2016, marked the next phase of Liu Shi Shi’s career. At the Lost Love in Times press welcoming event she announced her decision to leave Tangren Media, the company she had been signed on for ten years, since her graduation from Beijing’s Dance Academy in 2007. In addition, it was revealed that Straw Bear, the company her husband, Nicky Wu, had founded and the company in which she was transferred 60% of shares, as a marriage gift, would be investing in this drama. Partnering with the team behind 2015’s hit Journey of Flowers, in particular director Li Yu Fen, notable for her many popular television series such as Three Lives Three Worlds, 10 Miles of Peach Blossoms and Just One Smile is Very Alluring (Love O2O), the television series is very loosely based on the internet novel Drunken Exquisiteness by Shi Si Ye.
Liu Shi Shi as Feng Qing Chen
William Chan as Yuan Ling (4th Prince)
Xu Hai Qiao as Yuan Zhan (7th Prince)
Huang Meng Ying as Princess Duo Xia
Episode Number: 56
Episode Length: A mixture of 35 minute to 55 minutes.
Broadcast Date: July 13 – October 6
The sorceress clan has the prophecy that the appearance of double stars, indicate drastic change, where one star must sacrifice for the other to survive. On the day of the sorceress’ clan promotions and Western Wei’s annual hunting festival, the stars have reappeared.
The emperor has planned the day to not only take down Yuan Ling, the son he had mistakenly raised for the brother he abdicated the throne from, but to also eliminate the military risk the other possesses. Forced to the edge of a cliff by his brothers, Yuan Ling jumps off. Unknowingly trespassing into the sorceress clan’s secret land of Li Jing Tian. Luckily, he encounters Qing Chen, who cushions his fall and tends to his wounds. With the intentions to seek the help of Qing Chen’s teacher, the sorceress clan’s Xi Xie elder, Yuan Ling feigns unconsciousness to extend his stay. With the proximity, the pair soon fall in love, unaware that they are fated to be the dual stars.
Forced to abdicate the throne, Yuan Ling’s determination to take Qing Chen as his empress is not wavered by the fact that she is grand sorceress. However, prior agreement from the royal family and the sorceress clan prevents the grand sorceress from being wedded into the royal family. Speculations having led to wide spread belief that such occasion will cause chaos to fall onto the world. With the political court against them, Yuan Zhan uptakes the opportunity to launch a coup on their wedding day. To prevent further bloodshed and to protect the ones she loves, Qing Chen uses her powers as grand sorceress to alter the universe, planning to replace one with another.
In this alternate universe, Qing Chen does not exist and no one knows of her. Her clan has also been falsely accused of rebelling against the kingdom. Unable to tell them of her goals, Qing Chen must work to unravel the truth behind the case and return the throne to Yuan Ling.
The plot progression of first six episodes can be compared with the period in which thunder is delayed after lightning strikes. It’s not completely unexpected, like lighting is, but nor is it completely expected like thunder is after lighting has been witnessed. To a certain degree, the first six episodes are rushed through, to form a back drop for the main story arc that occurs after she travels to the alternate universe. Whilst, it was refreshing to see the drama progress in such a manner, a little more time to develop the romance between our main leads in the original timeline was left desired, as it is the motivation behind the heroine’s life risking actions.
The episodes that followed, presented a steadier pace, with well-developed build up. However, the pace did suffer a little towards the second half of the series, when the romance was sidelined for the central political battles. This could lie on the fact that some of the political battles, in particular the one surrounding Prime Minister Feng, wasn’t intriguing to me. There was criticism that the war scenes were dragged out towards the end, however, I felt that they had more integral momentum to the story line than the scenes with the scheming elders.
The series met controversies mid-way through its run when actor Xu Hai Qiao, publicly expressed his displeasure on Weibo in the changing of the script in regards to his character. Although, he was second male lead many of his scenes were cut and lines were changed to alter the appearance of his character. These scenes, perhaps showed a very different side of Yuan Zhan, to which even the author came to his defence, saying that the Yuan Zhan he played before the lines changed, was how she had depicted him in the novel. The director quickly came to the clarification that the lines were changed and scenes cut with the mindset that it would be most beneficial to the storyline. Until the very end, many of Xu Hai Qiao’s scenes continued to be cut, perhaps to present a happier ending than intended.
The show almost forced a very sweet ending on all the characters, but Yuan Zhan. However, this came at the expense of quite a few unresolved plot holes. Most of the villains gained retribution for their sins, but there was one character left out. What happened to Prime Minister Feng, who was originally such a focus point in the middle of the series? The cut ending that has been spread around Weibo presents why the production team decided to exclude such the arc, but it also was pivotal to wrapping up some loopholes. Whilst as a viewer a happy ending makes me gleam with joy, the other part of me that values story telling over a happy ending is left craving for explanations.
The roles that formed the pillars to the stories’ love polygon, were all exceptional characters. Whilst, some did not like Duo Xia, she wasn’t the typical villain that we’ve recently seen the actress recently take on. For many a distaste towards Huang Meng Ying derives from the characters she’s played in Three Worlds Three Lives, 10 Miles of Peach Blossoms and Princess Agents. Throughout the series, I could see how this had affected their judgement of the character. However, whilst there were similarities in these disliked characters to Duo Xia, the actress that plays her did not alter my judgement of the character. Along with Yuan Zhan she was probably one of the more confused characters. However, her actions had strong vindication to them.
Since Duo Xia was the creation of Qing Chen’s love for Yuan Ling in the first timeline, her love at first sight with the latter is logical. The storyline’s inability to emphasise this upon her death, made it a little confusing on why she became a stone. Further on in the series, her love for Yuan Ling, became a secondary issue to her need to protect her country and help her brother. Duo Xia’s marriage to Yuan Ling wasn’t from the selfish desire to obtain him, as she was aware that his heart belonged to Qing Chen. Duo Xia was someone who was never afraid to express her emotions, wants and needs. The two times I saw her step down for people other than herself in the series, really tugged at my emotions. Her respect for Qing Chen never shifted, which is generally unseen between female love rivals in dramas. I enjoyed the complexity to her character, because having a one-sided love doesn’t have to make one become immoral. Duo Xia whilst not perfect, really reflected this nature well.
The other character, who at times took actions that garnered criticism, was Yuan Ling. To a certain extent, he possesses the representative traits of the formulated popular male lead. However, that doesn’t mean he’s the perfect male lead, like most typical male leads aren’t. One of the Yuan Ling’s characteristic traits that has become highly controversial in recent times is forcefulness. For many years forced kisses and wrist grabbing were seen as romantic gestures in dramas and to some they still are. But thankfully society has progressed with education of the importance of consent, which brings to light the not beautiful side of these actions. The scene where Yuan Ling pinned Qing Chen to chair and forced a kiss on her, wasn’t pleasant to watch. It was the first time I deducted points from him. The only satisfying moment of that kiss, was the hard earnt slap he received afterwards.
The other scene in which I was a little disappointed in Yuan Ling was when a solider reported to Yuan Ling and Yuan Zhan that Qing Chen and Yuan Che were missing. Furthermore, Duo Xia had betrayed them and was going to marry Mu Ke Sha. I’m not someone who believes that in order for it to be love, one character must dedicate their whole heart to the other. But in this case, it seemed trivial that Yuan Ling showed more emotion towards the statements about Duo Xia, than the fact that Yuan Che and Qing Chen, who supposedly were the two most important to him, were missing. The contrast between Yuan Ling and Yuan Zhan’s reaction at the time, added a moment of uncertainty, as I was left questioning who actually loved Qing Chen more.
I do believe it’s unfair that for many it’s okay if the female lead has respect and affection towards the second male lead, but the same cannot be said for the male lead towards the second female lead. I enjoyed that Yuan Ling showed concerned towards Duo Xia, in the form of a head pat, which I saw as completely unromantic and the acceptance of the coat. However, as much as I believe there should be equality between the female lead and the male lead, I couldn’t convince myself that the back hug Yuan Ling and Duo Xia shared was purely platonic. I can’t say, I mind that Yuan Ling’s heart may have wavered a little with the situation they were in or whether he was consoling Duo Xia in that moment. Yuan Ling does redeem himself through his many unhesitant self-sacrifices for Qing Chen. However, it’s undeniable that the other side of the love triangle is an equally strong, perhaps an even stronger contender, which makes opinions start to dither.
Yuan Zhan, was definitely my favourite character in the series. While it is true that I have a tendency to side with the protective, silent type, it was only one of the reasons I enjoyed his character. As mentioned earlier, Yuan Zhan was a very conflicted character. On one side, he wanted to do what was right, but he couldn’t abandon his mother or her family, regardless of how scheming she was. He was filial to both his corrupted parents, but also needed to find the balance to keep his righteous character. In the first universe, he played a villain, one that can be compared to his birth parents, vicious, cunning and unafraid to make blood sacrifices to achieve their aims. In the second universe, whilst knowledgeable with the ability to manipulate the situation, he used it to help others and return justice to those who needed it. Whilst the editing, made him seem a little calculating in some scenes, there was no doubt at the end that he would become a good emperor.
He wished for the happiness of those around him, and actively took part in allowing them to pursue this happiness. Yuan Zhan’s love for Qing Chen evolved from wanting to be with her, to silently protecting her and respecting that she loved Yuan Ling. His love didn’t revolve around grand gestures, not that he didn’t make them, but he was content with not having to voice it. Both in the officially aired version and the cut scenes, his ending made him perhaps the most pitiful character in this situation. By obtaining the world, his love for Qing Chen, resulted in a loneliness, no other characters had to face. It’s really unfortunate that so many of his scenes were cut.
To have two men so willingly to sacrifice for her, Qing Chen needs to have been a remarkable person for such actions to be justified. Which, she unarguably was. Although, the love Qing Chen had for Yuan Ling in the first timeline was more tell than show, it’s undeniable that this love that drove Yuan Ling in both timelines, was equally as propelling for Qing Chen. Even though she did not love Yuan Zhan in the second universe, her ability to differentiate and place aside the grudges she may have obtained during the first universe, really does show her impartiality as a character. Her trust and respect for him, although not comparable to love, included the willingness to sacrifice for him.
She was intelligent, at times manipulative, but she wasn’t oblivious to the situations she created, whether they were good or bad. Although, she was on the good side, she knew that there were conniving acts she had to uptake in order to fulfil her goals. Qing Chen’s character was a well woven mixture of virtuous and devious that bought together a strong female lead, able to fulfil her tasks. On the romance side, she did fall in love with Yuan Ling very quickly and the moments of weakness she experiences in front of him are evident throughout the drama. I don’t believe she was too perfect, or that matters came easily for her. However, her action of removing all magic in the end, was questionable. On one side, from the perspective of all the events that had occurred, it seemed logical to remove the source of the problem. However, for a country bound to always be at war, because of the conditions of the period, to lose both their strongest warrior and the magic that was one of their advantages, it just seems like a jarring plot hole.
While the leads, were all crafted quite well, it doesn’t seem as though the same thoughts and considerations were placed into writing the villains. The series’ assembly of villains all seemed to lack strong conviction. There was an attempt to contrast the villains with the heroes in that they were people of similar backgrounds and side stories, but one had taken the righteous path and the other had taken a path of deceit. The show not relying on one villain to propel storyline, added many elements of chaos that could be created at different times. However, many of the villains came down to the one issue of love. For Yuan An, it was his love for Yuan Ling’s mother, but he overall was a relatively always a deceitful and untrusting person. For Yuan Ling’s mother, Consort Lian, it was her love for the previous emperor. However, until the very end, she seemed to have ignored the circumstances of her actions towards her son. For Yuan Ming, it was Xian Wu’s death he had to avenge, but this delved into the path of fighting for the throne. For Mu Ke Sha, it was his love for Duo Xia and his desire to obtain her. Why did so many people have to suffer for their love?
One could say Imperial Consort Yin was a victim of the throne, but that didn’t justify how cold she was in the sacrifice of her own son. As Yuan Zhan asks her in the series, if it was him instead of his 5th brother in that situation, would she have taken the same approach. Which again showcases that she was purely evil to bring one of her own blood on the throne, but why was that accomplishment necessary for her, if she would not hesitate to sacrifice them? The other villain who was not compelled by love was Prime Minister Feng. However, his reason for siding with Consort Lian, was even less strategised. Perhaps it was the greed for power, however, the series didn’t present how these actions were beneficial to him. Furthermore, as the only villain to have his retribution cut out, he seemed like a character that the show needlessly emphasised on.
Liu Shi Shi and William Chan, are both not known to be exceptional actors. Although Liu Shi Shi doesn’t have outstanding problems when it comes to emoting, she nonetheless is better balanced by a stronger lead actor. Which William Chan is unfortunately not. While William Chan had scenes where he was truly exceptional, such as the scene where he confronted the emperor and where he cried to the disappearing Qing Chen, there were scenes where he was a little stiff. He was not annoyingly stiff, or distractingly stiff though. Similarly, with Liu Shi Shi, she wasn’t exceptional in all her scenes, but nonetheless she still does crying scenes amazingly. Her acting shortcomings however, when contrasted to William Chan are less prevalent.
When compared to Huang Meng Ying and Xu Hai Qiao, the differences are starker. However, that’s not to say the leads were bad, it presents how I believe that these two were truly exceptional in the role, especially Xu Hai Qiao. Xu Hai Qiao’s dedication to presenting Yuan Zhan to the original author’s intention are remarkable, and as she said he was perfect in the role. The scene in which he dejectedly attempted to hug onto the disappearing Qing Chen, was in my opinion, one of the strongest scenes in the series. His heart ache, his pain, was so evidently showcased in his defenceless nature towards to situation. As powerful as the scene in which Yuan Ling witnessed Qing Chen disappearing, Xu Hai Qiao made his scene unmistakably more impactful.
Huang Meng Ying, although not distinctly as brilliant as Xu Hai Qiao, really did show her magnitude as an actress in this series. In the scene, where she made the request for Yuan Ling to marry her in front of Qing Chen, the actress perfectly captured the character’s vulnerabilities and hurt in her expressions.
There doesn’t need to be introduction to Liu Yijun’s acting as Yuan An, because he’s a proven veteran actor, who nails his role every time. The same can be said about Fang Xiao Li as Imperial Consort Yin. Han Xue and Han Dong as Tao Yao and Xi Xie also held their ground. However, the more minor roles in the younger cast such as Yuan Li, Yuan Che, Cai Qian and Ming Yan, were a little lacking in their roles. Yuan Che was noticeably better than the other three though. I believe as they’re relatively new in the industry, over time the exaggeration of their acting will tone down. Furthermore, as there weren’t many scenes in which their ability to emote was essential to the story line, the problem was rather insignificant.
Cinematography and Costumes:
I’m not a fan of unsubtle colour alterations in motion pictures, however the dark tone of this drama was quite beautiful. At times, some of the brighter colours would stand out unnaturally, as in the ribbons on the horses, but, it worked in other scenes such as the red in the wedding attire. The colours aren’t distracting or too bright. Rather than emphasising the background, it highlights the costumes, which were very uniquely interesting.
While the outfits were evidentially ancient, they encompassed very modern designs, patterns, fabrics and clothing technology. They’re not the most historically accurate, but since the genre is fantasy that aspect can be looked over. I had mixed reactions when it came to many of the outfits. Whilst I found some mesmerising, others were questionable. If the clothing had been paired with less flamboyant hair styles, there perhaps would have been more harmony. I tried to convince myself that the hairstyles are to emphasise the fantasy genre, but at times they are distracting and definitely take time to adjust to, particularly for the sorceress and sorcerers of Li Jing Tian. I didn’t mind the head gear on the royal family, however it would have been nicer if all the hairstyles weren’t so tightly pulled together. This highlights the benefit of the series’ attractive cast, as their visuals were able to withstand these hair dos.
The CGI at times were beautiful, at other times unnecessary. I understand the use of green screen in some scenes, but there were obvious moments where outdoors scenery would have been equally as sufficient. After watching some behind the scenes clips, I’ve come to the realisation the production company also used CGI on some parts of the natural outdoors scenery, which made some of the natural scenes look unfortunately fake.
One aspect of this series that is commendable is the fight choreography. Many of the scenes were mesmerising to watch and really utilised both William Chan’s favour of doing as much of the actions scenes himself, and Liu Shi Shi’s dance background. There were certain scenes that were obviously exaggerated, such as the fight between Yuan Ling and the soldiers in the desert, but those moments weren’t throughout the whole series. Furthermore, the CGI, during Liu Shi Shi’s fighting scenes in particular, really complimented and amplified the visual experience of those moments.
It’s been a while since, I’ve watched a music trailer for a series, and liked it on first listen. Surprisingly, Jane Zhang’s Exquisiteness, met those expectations. Jane Zhang proves that she never disappoints when it comes to soundtracks. However, my favourite soundtrack in this series, was actually Yisa Yu’s Painful Tears of the Heart. Whilst it was Exquisiteness that impressed me on first listen, as Painful Tears of the Heart accompanied the scenes in the drama, it came to grow on me.
If you’ve read my Princess Agents review, you’ll know that I’m not particularly a big fan of most actors taking on theme songs, but of course there are exceptions to those circumstances. William Chan’s Because of You, was one of these exceptions. The only song, I wasn’t the biggest fan of was the opening scene sang by Shin. I don’t believe his vocalisation matched the opening theme, however it was later changed, and not really used throughout the actual episodes anyway. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this sound track and will probably add it to my playlist when I have time.
Lost Love in Times, is not a series without flaws or loopholes. The premise whilst promising, was not utilised to the best of its possibilities. This left the universe travelling elements a little hard to understand. The series forced on a happy ending for the majority of the characters, almost ignoring some of the plot holes in doing so. As you can see, there were many places and elements that I found criticisable. While the ending was fairy-tale like, it was relatively rushed and would have benefitted from possibly a one or two episode extension to explain how the universes merged. Perhaps my opinion about the middle episodes would have been different if the airing schedule was like usual Chinese series, in which ten episodes are released a week. But it should be noted I stayed on track with this series, throughout its entire run, even while I was overseas on holidays. Every week, I was kept interested enough to tune it. This was not because of my bias for Liu Shi Shi, because I’ve dropped two series she starred in this year alone.
It’s true that I have many mixed opinions about this television show, nonetheless, I did enjoy it. It’s definitely not a masterpiece, nor is it my favourite series this year. However, for every moment that I followed Lost Love in Times, I thoroughly fell in love with the characters and the actors. There is a spinoff that follows the end of the series, currently airing on Youku with Yuan Che, Cai Qian, Yuan Li and Ming Yan. Although I don’t know if I love the series enough to watch the spinoff, as there’s no Yuan Zhan or Qing Chen, I would recommend Lost Love in Times. It’s a show that doesn’t necessarily need to be prioritised, but you won’t regret the hours of emotions you’ve invested.
Did you enough Lost Love in Times? Have I convinced you or unconvinced you to watch it? Do you disagree with my opinions? Comment down below.