“If you missed the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles. A hundred miles, a hundred miles. A hundred miles. You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.”
This haunting song was made famous by folk singers, Peter, Paul, and Mary (look them up if you do not know who they are and listen to their version of the song). The lyrics from this song came to my mind as I watched this series. You can hear the cries and sadness that have accumulated for years, it doesn’t matter how far you want to keep away from the pain. This series became an eye opening experience for most BL dramas since “Until We Meet Again”, thereby becoming a dramatic masterpiece. It is a brilliant and stellar work of cinematic beauty that I shall remember for a long time. It is a profoundly moving and deeply spiritual series, along with being one of the best acted BL series in a very long time. The ending however left me unsettled. Our lead couple never made it to the mountain top. The scriptwriters didn’t believe that they had an amazing story and instead left us hanging in the dark with a ferocious tug to our heartstrings in the finale episode!
This is a story of love. Actually, two stories of heartfelt love. Both are deeply intense, and forever memorable. You know that; you sense that; you feel that. One love is destined for tragedy while the other is destined for success, transcended by its simplicity and gentility. No matter how you look at this series, it will be one that no doubt will deeply and profoundly affect you. It is impossible not to feel.
The series evolves around two couples. The tragic love story focuses on Xiang Hao Ting, brilliantly portrayed by Wayne Song. He is an out-going, ill-tempered, manipulative extrovert who is used to getting his way and to some degree can be a bully. Then you have Yu Xi Gu, played astonishingly by Juan Zhi Huang. Xi Gu is a studious, introverted individual who is desperately tries to blend into the surroundings without being noticed. You know from the very beginning that he is a tragic figure who has had to work hard on his own, is lonely and takes care of himself. He is an enduring but sad figure, whose sole focus remains on his future ambition. He normally doesn’t pay attention to people around him. Meanwhile, Hao Ting only thinks of the present and how he can use it for his own benefit. Slowly but inextricably their lives become intertwined, and their journey as they fall in love becomes a thing of beauty to watch. Yet, you cannot shake the feeling that something dreadful is going to happen. You can sense and feel in Xi Gu, that life has been sad from the moment he was born. Happiness is allusive, fleeting, or just not meant to be. There are just some people whose lives are meant to be a painful reminder that not all love stories are lasting. Even the largest candles sometimes blow out quickly with the slightest of wind.
The second couple (the focus might not be on them) are equally vital to this story as the main couple. This couple balances the other one as their relationship seems destined from the beginning. It is a stunningly beautiful story between Sun Bo Xiang (Wei Chen Liu/Wilson) and Han Yuan Zhang (Thomas Chang). Sun Bo is a solid figure who knows exactly who he is and what he wants despite being a high schooler. He is the most secure, passionate, sincere, committed, and driven gay character I have seen. He is deeply and passionately in love with Lu Zhi Gang. Lu Zhi is an ‘older’ guy whom Sun Bo sees at the gym where he works. Lu Zhi persistently tries to dissuade Sun Bo by pointing out their age difference and reiterating that he does not know what love really is. Somehow, by sheer will power and the tenaciousness of youth in never letting anything hinder the pursuit of love, Sun Bo manages to convince Lu Zhi of his sincerity. In his innocent ways, he confesses his love to Lu Zhi who in a real sense has never genuinely experienced the depth of true love. No one has ever loved him so deeply and with such commitment as Sun Bo. There is a quiet yet progressive development of true, genuine devotion between the two that is a wonder to behold. They are, in action and purpose, connected as if they were meant to be. Their connection transcends the physicality of being together and it seems to bind them to one another. One cannot exist without the other. This is because of their ubiety to each other. It is indeed a sign of true beauty.
While the paths each couple takes to their relationships are different, there is no doubt that their connection runs deeper than physical closeness and is indeed almost spiritual. Perhaps in a metaphysical sense, their connections have become so intertwined that their souls are truly united.
But tragedy strikes. It rips Hao Ting’s heart and soul apart. He tries to bury himself into schooling in order to fulfill for Xi Gu’s wishes. But the loss is unbearable for Hao Ting. His family tries to make him understand that it’s important to move on; so he could supposedly go on with life, get married and have a family. Not one of them, more importantly, WANTS to know how he feels.
As his mother tells him, “…you are like a spinning top, spinning around and around. It’s time you slow down a bit. Or you will miss what is going on in your life.” Meaningless words falling on ears that are deaf to empty words.
Unfortunately, here is where the stories veers off in a strange direction. I am not sure if he really has developed an affinity to someone named Phoebe which is casually alluded to; but is never fully explained. Yet, the look on his face and his whole demeanor tells a very different story. Hao Ting is profoundly sad and is in such intense pain from the loss of Xi Gu; that nothing in this world can ever fix that, make it get better, or replace it. His soul and spirit are so deeply intertwined with Xi Gu that no amount of ‘moving on’ is going to change that reality. Hao Ting’s suffering can be grasped from the following words, while he is conversing with Sun Bo-
“I have changed. [We have changed]. But he hasn’t. His time has stopped when he was 18. But mine will continue to move on, unable to stop.”
The intense pain and suffering that he experiences is almost unbearable for him as well as the audience. Sun Bao consoling words are truly comforting.
“But for him, [Xi Gu] will always have you at 18 besides him.”
This is such a beautiful sentiment that magnifies the intensity of Hao Ting’s feelings for Xi Gu. To say I cried bitter tears would not be accurate. More like wailed. I felt the pain to my core. I understood Hao Ting cannot move on, as his love for Xi Gu is so deep that replacing him seems even more painful to think about than the loss of him. The depth of his grief is so profound that it is affecting his entire life. He is almost soulless and certainly unhappy. He lives his life in a shell, surrounded by his grief and painful memories. Furthermore, he is only partially conscious of the world around him and takes no pleasure in anything that it has to offer. Xi Gu’s fate seemed to have been pre-ordained to be sad, but now Hao Ting’s fate is the same. It is as if they were both drawn together to share the same fate. Hao Ting’s fate seems to be indefinitely sealed.
Hao Ting and Xi Gu both talked about someday going to the Himalayas, so Xi Gu can feel the presence of his parents in the sky. Hao Ting tells Sun Bo, that he will someday to go there to feel Xi Gu’s presence. Most probably, he might not find peace there but will be reunited with Xi Gu. This is an eternally sad story of love lost by tragedy.
The acting in this series is nothing short of superlative. All four have shown great depth to their characters and take us on a journey through their characters’ developments. However, there are two actors here, that I want to pay homage. Wayne Song’s heartfelt portrayal of Xiang Hao Ting is praiseworthy. Wayne should be proud of his work in this series. The range of his emotions betrayed by this character is startling, especially those conveyed in the last episode. He imparts an intense sadness in his eyes and his behavior is almost fatalistic. I felt the pain from his loss. I understood the agony of his last six years trying to deal with his loss and utterly incapable of doing so. No one knows the depth of it except for himself and perhaps Sun Bo. Wilson Liu as Sun Bo is nothing short of brilliant. Quite laid back and at times low-key; but incredibly consistent and believable. He understands who Sun Bao is and in essence becomes Sun Bo. He plays the ideal lover convincingly, but he also finds ways to improve and maintain the relationship constantly and continuously. In nature, he is Hao Ting’s antithesis. He senses and knows the pain Hao Ting is in, but all he can do is be there for him. Try to comfort him. Try to lessen the pain even for little bit. The subtleties in their range of emotions are exemplary. He is a superb actor and I tip my hat to his performance. It was stunning and beautiful to watch.
The production of this series is excellent. Some of the most passionate (but safe) sex scenes are from this series. The mutual masturbation scene was so incredibly real and stunningly done. There was lust and it was real! Great scene and I am glad it was included. The scene was realistically depicted. There are also some disturbing scenes of physically attacking Xi Gu that are superfluous as well as some bullying that depreciated the message. I understand that he was a sad figure and an easy target. Let us stop with the overuse of physical abuse and manifesting bullying as a method to prove their masculine toughness or supposed superiority.
While I believe with every fiber of my being that this series is the BEST of the HIStory series, it does have some flaws in its storyline. More so with the ending than the story as a whole. While the tragedy that took place is a shock, it did seem a bit too spurious to me. There is no advent connection. Six years pass without dealing with the effects of the tribulation. That is not fair to the characters, or the audience and it almost felt as if the production did not trust the depth of acting these guys were capable of enacting. Too often, these stories start out strong but move into endings that are too contrived; when in reality some deeper connections could have been established. These actors CAN act and should have been given the opportunity to take these roles from a superficial to an exponential level. Why didn’t we see Hao Ting’s early stages of grief ? How did the family handle this? Why do they pretend as if the relationship was not a real one? How did the friends help him to get through this phase? We never find the answers to these questions. We only see the abject pain in his face after six years of apparently dealing with it by himself. Likewise, we can only speculate and imagine the depth of his loneliness. Why the subterfuge or eluding that he should get into a new relationship with a woman? Why the need to have a doppelganger interest? That made no sense and was unquestionably out of place. Or was it his own state of mind?
This story had an opportunity to be a masterpiece in both mainstream art and BL world, but the scriptwriters hesitated. There is so much more retrospection to be done when it comes to Hao Ting’s past and how he got there six years later. Bring the audience on this journey. Let us see and feel his pain. For sure, the most gay relationships do not end tragically, but it is does happen occasionally. And again, to not see how gay people would go through the grieving process cheapens the production and glosses over the depth of despair and grief that we do feel after the loss of our love (and in this case, his soulmate). Trust your story and most importantly, trust your actors to deliver. I think you can project a more memorable show in this way. This series came so close to being a full-fledged masterpiece of cinematic beauty that just did not get there. I really wanted to give this series a phenomenal rating.
Nonetheless, if you listen carefully, harken back to the song – you will still hear that train whistle a hundred miles away. Will both Hao Ting and Xi Gu be on that train? With great sadness, I think they will be. But they will now be together.
Rating 4.99 out of 5