After discussing amongst themselves, the five masters decide to lift the seal on ChangQing’s memories. Que sera, sera; they can’t shelter him forever.
ChangQing is asked to prepare himself as the masters perform the ritual among candles and incenses.
When ChangQing reemerges after the seal has been lifted, he wares a pained expression and sits down quietly besides ZiXuan. The room is evacuated for their privacy.
“They lifted the seal after all…?” ZiXuan murmurs, gazing at ChangQing worriedly. “Soon”, he nods, “soon I will remember everything.” (What? You haven’t remembered a thing and already you look sourer than a lemon!?)
With due formality, the healing begins.
With every unit of energy sent to ZiXuan, ChangQing’s dormant memory stirs with it…
A lively girl, full of youthful charm and energy is spotted dragging an older woman as she promenades the busy street where a carnival is taking place. They stop at a mask stand. The girl peers curiously at the colorful masks. The vendor steps up and introduces, “Miss, would you like to purchase one? These masks are tailored base on the creation story of the goddess Nüwa. According to legend, she created rooster on the first of New Year. On the second day…” “She created dog. Then on the third day, she made sheep…. On the seventh day, Nüwa used herself as a model and created humans.” the girl completes the story for the vendor with a bright smile. By this time a crowd has gathered around the mask vendor.
“You knew the story of Nüwa goddess? Then did you know the story of Nüwa and FuXi?” the vendor challenges. Taking up the challenge, the girl retells the story of the two god’s matrimony with equal pleasure. A man in a golden mask passes by and stops to listen to the story.
When the story is over, the crowd dissipates. Now it’s the vendor’s turn to complain. He hasn’t sold a single mask! Feeling guilty for disrupting the honest man’s business, the girl buys two masks from the vendor and pays him more than they cost.
Putting the masks on, the girl and the older woman continue on their way to the carnival. Out of playfulness, she slips away from her guardian to venture on her own and runs into a man. Little does she know, this accidental encounter has changed her life forever.
The man helps her up and takes off his mask. “My name is Gu LiuFang,” he introduces, “I heard the story you told by the mask stand, it’s very intriguing.” She hastily takes off her mask and beams widely, “Really? You heard my story?” Thus begins the romance that’s to last for three lifetimes.
Gu LiuFang isn’t a native of the kingdom ZiXuan lives in. He has come for a “symposium” to spread Taoism and plans to return shortly and become a Taoist. ZiXuan’s presence no doubt stirs a ripple in LiuFang’s otherwise peaceful heart. Her infectious energy and ardent invite fills his short stay with countless surprises.
She introduces him to spicy food (so cute!), to dancing, and brings him to watch the sun down. He tells her stories of his home town ChangAn, teaches her segments from scripture, and spends time with her.
But eventually, it comes time to say goodbye.
On the day he is to leave, she stops him and tells him she wants to marry him. Broadly proclaiming her love, she only wants to know if he’s willing to give up everything and marry her. That year, she’s only 16 and he, 19.
Being older and wiser, LiuFang considers marriage a serious matter. Hoping ZiXuan’s affection isn’t just a spur of the moment, he promises her that if three years later, she still loves him, he will marry her. He hands her the golden mask he wore on their first encounter as a keepsake and leaves.
Though miles apart, their thoughts are constantly with each other. ZiXuan continues to learn to write (so she can write letters to LiuFang). And LiuFang continues to miss ZiXuan.
Out of longing and love, he paints a portrait of ZiXuan and keeps it with his books. One day, misfortune would have it that his master is to discover the portrait. LiuFang is severely punished. Even though he sees no fault in the act of love and asserts so, LiuFang submits to the master’s punishment nonetheless.
In the private chambers, LiuFang’s master grievously informs the other masters that their most talented disciple was lead astray by his feelings for a woman. Together, they devise a plan to dissuade young LiuFang from sacrificing Taoism to marriage.
When LiuFang comes out of his three months’ confinement (as part of the punishment), the masters grimly deliver him the news of ZiXuan’s death. Such falsehood! (Bastards! *waves fist*) Even if he isn’t overwhelmed by sadness, LiuFang would never have suspected that the masters he respected and admired would employ such an extreme measure as deception.
Without ZiXuan, there is nothing to keep LiuFang from becoming a real Taoist monk.
With the blink of an eye, LiuFang has spent three long years in mourning. Yet, passing time doesn’t erode his longing for ZiXuan.
Then one day, while LiuFang is strolling the river bank, recounting the happy times when he and ZiXuan used to sit by the lake and reciting lines of the scripture, he sees her standing in the woods, wearing their keepsake mask. They look at each other for a beat then she runs away angrily. He chases after her like a mad man and when he’s cough up with her, she slaps him.
For three years, she’s been waiting right here at the bottom of the Taoist sect; but for three years, he hasn’t written her nor let her find him. (Her letters were intercepted by the masters and he, thought she dead and wrote no more.)
They kiss under the crown canopy and LiuFang brings ZiXuan back to the sect to confront his masters. When his masters condemn the love he feels for ZiXuan, he barks at them that ZiXuan is the one person who’s allowed him to feel so much emotion at once. He wants to be with her for forever. A fire (presumably started by ZiXuan to punish the monks for their lie) disrupts the heated debate. Using the opportunity to get away, LiuFang and ZiXuan “elope”.
The fire and LiuFang’s rebellion infuriates the master. Torches are lit and pitchforks raised, a witch hunt to capture the wicked seductress is ordered.
They run, until they’ve come to a dead end. On one side it’s the monks and soldiers after them, on the other end, a bottomless cliff. They kneel before the cliff and like Nüwa and FuXi, they ask heavenward, “The heaven above, if our holy matrimony were to be granted, please gather the clouds. If not, scatter them.” They wait expectantly as the clouds part swiftly, leaving a patch of bald, blue sky on top of them.
“That doesn’t change my determination to be with you,” LiuFang says firmly. They kiss for the last time, then jump off the cliff together.
ChangQing regards this fierce woman before him through tear filled eyes, he can feel an overpowering sensation of conflict swelling inside his chest…
[In case you’ve missed Episode 17, the beginning of 18 offers an abridged, 51 second recap to the woeful story. Now, onto the second life time:]
ChangQing can’t concentrate anymore. The contradiction between happiness and pain encircles him like a backfiring spell, making his head swing and his heart throb. He is utterly confused. What should he be feeling right now? The love that LiuFang felt so strongly? The compassion that ChangQing ought to feel? Or guilt? Sorry? He pauses and looks over pleadingly at the translucent image of Master Wei Qing, projected from the Mt. Shu carrying device.
Master Wei Qing encourages ChangQing to do what he desires most: if he desires to save ZiXuan from the verge of death, he must be strong and continue on.
After taking a long breath, ChangQing continues to send energy to ZiXuan. And the memory stirs restlessly.
Temple, A Hundred Years Later.
Lin YePing, LiuFang’s first reincarnation, is a well respected Taoist master.
One day, as he dusts the courtyard, a purple handkerchief falls from the sky. He looks up and sees a girl sitting on the branches, smiling down at him. (A real seductress she becomes, tossing scented handkerchief and such.) Worried that the girl might fall from the tree and injure herself, he calls out to her to climb down.
She teases that a monk like him shouldn’t be staring at a girl like a desperate suitor. He looks away shamefully. She smiles and breaks the branch she’s seated upon.
She falls, he spreads out his arms to catch her (rather foolish looking to be running with arms spread apart… but it suits him). She lands in his arms.
He lets her go and apologizes for making contact. But she steps in closer and whispers to his ear, “I think I heard your heart beating just then.” With that, she leaves with a coy smile.
He puts up a hand to calm himself but his hand is trembling badly from the encounter. He attempts to stop the trembling with the other hand and notices the handkerchief still in his possession. When he runs out to return the handkerchief, the girl is gone, leaving him to reminiscent.
Before long, the wives in town rush to the Taoist temple for help.
Their husbands have abandoned their works in the farm and have gathered to drink with a new comer seductress. They ask Lin YePing to capture the seductress, whom they believe to be a fox spirit, and save their husbands.
They offer the monk a painting of the said seductress and that very evening, Lin YePing sets out to the tavern where the carouse is taking place.
At the tavern, as rumored, ZiXuan the seductress has a line of suitors tailing in her wake.
Though all an act, she shamelessly flirts with men while YePing is watching. (He’s quite cute when he’s being teased.) She approaches him at length, but to her disappointment, he has come to return the handkerchief. And to preach.
He tells her that happiness comes in various forms. Though drinking offers temporarily euphoria, lasting happiness builds on the empowerment of self. He, for example, has found pleasure in philosophy and Taoism. The mentioning of Taoism angers ZiXuan, she raises from her seat abruptly and demands, “Then, share me some of your happiness!”
Taken aback, YePing continues on with his preaching. ZiXuan interrupts him, “Do you plan to be a Taoist monk your whole life? Isn’t one life time enough? (Apparently one isn’t enough, nor two. He is in for the magical number of three.)” YePing is positively bewildered by her outburst and replies truthfully that each time he sees her, he has a strange feeling of familiarity. When she looks up expectantly, he smiles, “Maybe me being a Taoist is meant to help you, miss.”
She sighs and shuffles off.
Confused, Lin YePing searches through his repertoire of scripture and doctrines for a word of console. It only aggravates ZiXuan’s misery.
As ZiXuan leaves with another heavy sigh, YePing discovers that he is weeping for no reason. When he finds ZiXuan again, she is drinking with men to drown her sorrows.
YePing intervenes but ZiXuan ignores him. Finally, she provides him with one bold solution: if he doesn’t want to see these men hovering over her like hungry wolves, then marry her.
He dismisses it as being absurd and she, resumes drinking. An unknown impulse surges through YePing’s veins. He takes ZiXuan’s cup and says, “If you have to drink, I will drink for you.” Deja vu?
As wine trickles down his throat, images of their first night’s encounter at the carnival flood his mind’s eye. Then everything plays before his eyes…
He wakes up calling her name and finds himself in the Taoist temple. ZiXuan is sitting by him, holding his hand.
He recoils from her touch and when she teases him for dreaming of her, he blushes like a ripen apple. Taking no notice of it, ZiXuan asks him to marry her again. He backs away.
After ZiXuan’s leave, Lin YePing tries to repress the desire to follow her, but to no avail.
In the following days, ZiXuan drinks every night to forget her pain and Lin YePing, not yet fully understanding ZiXuan’s grief, drinks for her night after night.
Then finally one night, after yet another round of self-torture inflicted by both parties, Lin YePing tolls the bell to announce his will to marry ZiXuan.
Overnight, news of the scandal spread throughout the city. YePing’s action is frowned upon and ZiXuan spat at. Yet the pressure and disapproval don’t lessen his determination to marry ZiXuan. Ah, young love.
So without anyone’s blessing, they marry and consummate their love. (By the time the groom is to bed the bride, Lin YePing’s face turns scarlet — he’s so cute when he’s blushing! 😀 )
One night after making love (possibly their first night as man and wife), a naked (Mmm..) YePing props his head on an elbow and watches as ZiXuan sleeps quietly beside him. She is dreaming. He smiles complacently but the smile dies when ZiXuan stirs and mutters, “LiuFang, wait for me…” Suddenly, the growing uncertainty of an invisible Third lying between their entwined body threatens the happiness he risked everything for — his reputation, his peace, his Taoism.
He keeps his doubts to himself, but ZiXuan’s reputation of carousing with random men nags at the back of his head. When ZiXuan stops at a mask stand and asks YePing to buy her a horse mask, the horse tattoo on her shoulder and the name she murmurs in her dream come together and overthrow any remaining self restrain he has. He kicks the mask stand over in a spasm of violence foreign to him, and despite the disapproving whispers of onlookers, storms off, leaving his disconcerted wife in the middle of the street…
Whether ZiXuan is made aware of the reason behind her husband’s outburst is unclear. She makes no attempt to clarify and when the tension becomes unbearable, she returns to her kingdom, to her people.
But time has changed. There is war in her kingdom. As protector of the kingdom (and a goddess), she leads her people to fight against the invaders. In the end, she is captured and waits to be beheaded.
Is her husband going to let her die without a fight? Not a chance. Waving two spears, he comes to the rescue. But she can’t and won’t leave because the lives of her people weights her down. She tries to make him go, lying that she’s never loved him. He would not leave.
In the end, he dies at the hands of the invaders for shielding ZiXuan. Before exhaling his last breath, he asks her, “Tell me, who is the man you can’t forget?”
He never waited long enough for an answer and dies in her arms. “YePing is you, LiuFang is you, it’s always been you and only you.” ZiXuan cries, but it’s too late.
100 years later, when Lin YePing reincarnates into ChangQing, ZiXuan takes him to Mt. Shu and begs master Wei Qing to take good care of the baby. Wei Qing agrees but he also makes ZiXuan promise not to interfere with ChangQing’s life: if she wants him well, then stop haunting him with the baggages of his previous lives. Reluctantly, she agrees.
Having seen everything through his mind’s eye, ChangQing lets out a bitter laugh.
When the healing is over, ZiXuan faints in ChangQing’s arms.
With ZiXuan saved, the relieved bunch cheerily discuss what’s to become of the couple. — Will they marry? — Sure he’s to marry her, how can he not after knowing everything? — What about his Taoist masters? — Oh they’ll understand. In the jolly mood, Jin Tian nearly hugged XueJian. He remembers his promise with Zhao WuYan and turns to MaoMao instead.
The next day, ChangQing busies himself making various purchases. He buys ZiXuan the best quality fabric, befitting for her mighty status; he buys her expensive ginseng, hoping to restore her health. Once back, he retreats to the kitchen to prepare medication for ZiXuan.
In the bunch’s approving eyes, ChangQing’s devotion indicates the happily-ever-after that all wanted to see. Never once did the possibility of a farewell preparation cross their minds. And when they do see the dreadful parting scene, anger, disbelief, and blame come shooting at ChangQing like sharp arrows.
On a day no more ordinary than the previous, ChangQing entered ZiXuan’s room with a bowl of medicine. He fed her the bitter liquid with such loving care that each spoonful seemed to bring them closer to the elusive happy days. With the last drop of the medicine drained, ChangQing gave a small cough and told ZiXuan that he has packed her a few things and bought her a horse to return to her kingdom, where her people needs her. It’s time to part, he explained solemnly, he has his mission to complete and she hers.
She stared at him with sad, pretty eyes, a look of pain fell upon her brow, leaving her aged and vulnerable. At length, she withdrew her gaze from his face and with Herculean effort, she conceded to leave in a leveled tone.
And so, ZiXuan leaves.
Swallowing the pain of sending his love away, ChangQing only allows himself a private moment to bemoan his fate. Then, he’s on his feet again to retrieve the Fire Pearl. Even XueJian’s loud, repeated accusation of heartlessness cannot make him betray the inner turmoil to his fellow travelers. Guy is determined and sensible.
Soon afterward, the five of them make their second trip to the underworld. Due to the recent disagreement over sending ZiXuan away, the group splits into two: Jin Tian, XueJian, MaoMao, and LongKui as one group, ChangQing as another. (Poor guy.)
ChangQing slips in quietly with a pass but Jin Tian is cordially welcomed by every being in the underworld. At first, Jin Tian may be baffled by the surprising arrangement and the ease in which he traverses hell, but his vanity soon dissipated any clouds of doubt. He is quite enjoying the popularity and the sudden feeling of importance.
At the end of a long, dark corridor, Huo Gui Wang, the hostess of this grand reception awaits Jin Tian.
Without a second to waste, she leads him, by the arm, to a broad gambling table. He is to gamble (and spend time) with her. With each losing hand, he is to stay a year in hell with her. After 50 rounds, Jin Tian is still losing. Growing increasingly restless at the prospect of spending his whole life time in the underworld with this ball of red (AKA Huo Gui Wang), Jin Tian asks ChangQing’s help through the ever so useful walkie talkie. ChangQing informs Jin Tian that Huo Gui Wang is wearing the Fire Pearl and that she has sealed the gambling chamber with her magic to keep from being interrupted. ChangQing does not have the power to enter and aid Jin Tian.
But Jin Tian gets an idea. Since the woman’s interested in him, why doesn’t he sacrifice a little and when she’s unawares, snatch the Pearl from her bosom? Thus begins Jin Tian’s wild proclamation of love!
He waltzes around Huo Gui Wang, arms stretched, eyes sparkling. With his handsome head thrown back, he shamelessly lets out one bold declaration of love after another. She, under the attack of Jin Tian’s flowery flattery, lets him usher her left and right, both flustered and pleased. Her gaiety is contrasted by XueJian’s frustration, LongKui’s bewilderment, and MaoMao’s knowing remarks.
Pushing his charm and luck, Jin Tian agrees to wed Huo Gui Wang. Alone in the bedroom of the Queen of the underworld, a battle of wits is about to begin.
I’ve anticipated it all: the tragic deaths, the sorrowful split, even the long standing visual motif of the golden horse mask — all except the toothy grins. Each time a wide smile that showed a row of immaculately shaped and colored teeth flashed my way, I felt an urge to rub my eyes in mild amusement: wait, these people know how to smile broadly? Admittedly, episodes 17 and 18 showcased a wide range of emotions for ZiXuan and ChangQing. I’m still not used to seeing ChangQing NOT furrow his brow. But when he did smile happily, he looked so innocent! ZiXuan appeared very young and full of live in episode 17, had she been introduced that way, I might have sympathized with her more.
The second half of episode 19 was hysterical. With Jin Tian bombarding flattery at Huo Gui Wang and reducing her to a giddy school girl, the mood is once again lightened. Can’t wait to see Jin Tian get his sneaky, dirty paws on the Fire Pearl!