Trapped bi-love

By Xiong Yuqing Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-7 19:28:01

‘Go Princess Go’ takes a gender-bender twist on traditional love stories

A scene from Go Princess Go Photo: Courtesy of LeTV

If there is one word that best describes LeTV's newest online drama Go Princess Go, that word is "addictive." Unlike the disappointment that came after the highly anticipated The Legend of Mi Yue hit the airwaves, Go Princess Go started off as a relatively unknown before becoming a major hit. Currently holding a high score of 8.2/10 on media site, the show has raked in more than 700 million views after releasing two-thirds of its 35-episode season. It is currently one of the top trending topics on social media in China.

A scene from Go Princess Go Photo: Courtesy of LeTV

 Man in a woman's world

Each episode of this online drama is only about 20 minutes long and so makes for a quick treat for people who are working or studying and don't have much time to watch something heavier.

The biggest draw for audiences seems to be the transgender nature of the main character Zhang Peng.

A modern playboy who jumps into a swimming pool to save a girl's life, Zhang is accidently kicked in the head and falls unconscious. Upon waking, he discovers that he now inhabits the body of a beautiful woman living in ancient China named Zhang Pengpeng (actress Zhang Tian'ai), who Zhang later realizes is the wife of a prince. Comedy ensues as Zhang tries to survive as a woman with a straight man's mind.

A transgender focus is not a new topic. It's been used as a focus in US movie The Hot Chick in 2002, UK movie It's a Boy Girl Thing in 2006, South Korean film Change in 1997, Chinese movie If I Were You in 2002 and some TV dramas like the Japanese series Papa to Musume no Nanokakan in 2007. Just last year in The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne played as Lili Elbe, an artist who underwent sex reassignment surgery.

While most of these gender-bender movies and TV series focus on how a person gradually comes to understand the opposite gender, this online drama is a bit more daring. Sure it has instances where it pokes fun at a man having to deal with a woman's menstrual cycle, but for the most part it focuses on how this princess begins developing romantic relationships with both men and women.

When the show first starts, Zhang often flirts with his maids and his husband's other concubines, most of whom are voluptuous woman who don't care when Zhang comes into contact with their bodies since he's in a woman's body. These scenes are clearly meant to tantalize. However, as Zhang's husband and his brother-in-law end up finding this attractive and daring woman even more attractive and so begin romancing Zhang, the latter finds himself accepting the more feminine side of his nature and even has sex with his husband. 

It's rare to see a bisexual role such as this appear so prominently in a Chinese drama. With Zhang's male spirit and female body, each relationship between the two sexes develops quite naturally.

Even though the tone is kept light and funny instead of being a dramatic psychological examination of gender roles, the show does prove that audiences in China are becoming more accepting of the idea of bisexual relationships. 

Actress Zhang Tian'ai from Go Princess Go Photo: Courtesy of LeTV

Showing some skin

Compared to other TV shows that have high budgets for every episode, Go Princess Go is a very low-budget show. Some media outlets have even published articles talking about how poor the show's film crew actually is.

Costumes look like they were made with curtain fabric and lack any complicated patterns. Accessories the characters wear look like something a person would buy from a street vendor.

During scenes where there should be crowds of people, such as an ancient football match or a grand meeting, only several figures are ever seen in the background. Even the emperor, father-in-law to the princess, never makes an appearance and is only talked about by other characters.

Some audience members have joked that the only means the director has to add some style to a scene is by using a blower to create a dreamlike scene with wind and fog. However, this isn't really true. With his experience as a photographer, director Lü Haojiji has excellent control over the composition and colors of each and every frame.

While not expensive the clothing can be somewhat racy for a Chinese show. Characters are often seen showing quite a bit of skin. Something the show can probably only get away with because it is not being shown on TV.

In an interview with the Xiaoxiang Morning Post, Lü said that he wanted to present a style similar to that of the show Spartacus which features people showing off their bare arms and legs.

"People may not have seen a style like this in a period drama. When Western people wear something like this though, people find it acceptable," Lü said.

In the end, it seems that a lack of budget has not hurt the show's ratings. As the saying goes: Sex sells. Audiences don't really care where a show bought its costumes or how much money it spent. All they care about is whether a show can continue to amuse, shock and impress them.

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