What do you get when a womanizing 21st century man is sent back in time to live in the body of a Chinese princess married to the emperor-to-be? Well, the delightfully low-budget Chinese drama Go Princess Go proves the outcome of this situation to be absolute hilarity.
Main Cast: Zhang Tian Ai as Zhang Peng Peng, Sheng Yi Lun as Qi Sheng, Yu Meng Long as Jiu Wang, Guo Jun Chen as Yang Yan, Hai Ling as Lu Li, and An Yong Chang as Jiang Ying Yue
Running Time: 35 episodes + 2 episodes of alternate endings; approximately 20-30 minutes per episode
Summary: Zhang Peng is a 21st century ladies’ man that is quite the womanizer. When this gets him in trouble with an ex-girlfriend, he ends up jumping into a pool to escape from her and receives a traumatic head injury in the process. To his shock, when he wakes up from his accident he is not dead, but living in the body of Zhang Peng Peng, a princess of feudal China who is married to the emperor-to-be.
After recovering from his initial shock, he quickly returns to his old ways (in other words, trying to seduce the palace concubines) as he slowly adjusts to the ways of palace life and many scheming people around him. While Peng Peng is being courted by one of her husband’s brothers, her husband is simultaneously cheating on her with a different brother’s wife. In other words, palace drama is twisted and confusing as all get out, especially when you take into account the fact that Peng Peng’s husband hates her and her life may very well be in danger because of it. Court intrigue quickly turns to violence and danger as Peng Peng struggles to find his identity in this place, not as the man he though he was, but a princess who must learn to love.
Review: This drama is certified gold to me, and it’s definitely not because of the high production value. In fact, Go Princess Go was laughably low-budget, but I think that adds a lot to its charm and humor. I’m almost certain I even saw a wire attached to the actors during some stunts that was never edited out either due to lack of oversight or lack of funds. Additionally, the actors and actresses are not well-known (but gained huge publicity from the drama) and some performances were certainly over the top. But these factors all added together to make a hilarious story that is strangely addicting. So while you may cringe at the cheesiness, you can’t help but watch more. I’ve never laughed harder at the sheer ridiculousness of a drama before, and I love Go Princess Go because of this.
That being said, there were some serious conflicts throughout Go Princess Go that made it a drama, rather than just a comedy. Court intrigue, murderous husbands, and shady brothers-in-law tend to have that effect on a story. There was also a beauty to this drama that was actually breathtaking, especially for such a fairly low-budget project. Not only were the actors and actresses themselves eye candy, the settings and costumes were also stunning. This, coupled with the fact that the OST for Go Princess Go was similarly entrancing, made for project that looked and sounded the part of a drama with a much larger budget.
This drama has created a huge buzz in China but was recently under fire from some Chinese censors and has faced some problems because of this. The story and concept is not something you see often in Asian dramas with its discussion of some mature thematic material and sexual preferences. The way the writers handled Peng Peng’s identity crisis and struggle with her sexuality was refreshing and quite unusual to see in an Asian drama. And while I refer to Peng Peng as a she, for a significant part of the drama her voiceover during moments when she was thinking was done in a man’s voice, Zhang Peng’s to be exact. This was a constant reminder that there was in fact a man’s mentality inside this woman’s body. The narration eventually switches to a female’s voice when Peng Peng finally accepts her role as empress and love for Qi Sheng. The idea that this Zhang Peng living in a woman’s body never quite disappeared though, evident in the way Peng Peng acted and sympathized with other men. And the end of the drama itself may throw into question everything you believe about what gender Peng Peng truly identifies with.
I particularly loved the development of Peng Peng’s relationships with the other members of the court because of the growth so evident in them. For example, Peng Peng starts her life in feudal China by relentlessly lusting after her ditzy attendant Lu Li. Far from this developing into an actual romantic relationship, by the end of the drama the two women are best friends and Lu Li is Peng Peng’s closest confidant. And while Peng Peng herself was being pursued by Jiu Wang for almost the entirety of the drama, they had a strange sort of friendship where their mutual respect for each other was evident (even if Peng Peng didn’t reciprocate his feelings). I will admit their final goodbyes to each actually brought tears to my eyes, the only moment in the entire series to do so. I liked that Jiu Wang wasn’t the cookie cutter second lead you want to root for. He had some noticeable flaws: he was power hungry, love-obsessed, and willing to betray others for what he wanted most in the world. But somehow he still remained gentle enough to invoke sympathy. And Jiu Wang’s friendship with his right hand man Yang Yan was a beautiful and hilarious thing. So close they were often mistaken as lovers, these two were really the only characters faithful to each other for the entire run of Go Princess Go. And while their relationship was platonic, Yang Yan’s devotion to Jiu Wang through all his mistakes was no less heartwarming than if they had been romantically involved. Yang Yan was the only person to stand by his side after countless other friends and family turned their backs on Jiu Wang, which was so heartwarming to witness. Additionally, Peng Peng’s own friendship with Yang Yan was a highlight of the drama to me. She stepped up into an almost big brother role for him and though he was constantly causing mischief, she dealt with it with the doting mentality of an older sibling. All in all, a very cute friendship between two very fiery characters.
Strangely enough, the only relationship I struggled to digest in this drama was the main couple’s. Perhaps because Qi Sheng’s character was immediately established as unfaithful with his relationship with his lover Jiang Shi. Or perhaps because Qi Sheng tried to kill Peng Peng early on in the drama. Failed premeditated murder is never a strong foundation for romance. But either way, it made it difficult to believe Qi Sheng could go from initially hating Peng Peng to loving her so much he would abdicate his role as emperor in order for them to live as equals. The evolution of their relationship was a gradual change though, taking place over an extended period of time. So I do appreciate the writers’ attempts to make it as believable as possible. That being said, I was definitely more interested in Peng Peng’s internal conflict in falling for a man, rather than falling for Qi Sheng specifically.
I will say, the ending of this drama was the biggest letdown of all. Without revealing too many spoilers, the writers clearly took any easy and uninspired route to finish the final episode in a conclusion that felt rushed and completely out of left field. After finishing the last fifteen minutes or so of the finale, I could only wonder to myself, “What just happened?” and more importantly, “Why?” Fear not though, the writers seemed to be aware of their folly and also released two alternate endings following the disastrous Episode 35. And while I do prefer these plot wise for the sake the characters’ happiness, both additional endings are even more confusing as the first.
Conclusion: Go Princess Go is fresh, witty, and absurd. And while it fails to deliver a satisfying ending to match the whirlwind events of humor, romance, and danger throughout the drama, I still would recommend this to anyone looking for some good fun and beautiful visuals. When a drama can make you laugh and cry like Go Princess Go, a little forgiveness can be given with a lackluster ending when the journey to get there was so memorable.