Review: Above the Clouds

Dragged down by typical Yu Zheng formula of being framed once per episode, Above the Clouds nevertheless shows promise for Chen Xiao and the scriptwriter.

How nice is it to actually have a female lead not fixed on romances? Despite a love triangle and the inability to learn, the female lead of Above the Clouds 云巅之上  was surprisingly unwavering in her acting dreams, something rare in recent dramas that makes even the most powerful women motivated solely by love.  The series tells of a romance between accidental actress by day and maid by night Jian Xi (Yuan Shanshan), her boss and the least-paparazzi-conscious actor Tang Fei ( Chen Xiao), his rumored girlfriend and her acting rival Ji Qing (Jiang Menjie),  and a pop star with terrible hair ( Zhang Zhehan).

The contrast between the two male love interests is also super refreshing. Tang Fei supported Jian Xi while she fought for her dreams, even if she’s wounded in the process. Zhang Zhehan’s tried to protect Jian Xi from the dangers of pursuing her dreams, shielding her like one would a doll.  The rivalry between the female leads was also one of the best in a long time, where both were competitors in  career and in love, but respected each other and wanted to win fair and square.

Unfortunately, the ups to the script ends there. The female lead never really develops in the series, and spent most of the drama more or less manipulated by both her boyfriend and her teacher.  Everyone in the series seem to have an one-episode memory as she gets framed, everyone believes she’s horrible, and then she gets her name cleared again over and over again.  With exception of the leads, the cast of young actors are worse actors than the characters they portray. Oh, and some of the outfits in the series look bad even for Yu Zheng dramas.

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When a five-year-old glitter fanatic does your eye makeup.

Fortunately, there’s always Chen Xiao.  I had given up on Chen Xiao for a bit after watching him getting progressively worse in dramas opposite Zheng Shuang and Zhou Dongyu, but it seems like he still has it in him. With a unique ability among his generation to play a lovable asshole, Chen Xiao is clearly heads and shoulders above all other young performers in the series. He’s probably the only actor who benefited from the series’ multiple drama-within-a-dramas, where he was able to show off his versatility as an actor in all types of roles.

While there are many flaws in the series and Yuan Shanshan isn’t nearly as charming with an increasingly annoying character, it’s definitely a promising first run for the first-time scriptwriter. Looking forward to see more from the scriptwriter and Chen Xiao.

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5 thoughts on “Review: Above the Clouds

  1. Thank you for your review. It’s always nice to read a reviewer’s thoughts on a drama since there are just too many C dramas out there for any one person to watch. It’s also nice to read about the parts where this drama differ from the long list of Mary Sue meets Gary Stu dramas. YSS does end up doing a high number of annoying-ish roles. At this point, I can’t even separate how much I dislike the actress vs her various roles.I didn’t dislike her when she appeared in a reality show coaching acting students. I sympathize the actors who have to do time to show their gratitude to Yu Mama.
    C dramas’ male characters tend to be superior to the female ones, don’t you think? Male roles are impactful, and if they are not Gary Stu’s, they are usually less one-dimensional than the female roles. Like the different men in Nirvana IF. Female drama roles are often too shrew-like, whiny, or petty to the extreme. If not, then they go the other extreme. Goody two shoes Mary Sue’s. NIF is one of the few exceptions where termagants do not overwhelm a drama.

    • I think for NIF, it’s probably because it started off as an yaoi where women play little to no role in the first place …

      Female characters tend to be weaker in general across the world. Even when recent C-dramas have upped the abilities of the characters, they still lack dimensionality. There are so many male leads who can care about career, love, family, country, and all sorts of things, but even female leads like Wu Zetian are fixated on romance or simple survival.

      • Well, of top firms in the world, only a small percentage have female CEOs. Top paying jobs (surgeons etc) also have few women. Less still if you focus on Asian women. So even in real life, women have a more limited range. Cultural expectations are also different. A “good” number of women look for men with high earning potential. Men’s looks are not the top priority. Men, however, often look at physical attributes of a partner first. I find it interesting well-known male actors can look like Huang Bo, Wang Bao Qiang. Very few actresses can pull that off though Yan Ni, Yu Nan, Qin Hai Lu are non-traditional beauties. But I still find the average C actress is much more attractive than the average actor. Suggesting the stronger focus on female (vs male) outer beauty. It’s also hard for women to excel in career when the society has such high demands on feminine looks. Who has the time work to the CEO level and still has to find the time to look like a Fan Bing Bing. Female grooming is a lot more complicated with gazillion colors and brushes to use. Male grooming doesn’t take as much time.
        Given this real-life landscape, where career opportunities for women are still much more limited compared to men’s, women do tend to assert aggression and ambition at the family level more than in the office. This does not lead to pleasant drama viewing experience.

        • It’s kind of a self-feeding loop, though, isn’t it? One reason why non-attractive men can be famous is because there are many good males roles for those with the acting chops but not the looks, and not so for females. In particular, all of the men you listed play comedic roles, where women are especially rare except as beautiful love interests. Where such roles can be written, the women, too, can be popular (think Jia Ling, Ren Suxi).

          I understand if more women than men in TV are career-focused, because that would reflect reality, but right now, I’m not seeing none of that. This is especially considering that China has one of the highest female labor force participation rates in the world, and the single-child policy has made Chinese women much more career-focused than in the past. Also, it’s not that hard to find a career-focused women. Just look at the Chinese entertainment world, where many of its top execs are women (Huace, Tangren, Orange Sky, Rotunda, eeMedia, Bazaar and co., Jiaxing )

          • They make C dramas that suit popular tastes. A significant part of the Asian general public is uncomfortable, maybe even feel threatened by successful women. Even if C dramas show a few successful women, they would show a doctor, a lawyer, rather than some female CEO. Unless she inherits daddy’s firm. They are not comfortable doing the very top female execs. Which are probably viewed as being too threatening. Even in the West, ambitious career women are spoken of much more negatively than male ones. The progress of, and the existence of career women are often treated like a necessity by the general public. On one hand, some partners want the wife to help share the financial burden. But if the wife’s career is high-flying, part of the public will probably have lots of negative comments about it. “Eating soft rice”, tiger wife, tiger CEO, wife has some secret non-kosher backers, incompetent husband, etc. This is consistent with the Sheng Nv “leftover ladies” phenomenon? The public tends to favor the juvenile Cinderella and Mary Sue stories instead. Poor Mary Sue meets ultra wealthy Gary Stu. How many years have we seen this story now? The public seems to have an insatiable appetite for these dramas. Zheng Shuang, Tang Yan almost never need to do other roles beyond Mary Sue.

            The progress of career women is still not that great. I feel that deep down there’s still public resentment in some situations. It’s ok if you have the financial need, but you have to do it within certain pre-specified, societal parameters. Asian females can’t be “too excellent”. Or you could suffer some sort of public resentment and backlash.
            Did those top female execs in major media firms come from average families with no business or political connections? I’m not aware of C execs.

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