Suffer, rinse with tears, repeat

Suffer, rinse with tears, repeat
We Get Married’s Gao Yuanyuan and Huang Haibo (both above) portray love in a modern, pragmatic China

Near the end of Scarlet Heart, the 2011 Chinese time travel hit, Ma'ertai Ruoxi (Liu Shishi) retreats to the desert, married in name to her friend, the 14th prince.

Far away from the love of her life, her brother-in-law the Yongzheng emperor (Nicky Wu), she is finally free to lose herself in reverie - to picture a happy Forbidden City where only she and he live, untroubled by his stormy political battle with his brothers.

She pines away and dies, then wakes up as Zhang Xiao in modern-day China. Still aching for Yongzheng in the finale, Xiao stumbles upon an exhibition of Qing history and comes face to face with a stranger with a striking resemblance to her emperor.

The ending of Scarlet Heart was alive to the misery of an impossible passion, yet it allowed you a glimmer of new possibility. It was the show rather elegantly letting you have your cake and eat it.

Now comes Scarlet Heart 2, which hits you in the face over and over with mouldy cake. Billed as a sequel, the show is more of a remake - and so misbegotten as to seem pirated.

The early episodes are nearly comatose, twitching from one back story to another as Xiao (Liu) follows Yin Zheng (Wu), the Yongzheng lookalike, around.

But about five episodes in, the show stirs: Her memories of Yongzheng are wiped out in a convenient accident and she starts a slow dance of suspicion and attraction with Zheng, who might be a reincarnation of the emperor.

She is now a graphic designer and Zheng is her boss, but it is basically Scarlet Heart rebooted.

The story of her entanglement with him and his brothers - a stepbrother (Sun Yizhou) and a half-brother (Jiang Jinfu) who are, like him, heirs to a tycoon - follows too closely the tale of Ruoxi, Yongzheng and his brothers.

Much-loved scenes from Scarlet Heart are restaged in Scarlet Heart 2, as tear-streaked and rain-soaked as ever, and Zheng, like Yongzheng, has the best lines. But also some bad ones: When Zheng asks Xiao, "Will you be my girlfriend?" you have a sinking feeling that poetry is dying in contemporary China.

Between the first and second shows, about the only significant improvement is in Wu's hair: He shaved his pate for his role as Yongzheng, but sports a more flattering faux hawk as Zheng.

Essentially, the sequel can be recommended only to masochists, who can't turn away from depictions of romantic suffering, regardless of how pointless they are.

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