Stakes Are High: First Impressions of Secret of Three Kingdoms

Secret of Three Kingdoms (Source: Soompi)

Everything is at stake from the first episode of Secret of Three Kingdoms. The imperial family is on a mission and the odds are against them, meaning that all hands should be on deck. But are all hands really on deck? At any rate, I’m here for it!

This drama had me at Three Kingdoms. It could have been called Random Villager A in Province 2 and I would be on it. I love Three Kingdoms! Due to its length, complexity and sheer number of characters, it lends itself to multiple treatments.  The team behind Secret of Three Kingdoms have taken some liberties, but I’m not mad. It still sets up the kind of power dynamics that drive all good dramas.

From the first episode, you can tell that times are perilous! What makes this drama a little different are secret motives and shaky alliances among a group of people who do not really have a lot of power. Back in the capital, the royal family is engaged in a polite war with Cao Cao, and many have already been sacrificed. No one is safe! Out in the countryside, villagers are having a hard time, subject to random attacks by bandits. Things are rough.

In the midst of the intrigue, the tension between Liu Xie (Ma Tiyuan) and Fu Shou (Regina Wan) draws your attention because they seem to want the same thing, but have two radically different ways of achieving it.  On one hand, wide-eyed Liu Xie rolls in all high and mighty with his armchair tactics and compassion. Under normal circumstances, this works, but I don’t think he fully understands how the royal family has been living under Cao Cao. The imperial family is desperate, which is why Fu Shou is constantly giving Liu Xie the side-eye when he does not fully grasp the situation. It’s not like they haven’t tried other things. Liu Xie doesn’t fully recognize that Fu Shou, the former emperor and Tang Ying (Dong Jie), the princess consort have been dealing with this situation for a while. Where has Liu Xie been? Chillin’ with his homie Sima Yi (Elvis Han) in the country. I need him to show a little more respect! On the other hand, because they have been on the front lines of this domestic war with Cao Cao, the royal family has lost some of its compassion and humanity (some?). They do tend to go with the extreme plan and overkill. There are alternatives. I certainly hope that they will learn to trust each other and become closer.

Speaking of Sima Yi, Liu Xie needs to keep an eye on him. While Sima Yi likes to denigrate the royal family, he is just as guilty of trying to control Liu Xie. He will use all kinds of means to get what he wants as well. Hey, instead of criticizing the royal family, why don’t you come up with a plan, Sima Yi? Or better yet, why don’t you get ready for the return of Guo Jia, who never makes a mistake? Be of some use! Guo Jia deserves special mention, because Sunny Wang is doing this character justice. He seems to play the debauched, strategic expert well.

My initial foray into the drama had me binge-watch 5 episodes, so it is definitely worth your while if historical dramas are your thing.


“Secret of the Three Kingdoms – 三国机密之潜龙在渊.” DramaFever. (19 May 2018)

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Stakes Are High: First Impressions of Secret of Three Kingdoms by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The Lost Bladesman (2011), Or, The Wolf With The Soul Of A Lamb


Felix Chong and Alan Mak’s The Lost Bladesman (2011) takes a different tact on Romance of the Three Kingdoms by focusing on the episode where Guan Yu “spends some time” with Cao Cao.  I appreciate this more subtle approach to the epic tale, even as it has some parts that do not quite make sense to me.

Continue reading “The Lost Bladesman (2011), Or, The Wolf With The Soul Of A Lamb”

YesAsia Order #1

Ok, not really the first YesAsia order, but I thought it would make an interesting post to see what I’m getting and why. Also, this presents a nice change from me complaining about how Netflix has completely ruined our relationship by not having my Asian stuff!

First, let’s talk about what I’m NOT getting: the 94-episode Three Kingdoms released in 2010. Thanks, China, for not loving me. Why no subtitles in English? WHY?! Really, why make it region free (not like I care) but not have English subtitles? And I can’t do the various OTHER internet ways of accessing this (read: quasi-legal). Standards are too high when it comes to wuxia series. Can’t do parts.

So, let’s move on to what I am getting:

Reign of Assassins: You can’t be surprised by this. Michelle Yeoh and Jung Woo Sung. Co-directed by John Woo. I’ve been waiting for this, not just for the action but for the domestic story. It could be an interesting twist on the “I don’t wanna fight any more” plot, because it’s a woman saying it. Usually, we see swordsmen become beleaguered by the life of a hero. They retire to some cave, or become a monk on a mountain somewhere. Which is fine, but when it is a female lead, inevitably part of her domestic life is going to involve becoming romantically involved with a guy. Where else would the tension come from when her gang comes looking for her trying to drag her back into the life? The stakes are different for ladies, and I’m interested in how they handle this.

Shaolin: Once again, this is a given, ever since I saw the trailer for it. AND it’s not JUST because it has Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse and some guy named Jackie Chan in it. Corey Yuen does the martial arts choreography and it’s written by Benny Chan. Yeah, I know we’ve seen the destruction of the Shaolin temple many times, but I’m never opposed to revisiting it, especially if someone can bring something new. Plus, it looks like there may be some engagement with the modernization of China. At least that’s what I think of when I see cars and guns versus monks.

The Lost Bladesman: Me, absolutely giddy with delight at the prospect of seeing Donnie Yen play Guan Yu. You had me at Guan Yu. You know he’s your favorite of the Three Brothers. I want Liu Bei to be a better man than he is, and Chang Fei is just cray cray. Now, there is the potential for disappointment here, especially since it will invite comparisons to Red Cliff. You know my aim here is not to tell you what’s “good” and what’s not. I’m just telling you what I like. And I like Donnie Yen. A LOT. Plus, Guan Yu seems to have more potential for exploration as a character. I do want to see him do more than wield the blade and do that move with the beard. I’ve heard some less than stellar things about the actual plot, but hey, I’m getting it ANYWAY!

True Legend: Yes, not just because of Vincent Zhao but because of Zhao PLUS Yuen Wo Ping! Ok, I do have a thing for Zhao and it has everything to do with the emotional roller-coaster he took me on as Chu Zhaonan in the wuxia series Seven Swordsmen. STILL not over that ending! I think that he could be a viable go-to guy for action and wuxia films, but no one seems to go to him. Putting him with Yuen Wo Ping seems like it will be a treat. Yeah, I’ve heard some less than enthusiastic things about it, but hey. I’m getting it ANYWAY! I’m really looking for another treatment of the Beggar So legend than Steven Chow’s stuff.

Ok, so that seems to be a good deal of wuxia-related stuff. But that’s not all I’m getting!

Turning Point: This is has been in my saved cart for a while, and I wondered why I put it in there in the first place. Then I remembered: Michael Tse, of Young and Dangerous fame. You know how attached to Young and Dangerous I am, and I really like this guy. Plus I heard good things about the television show, EU, on which the film is based.. And it has Anthony Wong AND Francis Ng, each with crazy haircuts, which means the potential for their portrayal of off-the-chain characters is high.

Stool Pigeon: I’m always looking for a good crime drama, and given that this is directed by Dante Lam, who also directed Beast Stalker, I’m willing to give it a try.  I always love to see Nick Cheung do serious roles, because the first time I saw him was as the wise-cracking security official in Andrew Lau’s The Duel. Who knew he’d go from that to things like this? Plus it looks like Nicholas Tse isn’t as pretty as he usually is in films. I’ll deal with it.

And to round it out, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart:  Who doesn’t love Louis Koo? And I particularly like him when he’s being silly and romantic. Pair him up with Daniel Wu in a Johnnie To vehicle, and this could be great.

So that’s it. That’s what I’m getting. Once my shipment arrives, I will regale you with my opinions, because I know you are so looking forward to that.

Video Credits:

Reign of Assassins,


The Lost Bladesman,

True Legend,

Turning Point,

Stool Pigeon,

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,

Burn Baby Burn!: Red Cliff (1 and 2)

Ok, I’ve put it off long enough.  Some may be aware of my luv for Red Cliff, and now that I’ve seen the second half, I feel I can speak on it.  First, I have to re-declare my fandom for John Woo.  Let’s face it, he had us worried with those Hollywood “projects” (Face/Off, Mission Impossible 2).  Don’t get me wrong, I liked both of them, but they were no A Better Tomorrow, The Killer or (sigh), Bullet in the Head.  David Bordwell has a chapter on Woo in his book Planet Hong Kong called “Enough to Make Strong Men Weep,” and that’s what Woo did to perfection!  We know Woo is excellent with the betrayal in the brotherhood theme, but I was not convinced that  he handle the sweeping epic. So you can imagine my trepidation:  would Red Cliff mark a triumphant return of Woo to Hong Kong film, or just make me cry?

Happy to say, I welcome John Woo back with open arms!!!  I taught a class on Asian film, and had them read Three Kingdoms (I’m talking the unabridged, 2200 page version my kids don’t skimp!), and ended the class with Red Cliff 1.  I waited to watch it with them, and I did literally jump up and down at the end. (If they want to see Red Cliff 2, they have to take the class next year!)  I liked seeing the three brothers (although I still think Liu Bei is still the punkiest of the three; Chang Fei is out of control, my money is always on Gwan Yu), but I really liked seeing Zhuge Liang, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro.  In the book, yeah, the soldiers are out with the swords, but nothing beats a good advisor by your side, and I like smart, so I was down for Zhuge, especially since he seemed to bring just a little bit of very understated sass to his.  And I am very glad that Woo gave more substance to Lady Sun other that inevitable love interest of Liu Bei.

A lot of people are saying that they liked the second one better than the first (apparently, so are the box office profits in China), but I’m going to stand up for the first one.  Why?  Yeah, we expect to see some spectacular battle scenes and smack talking among generals, but what I liked about the first installment is that you got a sense of these men:  Sun Quan, who is so obviously still suffering from “not good enough” syndrome, Zhou Yu and his benevolent and honorable approach to war (doesn’t hurt that Tony Leung plays him, so easy on the eyes), Cao Cao and his shear domination and bad-assness.   

So yes, I liked this film, right down to the lovely soundtrack.