The Ghost Bride is almost certainly going to polarize fans of the books and potentially newcomers too. As a big fan of the book myself, The Ghost Bride distorts and changes large swathes of the original story, playing the romantic elements late on as the dominating, driving force of the show and in doing so, pushing a lot of the supernatural elements to the back-burner. For now though, the first episode introduces us to the elements that dominate a lot of the show, including the aforementioned romance, some J-Pop and slapstick humour that become staple parts of this six-part series.
Episode 1 of The Ghost Bride begins with Li Lan awakening after a bad dream and speaking to her Father, who works as a spice trader, before heading out to town. It’s Malacca 1890, and as the camera pans down we’re graced with an upbeat J-pop record as Li Lan walks with Amah through the streets. There, she runs into her teenage friend Yu Li who cradles a child and leaves hastily when it starts fussing.
As she leaves, Amah brings up the topic of marrying her childhood sweetheart, Tian Bai. Given he’s not in Hong Kong anymore, she quickly avoids the topic and instead heads in to the monastery to pay her respects to her Mother who passed away. Here, Amah asks Li Lan whether she wants to light incense candles for her old friend Tian Ching who also passed away recently. She decides against it though and instead heads home where she finds Mr Won seemingly talking to himself in the kitchen. At dinner, Li Lan learns that the family have been invited to the Lim Family festival.
The next day Amah heads out to buy a new dress with Li Lan as they prepare for the party. Her Father and Amah join her and as they make their way into the lavish courtyard of the Lim Mansion, marveling at the sights. Madame Lin arrives and greets the trio where she mentions how much Tian Ching liked parties. Li Lan hears whispering and follows the noise upstairs to a picture of Tian Ching on the wall. She quickly hides under the bed when she hears voices approach though, where she’s startled by another boy who happens to be lying under the bed too. This is Er Lang, one of the servants at the house and they immediately begin playfully discussing what they were both doing under the bed.
As Li Lan heads back to the party, she learns her childhood sweetheart Tian Bai has returned. However, to further complicate matters Madame Lim suggests that Li Lan marry the late Tian Ching and become his ghost bride. As she goes on,Madame Lim persuades him to go ahead with this given his spice business isn’t doing too well but he defiantly stands by his daughter.
At home, Li Lan asks her Father whether things would be better if she marries the ghost. He tells her he won’t allow this to happen and refuses to let her throw her life away. That evening, Li Lan has a nightmare and bolts upright in the morning where she learns her Father has gone on a trip for 3 days. After spending some time with her friend Yu Li and later Tian Bai, Li Lan returns home to find her Father ill and brought back to land by the captain.
Falling asleep by his side, Li Lan has a nightmare about Tian Ching again and he taunts that he’ll be her bride. Amah suggests that she’s upset spirits which is why she’s experiencing nightmares and is encouraged to visit an exorcist by one of her close friends. Unfortunately it doesn’t work and Tian Ching returns the next night, asking again for Li Lan to marry him. She refuses though until he mentions her Father and how his soul is wandering in the Netherrealm.
It’s here he requests her help in finding out just who poisoned him as his death wasn’t an accident. With her Father stuck in the Netherrealm, Li Lan has no choice but to help him in exchange for saving her Father’s life. She promises to find the culprit in 10 days but before she goes, Tian Ching tells her he suspects Tian Bai is the one responsible for murdering him where we leave things hanging in the balance.
Aside from the fourth wall break as Amah looks at the camera and some spotty acting all round, the changes to the story certainly serve a much more teen-drama orientated approach. The trouble is, this completely offsets some of the best parts with the book and changes character motivations, and not always for the better. Seeing Li Lan’s Father healthy and not drugged up on opioids or the tonally jarring inclusion of J-Pop during the 1890’s are changes that will almost certainly alienate those who loved the book.
Having said that, the first episode certainly sets things up nicely for the season ahead, especially with some of the character casting which is spot on to how the book interprets these people. Whether The Ghost Bride can deliver with the rest of its season, and more importantly convince book lovers that these changes are for the benefit of the show, remains to be seen.
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