The War of Beauties

Initially I started this ages back when I was hunting down for Han Dong’s dramas. Yet I had to halt because I ended up seeing some spoilers. After calming down a bit, I decided to brave it anyway. However, I had to make sure about 20 times (exaggerating somewhat but it was closer to there) that it wasn’t a certain someone’s drama. YES, when it comes to cat fight related dramas and dramatic soaps, I tend to double check and triple check just to be sure.

Honestly, I came into this just wanting to watch Han Dong and Loura Lou. However, I felt this was one dramatic experience that I definitely wouldn’t want to watch ever again. It wasn’t that terrible as in the sense of quality. It was well done on some levels with the scheming and the backstabbing, which seemed scary and sadly true in cases seemed during those times. What I meant as never wanting to watch again was because of how heavy the drama was. People are like going “duh” at this point, but I swear, it was presented with a lot of stuffs that I thought could do without. Like most dramas nowadays, every single formula got tossed in just to extend the episodes. Sometimes I didn’t see the purpose. Mostly, it was just “wash, rinse, repeat” routine throughout. So I didn’t think it should be 48 episodes. Especially when it focused on the household conflicts for about 99.9% of the time and then rushed near the end to add in some patriotic aspects to wrap up the story. In case anyone wanted to argue that the title was after all The War of Beauties so it made sense with the conflicts within the Bai household, that was just the English title, the Chinese title was different.

There were also rushed scenes of people repenting in the end as well. The most unconvincing was probably Old Madame Bai’s apology narration before she died. Seriously, the majority of the family conflict was conjured and/or manipulated by her throughout. Yet she apologized at the end during the short thoughts? Really? She was seriously let off so easily, considering how she had thrown everyone’s lives off completely by the end. If it wasn’t for her wanting to get some connections for the business of the shop by making Gan Sheng marrying Fu Fang, their lives would be different. Then she told her scum servants to drugged Fu Fang all these years so Fu Fang couldn’t get pregnant. That led to Fu Fang’s resentment in herself and eventually others. The pressure was too much hence seeking out advice from her mother (whom had plenty of experiences in the manipulation department just like her mother-in-law) and that had unleashed a chain of events onward. Sure, in many situations, it was Fu Fang’s choice. She was an adult after all and should be responsible for causing so much pain and suffering throughout. That was my initial thoughts as well. However, having all the pieces of the puzzle at the end, I realized I should pity her more than condemn her. She was so stuck that she had to choose other alternatives or be taken down. Her actions–guided by whatever reasons–had caused Gui Qin’s death and the children of Mei Xiang, Qiu Lan, and Cai Wei’s. Those events finally caused others to fight back–one way or another–then led to her child’s death. But whose fault was that from the beginning? Even Cai Wei, who was so kindhearted and pure at the beginning got tainted by the end, realizing she couldn’t survive in such environment hence fighting back as well. Did I like it that she finally got a chance to fight back? Of course, it was way overdue considering how much she had suffered and tried very hard to keep peace with everyone. Something had got to give. Gui Qin was just too kind and ended up paying with her life. She was actually the most innocent hence her death being more frustrating. Mei Xiang–driven by revenge–ended up going mad. I was furious with her when she attacked Cai Wei, causing the final strain between Cai Wei and Gan Sheng to forgo her revenge plan. But in the end, I think I pitied her more. She was already past insane. Losing her son and having to keep waiting for a chance was too much. Perhaps, the person I sympathize with the least–among the wives–was Bi He. Sure, I got it that servants back then weren’t treated with much thought and it was tenfold scarier living in the Bai household because servants died left and right–whether through abusive torture techniques by Old Madame Bai or it was because they had to be scapegoats for their masters. But what Bi He did was unnecessary that I felt hard to forgive. I didn’t care if she repented in the end. It was too late. Unlike Qiu Lan, she didn’t lose anything to start with, what was her excuse in attacking Cai Wei? (Well, having Fu Fang breathing down her back to get the plans going was motivated enough but since she was soooo smart–or so she thought–why didn’t she find another way to escape it?) Qiu Lan misunderstood that Cai Wei had caused her child’s death–superstitious or not, but she had suffered hence being driven to the extreme. What was more, I thought she deserved to have a light ending. She was probably the luckiest among the wives, because she was finally able to get away from the madhouse. She also had a chance to reunite with her childhood sweetheart, Chang Sheng.

Back to the ending, I felt really frustrated with it. Not only because of Old Madame Bai’s brief apology with her thoughts, but because of how no one knew how much she did throughout. Gan Feng never knew that she manipulated Mei Xiang into killing off Fu Fang’s child. He didn’t know that it wasn’t because of Gan Sheng. The brothers’ conflict was never resolved. Sure, they were all captured in the end and were forced to get along–if briefly. Yet they never knew the truth. Ma Guo An’s words weren’t for anything. They didn’t trust him anyway so it didn’t matter. The most satisfying was probably Ma Guo An’s death though. He totally didn’t see that coming. He thought he got away, but he didn’t.

The ending actually had a lot of deaths (obviously, duh, I know) and it was paved out quite tragic for those cases. Yet it only stirred up things in a controversial sense, not closing the story the proper way. Sure, in life, sometimes conflicts were never resolved and people die hating one another because of some misunderstandings. Then there were cases like these where one could ever have a chance to say anything to one another. But they managed to throw in the parts with various parties interacting and making peace, why didn’t they let Gan Sheng and Gan Feng make peace too? Or was that too wrapped up? I swore Bi He and De Gui had their moments, which I didn’t think Bi He deserved yet they included that too. So why not?

What saved the ending was actually Qiu Lao Qi sweeping in to save them. He first appeared in the earlier parts of the series during Gan Sheng and Cai Wei’s first trip out. Although he was a bandit and seemed to be ruthless and bordering on the despicable side at first YET he kept his words. Or perhaps he thought Gan Sheng was as crazy as him so he decided to release them all and agreed to Gan Sheng’s terms. I felt that at least he was straightforward about being a bandit rather than acted all good like some people. After all, I guess Gan Sheng’s loyalty to him was worth it. Once again, Jackie Lui’s performance was amazing despite his short screen time.

Whose death was the most tragic? It was actually Xiu Fang’s death. I initially didn’t like her at all, because of how snobby she was and how she had joined forces with her sister to bully Cai Wei when she entered the Bai household. Although she often threw tantrums at first, her character faded into the background, because she didn’t have the cunning fiber in her to compete with the others. Defeated, she sought out Cai Wei to actually understand Gan Feng instead of trying to attempt at another scheme. That was, of course, briefly before she and the others found out about the affair between her husband and her own sister–whom she wouldn’t dream of in a million years with having any association to Gan Feng. She was interestingly like Qiu Lin in a sense that she was used to using her power to achieve versus the scheming bit, but realized in the end Cai Wei was a good person hence becoming allies with Cai Wei as well. That was so unexpected but so welcoming since she ended up helping Cai Wei in ways others couldn’t. To be honest, I didn’t expect her to die. I thought she would have fled home to seek her parents for some justice. That was my assumption based on reading some spoilers. But then I understood why she couldn’t go back home when that truth about Gan Feng and her sister’s affair came out. Her father only wanted to use her–like how he did with her sister–to forgo his plan in taking the Bai family’s business. So why would he care? Her mother would be too scared of him to speak up for her anyway. Not to mention how she learned that her father had forced Gan Feng to marry her so how could she use her family pressure to force him even more and causing him to hate her even more? Even though Gan Feng had the right to get mad about the whole scheme from her father, but I felt it was too cruel saying those words on Xiu Fang’s death bed. Sure, he clarified what was going on and after how he just lost his child and all, he had every right to be mad and fight back, but I thought since Xiu Fang did try to be a good wife after listening to Cai Wei and no longer causing dramas around the house, he would at least treat her with some decency, not give her the cold treatment all the time. He didn’t need to accept her or be with her, but he could have made an effort to be nice or at least make it easier for her to live within the household. Sure, that would be hard on him, but I thought it was already hard on her trying to change her attitude and make him happy by cooking for him and more. (And I didn’t totally agree with Cai Wei when she chided him about how he’d changed and was becoming cruel. Although she didn’t know it was because of his mother’s manipulations that had caused a lot of things, but she knew that his child just died and he became more bitter because of it, not caring for anyone anymore. So yeah, it wasn’t like I was picking on him on purpose.)

What about the others? Gan Feng actually was quite pitiful as well. In a way, he was like Fu Fang, being used by his mother to extend her power. Sure, she wanted what was best for her son, but he said he didn’t mind or care since Gan Sheng was his brother after all. His mother manipulated events into happening, forcing him to attack his brother and hating his brother until the end. He had his moments and hot tempers, but he had the right to be upset with how his life was turning upside down when he returned. He didn’t need his mother to conjure up dramas for him. What I felt was the most unforgivable about him wasn’t his affair with Fu Fang, but it was his attempt to save Cai Wei but had condemned her to a death sentence hence causing her child’s death too. It was the part where he and Cai Wei got staged and framed for having an affair, which led to her punishment and the ultimate damage with Gan Sheng’s trust. (I did curse Gan Sheng to death so he wasn’t let off easily, but this section is about Gan Feng so I want to focus on that for now.)

Who was the most loyal in here? Yes, there were a lot of loyal servants in here and other friends. There was no doubt Gui Qin was a loyal friend. De Gui seemed loyal to Gan Sheng yet later got pulled into other schemes. Then there was Mei Xiang’s maid, Chun Xiao, as well. Yet who I admired most was Cui Ping. She was like a little sister to Cai Wei. She never abandoned Cai Wei regardless of how bad things were. She and her mother actually–for the later parts that her mother joined her in the Bai household too. They were like the truth family in here. They stuck together throughout. It was good to know that they survived the tragic events of it all. Also, it was a happy note to know that Cui Ping and Da Shan ended up together after all. I thought they were cute that one time. Of course that meant I was so glad Da Shan made it through.

What about the main couple whom was the sole reason why I dived into the drama in the first place? I initially felt sorry for Gan Sheng for having to face a lot of pressure. He indeed faced a lot of pressure. I pitied him for being forced to marry Fu Fang because of business connections. His other wives were either by obliging to Old Madame Ma’s request or by accident. I felt bad for him that he couldn’t be with Cai Wei only. However, I changed my view later when he supposedly was intelligent in many ways yet still fall into the traps of others, especially Bi He. Sure, he claimed many times that he didn’t want things to go on further with people fighting and all. Yet there were some things he could control. Then I felt like there were things he was good at saying and made others pity him yet he couldn’t fully carry out. Or he had overestimated himself so he didn’t realize the outcome until it actually occurred. Like how he claimed to love and trust Cai Wei YET when the test was there, he totally failed. What was most frustrating was how he kept falling into Bi He’s trap–even after he realized what kind of scheming person she was–like mentioned previously. Only in episode 39 that he finally managed to gain back somewhat of the momentum by giving Fu Fang the ultimatum, telling her not to cause anymore trouble. He also told Li Chun to tell Bi He to stop all the fuss and that if Bi He was unwell, she should seek out the medics, not him. Yet he wasn’t cleared of being a drama king quite yet. He acted like an asshole when Cai Wei told him she wanted to leave the Bai household. All right, I know that it hurt like hell that the one he loved said she wanted to leave him. YET Cai Wei was right. Where in the world was he when she needed him the most? When she was framed and things were going to hell? In the midst of all the tragedies, her father and Gui Qin died respectively and she was left behind trying to hold on, where in the world was he? He dared to say he was innocent? Even if he was hurting because of the misunderstandings but he did promise to protect her. So it was like I said, he overestimated himself and promised left and right without a care in the world–until things happened, that was. It wasn’t until around episode 46 that he realized what Cai Wei said was true regarding living within the Bai household and all. Again, I swore it wasn’t anything new with how messed up the house was and not so peaceful at all. He knew from the start, so I didn’t care when he acted like a madman. It was still unforgivable that it shall take another chaos for him to get it.

What about Cai Wei? There were many things admirable about her. She was probably one of the strongest characters in here. She was very smart and understanding of many things. Though she was seen quite feisty in helping some of the townspeople in unmasking some con men in the markets, but after she entered the Bai household, she really knew her place. She didn’t want to rupture the atmosphere or cause trouble for others. It fitted with her personality since she was already so smart, she knew that her so-called mother-in-law hated her and know she should act proper to win the other wives over. What couldn’t be helped was how her righteous personality would override and cause more trouble for her, like how she had defended Gui Qin hence bringing trouble upon herself. But I felt it was worth it, because Gui Qin had saved her life previously so it would be suitable that she stand up for Gui Qin and rescue her from Qiu Lin’s bullying. And her reactions to many things around her sure surprised me from time to time, especially how she ended up exposing the person who was trying to put some rats into the kitchen to sabotage her. Of course she couldn’t investigate further with the person behind the schemes, but she managed to exude some power to deal with the situation. It showed that she wasn’t so helpless, needing rescuing all the time. However, what bugged the world out of me was her shielding the whole investigation regarding her father from Gan Sheng, causing her downfall in the later episodes. How frustrating was that? Even if Gan Feng had a point with how they should investigate first, etc YET Gan Sheng was her husband after all, and knowing her history with Gan Feng, she shouldn’t let others have a chance to harm her even more. Even though she understood afterward and realized Gan Sheng was right about how they should communicate with each other at all times, it was too late, because those tiny slips had allowed others to harm her. I know it sounded like I expect her to be perfect, but I felt she was WAY smarter than that. Even if it was her father’s situation and she just wanted to focus on that matter, but she should realize what she was getting into when she was sneaking around with Gan Feng when investigating. She redeemed herself during episode 19 onward, finally pulling herself up with the determination of avenging her father and Gui Qin. I gladly welcomed her return since she’d been passive for too long. Well, she had to try and behave within the household or try to merge in YET I didn’t like how she kept giving in to others yet kept getting shove around. Her master plan proved that she was WAY capable yet didn’t want to resort to it unless she had to. Her efforts paid off since all the misunderstandings and conflicts were resolved by episode 42. At least what was of the past. Episode 44 came around and I wanted to toss something at the screen even more, considering how things were turning topsy-turvy again. Yet after I calmed down, I realized that must be resolved too in order for them to move on. That final conflict made them stronger in the end, not falling into the trap of that one dude who tried to con Cai Wei into thinking that Gan Sheng had already left first.

Gan Sheng and Cai Wei’s conflicts finally dissolved around episode 46 when Cai Wei helped Gan Sheng with the overthrow scheme. That moment reminded me the good old days of how they worked together to resolve different conflicts at the shop and other medic related discussions. I once again wanted the series to stay on the side of medicine related stuffs instead of the constant conflicts within the Bai household and all the cat fights. It wouldn’t be realistic if they all got along, etc. However, I was so sick and tired of the whole back and forth scheming or fighting within the house. It was like SUPER repetitive so I prefer the focus on the medicine side. Even if I would have to deal with Ma Guo An and the other people, it would be way better. Or is it just me with being sick and tired of all the soaps of recent years and wanting to see other stuffs?

The conversation between Cai Wei and Fu Fang when they were imprisoned sort of summarized the whole story. Yet it was much needed because they were finally able to make peace between the two of them. It was essential that Cai Wei pointed out that Fu Fang had the right to want her husband’s attention and love. Fu Fang also had every right to be jealous. It wasn’t that they were blaming society for anything to get away with what they were accountable for. But they did have a point with how men were allowed so many wives yet women were stuck in their position without a say. It was the truth, the cruel truth.

Recommended? Um, 48 episodes! Even if it was like 30 mins or so each episode, but I swore the intensity of it all was so much. I did get it that it was about the conflicts within the Bai household and all those wives, and then some other side dramas. Yet it all depends on what you like to watch. (Obviously.) I hang on because I actually liked the chemistry between Han Dong and Loura. And the reason why I dived into the drama in the first place was because of them.

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