I made a habit of reviewing only dramas that are generally high production dramas; but this time I will make an exception and say a few words about a B-list web drama that took the internet by storm.
I first heard about Go Princess Go on a forum in 2016. Drama fans were talking about this mysterious B-list underground web drama that had immense commercial success, despite the fact that it had very low budget, it employed completely new actors and the director was basically unknown. Despite all that, this drama had taken over the internet.
This made me very curious and I decided to watch a few episodes (36 episodes with a length that varies between 20 to 35 minutes each). Needless to say, I ended up watching the entire series. So, I will share my thoughts with you on this oddity of a drama.
When people characterize this drama as B-list: that is an understatement. B-list dramas would be offended. However, I understand the overall charm that this drama surprised viewers with: it is very entertaining. But the big surprise was the story and the main actress. The story caught my attention and the actress did an amazing job interpreting her role. However, the mystery is not completely solved: why did Go Princess Go succeed, despite all its flaws, to the point that it gathered a huge online following, leading to the main actors to reach stardom overnight?
Before answering this question, let’s go through the plot quickly
Zhang Peng is a playboy who thinks that living life at the fullest means to date as many women as possible and go to every party he can. One night, a group of scorned ex-girlfriends decided to take revenge on him; they go to a club they knew they could find him. As a result of an altercation, Peng falls into the pool and suffers a severe head injury. When he wakes up, he realizes that he traveled back in time and he is now a woman: the wife of the heir to the throne.
This preposterous plot-twist leads to a series of interesting interactions. Peng’s first reaction is shock and refusal to accept the situation. But soon he feels that this is a blessing in disguise: as the legitimate wife of the Crown Prince, Peng can freely enjoy the company of the rest of the young and beautiful concubines and decides to accept the new predicament: living in heaven surrounded by women. But the situation is not as light as he thought.
The Crown Princess, the woman whose body Peng inhabits is the daughter of the most powerful family in the country. The marriage to the Crown Prince was a strategic one. The imperial family needed her family background to strengthen its power; on the other hand, her family wanted to have a foothold into the political affairs. Moreover, before she died in a water accident (in which Peng takes over her life) the Crown Princess and her husband were on rather bad terms.
Due to a misunderstanding, the Crown Prince believes that his wife is having an affair with his younger brother who covets the throne and that she is using her family’s power to plot against him and have him removed as Heir to the throne. In a fit of rage, the Crown Prince sends an assassin to kill her.
But he has a change of heart and tries to stop the assassination at all costs. Thankfully the attempt failed, but Peng finds out that the husband was behind it. After the incident, the spouses attitude toward one another change. Witnessing her strong, yet genuine demeanor, the Crown Prince starts to slowly fall in love with his wife; but she decides to side with his younger brother for her own safety. Things become even more complicated when the emperor dies and her husband becomes the new emperor overnight.
Through many trials they both start having feelings for each other, despite the fact that they secretly distrust one another, which leads to a series of instances where both face the decision to kill the other in order to save one’s life. Eventually the misunderstanding is resolved and the two live a life of spousal harmony, but they have to face one last obstacle: Peng wakes up from the coma in the hospital. What will become of the imperial couple?
If you want to find out, you should watch all the three alternative endings. Yes, you read correctly. After the series was concluded, two more episodes were released, each of them with a different ending, something that is not very common, but definitely not unheard of in Chinese dramas. So, back to the initial question:
Why did “Go Princess Go” become so successful?
There could be several explanations. One explanation would be that the story, the comedy and the acting were sufficient to compensate for the lack of budget and the overall low production quality.
But I think the real reason lies somewhere else and it deals with the notion of gender and sexuality. It is no secret that Asian drama lovers enjoy a good gender bender series. So the plot had everyone intrigued and very curious, because it presented a very odd twist for this genre: a man in a woman’s body. Quite unexpectedly, however, despite the premise of the story, instead of blurring the distinction between male and female, this drama strengthens it.
The story is predicated on the idea that the body shapes the sexual identity of the person. Peng is a straight male, but when his consciousness inhabits a woman’s body, he slowly becomes one with the body. The sexuality of the body informs the entire being: the mannerisms, instincts, feelings, thoughts and even the way of planning and strategizing become completely feminine. Thus she falls in love with her husband and becomes a loving spouse and motherly. There is even a focal point in the drama when she is gazing at herself in the mirror and says with a smile on her lips: “from this moment forward, there is no such thing as me and her; she is me and I am her”.
In this day and age, where everything is considered relative and fluid, where the gender is dis-joined from sexuality, where gender is a spectrum and sexuality is a social construct, this drama makes a bold statement: men and women are different and what makes them male and female are their biological differences that shape their whole being.
If this drama would have been produced by Hollywood, they would have been in big trouble. All that being said, I do not believe the creators of “Go Princess Go” had an ideological agenda. Most likely, they simply decided to run a story that seemed like a fun idea for a light drama. And it made a huge splash within the online community.
If you can overlook the (very) low quality production value, then you will find a great story (granted, not brilliantly written, but still a great story) a delightful comedy with a good pace and a confusing ending that aims to be poetic.
Would I recommend watching it?
Yes and no. If you look for a high value production drama with an air tight plot and great direction, then this drama is not for you. If however you are a curious cat who wants to find out for yourself why a web drama made such big waves in the Asian drama-land, then you might be in for a treat! Personally, I enjoyed watching it; I somehow managed to block the part of my brain where logic and critical thinking resides and I thoroughly enjoyed this guilty pleasure oddity.
One piece of criticism that I would bring up is the costumes. In most cases, they had little to do with the typical Chinese traditional attire. The males were wearing something very difficult to describe in one word. How should I put it?… Imagine ancient Roman soldier meets modern urban fashion show male model; while the ladies were wearing clothes that showed quite a bit of skin. All this did not faze me much; however, I found it very odd to say the least. But this is just a drop in the ocean of criticism one might have regarding the production.
If I were to describe this drama in a few words I would say that it is a great comedy, it has a good story, average acting (except the main actress), mediocre direction and awful editing.
But, what makes the series endearing to me is the fact that it come off as sincere; it does not try to cover the fact that it’s faulty; instead, it makes its own shortcomings into strengths. It does not aim to be taken seriously and has no particular “message” to deliver, without, however, being completely shallow; in my opinion all this is a balance very difficult to achieve.
Would I choose to go through a similar experience in the future? Probably not; but I’m glad that this drama was made. Thanks to its success we can now enjoy watching the main actors in some A-list, good quality dramas. For example “Oh, My General”, where the male main actor takes the role of a spoiled prince who is forced into a marriage of convenience with the hero of the nation: a beautiful female general. In the future I might come back with the review on said series.
My final advice to you (paraphrasing a famous fictional character) would be: “Watch it or watch it not. There is no try.”