I generally don’t talk about how much I like Chinese dramas, but I have a special place in my heart for how much production goes into their fantasy/pseudo-historical epics. South Korea is really good for its modern and contemporary drama, but China is always ready to give you a 40+ episode event that can do in three months what Game of Thrones could not do in nine years.
With the demise of DramaFever about two years ago, the only dedicated Asian TV streaming sites have been Rakuten’s VIKI TV and Kocowa, which focuses mainly on Korean content. Netflix and Amazon had both begun to get in on the action before the end of DramaFever, but recently Netflix has really beefed up its offerings by acquiring what has previously been DramaFever exclusives. However, since the introduction of last year’s hit zombie epic, Kingdom, Netflix has begun delivering its own Asian drama originals in an effort to show that it is still king of the now saturated US streaming market.
While I had hoped that Netflix would pick up Novoland’s Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy – again, a rant for another day – Handsome Siblings looks like it was a safe bet. The most recent adaptation of Gu Long’s Juedai Shuangjiao (Two Peerless Heroes, or The Peerless Proud Twins), Handsome Siblings tells the story of twin brothers, intentionally separated at birth, who are pitted against each other to fight to the death in a plot of revenge for their parents’ decision to marry each other. Not to mention their father’s servant, who betrayed him, also tries to take over the martial arts world through some truly underhanded deeds. This story has been adapted 12 times since 1971, mainly in Hong Kong and Taiwan, so it’s only understandable that Netflix would bank on this to be a hit.
The first thing that should be known about this drama is that there are about 7 suicides and at least one questionable not-quite sex scene in this series, so please take care of yourselves while watching. Handsome Siblings is not the most brutal C-drama I’ve seen, but these characters are wildly petty, and definitely not above cutting off the arm of their firstborn to stay in good standing. The secondary main villain is also good for killing off his accomplices in order to keep his bad deeds quiet.
Trigger warning aside, you have to understand that there’s like 2 main plots going on, plus another three subplots. The most overarching one being that the only two people that knew that the twins were twins, or even related, were the ones forcing them to fight to the death. The Yihua Palace plot forces one twin, Hua Wuque, to be raised in the lap of luxury, whilst the other twin, Jiang Xiaoyu, is raised by a group of villains. It should be noted that the intention was to have Jiang Xioayu raised by his martial arts hero uncle, but this gets derailed before the first episode ends.
The Yihua Palace plot, which really could have sorted itself out by like episode ten, ends up taking the entire forty-four episodes to be revealed and resolved. It really takes a backseat to the Jiang Biahe plot, which throws the martial arts world into chaos so that the man who betrayed the twins’ father could underhandedly become the number one martial arts hero – and their community’s de facto leader – as revenge for his family’s eradication for doing basically the same thing. This plot comprises the bulk of the series and is satisfyingly intricate.
Beneath that, you have Jiang Xiaoyu’s many Love Interests, which was highly amusing, but I’m still mad that my favorite, Duan San, couldn’t get a happy ending. Or rather, it was not stated. Duan San was Love Interest #5, and would be considered the fat one. I was absolutely in love with her because I thought she was so cute. I would have loved to see her find another young man to truly appreciate her, but you never see her again once her usefulness to the plot is done.
There’s also Hua Wuque’s almost crippling naïveté. Yihua palace did Wuque an absolute disservice by never allowing him outside of the palace before he turned 18. My guy gets screwed over by the same person 3 times in the space of an episode, and still doesn’t learn his lesson. It’s quite tragic, and you suffer through about 25 episodes of it. It was so infuriating that I remember shouting at the screen that he did not deserve to have his father’s face.
Hua Wuque was not my favorite twin, but, as I’m writing this, I realize that keeping him so sheltered helped to make it easier to have him buy into fighting someone he’d never met with no real explanation as to why. Xiaoyu’er (Jiang Xiaoyu), while not as sheltered, but definitely kept away from the rest of the world for the same amount of time, was skeptical of women because of what the villains who raised him had always told him. However, for someone raised by villains, Xiaoyu’er honestly had the better time adapting of the two.
The third subplot was the Love Triangle, but the opening and closing theme tells you who she picks, so it’s never really a question. It’s about the journey to that decision.
I don’t want to give you the idea that Handsome Siblings was perfect, because the writing got a bit confusing at a point on the back end. Hua Wuque gets caught up in a trap where some of the minor details around it just do not make sense. Also, the way in which they wrap the five villains who raised Xiaoyu’er’s storyline is outright sloppy.
One last interesting thing that I noticed is that while two characters could have the same surname and not be related, if a third character with the same last name entered the story then that person would most definitely be related to one of the first two. Oddly enough, I had just seen a tweet about how the Wheel of Time series named and gave backstories to just about anyone who came on-screen. The next thing I knew, Handsome Siblings was revealing a ton of family relations for people that I had already written off as China having too many people for everyone’s last names to not be common.
I’ve never read Juedai Shuanjiao, so I can’t say how faithful an adaption Handsome Siblings is, but I can tell you that it is miles closer to the original script than the 1992 movie of the same name. That being said, I hope this review doesn’t turn you off to it because it really was a great story. It is my hope that the more people watch Handsome Siblings, the more Netflix will start offering a wider selection of Chinese epics, the more likely I’ll be able to finally watch the last five episodes of Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy.
A girl can only dream.
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