlet Heart. However, I’d gotten impatient waiting for the subsequent chapters, so I borrowed 《大漠谣》Da Mo Yao, or Ballad of the Desert from the library. And I actually completed reading the very first Chinese novel in my life! No mean feat, considering that it had two volumes! I couldn’t even go beyond the first few pages of Chapter 1 of The Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre by Louis Cha, which was my favourite period wuxia drama for ages. Of course I skimmed through the boring politicking bits, but the romance between Yu Jin and Huo Qu Bing was highly satisfying. No love lost on my end for the second male lead. Felt kinda sorry for him, but the OTP was too good.
However, it is an entirely different tale in 《长相思》(Lost You Forever). Koala had warned in advance that the tale was bittersweet, and damned right it was. 《长相思》is the sequel to 《曾许诺》(Once Promised). Where 《曾许诺》ended with the tragedy of once-besties in the god tribes in their struggle for survival and power, 《长相思》shows the repercussions of their actions on their progeny, how it shaped the young ‘uns belief systems, and the decisions they make consciously in order not to replicate the vicious fates of their forebears.
Without going into details, there are 3 romantic archetypes in the heroine Xiao Yao’s life – the boring but steadfast Jing, whose sense of responsibility led to years of their estrangement; the bad boy with a marshmallow centre, Xiang Liu, who quietly protects Xiao Yao over the years, but whose similar sense of responsibility leads him to choose comradeship over love; and the almost destructively possessive Zhuan Xu, whose utmost devotion to Xiao Yao would have been most admirable until he changed from being her ultimate protector to being obsessed about keeping her by his side.
So of the three men in Xiao Yao’s lives, Jing is the luckiest to have loved and have his love reciprocated. Xiang Liu is the noble idiot who sacrifices his love for her so that she could have a real stab at happiness, given the circumstances, and Zhuan Xu the selfish arse who almost condemns her to a half life in his mad desire to possess her (I blame the writer trying to stir up more conflict towards the end of the novel).
I would have chosen Xiang Liu in a heartbeat, and given that Xiao Yao and his life were so literally intertwined, that would have been a foregone conclusion in most romances, except that it would probably lead to death and destruction, since they are on opposing ends of the war. So Romeo and Juliet. And thus, while they sorta have feelings for each other, with Xiang Liu more conscious of it than Xiao Yao, they pretty much friendzone each other for peace’s sake. Poor Xiang Liu. They would have had fun traversing the seven seas, if only they could give up their respective loyalties to their clans.
But Xiao Yao recognises that while it’s all fun and excitement with Xiang Liu, the stability that she craves can only be found through Jing. Which is all right I guess. We all choose our partners for different reasons. (And why does she crave stability? Childhood abandonment issues, man…)
The only ick factor here is Zhuan Xu, who is her cousin! His father and her mom were siblings. And while he doesn’t love his consorts and Empress, there’s no reason for him to condemn her to having to share a husband with a gazillion women. You chose power to keep her safe. Please don’t cage her like a bird to keep you company. Thank goodness he has the sense to let her go eventually. Although it was really creepy how he makes her swear to wear his mom’s hairpin forever, the one heirloom left for his future wife.
Still, it was an accomplishment to finish all three volumes of《长相思》. Not gonna start on the prequel cos too much tears involved. But maybe if it’s made into a serial, I’d go for it cautiously. Being able to fast forward videos is such a godsend.