'The Ghost Bride' fails to translate Yangsze Choo's Malacca to screen, Netflix’s Li Lan not true to book
'The Ghost Bride', a new Netflix show is adapted from Yangsze Choo's book of the same name. It is a compelling story of a 20-year-old girl in Malacca in the 19th century and centered on an ancient Chinese ritual that was commonly followed. This was, to be asked to be the bride of an individual who has died recently. It was believed that by getting a Ghost Bride, the dead person wouldn't be lonely in their afterlife. Usually, a dead man's match is made with a dead woman of an appropriate family, and a ceremony is held by the family members. There is another practice where a girl, usually from a family that is poor receives the offer of becoming the bride of a dead man in return for their family being well cared for.
The show and the book are influenced by the second practice and has a supernatural twist which is compelling. The worldbuilding in the book makes it an engrossing read, but the show misses out on it completely. The adaptation pays too much attention to the main plot and doesn't etch out the characters very well. The villain or more accurately, the mastermind of a crime in the show, for example, comes across as a meek woman whose intentions are not pure. Many a time, it feels as if this character of Isabel (Teresa Daley) is acting out of jealousy spurned off by her fiance paying too much attention to his childhood sweetheart than her. The fiance in question, Tian Bai (Ludi Lin), belongs to the richest family in Malaca and that is the Lim family.
The story is about Li Lan, a young girl who dreams of getting married to her childhood sweetheart someday and exploring the world. However, her father goes through financial loss which puts her family under pressure, and Madam Lim (Angeline Tan), who is aware of this, tries to use this to her advantage. Madam Lim's son Tian Ching (Kuang Tian) recently died under suspicious circumstances and Madam Lim has been doing everything in her power to ensure that Tian Ching's afterlife is as luxurious as life on Earth. This includes finding him an appropriate bride. Madam Lim finds Li Lan perfect to be the bride and she proposes marriage. Mr. Pan (Jordan Voon) refuses because accepting the offer would mean that his daughter's life would be nothing but mourning for the dead son.
Neither Madam Lim nor Tian Ching is happy. Tian Ching, especially so because he knows that he was poisoned and he wants to learn the truth about his death. So Tian Ching uses his influence in the underworld and traps Li Lan's father's soul in the underworld on the edge of life and death. He blackmails Li Lan into finding the murderer for him and in the process also becoming his ghost bride. Li Lan ends up getting pulled into the underworld and she faces many obstacles before she can return to earth, and that she does only with the help of Er Lang, who is a 500-year-old Heaven's guard. There is not much else to the show and even the supernatural element is not too impressive.
We also do not see the corruption that the book depended on heavily to put Li Lan off of becoming a member of the Lim family. Instead, we see a watered-down version of a spoilt brat played by Kuang Tian. His character of Tian Ching doesn't change a bit even after death. There is no intrigue in the show, which was what made the book enthralling in the first place. It is also the corruption in the family that puts Li Lan off of coming back to Earth and becoming a part of it in the book. In the show, however, Li Lan decides to elope to see the world and help Er Lang fight ghosts and close more cases.
If not for Er Lang, Li Lan wouldn't have returned alive and by accompanying him on other heaven and underworld related cases, she hopes to see more of the world. This treatment makes the show a mediocre attempt at adapting an interesting book and if there was a second season, we hope that it brings out the conflicts in a better manner.
'The Ghost Bride' premiered on Netflix on January 23.