During the Tang Dynasty in China (618-907), a jaded young wanderer, Chen Yuqing, seeks the quiet of a Buddhist retreat to try to forget about the wealthy young woman who threw him aside. Unfortunately it is almost time for a big ceremony and all of the young men of the town are excited because it means that they will be able to glimpse the beautiful young Pianpian. She is the daughter of a government official and her beauty is renowned in the village. Soon Yuqing and Pianpian are in love, but they face long odds as Pianpian’s mother is against their marriage. Will a horde of murderous bandits change her mind?
This short one-shot should have had everything going for it. It’s lavishly illustrated in full color, it’s based on a classic Chinese play which is in turn based on a classic Chinese fable, and it is a romance-against-the-odds. Unfortunately it sinks beneath the weight of poor storytelling. Sun’s writing is too flat to be able to sustain a story, but not flat enough to have the cadence of folklore. Characters run together into a mish-mash, their motivations never clear enough to make them distinct. Yuqing and Pianpian are beautiful, but we’re never given any reason to believe that they really love each other, so it seems more like they are marrying because they are so beautiful together. Few characters have a backstory and even Yuqing, who does, doesn’t have enough of one to give readers a sense of who he truly is. On top of that, the dialogue is stilted and the plot tends to skip abruptly from one moment to the next, like a record with a scratch, so you always feel like you’ve just missed something.
What’s worse is that Guo Guo’s art is beyond breathtaking….
The History of the West Wing
Written by Sun Jianyu; illustrated by Guo Guo
Yen Press, May 2009