This just might be THE funniest behind-the-scenes picture I have ever seen in my life. Oh what a bunch of clowns populated the set of Bu Bu Jing Xin. For all my spazzing about the drama, this time I’m loving something that really is top-notch quality in all three requirements: acting, directing, and script. Some of you may find yourself watching a C-drama for the very time first, and a relatively dense historical piece at that, with an attempt to hew close to the Qing Dynasty annals recorded history of the 9-Prince-Battle (for the throne).
To help you guys out, I hereby present Koala’s Guide to Spotting a Hot Prince. Not only will you know which actor plays which prince, you’ll know what role the prince plays in this drama, plus some tidbits on behind-the-scenes stuff for the heck of it. It’s not easy keeping track of a male harem of good looking princes, but never fear, I’m here to help. This will be a spoilery post so avoid it unless you don’t mind.
Some fun facts first – the roles of the 4th and 8th Prince were the last ones finalized. Liu Shi Shi is Tangren‘s lead actress so it’s a no brainer the role of Maertai Ruo Xi would go to her. A lot of actors were approached to take the lead roles but most turned it down because they didn’t want to shave their head, which is a requirement for any actor playing in a Qing Dynasty drama. In fact, esteemed HK actor Damien Lau, who plays Emperor Kangxi, has noted that in his forty years of acting, this is the first role he’s taken where he had to shave his head for real. It’s a big deal for a lot of guys to go bald for 3-4 months to shoot a drama.
Director Lee worked with Kevin Cheng 10 years ago on the adaptation of Gu Long‘s The Legendary Twins (starring Alec Su and Jimmy Lin), where Kevin played the villain Jiang Yu Lang. Director Lee met with Kevin and he agreed to take the role, especially since Kevin had already shaved his head for another Qing Dynasty drama he was just finishing up. At that time, Director Lee felt like Kevin could play either 4th or 8th Prince. It took until days before filming commenced that Nicky Wu, who had initially turned down taking a role due to head shaving reluctance, was finally persuaded to accept. The production really worked on convincing Nicky, because once Kevin accepted, they needed another actor around the same age and with the same screen presence so the two could be equals onscreen. Nicky was the perfect fit.
Once Nicky joined, Director Lee felt he was better suited for 4th Prince, since Nicky’s real life personality is a little more hardened and unbending than Kevin, who is more easy-going and sweet-natured. So Nicky got selected for 4th Prince, leaving Kevin playing 8th Prince. But Director Lee said if Nicky didn’t accept and another actor joined, who perhaps was a better fit as 8th Prince, he would given the role of 4th Prince to Kevin. So there you have it, start imagining Kevin as expressionless 4th prince in an alterna-drama version of BBJX. So let’s get to the princely buffet, shall we? Below I present in chronological order the sons of Emperor Kangxi that play a major role in BBJX the story.
Name: Aisin Gioro Yinzhen
Actor: Nicky Wu (from Taiwan)
Personality: Aloof, reserved, perceptive, incisive, patient, proud.
Relationship with Ruo Xi: Initially she purposely keeps her distance from him because she knows that he is the future Emperor Yongzheng and the ultimate victor of the 9-Prince-Battle. But it’s her wariness and heightened guard against him which intrigues him even more. He genuinely falls in love with her, and it’s a very intense love because he’s the kind of man that rarely lets go of his emotions, but once he does, it’s all or nothing.
Marriage prospect: 5/10. Ruo Xi avoids him initially because of who he will become, not because she dislikes his personality or who he is. In the interim she falls in love with 8th Prince. But when she breaks with 8th Prince, she decides her best prospect from a purely survival standpoint is to bet on 4th Prince. But he’s not great husband material since as Emperor he’s forced to take certain actions that may run contrary to what Ruo Xi thinks is right. This ends up driving an increasingly unbridgeable wedge between them. 4th Prince probably isn’t the funnest husband to half, his sense of humor is stuck between negative 1 and occasionaly maybe a zero. He’s insanely intelligent, but probably likes reading boring classical texts. But you can totally imagine he’s secretly a bad boy inside all that tightly wound exterior, so I give bonus points for the likelihood of being awesome in bed.
Musings: C-fans have nicknamed him “The Prince of Hold” because he is so controlled and holds everything in with such a poker face. He likes being alone, craves power but is exceedingly realistic because he reads people so well. Nicky said it was challenge to play a character who talks very little, saying only what is essential, and rarely betrays any expression. He teased that sometimes a scene called for him to act like he had some sort of face paralysis. LOL. So he ended up using his eyes a lot to convey the tiniest change in mood.
Nicky also had to remember to hold his braid with one hand behind his back whenever he walked, because 4th Prince was such a careful person he adopted this habit of self-control, and also a way to warn folks “you won’t be able to jerk my braid.” Nicky joked that this drama’s version of Emperor Yongzheng makes him the weepiest version in dramatic history. 4th Prince ended up shedding quite a few tears – of rage, frustration, desperation, and sadness.
Nicky considers himself a great onscreen crier, and sometimes the scene didn’t call for tears and he’d cry anyway. Afterwards he offered to the Director to shoot it again, this time promising not to cry, and he’ll let the Director decide which version to use. He likes the character of 4th Prince, a pragmatic man who is ambitious but very realistic in assessing his chances of success. With respect to love, 4th Prince is not someone to actively pursue a woman. Unless he’s sure she’s interested, otherwise he won’t waste his time obsessing about anyone. He’s got more important things to do.
Name: Aisin Gioro Yinsi
Actor: Kevin Cheng (from Hong Kong)
Personality: Refined, calm, gentle, passionate, ambitious.
Relationship with Ruo Xi: He fell in love with Ruo Xi first, and wrote her letters during her ten years in the palace serving the Emperor. It wasn’t until they went to Manchuria together with the Emperor that their relationship finally blossomed. Ruo Xi was reluctant to reciprocate his feelings because she knew his ultimate fate in life. But his steady and passionate pursuit of her finally wore down her reluctance and she accepted him. But she still wanted to ensure her own choice would not be doom and gloom, so she forced him to choose between her or pursuing the throne. He could not give up something he worked his entire life towards, so they ultimately broke up and never got another chance again.
Marriage prospect: 6/10. 8th Prince clearly adored Ruo Xi, though she could never be sure if he was merely transferring his unrequited feelings for Ruo Lan onto her. On paper 8th Prince would be an ideal husband, well-rounded in his interests and open about his emotions. He fit the profile of a “charming scholar”.
I’ve heard Ruo Xi chastised for being inconsistent with her two men, but in fact Ruo Xi was always consistent. Ruo Xi’s Solomon’s Choice for 8th Prince to choose either her or the crown is purely because she knows he’s going to be the loser. Because she loved him, she didn’t want to see him lose. And because she also loved herself, she couldn’t marry him knowing he was going to lose and his entire family would go down the craphole with him at that time. Would you marry Louis XVI if you knew beforehand that you would be his Marie Antoinette? Yeah, I didn’t think you. Ruo Xi would like to keep her head, thank you very much.
So in the end, her one concession to the 8th Prince, because she loved him, was to give him a list of people he should beware of in his quest for the throne. What she didn’t realize that by doing so, she set into motion the future rivalry between the 4th and 8th Prince.
Musings: 8th Prince’s birthmother was not one of the Emperor’s wives, but was instead a palace maid who became a concubine after bearing the Emperor a son. His low birth has always been a stain on his life, which was the driving force behind his desire for respect. He become the most accomplished of all the princes, mastering everything so that he can use talent and skill to overcome the lack in pedigree. He has great love for Ruo Lan, and later Ruo Xi, but it could never replace his desire for validation through power.
Name: Aisin Gioro Yintang
Actor: Han Dong (from China)
Personality: Calculating, brusque, confrontational, self-absorbed, sneaky.
Relationship with Ruo Xi: None other than they pretty much dislike each other from the get go.
Marriage prospect: Negative 100 million. Ugh.
Musings: 9th Prince has the least interaction with Ruo Xi, but plays a very critical role in egging on the 9-Prince-Battle and fanning the flames. His plot to spy on 4th Prince, which is later discovered, becomes one of the major reasons for the falling out between Ruo Xi and 4th Prince. He’s the catalyst for a lot of things but he rarely gets his own hands dirty.
His role is very important as a source of pressure behind 8th Prince’s battle for succession. 9th Prince is very self-serving, and since he’s aligned with 8th Prince, that’s the prince he’ll support to the bitter end. Because if another prince got the throne, he wouldn’t be able to reap any rewards. He’s smart enough to know he doesn’t have a chance, yet sneaky enough to support 8th Prince behind-the-scenes without ever risking his own position.
Name: Aisin Gioro Yin’e
Actor: Ye Zhu Xin (from China)
Personality: Candid, cheerful, bumbling, kind, like an open book.
Relationship with Ruo Xi: 10th Prince is the first to fall for Ruo Xi, but it’s pretty clear that it’s just a crush, and an unrequited one at that. But Ruo Xi doesn’t dislike him or dissuade his crush, she merely enjoys his company and never leads him on.
Marriage prospect: 7/10. It’s clear he genuinely loved Ruo Xi in his puppy dog way and would have worshipped the ground she walked on. He’s lots of fun and Ruo Xi admitted he was her first friend after she first arrived. He’s not terribly sharp, so the likelihood of deep conversations isn’t highly likely. But he’s steadfast and loyal. It would be like marrying a Princely equivalent of a golden retriever. She could do a lot worse.
Musings: 10th Prince represents the wise old adage that sometimes the best things stem from the worst things happening. When 10th Prince was forced to marry Ming Yu, thereby losing out on his chance to pursue Ruo Xi, it turned out to be the best thing for him. He was able to stay a bit player in the succession battle, and never really got his heart broken by Ruo Xi in the later years. Plus he grew to love Ming Yu, and their life together was the one couple that found a modicum of safety in an otherwise tension filled imperial family.
Name: Aisin Gioro Yinxiang
Actor: Yuan Hong (from China)
Personality: Rebellious, wild, carefree, loyal, dashing.
Relationship with Ruo Xi: He is Ruo Xi’s one true friend in the Qing Dynasty, someone she feels most at ease with. As she’s stepping around all the landmines in the palace, he is someone she never needs to guard against.
Marriage prospect: 10/10…..if they loved each other romantically. Otherwise a big ole 4/10. If Ruo Xi and 13th Prince were attracted to each other, they’d be the perfect fit. They are clearly soulmates who understand each other intellectually and emotionally. If they got married out of convenience, it would gradually corrode their friendship, plus Ruo Xi would need to spend 10 years under house arrest with him. Again, if they had the hots for each other, it’d be no problem. Otherwise it’s a recipe for destroying a great friendship.
Musings: Uhmm, casting Yuan Hong as 13th Prince is turning out to be a blessing and a curse. His insane onscreen chemistry with Liu Shi Shi (which already incinerated half my screen in LoCH2008 and then the other half went poof in Clothing the World) is making the completely unshippable ship of Ruo Xi-13 seem rather plausible. They really do need to stop eye sexing each other anytime they have a scene. As platonic best friends, storywise their relationship gives Ruo Xi such stability and security in an otherwise dangerous and foreign place. She can talk modern concepts with him and he actually interested and listens. He breaks through class barriers and takes her to visit his courtesan friend. They go out drinking all night, decorum be damned. He’s the devil-may-care counterpart to to her each-step-is-fraught-with-caution structured existence.
So let me muse about the HongShi RL ship again, which I’ve said kinda went to town during the promotional circuit for BBJX, which is still ongoing. So most entertainers in China have a weibo account (think facebook crossed with twitter). Yuan Hong updates his more often, Shi Shi very rarely. If you follow any of the stars, the more candid ones weibo their other famous friends all the time, chatting online for all to see.
So on a few recent September evenings, BBJX writer/producer William Peng was weiboing with the chatty cast of BBJX, and he pretty much sniffed out that the Shi Shi weibo was chatting in very non-Shi Shi ways with the other folks. He flat out accused Yuan Hong of using Shi Shi’s phone to weibo on her account, impersonating her. If anyone knows Yuan Hong, he’s a huge practical joker. But these convos happened in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. So basically HongShi shippers went to town because it meant HongShi must be in the same room at the time. See here and here to read mookiehyun’s summary of the recent insanity on weibo.
Name: Aisin Gioro Yinti
Actor: Lin Geng Xin (from China)
Personality: Sincere, forthright, selfless, candid, brave.
Relationship with Ruo Xi: Initially just a casual friend to Ruo Xi, not close enough to be a confidante, but neither did she treat him with polite distance. He sincerely supported Ruo Xi marrying 8th Prince and was quite angry on behalf of 8th Prince when Ruo Xi rejected him. Though later he fell in love with her, but she never reciprocated his feelings. He never pressured her to do so, and instead waited patiently for her to choose him.
Marriage prospect: 9/10. Pretty much the perfect husband material – giving, patient, genuine. Not as emotional or as potentially flighty as 13th Prince. Too bad Ruo Xi didn’t love him like that.
Musings: The more I see of 14th Prince, the more he becomes the ideal prince of the lot. One of the most persistent rumors in Qing Dynasty historical lore was that the dying Emperor Kangxi actually wanted to pass the throne to his 14th son, but his 4th son managed to get a hold of the will and added a brush stroke to change 14 to pass to 4. Historians have debunked this myth but still it’s hard to let go since the Emperor clearly favored 14th Prince in the period right before he died. But perhaps he knew his 4th son was ruthless and efficient enough to run the kingdom without a surfeit of emotion clogging up his rule.
I find 14th Prince someone who is principled and upstanding, but perhaps not suited to run a country. He’s smart but not brilliant like his older brother 4th Prince, and he’s caring but not as emotionally invested as his ally 8th Prince. 14th Prince reminds me of mashing up 4th and 8th Princes, taking bit and pieces of their personalities, but in the process losing the intensity and smolder that makes those two princes so damned attractive and swoonworthy. I think Ruo Xi lucked out that 14th Prince really fell in love with her, and was there for her at the very end. But at the same time, his presence was like her trump card and she was able to escape the palace yet never resolved things with 4th Prince.
Almost all the princes were all born of different mothers, except 4th Prince and 14th Prince were full-blooded brothers. Their mother, Imperial Consort De, was one of the most powerful imperial wives in the court. She clearly favored her younger son, because 14th Prince was such a decent boy, and 4th Prince was so serious and aloof. When 4th Prince ascended the throne, she refused to be crowned the Dowager Empress as her protest because she firmly believed her husband passed the throne to her 14th son and her 4th son usurped it. Yeah, pretty heady stuff. No wonder 4th Prince and 14th Prince really didn’t get along, they were like oil and vinegar, and Ruo Xi only made matters worse as the woman they both loved.
Maertai Ruo Xi (Zhang Xiao is her modern incarnation name)
Actor: Liu Shi Shi (from China)
Personality: Independent, thoughtful, practical, spirited, adaptable.
Musings: Ruo Xi doesn’t win all those princely hearts and survive in the Qing Dynasty because she’s so beautiful that men are blinded by her looks. She’s described as merely fresh-faced, but it’s her intelligence and ability to read any situation that gives her the advantage. She’s very tenacious – when she becomes the tea-serving maid to the Emperor, she makes the effort to learn the expertise at brewing tea, for which she wows the Emperor and the princes time and again with her skill. She’s not written as a pure and idealistic heroine, but rather she is exceedingly realistic and not one to toss caution to the wind.
Liu Shi Shi said this shoot was perhaps the hardest drama she had to film. While not as large in scope as LoCH2008, but there she was only the second lead and it was Ariel Lin and Hu Ge that really exhausted themselves making that drama (though I argue Yuan Hong as the second male lead of the depth as Yang Kang was as equally taxing as Hu Ge playing Guo Jing). But since she plays the female lead in BBJX and is in almost every other scene, her work load was literally backbreaking at times. Shi Shi mentioned that as Ruo Xi, she’s had to jump into a lake, get drenched, sit in the rain, walk all over the snow……she was under tremendous physical and emotional strain in filming under conditions that were less than ideal.
It was a 105 day shoot, and on good days she may be able to sleep 5 hours, but most of the time she slept 3-4 hours at most and was back on set. Costume and makeup took longer than if she filmed a modern drama so getting prepped meant her call time was earlier than the guys. She ended up relieving stress by sometimes locking herself in her room and just bawling her eyes out. It was her way of letting off tension, and it worked because she was then able to pick herself back up and go back on set and nail her scenes.
This is how Shi Shi described Ruo Xi’s relationship with the main princes: she fell in love with 8th Prince, she loved 4th Prince, she was kindred spirits forever with 13th Prince, 10th Prince fell in love with her, and 14th Prince loved her and married her. While it may seem like she jumped around between men, it was because she was a modern girl that she wasn’t wedded to the belief that a woman needed to rely on a man. Ruo Xi wanted to survive on her own terms, protecting herself and not tinkering with history.
In the end she chose 4th Prince, initially out of self-preservation, but later she did fall completely in love with him. But ultimately her kindness and compassion for the men she cared about, the other princes, meant that she couldn’t stay with 4th Prince when he refused to back down from punishing his enemies, who did in fact conspire against him. It became a catch-22 situation at that point – the other princes conspired against him because they felt like 4th Prince was trying to destroy them, 4th Prince was trying to destroy him because they were conspiring against him. Ruo Xi could not break this impasse.
Here are some recent pictures of the cast promoting BBJX in China. I already think all the guys look smoking in their princely get up, but when you give them back their hair and put on some dashing duds, they are collectively melt-your-panties level hot. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got for now.
The only guy in the lot who hasn’t grown his hair is Kevin, who by now has been bald for over a year and counting. He followed up BBJX with another Qing Dynasty drama, probably since he’s already bald might as well milk the heck out of it and do more Qing roles while he still has no hair. Thought I’ve heard Ghetto Justice 2 is a go, which means Kevin + hair in modern garb soon. Speaking of which, I need be watching GJ1, which I heard is all sorts of awesome.
Now for some HongShi cuteness below, which words are not necessary to describe how cute they are together. I especially love how in that picture in the lower right hand corner, Nicky and Lin Geng Xin are totally like “yeah, they should get a room, we totally know already, which is why we’re trying to avoid looking at them head on when they get into their own little world.”
All kidding aside, the number of C-drama watchers who have collectively all noted that Shi Shi’s acting has improved by leaps and bounds in BBJX, going from cool ice-princess in most of her previous line deliveries, to simmering with sensuality, attribute it to one thing and one thing only – HongShi went from flirting up a storm to actually taking it to the next step. Who knows, but chemistry never lies.
And finally here’s a shot of the entire male cast showing off their bald heads the day they shaved their hair off. They made a pact to shave it all the day before filming commenced, including daddy Damian Lau. It’s really a bonding experience for them, and they teased that it put them all on the same level playing field so no one could swan in with some cool hairstyle and try to steal someone else’s thunder.
All joking aside, Nicky said in an interview that they were an extraordinarily happy cast that really got along. With respect to the princes, each actor knew when to hit the soy sauce (打酱油) when the scene required it. The C-slang means to be a bystander, and is often used in film settings to describe character that ends up being pretty useless or just shunted to the side. So what Nicky means is that he’s happy for 4th Prince to hit the soy sauce in scenes where he shouldn’t try to steal another actors thunder, and same goes for the other guys. So in the drama, you’ll see the princes rotate to the forefront from scene-to-scene depending on the needs of the story and the script. No one tried to be flashy when the scene called for that prince to be a supporting player. I just love hearing stories like this.