Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Foundation 1984: My impressions

One of my favourite scenes: Li Sai Man trying to kiss Sik Sik (Ep 4)

I thought I should write a post about what I think of The Foundation 1984 (决战玄武门) after watching it two weeks ago. A month ago, I found that I could obtain the series in Mandarin and Cantonese subs and Indonesian subtitles. It seems the excellent subtitles was done by fans, and it reflects how fans could actually do wonders with their dedication. I was relieved to receive the DVDs and dreaded it at the same time. I dreaded watching the series for fear of a broken heart, but I couldn’t help it. In the end, I am glad I forced myself to watch it; at least now I can rest the case.

The story line itself; don't buy it as the definitive chronicles of Li Sai Man or Emperor Taizong. Reports had it that Li Sai Man indeed killed his brothers, but there was never a record of him loving a peasant girl and killed her for the throne. It was true though that Li Sai Man was a good emperor, if not THE best, of the ancient China.

Nevertheless, since I watched it with the fiction mind instead of the historical mind, I kind of "enjoyed" the series. As in, I could appreciate its nuances and quick story telling, without leaving out important details. With only 12 episodes (an hour per episode running time), the story paced nicely and arrived at the pinnacles rather smoothly. If you could say killing innocents and the only woman you love as "smooth"... Still, you got the idea. The story didn't leave me bored for its dragged storytelling. Again, I must contrast this with some modern story-tellings that do feel dragged at times...

Acting-wise, the dynamics amongst the actors and actresses were amazing. I understand many considered Felix Wong as the main actor here, or Michael Miu. But I do think they were both the main actors for the two of them were equally important for the story. Barbara Yung was a great main actress, and she paired very well with both Felix and Michael (particularly with Michael, IMO). The beautiful Lisa Lui Yau Wai (a villainess Li Mok Sau in the Return of Condor Heroes 1983) was excellent as Madame Li despite her limited screen times. Actor Lau Kong portrayed Li Jing as a convincingly cold counsellor (I'd divorce him right away if I were Madame Li...). Lau Kong was also paired with Michael Miu in the Legend of Condor Heroes 1982 as Wanyan Honglie, Yeung Hong’s Jurchen father. Ken Tong provided a very nice pure antagonist character as the 3rd Prince, an ambitious royalty who would definitely kill his 1st brother without blinking for the throne had they succeeds in getting rid of Li Sai Man. Austin Wai convincingly played Meng Qing Bing, a two-faced swordsman with a vengeance.

Despite the Foundation being a sad story, I still sing praises for Michael Miu and Barbara Yung. Their portrayal of Li Sai Man and Chun Sik Sik were par excellence to me, such that I still root for LSM/SS pairing despite the sad ending. No one IMO can play this version of Li Sai Man to perfection like Michael; portraying his humour, ambition, sadness, intense love and regrets like he did. I mean, his portrayal as a man so much in love with a woman, yet so deluded as well that he'd still stab her to gain his uncle's approval... And his pained expressions during the scenes leading to that scene and the post-stabbing scenes... And his sorrow and loneliness afterwards...and his sorrow after his sister left him, and his heartbreak as he had to fight the closest friend he ever had, and his determination to be the best ruler as Kong Fung demanded him to be... Michael's Li Sai Man was like his Yeung Hong and Chor Lau Heung; they're all the best interpretations of those characters IMO, and in the opinions of many other viewers. Michael's Li Sai Man also showed how versatile his acting skills were; the 2nd Prince had so many layers of character that only someone like Michael Miu could peel off and execute.

As for our leading lady Barbara Yung, despite just finished portraying the smart, playful and resourceful Wong Yung in the Legend of Condor Heroes 1982, she morphed almost effortlessly into a shy, timid yet determined country girl for this series. I originally thought I wouldn't like her character for I feared that Sik Sik was a weak character, but I was sold out. I bought Barbara’s Sik Sik character almost right away. Chun Sik Sik in Barbara's hands was a - yes - shy and timid girl, almost outdated even for her time. But she also exuded strength, grace and integrity, a character who Li Sai Man actually needed to balance his humour and ambition. And the pair would have succeeded in making a beautiful, long-lasting love story, had it not for the mandatory storyline that Sai Man would kill the love of his life for the throne. I mean, just look at how Sik Sik blushed and bloomed in Sai Man’s presence, how she blushed when he tried to kiss her, how he took the delight in taking her outside for outings...How he joked around when she was with him, how he hurt himself as he protected her from danger... With Sik Sik, Sai Man was not a prince anymore. He was just the second young master. He was just a man in love. And I keep marvelling at how beautiful this version of Sai Man was...assisted by the power of Barbara's portrayal as Sik Sik. 

I love it when Sai Man was just being himself with Sik Sik (Ep 11)

At the same time, I was also weeping to see how Li Sai Man left Sik Sik due to either misunderstanding (and they then reconciled again later) or purposely left her so that she returned to Kong Fung (tho she later accepted Sai Man back). To me, these two sides of Li Sai Man could only be explored best because we have Michael portraying this character against Barbara’s Sik Sik.

A poster said in the SPCNET forum that all women in this series suffered. I agree with her with a little grain of salt. Yes, Sik Sik was murdered by Li Sai Man, the love of her life. Qing Bing's lover killed herself so that she wasn't obstructing QB's ambition to kill Emperor Li Yuan (Sai Man's father). Madame Li had to stay in China to accompany her husband despite her wish to leave China proper. Lok Wan loved Kong Fung (Felix Wong) but he loved only Sik Sik. Yet, at least this last character Lok Wan eventually left her Yi Gor (2nd brother) because she could no longer tolerate his changed attitude. Her departure (and later Kong Fung's) was the long overdue wakeup call Li Sai Man needed to see how fruitless his chase for the throne was, albeit it was "for the people".

Another poster at SPCNET said that Sik Sik might not be able to withstand the Palace politics. I agree with her with a cup of salt this time.  Sik Sik might not like living in the Palace, but her very presence was an essential thing for Li Sai Man actually, and she and Sai Man realised this. She'd go through the nuisance of the palace life for him, and he, had he been able to overcome his ego, he'd be a better ruler with her counsel. Had things been different, Sik Sik would have been a fine company for Sai Man... But alas, the story wasn't as I would have wanted.

How come I root so much for a star-crossed couple?! Of which demise brought by the very man who promised to cherish and protect the lady?? I don’t get it either. I understand that some fans are rooting for KF/SS instead of LSM/SS, but even with all of Sai Man’s mistakes, I still think the latter make a very fine couple. Such was the testament of the level of acting that Michael and Barbara gave me... (And not just me...)

Yes, the series basically left me wanting more of LSM/SS. By the by, for those who want to feast on the alternative ending of The Foundation 1984, check TLN's excellent offerings of five instalments here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5. I highly recommend this fan-fiction instalment. If you prefer to leave the original storyline as it was, yet seeking some ties with other Michael/Barbara wuxia series, you can check my latest fan fiction here. And check these posts for the Foundation 1984 episode guides and screen caps.

Update 19 Jan 2017

I made a rebuttal on the idea that Sik Sik couldn't accompany Li Sai Man in his governance. Read this new fan-fiction series of mine to see what I mean. I think she could have done that, given the chance. 

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