Review: Serenade of Peaceful Joy

Serenade of Peaceful Joy is an uneven mix of brilliance, dullness, and utter confusion that leaves me both hating and loving it at the same time.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many TV series about Emperors who excelled in war and conquest but so few about those in times of peace? It’s easy to feel the burst of adrenaline in conquest and the suffering caused by war, but how do you get the audience to feel peace or economic prosperity? There’s no moment to declare “victory” in peace nor “winning” in the economy (unless you have a five-year plan).

This is perhaps why the ruler of one of the most economically and culturally prosperous reigns in Chinese history- – the Emperor Renzong of Song – has never been depicted as a main character before. Director Zhang Kaizhou and scriptwriter Zhu Zhu tackle this difficult subject with varying success in Serenade of Peaceful Joy (formerly Held in the Closed Castle).

The series has two main focuses – there’s the palace drama with plenty of creative liberties, and then the court drama that feels like a dramatized documentary. The family of the narrator for the original story, the eunuch Huaiji, connects the two to the outside world to occasionally show how small choices in the palace can have huge ripple effects in the real world.

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Mini-Review: The first five minutes of Serenade of Peaceful Joy is all substance but no serenade

Beautifully designed, written, and acted, Serenade of Peaceful Joy is unfortunately held back by poor directing that leaves way too much work for the audience.

I have so many thoughts about Serenade of Peaceful Joy aka Held in the Lonely Castle that I feel like I need multiple posts to cover even the first few episodes, so here is the first one focusing on the very first five minutes of the drama.

What a well-written opening scene that begs for better directing and editing. Even in this short opening, scriptwriter Zhu Zhu shows her ambitions to create dramatic effects while trying to showcase the uniqueness of the rule of reason that marked Emperor Renzong’s rule in what’s essentially a bioepic of the emperor. Unfortunately, Zhu Zhu’s epic is constrained by Zhang Kaizhou’s directing (or lack thereof). I have no idea what is going in his mind in some of the creative decisions.

The drama opens with the frazzled wet nurse of the Emperor Renzong hurrying through the Palace. Immediately we get that something is up. The scene cuts to the emperor finishing up a calligraphy piece of the “Classic of Filial Piety“, and then asking her to come in. We see that the wet nurse is scared by this meeting, and the Emperor Renzong turns abruptly. What’s this meeting about and why is she so scared while he so calm? The tension builds and both the nurse and the audience expects anger or blame, but all we hear is a soft-spoken question: “What do you think of my calligraphy?”

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Daylight Entertainment releases drama posters

Wang Kai plays Emperor Renzong of Song, an emperor known for and is trapped by his good looks benevolence, in Held in the Lonely Castle.

Daylight Entertainment released a new set of posters for three of its upcoming dramas – Wang Kai’s Held in the Lonely Castle 孤城闭 , Guo Jingfei’s If There Is No Tomorrow 我是余欢水 , and Wan Qian and Qin Hao’s We Are Young 我们正年轻 as a part of the Beijing Film Festival. Which one are you looking forward to the most?

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Held in the Lonely Castle releases more stills

Ren Min in this painting-like photo as the princess Zhao Huirou

Song dynasty drama Held in the Lonely Castle 孤城闭 released a new set of stills to celebrate its five months so far of filming.

Directed by Zhang Kaizhou (The Story of Minglan) , the historical drama is about the Emperor Renzong of Song’s struggle to balance the factions both within and outside his palace while trying to push through new reforms. The series stars Wang Kai, Jiang Shuying, Ren Min, and Bian Cheng.

Ren Min playing a fengshou konghou.

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Zhang Tian’ai, Cao Xiwen, Wu Yue join the cast of Held in the Lonely Castle

Zhang Tian’ai joins the cast as one of the concubines of the Emperor Renzong of Song

Song dynasty drama Held in the Lonely Castle 孤城闭 announced its latest round of cast members, including Zhang Tian’ai, Cao Xiwen, Wu Yue, Xu Lingyue, Zhang Benshuo, Wen Yanbo, and Ding Jiawen.

Directed by Zhang Kaizhou (The Story of Minglan) , the historical drama is about the Emperor Renzong of Song’s struggle to balance the factions both within and outside his palace while trying to push through new reforms. The series stars Wang Kai, Jiang Shuying, Ren Min, and Bian Cheng.

Ding Jiawen plays the princess’ first love.

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Seven Snail Shots that Surpass Silver Screen Standards

Number 10. This wallpaper worthy crime scene.
Number 7: This wallpaper worthy crime scene.

Creative angles and moving shots give  the When a Snail Falls in Love  trailer a film feel that I love. Here are my favorite shots and/or scenes from the trailer.

The  series is only 15 episodes and director Zhang Kaizhou promised a faster pace, better crime-solving, more combat, more soul, and less romance compared to the original. Let’s hope he delivers.  There is also a big train fight scene in Myanmar that should be a hoot.

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Number 6: moving shots that are too cool for TV.

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Wang Kai, Wang Ziwen solve crimes and fall in love

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I will shot someone if they don’t change the super misleading title.

Daylight Entertainment has the best trailers.  They can build up suspense even where the actual series fails. Their latest work is detective series When a Snail Falls in Love 如果蜗牛有爱情 starring Wang Kai and Wang Ziwen in their third drama together.  The trailer looks great as usual, with movie-leveled cinematography, actually decent action sequences, and some moments of cuteness injected in the midst of suspense.

The series is based on the book of the same name by author Ding Mo and directed by Zhang Kaizhou (two of the three people behind the spectacular fail of Love Me If You Dare). Luckily, the scriptwriter is not Hai Yan, who can’t write for the screen to save her life.  If anything, it’s only 15 episodes, which hopefully means it’s faster-paced.

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Director Zhang Kaizhou’s shots.

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