Sunday, December 30, 2012

2013 Forecast

Get Used to Seeing...



The creatively-challenged TVB has resorted to producing sequels or spin-offs of well-received dramas. Not only does it require less novelty, sequels almost always have tons of hype and grab high ratings. While some fans are excited for a continuation of their favourite series, others may be less eager to see a reboot with different characters and inconsistent scripting. Can the sequels prove to be as successful as the original production?

Upcoming Sequels: Beauty at War, Triumph in the Skies II, A Great Way to Care II, The Hippocratic Crush II, Rosy Business 3

The “Cantonese-Challenged” Trio

Like it or not, Aimee Chan, Eliza Sam and Christine Kuo will continue to be heavily promoted by TVB. There will likely be at least one of them in every upcoming series. Aimee currently has the most dramas lined up among all of TVB’s fadans and even has the chance to co-lead in some of them. Meanwhile, Christine and Eliza will appear in some of those anticipated sequels. There is no shortage of opportunities for the trio, but can they win the hearts of the audience?

Upcoming Dramas:
Aimee – Ruse of Engagement, Love Exceeds the Coastline, A Great Way to Care II, Unrequited Love in Twin Cities, Cold Mountain Hidden Dragon

Eliza – Triumph in the Skies II, The Hippocratic Crush II, Sniper Attack 2013

Christine – Beauty at War, A Great Way to Care II, Three Lifetimes of Fate

The “Chan-Chan” Pairing

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It’s Moses and Aimee Chan off-screen, but on-screen, it will be Ruco and Aimee Chan. They share three series together in 2013, playing a couple in two of them. Their relationship will be put to the test in Ruse of Engagement and Unrequited Love in Twin Cities. Can their on-screen love story be as sweet as the real-life “Double Chan” relationship?

Upcoming Dramas: Ruse of Engagement, Love Exceeds the Coastline, Unrequited Love in Twin Cities


Ruco Chan

Ruco became popular with his role in The Other Truth, but had a quiet year in 2012. He will be looking to make more noise in 2013, where he stars in five dramas. Among them, his roles in Ruse of Engagement and Big Wheel seem to be the most promising. In both, he is a semi-good, semi-villainous police officer, a type that tends to attract lots of fanfare.

Upcoming Dramas: Heart Road GPS, Ruse of Engagement, Love Exceeds the Coastline, Big Wheel, Unrequited Love in Twin Cities

Edwin Siu

Edwin is coming off a great year that saw him nominated for the Most Improved and Best Supporting Actor awards. He will continue to feature in several big productions, such as in Detective Columbo and Rosy Business 3, both alongside TV King Wayne Lai . He gets his chance to co-lead a series (with Ruco) in Big Wheel. He may very well be a strong contender again for next year's Most Improved award.

Upcoming Dramas: Detective Columbo, A Great Way to Care II, Big Wheel, Rosy Business 3

Natalie Tong

Natalie already had plenty of screen time in 2012, but this year will see her finally attain lead actress status in Detective Columbo, where she will act out two roles. She is also part of the highly anticipated Rosy Business 3, where she is the second female lead after Myolie Wu. She must enjoy working with Wayne Lai since Rosy Business 3 will be her fourth consecutive series with him.

Upcoming Dramas: Detective Columbo, Rosy Business 3

Tavia Yeung

Hard to imagine why the reigning TV Queen will have a “breakthrough”, but Tavia’s role as a schizophrenic in A Great Way to Care II sounds exactly like the type of role that will win over her naysayers.

Upcoming Dramas: A Great Way to Care II, The Hippocratic Crush II

Monday, December 24, 2012

Miscellaneous Historical Facts in The Confidant

The Yehe Nara Curse

During the late-Ming Dynasty, Nurhaci (努爾哈), the leader of the Aisin-Goro clan, was uniting the Jurchen tribes (later known as the Manchu) in Manchuria (northeast China). The last tribe to be conquered was the Yehe Nara, led by a man named Gintaisi (金台). They opposed the Jurchen union because they were being treated well by the Ming court. However, despite having the help of the Ming army, Nurhaci eventually defeated the Yehe Nara tribe and Gintaisi was either executed or forced to commit suicide. Before his death, Gintaisi allegedly cursed Nurhaci that as long as one of his descendants survived, even if it was a female, they will bring down the Aisin-Goros.

Nurhaci’s descendants went on to defeat the Ming-rebellion leader Li Zicheng and began their rule over China. Whether as a coincidence or because the Aisin-Goros were fearful of the curse, it was not until the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor that a Yehe Nara woman gained a prominent ranking within the imperial harem. That woman would later become known as Empress Dowager Cixi.

There are two ways in which the curse seems to have been fulfilled. The first interpretation is that Cixi’s disastrous rule brought about the Qing Dynasty’s downfall.  Her anti-reformist stance and extravagant spending were reasons why China fell behind in terms of military and technological advancement. The second interpretation is that a Yehe Nara woman – Empress Dowager Longyu (隆裕皇) – signed the abdication agreement on behalf of Puyi to officially end the Qing Dynasty.

The Making of a Eunuch

In the Qing Dynasty, the castration of eunuchs was performed by government-sanctioned “knifers”. There were two families who specialized in the surgery: “畢五” and “小刀. Anyone who wished to become a eunuch had to first register with one of them. Following a background check, the approved males would need sign a waiver to excuse the knifer of any consequences from the castration. They will also need to bring a gift for the knifer and several items to help them through their recovery. There is a fee of six silver pieces, but since most families could not afford to pay the price, they will sign a promissory note to repay their debts once they enter the palace.

The optimal time for surgery was in late-spring or early summer when it was relatively warm, because the castrated man cannot wear pants for at least one month after the surgery. Before the surgery, the person will rid themselves of poop and urine, then they will be locked in a sealed room for 3-4 days without food or water. Once they are ready, their male parts will be anaesthetized with hot chili sauce or pepper. They will be strapped to a chair and asked, once again, if they are willing to become a eunuch. If there is any hesitation at all, the knifer will not perform the surgery.

Using a curved knife, the knifer will sever the genitals in a single quick slice and then quickly insert a plug to prevent the blockage of the urethra. For the next three days, the patient is kept in a sealed room and forbidden from eating or drinking. The plug is removed after three days and the surgery is considered a success if the patient can urinate properly. The new eunuch will need to wait for the wound to heal, a recovery process that takes approximately 100 days. His “preciouses” will be hung from the ceiling on a red string in hopes of a rapid rise up the palace ranks. Upon the eunuch’s death, his family will reclaim the “preciouses” from the knifer so that the eunuch can be buried as a whole man.

The Use of “Nucai”

The term nucai () is a self-depreciating term meaning “your servant/slave”. This term is traditionally used by eunuchs to address themselves in the presence of the Emperor. Generally, other court officials would use the term chen () instead, meaning “your subject”. Recall in Curse of the Royal Harem where all the court attendants, including the concubines, referred to themselves as nucai. There is actually historical basis for it. In the Qing Dynasty, Manchu court officials, regardless of rank, would use the term nucai to refer to themselves. Meanwhile, Han court officials, regardless of rank, were only permitted to use the term chen. This is because the Manchu Emperor and officials were considered to be akin to master and servant from the same household, whereas the Han people are not part of the “family” and are only treated as subjects of the Manchu ruler. Such a distinction is so important that the Qianlong Emperor was greatly angered when a Han official referred to himself as nucai when submitting a joint memorial with a Manchu official. The Qianlong Emperor issued a decree that, from then on, Manchu and Han officials who make joint submissions must both refer to themselves as chen. The Emperor would rather have the Manchu “downgrade” to use chen than to allow the Han people the privilege of being a nucai of the Emperor. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Friendly Fire - Preview of Cases

Case #1 - Romantic murder case
Penny Chan is charged with the murder of his girlfriend JJ Jia's husband. Michael Tse and Tavia Yeung face each other in court. Sammy Leung uses his sex appeal to investigate the suspect's background.

Case #2 - Mainland pregnant woman
Benz Hui rented his apartment to Mandy Wong, a pregnant woman from Mainland China. She gets into an argument with her agent and falls unconscious after rolling down the stairs. Benz is framed for this, while Mandy's husband tries to hide the truth.

Case #3 - Murder of police officer
Narcotics Bureau officer Patrick Tang has been investigating drug lord Sammy Shum for a long time, but has yet to find enough evidence. Patrick accuses Sammy Shum of killing a CID officer, but Michael discovers that Patrick may have framed the suspect, giving him the opportunity to walk free.

Case #4 - Wealthy heir rape case
Tavia's apprentice, Samantha Ko, is raped by wealthy heir Ronan Pak. Fellow prosecutor trainees Oscar Leung, Joey Law, Bella Lam and Jame Ng all stand up for her. They are challenged by Michael's main rival, Derek Kwok, who has been hired by Alice Chan (Ronan's sister) to do everything he can to get an acquittal.

Case #5 - Public corporation fraud
Vincent Wong, Sammy Leung's half-brother, is used by Alice Chan to be responsible for a shell corporation. The company's stocks are suddenly suspended from trading, causing investors, including Sharon Chan's family, to lose all their money. Benz Hui discovers the truth, leading Alice to exact revenge on him.

See Overview - Friendly Fire

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Confidant Review

Producer: Marco Law
Genre: Historical
Cast: Wayne Lai, Michelle Yim, Maggie Siu, Oscar Leung, Raymond Wong, Power Chan, Raymond Cho, Edwin Siu, Nancy Wu

WARNING! Before proceeding, please check your history books at the door. Thank you. Love, TVB.
(There should really be some kind of disclaimer like that before airing any TVB “historical” dramas.)

Plot: Throw away your history books and join TVB on this wonderful behind-the-scenes adventure on how Empress Dowager Cixi and Li Lianying come to rule over China. As a bonus, we add in three(!) amazing love stories. Rest assured there will be no steamy sex scenes that will corrupt the minds of our innocent young children.

First, the scenery was beautiful. Everything looks so authentic. The cast went to Hengdian to film in the replica Forbidden City, which is scores better than the TVB computer-graphic generated palace (see The Life and Times of a Sentinel). The only question: did they really hold meetings in such a small room? The court officials look so cramped in that tiny room. Some of them even had to stand outside.

In terms of plot, ignoring all historical facts, how is this drama as a fictional piece of work? The Confidant is different from other palace dramas because it focuses on the life of being a eunuch, rather than political struggles or concubines fighting for the emperor’s affections. The beginning offers a glimpse of how life was for a lowly, powerless eunuch. Some have higher aspirations, such as Edwin Siu, while others are content with getting through the day peacefully, like Wayne Lai. The series then turns its focus on the love stories of the eunuchs and that’s when it begins to get draggy. Especially Raymond Wong and Aimee’s love story, where there were endless scenes of them being love-sick. Remember in No Regrets when Fala Chen’s death was dragged on forever? Same thing here with Aimee. Wayne and Nancy’s story was also tedious because he can’t make up his mind on being with her. I find Raymond Cho’s love story was acceptable in terms of time spent on it and its importance in moving the story along. As for the ending, the final episodes were a failed attempt at drama. No one would realistically believe Wayne turned against Cixi. That Maggie Siu and Natalie Tong would believe him shows that either they are very stupid or very desperate. Basically, in the end, Wayne returns to the palace and disposes of the bad guys in an effortless manner.  

Wayne Lai certainly deserves TV King for his performance. This time, his characterization was refreshing and different from his classic roles. In the beginning, he is a cowardly, small-time eunuch and he shows this with his facial expressions and voice, where he is more passive and unsure of himself.  As he rises to the top, you can see him maturing. He is more confident and composed. Although he has a sense of righteousness, he finally realizes sometimes sacrifices must be made to do what’s right. 

Michelle Yim lacks a certain presence because of her small frame. You don’t sense authority and power streaming from her because she is not towering over people, even when those people are kneeling. However, her emotional scenes are excellent, showing how the heavy burden of carrying the dynasty has taken a toll on her. For example, the scene where she was stunned after the failed coup by Tsui Wing was well done. She also has a compassionate side, which is seen when she is engaging in friendly conversation with her servants.

Maggie Siu goes from nice to evil to nice to evil again. Each time she turned evil, I don’t really understand what triggered her. All of a sudden, she decides she has been unfairly denied of her prestige and power. But she is not an ambitious person to begin with, so I’m not sure what she wants to do with the power. Nonetheless, Maggie makes a very convincing delusional woman. The Emperor truly desires to be a good ruler, but he is frustrated by Cixi and the ministers. Oscar Leung is supposed to a teenager in this role and he is able to reflect that, such as putting on his pouty face when he’s being scolded by Cixi. He also looks great in his dragon robes. KK Cheung’s Prince Gong didn’t have a prominent role because of the lack of emphasis on the political affairs of the day. Which is a pity, because he could have been used to create more drama. What did he ever do with the secret imperial edict that could order Cixi to be executed? Nothing. 

Nancy Wu is a great supporting actress, but she doesn’t capture much attention in this drama. Her role serves as the turning point for many character changes, such as Wayne and Power Chan. I felt her death could have been made more dramatic instead of just being killed off by a rogue Edwin Siu. Remember when Wayne said if he had to choose between a brother’s life or Nancy’s life, he would rather let Nancy die? Why not let us see what he will do if he is actually faced with that choice in the end? Aimee Chan was a pain to watch. She was okay in those cutesy scenes fooling around with Raymond W., but in the serious scenes, her face was set in stone. Her eyes are wide and unblinking, and her eyebrows don’t move at all. Even ignoring her accent, the way she says her lines doesn’t convey any emotions. Natalie Tong doesn’t have much of a role until the final episodes. I thought there might have been a mini concubine struggle between her and Cilla Kung, but Cilla disappeared into thin air. Natalie is less annoying here than bulging-eye concubine in King Maker. Selena Li, as guest star in the first five episodes, surprised me. She was especially good at showing her emotions through her eyes, whether it was the sadness of being cast aside or the anger when trying to avenge her child’s death.

I’ve never been a fan of Raymond Wong. There is something about the way he speaks that irks me. Nor do I like his character being all love-sick with the princess. The way he turns evil at the end was weird. Yes, the princess died and I would understand his impulsive rage when he wanted to set the palace on fire. But afterwards, he got obsessed with getting revenge, which is uncharacteristic of him. I was annoyed that he seemed to have forgotten that he, himself, was also responsible for the death of An Dehai. Edwin Siu was entertaining as the silly little eunuch, but when he turned evil, he was trying too hard to look villainous. His glares are not terrifying at all. When he talks, he would roll his eyes big and lift his eyebrows. And when he screams in pain, he cries like a baby. Raymond Cho, on the other hand, perfected the villainous glare. However, he has that look on even with his wife. He seems detached for her even though he is supposedly madly in love with her. Elliot Ngok’s acting was seriously OTT. I recall one scene where he was yelling at Power Chan and his arms were flailing all over the place. Ai-ya, and how can I forget about Power Chan, who has attracted the most attention. At first, he is a bully in the palace, but he slowly grasps the concept of friendship, and in the end, he is probably the most loyal out of that group. Power Chan portrays his character in a light-hearted way that provides comedic relief. Last comment on the eunuchs: I was disappointed that Lo Chun Shun is more or less like a kelefe here because he is the best eunuch ever.  

Overall, this was a great series with (mostly) great actors. The major problem is the random character changes. It’s as if time has mysteriously passed by and we see abrupt changes to people’s attitudes and mentalities.

Conclusion: One of the best this year.

Rating: 4.5/5

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Historical Context: Unequal Treaties

The “Unequal Treaties” (不平等條) refers to a series of one-sided treaties signed between China and other countries during the late-Qing Dynasty. Western empires, such as the British, French and Russians, used their military might to force enormous concessions from the weak Qing court. In effect, these treaties opened up China to foreign trade and infringed on China's sovereignty

The 1st of the unequal treaties was the Treaty of Nanking (南京條), signed with the British Empire to end the First Opium War. The most famous repercussion of this treaty was the cession of Hong Kong to Britain. China had to open five trading ports, where British citizens were free to trade and reside while being exempted from Chinese law. The Qing court was also forced to pay a sum of 21 million dollars to cover for Britain’s losses during the war. A supplement treaty was signed afterwards to clarify and add to the terms of the Treaty of Nanking.

Following the Treaty of Nanking, the United States and France both forced China to sign separate treaties giving them similar rights as the British. In addition, the Americans and French secured the right to build churches and cemeteries. As a result of the French treaty, the Qing court had to rescind a previous imperial edict that had banned Christianity in China.

File:China imperialism cartoon.jpgThe treaty that has been mentioned in The Confidant is the Treaty of Tianjin (天津條), signed with Britain, France, Russia and USA during the Second Opium War. Among the terms, China was to open ten additional ports to foreign trade. Foreigners were granted permission to travel into the interior regions of China and navigate ships on the Yangtze River. Each of the countries was also allowed to establish diplomatic offices in the capital city Beijing. The Treaty of Tianjin was supposed to end the war, but the war resumed when the Chinese tried to block the British and French armies from escorting their envoys to Beijing.

The British-French alliance invaded Beijing, causing the Xianfeng Emperor to flee the capital and leaving Prince Gong in charge of negotiations. Prince Gong reached an agreement with the British, French and Russians, known as the Convention of Peking (北京條). Its first condition was for China to ratify the Treaty of Tianjin. Additional monetary compensation was given to Britain and France and one extra trading port was opened (besides the ten ports named in the Treaty of Tianjin). China ceded the Kowloon Peninsula to the British as well. In terms of religious freedom, all Christians (whether foreign or Chinese) were free to conduct missionary activities and enjoy the protection of the Qing court.  The Convention of Peking ended the Second Opium War.

As the Qing Dynasty continued to decline and eventually was abolished, China was forced to sign more unequal treaties (see list). With World War I, China was at war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, terminating any treaties signed with those two countries. The treaties with Japan and Italy were similarly terminated with World War II. Later, Britain, France, Soviet Union and the United States voluntarily gave up their rights under the treaties. With the handover of Hong Kong and Macau in 1997 and 1999, respectively, the majority of the consequences arising from the unequal treaties had ended.

More Historical Context posts:
The Confidant Characters
The Empress Dowagers
The Xinyou Coup - How Cixi came to power
The Burning of Yuan Ming Yuan
The Confidant & Curse of the Royal Harem Connection - Relationship Map of Late Qing Emperors

Monday, December 10, 2012

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Screen Time Hoggers

**Word cloud idea was inspired by another TVB blog (but I can't remember where)**

Oscar Leung

This year is most certainly a breakthrough year for Oscar. He went from a small-time actor to being a household name and has a high chance to take home the Most Improved Award at this year’s awards ceremony. His popularity rose with the role of “Kwan Yi Gor” in L’Escargot. He followed up with strong performances as the official historian in Queens of Diamonds and Hearts and Linda Chung’s dance-loving brother in House of Harmony and Vengeance. Oscar captured the hearts of the audience with his portrayal of the winking sniper “Chong Cheuk-yuen” in Tiger Cubs. His character even made a special guest appearance in Highs and Lows. In the anniversary series The Confidant, Oscar has lots of room to show his acting chops as the Tongzhi Emperor.

Raymond Cho

2012 has been Raymond Cho's most fruitful year to date, being featured in 6 series. He started the year off playing Niki Chow’s brother in Bottled Passion. Then he had the role of a heart surgeon in The Hippocratic Crush. Next, he was the ex-lover of Sharon Chan in Queens of Diamonds and Hearts. He was the disposed king "Lee Hin", son of Wu Zetian (Rebecca Chan) in The Greatness of a Hero. He joined the cast of Ghetto Justice 2 to replace Eddie Kwan as the silly policeman in the series. Finally, he has a highly prominent role of "An Dehai" in the anniversary series The Confidant.

Kenny Wong

Kenny has always been a reliable supporting actor. He was one of the main characters in When Heaven Burns and even tried his hand at singing the sub-theme song. He was paired with Elvina Kong in Let It Be Love. He was the gym owner in Gloves Come Off and the personification of Moses Chan’s evil in Master of Play. In Tiger Cubs, he was a loving father and in The Last Steep Ascent, he was the ever-supportive friend of Moses Chan and husband of Aimee Chan.  

Kenneth Ma

Kenneth has successfully established himself as a first-line siu-sang at TVB. He gained legions of fans with his role of “Yat Kin” in The Hippocratic Crush. He shaved his head to be the “King of Thieves” in Tiger Cubs, then travelled back in time in Three Kingdoms RPG. In the anniversary series Silver Spoon, Sterling Shackles, he is the son of Damien Lau. Recently, Kenneth captured the Favourite Actor award at the Astro Awards and has a chance to do so again at the upcoming TVB awards. 

Linda Chung

Linda topped TVB’s first-line actresses with the most productions this year. She took a departure from her normal good girl roles in L’Escargot, where her character was unfavourable for her relationship with the married Michael Tse. But she came back with a positive role in Daddy Good Deeds. She played a semi-villain in House of Harmony and Vengeance while displaying her elegant dancing. Her role as the depressed “Hailey” in Witness Insecurity was her representative work of the year.

Moses Chan

4 series, 4 different roles for Moses. Coming off comedic roles from previous years, Moses was once again serious in When Heaven Burns opposite of Bowie Lam. In Let It Be Love, he plays an ordinary Mongkok guy in love with an international superstar. In Master of Play, he was a serial killer battling against his own five personifications. In The Last Steep Ascent, he was a caring, romantic man who always stood by Maggie Cheung’s side. Recently, he won an award at the Asian Television Awards, gaining international recognition for his acting abilities. 

Ben Wong

Fresh off being named Best Supporting Actor last year, Ben Wong was looking for another stellar year. He had lesser roles in When Heaven Burns as Charmaine Sheh’s ex-husband and The Greatness of a Hero as the leader of the Turk tribe. In The Hippocratic Crush, he was Kenneth Ma’s superior. In Queens of Diamonds and Hearts, he played a comedic villain trying to usurp the throne. His portrayal of the ultimate evil “Poon Sir” in Highs and Lows was greatly praised by the audience. He followed that with a performance as the sentimental ex-lover of Idy Chan in Silver Spoon, Sterling Shackles. With a strong year like that, it is a wonder why Ben was not nominated for any TVB awards. 

Florence Kwok

Florence has been a constant presence on screen this year in the sitcom Come Home Love. Besides sitcoms, she was Charmaine Sheh’s manager in Let It Be Love and Katy Kung’s sister in Gloves Come Off. The role of a ruthless office executive is no stranger to her, but in No Good Either Way, she pulled it off in an entertaining way. Finally, she was the evil concubine in King Maker, plotting to install her son Chris Lai onto the throne. 

Mandy Wong

Mandy is being touted as the next top fadan. She dropped her image of the shy, glasses girl from her early career to be the loud housewife “Kwan Yi So” in L’Escargot. She portrayed successive strong career-oriented roles as an ambitious doctor-trainee in The Hippocratic Crush and the first female SDU team member in Tiger Cubs. Her pairing with Him Law in Divas in Distress was well-liked by audience. Her year would end off perfectly if she can win an award at this year’s awards ceremony.

Natalie Tong

Natalie has had increasingly more opportunities since winning the Most Improved Award in 2010. In Gloves Come Off, she was partnered with Raymond Wong. She developed a relationship with Jason Chan in No Good Either Way. The role of a crazed psychologist in Tiger Cubs was a refreshing experience for Natalie. In King Maker, she was Wayne Lai’s long-lost sister and later became Pierre Ngo’s concubine. She upgraded from concubine to Empress in The Confidant.

JJ Jia

Despite JJ's accent when speaking Cantonese, it certainly hasn’t hindered her acting career. She was able to win over Ron Ng in L’Escargot. In House of Harmony and Vengeance, she was a semi-villain and conspired with her L’Escargot love opponent Linda Chung. She was quite noticeable with her red wig in Tiger Cubs as the wife of the “King of Thieves” Kenneth Ma. She transformed into a nice girl again in Ghetto Justice 2 and was Sam Lee’s caring girlfriend. In Silver Spoon, Sterling Shackles, she is the 5th woman in Damien Lau’s life. 

Vote in the Casual TVB Awards 2012!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

ANNOUNCING..... Casual TVB Awards 2012

Vote on 10 categories that you wouldn't be able to vote for at TVB!! (Voting Page)

Favourite Couple

Most Surprising Success

Favourite Portrayal of Historical Character

Most Improved Cantonese

Worst Ending

Best Villain

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Funniest Villain
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Best Comedy

Most Interesting Historical Context Post
1. The Confidant & Curse of the Royal Harem Connection
2. The Confidant Characters
3. The Empress Dowagers
4. Zhuge Liang, the Inventor
5. Zhuge Liang's Fiery Attacks
6. After Three Kingdoms RPG

Vote now! (Link)

Polls close on Dec 31, 2012 at 11:59 pm.