New Life Begins (2022) 卿卿日常

Summary: Set in a fictional world that is largely reminiscent of China, women from the 9 unique regions of the land are sent to Xin Chuan, the ruling region, to be selected as tribute for the princes of Xin Chuan. Li Wei tries desperately to avoid being selected but being the only tribute from Ji Chuan, she is matched to the unfavored 6th prince, Yin Zheng. This comedic story revolves around this unlikely pair as they grow together but is added unique color by the other princes and their respective wives.

 

 

Total Episode Count: 40

Initial Airing Date: Nov 10, 2022

Platform: iQiyi

 

Initial Rating: 6.9/10

New Life Begins aired with little fanfare but did quite well since, reaching over 9000 on the iQiyi popularity index in it’s first 28 hours of airing. My first thoughts from this drama is that this is a super easy and fun watch with many comedic moments that will have you burst out laughing, but the chemistry and acting of the main leads leave something to be desired. 

The drama’s strength actually lies in the supporting cast as the main female lead, Li Wei, is thrown into the world of the royal family. Each of the princes of Xin Chuan is unique and many of them adorable, their wives even more so. The 5th prince is a weakling who is not a strong student nor a good fighter but married a powerful princess as wife. You can only imagine what that’s like. The 3rd prince loves to believe he is the most handsome man in the land when the truth is quite the contrary, and he has a slew of concubines that have a better relationship with each other than with him. 

Because the wives or concubines of the princes come from different regions of the land, we do get to visit many different locales that are very reminiscent of different regions in China and so, it is a fun tour of the country as well.  It’s almost like the Hunger Games where people are characterized by the district they come from except here, there’s no fight to the death. Because there are so many regions, the cast is quite large and you’ll recognize many of them from different dramas. Joy of Life pops into my mind immediately.

In a refreshing change, all women support each other and work together despite coming from different backgrounds and competing in class which I find very heartwarming. I’m almost more inclined to just watch a drama of their day to day rather than focus on the relationship of the main pair.

I will report back after the drama airs on final thoughts!

-Karen

 

 

 

Main Characters

 

Li Wei 李薇 – Tian Xi Wei 田曦薇


The tribute from Ji Chuan 霁川, she has loving parents and an adorable younger brother who all want her to fail the selection process so she can return home with them. Unfortunately, their plans fall flat and Li Wei is sent to marry the 6th prince as a concubine. Li Wei doesn’t have too many skills but is quite the foodie. Though her kind hearted nature brings much needed warmth to the 6th prince’s home.

Yin Zheng, 6th prince 尹峥 – Bai Jing Ting 白敬亭 


The 6th prince of Xin Chuan. He recognizes the challenges of gaining his father’s favor because he has so many brothers and is also wary of his 2nd brother’s, heir apparent, authority. Yet he wants to fight for more. Incredibly bright and accomplished, he brings Li Wei into his home to help secure his political future. But after spending time with Li Wei, he begins to recognize that he enjoys her company and the relationships she’s helped him build in his own family. 

Yuan Ying 元英 – Liu Ling Zi 刘令姿


The business oriented princess from Jin Chuan 金川, Yuan Ying was ordered by her father to marry the 6th prince as his main wife. Yet she has no affection towards him. Instead, she helps train Li Wei to become an adequate partner to Yin Zheng and she helps Yin Zheng manage the household. She has high ambitions that are outside of household.

Hao Jia, 郝葭 – Chen Xiao Yun 陈小纭


Childhood friend of Li Wei. Hao Jia comes from Yan Chuan 胭川 and becomes the concubine of the 2nd Prince. Though she is learned in various arts and crafts, her family upbringing was challenging which turned her into someone who views marriage as a job. While she thought she was marrying someone who can take care of her, the reality is far from imagined.

Zhao Fang Ru 赵芳如 – Chen Zi Han 陈紫函


Wife of the 2nd prince, Zhao Fang Ru is outwardly cold but at her core a good person. She hails from Dai Chuan 黛川 and her family owns a number of mines。 This monetary strength made her a perfect match for the ambitious and conniving 2nd prince. 

Yin Song 尹嵩, Second Prince – Zhang Xiao Chen 张晓晨


The son of the main wife, the 2nd prince is an abusive husband and ruthless brother. He treats his wife and concubine as objects and restricts them from partaking in many activities.  He is also terrified that one of his brothers will impact his current political standing and tries to destroy all obstacles in his path.

Shang Guan Jing, 上官婧 – Fan Shuai Qi 范帅琦


The sister of the current ruler of Dan Chuan 丹川, Shang Guan Jing is an independent and martial arts oriented woman. She marries the 5th prince and becomes fast friends with Li Wei. She enjoys practicing martial arts and caring for her weapons while not caring much for academics. Shang Guan Jing tries her best to adjust to life in Xin Chuan despite coming from a place where women have more power than men whereas Xin Chuan is the opposite.

Yin Qi, 5th Prince 尹岐 – Chang Long 昌隆


Physically weak and not a great student, the 5th prince makes up for these weaknesses by being a supportive brother to the 6th prince and an adoring partner to his wife Shang Guan Jing. He is without a doubt the comedic relief of the cast.

Dong Hai Tang 董海棠- Liu Meng Meng 刘萌萌


The kind hearted wife of the 3rd prince, Hai Tang hails from Cang Chuan 苍川. She is left to take care of the 16 women her husband roped into their household but instead of being antagonistic, she creates a friendly environment with all of the concubines because they all dislike the 3rd prince and how he treats women.

Yin An, 3rd Prince 尹岸 – Liu Guan Lin 刘冠麟


An extremely pompous man with a wife and 16 concubines whom he named after Chinese solar terms. Problem is, apart from his wife, he cannot tell his concubines apart. He loves to consider himself one of the handsomest men in all of Xin Chuan and believes all of his actions are correct.

 

 

 

 

 

Strange Tales of Tang Dynasty (2022) 唐朝诡事录

Summary:  Based off a book by the same name, the thriller detective drama follows the seasoned local official Su Wu Ming and young general of the imperial guard from Chang An, Lu Ling Feng solve a series of mysteries that plague the thriving Tang dynasty. This drama follows 8 different cases that this unlikely pair must solve to protect the empire.

 

Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: September 27

Platform: iQiYi

 Final Rating: 7/10

This drama was not on anyone’s radar when it first aired but has garnered impressive reviews since. Currently it has a 7.7 rating on Dou Ban and quickly became a sleeper hit post the summer craze. While its popularity has not reached the likes of other iQiyi dramas, it’s still done remarkably well from an interest and review perspective overall.  So, I’m giving it a shot.

This is a horror detective/crime drama that can be quite dark and gruesome so fair warning for the faint of heart. But perhaps perfect for the Halloween season.  As with Checkmate, this drama revolves around a series of cases for the main characters to solve that culminate into a bigger scheme.  The set design and costumes are reminiscent of Luo Yang and The Longest Day in Chang’An, which makes sense as these dramas are set in the roughly the same period. You can tell the budget/production was not as large as the two other dramas but that doesn’t detract from the bone chilling cases and fast paced plot. While the drama can raise hairs on the back of your neck, there are still moments of lightheartedness to balance it out. 

There is a lot to like about this drama, notably strong acting by the individuals in the separate cases. This brought about a certain level of depth in the world building of this show and kept me watching even if it meant peeking through gaps between my fingers and being wary of jump scares.  There is also quite a bit of interesting history and culture portrayed in this drama but even I found it to be a little dense which I guess you can consider is saying something.

However, it certainly took some time for me to warm up to the main characters who don’t have the same chemistry as the two main leads in Checkmate or are not as likeable.  Some of the cases were more interesting than others and I did find a couple overly gruesome. But I feel like this is more of a personal preference.  If you’re looking for a thrill, this is a great drama but if you’re looking for something to watch casually on the side, as was the case with me, Checkmate is more your speed.

Karen

 

 

Lu Ling Feng 卢凌风

Yang Xu Wen 杨旭文

A young and handsome general of the imperial guards in the Tang dynasty capital of Chang’An. He hails from the famous Lu family from Fan Yang. Despite his impressive martial prowess, he was not accepted as a student of the famous Judge Di Ren Jie, one of his biggest regrets.  This is in part due to his self righteous and entitled nature. He is a member of the Crown Prince’s faction.

Su Wu Ming 苏无名

Yang Zhi Gang 杨志刚

Sheriff of Chang’An and student of the famous Judge Di Ren Jie. Su Wu Ming does not know martial arts but is exceptional in his deductive skills and has an excellent ear. Beyond this, he brings forth intelligence and calmness when solving crimes. Despite trying to stay away from court politics, he is backed by the Princess, sister to the Emperor. 

The drama takes place during the reign of Li Dan, 8th Emperor of the Tang Dynasty and son of the famous Emperor Wu Ze Tian. Right off the bat, the drama brings you in to solve the cases of numerous murdered brides on their wedding day as well as a newly murdered sheriff of Chang’An. At the center of this plot is also a popular Chang An Red Tea, a blood red tea that everyone in the capital is paying top dollar or gold to get their hands on. 

Su Wu Ming is brought forth to examine the body of the most recent victim who was killed on her wedding day. The mask of a famous exorcist was melded onto the face of victim. He and Lu Ling Feng with their separate orders work together to uncover who is behind the killings but their different approaches to the case cause them to butt heads. Lu Ling Feng, in particular, is displeased to be working with a student of Judge Di when he himself was rejected. Their leads take them to the wild unknowns of the Ghost Market where a mysterious and deadly woman leads the guards into a trap, killing a number of Lu Ling Feng’s men. 

In reviewing their clues, Su Wu Ming discovers that the deaths of the brides are connected to the appearance of the Chang An Red Tea. Once a bride is killed, a new batch of tea would appear on the market days after. Thus, Su Wu Ming and Lu Ling Feng set up a trap with the help of Fei Ji Shi, a homeless but brilliant doctor that the pair encounter in the Ghost Market, and Pei Xi Jun, the daughter of an important official at court who fell in love with Lu Ling Feng.  Using Pei Xi Jun as bait by pretending she is a bride, Lu Ling Feng and Su Wu Ming were able to track down the main culprit of the deaths to their hiding place in the Ghost Market. Turns out, the real perpetrator had been killing brides and using their blood to create the Chang An Red Tea and cause the nobility and aristocracy in the capital to become addicted to the tea, thereby controlling all of Chang An in the near future. 

While Su Wu Ming and Lu Ling Feng were able to apprehend the main perpetrator, Lu Ling Feng was demoted for insubordination and completely stripped of his post. Meanwhile, Su Wu Ming was promoted to Nan Zhou. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, Lu Ling Feng partners with Su Wu Ming to his new post where they work together to solve additional crimes that ultimately bring them back to the Capital and under the service of the Emperor, Princess and Crown Prince.

 

What I liked

The various cases are certainly highlights of the drama. I thought the Chang An Red Tea case as well as the Ren Mian Hua which tells of a type of makeup that burned the skin off of the wearer to be the most interesting.  But this drama isn’t only focused on solving who the murderers are.  No, there’s plenty of social and political commentary embedded into the various cases that forces the watcher to think about society both then and now. What led to a poor or wealthy person to behave in a certain way that led to tragedies. What does it really mean to be a scholar? What led to a village to blindly follow a cult? And, as I mentioned, this drama is dense with history that even I feel like I need to brush up on what was portrayed to fully grasp the extent of what I’m seeing and hearing on screen. 

Furthermore, despite being a smaller budget drama, you could tell the drama put a lot of thought and care into costumes and set pieces and also tried its best to showcase the grandeur of the Tang dynasty. The dresses, hair and make up for many of the ladies (apart from the main two) were fascinating. The random dance scenes were intricate as well.  The Tang dynasty as we’ve seen was an extremely metropolitan and diverse dynasty with merchants from all over the world. In this drama, we get glimpses of that as people of different ethnicities, not just Chinese people, were portrayed on screen. 

What is also often most interesting in these types of detective storylines is that the main characters often take a backseat to allow the surrounding cast showcase their skills. There was a diverse cast of individuals spanning different ages which allowed a wide variety of actors and actresses to take full advantage of their limited screen time, and quite honestly, they were often times more interesting than the main cast.

 

 

 

What I Didn’t Like

While I understand that you’re supposed to enjoy the growth storyline of Lu Ling Feng, I don’t think the drama made him sympathetic enough at the beginning to make you want to root for him. He was portrayed as a pompous and condescending individual who needed to tell the entire world that he came from the famous Lu family from Fan Yang. He always acts first with punches and then thinks later. It made this character seem more one sided. When he was punished by the Crown Prince for his actions, I could not help but agree with the Crown Prince. There are good qualities about him for sure but the first half of the drama certainly did not let that shine through which made him less interesting half of the pair to watch. That also cut into the chemistry between him and Su Wu Ming as I often felt like Su Wu Ming was looking after an immature child.

And oh gosh.  I do like Pei Xi Jun as a person, but she is so focused on Lu Ling Feng, or the man he pretended to be and the real person died, which led Pei Xi Jun to mistaken Lu Ling Feng to have died. The first several episodes were just her incessant whining that she wanted to find the man she loved and follow him into the afterlife. This was after ONE meeting with Lu Ling Feng… She exhibited top notch art skills after realizing that Lu Ling Feng didn’t die which helped him and Su Wu Ming on a number of cases but still. The first impression was not pleasant.

Lastly, one of the key themes in the drama that was constantly reiterated is that there are no ghosts, demons or gods. Only people and their imagination. With each case, Su Wu Ming especially was able to lift the veil of deception that culprits created to harm their victims by playing to the unknown and the supernatural.  Yet the drama did not give me a sense that this is fully to be believed. There are many fantastical elements to the drama that were entertaining to watch but then undercut the message of being more grounded. A shape shifter who could fly on wooden birds that were weaponized to shoot arrows? What about the man who floats and could change gender? To me, those cases were less interesting than for example, the smaller scale reveals of how a woman survived over a hundred years and was a member of the Sui Dynasty court. 

 

Let me know what you think!

Karen