The Ingenious One (2023) 云襄传 

Summary:  After studying at Yun Tai for over 10 years, Yun Xiang ft Chen Xiao  leaves the mountains, to seek revenge against those who murdered his entire family. Of the many skills he developed at Yun Tai, martial arts is not one of them, but he is extremely gifted and intelligent. On his journey, he meets the skilled fighter Shu Ya Nan ft Mao Xiao Tong as they both try to save a man that helped them in their youth. Both Yun Xiang and Shu Ya Nan are driven to seek revenge for tragedies in their youth and they team up alongside several others in their quest for justice.



Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: May 1, 2023

Platform: IQiYi/Tencent


*Note – English translations may not match official translations of iQiyi/Tencent


Initial Score [After 8 episodes]: 6.8/10 An adequate drama that attempts to bring out qualities of Wuxia but doesn’t quite stick the landing. The main pair Chen Xiao and Mao Xiao Tong are hilarious with Chen Xiao, the ML, being the physically “weak” one and needs protection from Mao Xiao Tong.  However, the intrigue of the revenge storyline and side characters are not as impactful as the drama hopes it would be. 

Final Score 6/10:  A drama that could not decide if it was a wuxia, romance or scheming drama and failed to excel in any of these genres. Heavy marketing from the leads and initial strength of the first few episodes could not save this bloated drama from falling into mediocrity, particularly in the middle portion. Sadly, while you could tell there was intent to make a thoughtful drama, it ultimately fails to make a strong impact.

Plot Overview:

Yun Xiang ft Chen Xiao’s real name is Luo Wen Jia. Fifteen years ago, his entire Luo clan of 313 people was mysteriously murdered one night with the young Yun Xiang as the only survivor. He was saved by Wen Cong, a member of the Yun Tai sect, who sends the young boy to Yun Tai to learn skills. After 15 years, Yun Xiang, now a young man with unparalleled intellect but no martial arts skills whatsoever, heads down the mountain to experience the real world. However, his true goal is to seek the truth about the death of his family and enact revenge. Yun Xiang’s specialty is plotting and scheming to achieve his goals and is one of his master’s most outstanding students.

His journey starts with trying to connect with his childhood savior, Wen Cong but soon hears that he has been captured and tries to stage a rescue. Along the way, he meets Shu Ya Nan ft Mao Xiao Tong, a skilled fighter and the sole remaining member of the Shu family and adoptive daughter of Wen Cong. The two work together to save Wen Cong and while they succeeded in breaking him out of jail, they were unable to save his life.

With his dying breath, Wen Cong gives Yun Xiang additional clues on his family’s death which leads him and Shu Ya Nan on a quest where they team up with a noble mercenary Jin Biao ft Liu Guan Ling and become interconnected with the wealthy Su family, responsible for imperial fabrics and embroidery. 

Yun xiang 云襄 

 Chen xiao 陈晓

A handsome young man with many unusual skills, just not martial arts. He is a disciple of Yun Tai and uses his skills for good.

Shu Ya Nan 舒亚男

mao xiao tong 毛晓彤

A powerful and intelligent fighter Ya Nan is quick to act in a fight and can hold her own easily.

su ming yu 苏鸣玉

Tang xiao tian 唐晓天

Son of a wealthy family, he strives to live beyond his merchant life and enter into Jiang Hu.

Ke Meng Lan 柯梦兰

xu ling yue 许龄月

The object of Su Ming Yu’s affections, Meng Lan is a beautiful courtesan with strong principals.

Jin Biao 金彪

 liu guan lin 刘冠麟 

A skilled mercenary with his broadsword that ends up being hired by Yun Xiang

su huai rou 苏怀柔

qin lan 秦岚

Su Ming Yu’s older sister who runs the Su family silk enterprise.

qian rong 钱荣

Huang Hai Bing 黄海冰

The manager for the Su family business and confidante to Su Huai Rou.

 qi tian feng 戚天风

wang jin song 王劲松

A quiet leader of the dock and ship worker gang possesses powerful martial arts skills 


Initial Thoughts:

Chen Xiao is absolutely killing it in 1H23 with no less than THREE, yes THREE dramas airing pretty much back to back. This one, Miles to Go and also Thirteen Years of Dust. Both Miles to Go and Thirteen Years of Dust received high viewership and strong reviews respectively.  For this drama, he is teaming up with Mao Xiao Tong and they’ve acted together in a few dramas together. The most notable one is The Romance of the Condor Heroes where he played Yang Guo and she played Guo Fu. 

Their familiarity is reflected on screen as he seems very relaxed while acting alongside Mao Xiao Tong and therefore, there is more immersion for the audience. Both he and Mao Xiao Tong are heavily marketing this drama as well, even changing their weibo usernames to reflect those of their characters in the drama which is a first for at least Chen Xiao. I totally thought someone had hacked my weibo account when I saw these random posts pop up and had to refollow them after I realized it was a marketing scheme. Hey, it worked at least. 

Mao Xiao Tong gets the opportunity to play a bad ass martial artist while Chen Xiao is basically physically helpless but the brains of the duo. After the first 6 episodes, the story moves at a brisk pace and there are plenty of lighthearted moments as well as tense fighting.  Chen Xiao is absolutely hilarious as the “weakling” in a world of constant fighting. You can just tell he’s having fun with this role.

This drama is trying to capture some of that Wuxia charm we’ve sorely missed on screen but my initial thoughts are that the production quality, lighting and cinematography is a B at best.  The cast’s chemistry is the strongest part of the drama so far. The story is intriguing enough and there are plenty of familiar faces in the broader cast that should give this at least above average buzz but I don’t think this will be a breakout hit. The suspense isn’t as strong as the drama wants it to be. It’s a fun drama to have in the background but not one that will make it a thrilling chase.

Final Thoughts:

Sadly, I ended up disappointed with this drama and I completely disagree with the 7.3 douban rating which I think is way too high. This drama had a lot of potential but by episode 15, I just didn’t care.  This reception is reflected in its middling popularity index scores breaking only above 8000 on iqiyi and also very limited weibo trending topics while it was airing.  Perhaps people really enjoyed the initial Wuxia aspect but as the drama progressed, that component became a much smaller portion of the drama. Overall viewership was acceptable but not a knockout by any means.  

Of the three dramas that Chen Xiao had airing this year, this is probably the least interesting for me. And while I like Mao Xiao Tong a lot, her turn as the lead here did not land too well and their romantic chemistry wasn’t convincing but that I think was more of a directorial error than a problem with the actors.  Their friendship chemistry was fantastic in the initial episodes with their banter and what not but the moment it turned heavy on the romance, the chemistry almost didn’t know how to hit that mark. 

The main issue with this drama is, as I’ll discuss further, there was so much talking about the different schemes that it’s easy to get lost or else have your mind wander while the characters monologue endlessly and monotonously.  This could have been a 24 episode drama if we cut out a lot of the bloated relationship issues and monologues. 




What Were the Issues: 

  • Too much talking + not enough doing = bland story: Yun Xiang’s strength is scheming and plotting so that’s what this drama focused on while sprinkling conflicts with his sect and other authority figures in his way. While the drama tried to create an atmosphere of calmness within the mess of fighting, the end result was less intriguing and more dull.
    • Long and monotonous monologues – Because Yun Xiang and his opponents all had master plans to outdo each other, there will, of course, need to be times people, mostly Yun Xiang, need to explain his master plans to the audience. But then that just becomes long drawn out monologues. And due to the directorial choice of Yun Xiang being such an all knowing and rather stoic individual, his monologues are delivered in a flat fashion.  The most interesting and fun people in the drama were the martial artists or business people that would actually crack jokes and make fun which brought liveliness to the cast but they are not front and center in the show. 
    • Background music that does not help create tension leading unimpactful reveals: It doesn’t help that while the music of this drama is beautiful with the emphasis on traditional Chinese music, the music tended to be very slow, drawn out and calming. Thus, during big reveals with Yun Xiang’s monotone delivery paired with non-intense music, the audience doesn’t get to fully experience those large emotional swells of triumph making even the most interesting schemes rather bland.  Contrast that to the awesome heart pumping but still “traditional” inspired Chinese music we have from The Story of Yanxi Palace.
  • Too many genres in the drama with none of them done well: This drama tried to market its wuxia component heavily but then focused so much time on the sappy romance between the main leads that the wuxia fighting component of the show took a backseat. Additionally, many of the schemes in the drama were actually focused on money and finances so we were presented with business issues rather than martial arts challenges. Only when the plot needed it did the martial arts sects come back into play almost as an afterthought which for me was the most interesting part of the drama. It’s fine to keep the romance but it shouldn’t be front and center as much as it was especially in the last 3rd of the show.
  • Chen Xiao’s portrayal of YunXiang was more dazed than intelligent: Chen Xiao decided to portray Yun Xiang as someone who constantly looks at the floor and is often times hunched. I think he’s trying to show that Yun Xiang is more of a master schemer working in the shadows but I don’t see or feel any spark in his eyes to show his intelligence. Instead, his eyes feel rather glazed over. Even the frequent cuts to eyes in this drama did not bring out those sparks and so the end result is that I felt that Yun Xiang was bored a lot of the times leading to boring conversations on screen and making me feel bored as well. 
  • Main lead who was way too mopey with his relationship: Dude moped for MANY episodes when he had relationship troubles. He got himself piss drunk, recited lachrymose poetry about his heartbreak and made a mess in front of his friends. One episode of this is fine but several episodes? Come on! I’ve been watching too many dramas with strong women who were able to pull themselves out of heartbreak very quickly so to see this from Yun Xiang was such a drag on the show. 




What Was Alright: 

  • Beautiful Scenery and Costumes – While not explicitly stated that this drama was set in the Ming dynasty, there are many hints and references to it with the costumes and the titles of the detective that shows up to work with Yun Xiang. I liked the theme and the clothing and the general atmosphere the drama portrayed but I don’t think it fully matched the wuxia aesthetic, which again, is a point on this drama not fully knowing what it was trying to portray on screen.
  • Adequate martial arts – It’s not the most amazing martial arts fighting on screen we’ve seen but it is a step up from a lot of the green screen special effects we’ve had in dramas of late. It’s evident the cast at least went through training (except Yun Xiang of course) and the fights were choreographed adequately. Again, these martial arts/wuxia scenes were probably the best in the drama. 
  • Strong supporting cast but was wasted potential  – There were a lot of familiar faces in the supporting cast of older actors with Qin Lan, Huang Hai Bing, Wang Jin Song, Hui Hong Ying etc. I felt like they really added a lot of character to the show but none of them stayed too long in the show. Instead, we were left with the main group of youngsters which were, in my opinion, much less interesting. If we had more content with these older supporting actors, I would have been much happier. The show should have swapped the romance screen time with these folks instead. 


And that’s a wrap! Let me know what you think!




Till the End of the Moon (2023) 长月烬明 

Summary:  In order to save the world from being destroyed by the Devil God Tan Tai Jin ft Luo Yun Xi, the daughter of the Heng Yang Sect leader Li Su Su ft Bai Lu turns back time and returns to the world 500 years ago. There, she lives the life of Ye Xi Wu in order to prevent the then Prince Tan Tai Jin from turning into the Devil God. Already married, Tan Tai Jin and Ye Xi Wu start developing feelings for each other and through their efforts, ultimately change destiny. 



Total Episode Count: 40

Initial Airing Date: April 6, 2023

Platform: Youku


Initial Score: 7/10 [After 14 episodes]- A decent start to this highly anticipated big budget fantasy drama with exquisite costumes and intricate makeup. It does not necessarily meet expectations for a knockout drama given familiar storylines and average CGI but the adequate cast and production help make this an enjoyable drama nonetheless.

Final Score: 5.8/10:  Poor editing in the final 3rd of the drama, old cliches and infuriating simple conflicts that could have been resolved with communication leave fans and casual viewers extremely frustrated with what could have been a much better drama. Quite a waste of all the money spent on such a beautiful production.

Plot Overview:

The Devil God Tan Tai Jin has the entire world in his clutches. He is resolved to destroy and kill the entire world in order to reign supreme. Li Su Su, daughter of the leader of the Heng Yang Sect (fairy clan), is left to watch her father and many others die at the hands of Tan Tai Jin. In a last ditch attempt, Li Su Su is given the opportunity to return back 500 years ago, before Tan Tai Jin was able to become the Devil God and try to prevent his eventual turn to the Devil world. 

Li Su Su wakes up as Ye Xi Wu, second daughter of General Ye, with no memory of her life as Ye Xi Wu. Surprisingly, she is already married to Tan Tai Jin, currently a prince from the neighboring Kingdom of Jing. Turns out, Ye Xi Wu in this life is extremely arrogant and abusive while Tan Tai Jin grew up unloved and basically a hostage in this kingdom. When Li Su Su now Ye Xi Wu sees Tan Tai Jin, she begins to feel sorry for this feeble and bullied young man. 

Ye Xi Wu believes that perhaps if Tan Tai Jin experiences protection and kindness, she can change destiny and prevent him from turning to the devilish ways. She resolves to save his life which confuses Tan Tai Jin but ultimately he also begins to protect her as well. Despite their differences, Ye Xi Wu and Tan Tai Jin save each other’s lives numerous times. 

In her quest to see how she can remove Tan Tai Jin’s devil/demon bone and prevent him from further bloodshed after he ascends the Jing Kingdom throne, the two along with Xiao Ling and Ye Bing Chang are dragged into another world where their lives are once again entertwined.

tan tai jin/Cang jiu Min/Ming Ye 澹台烬/沧九旻/冥夜

 luo yun xi 罗云熙

Tan Tai Jin is the Devil Lord with unrivaled power that wreaked havoc across the land. As a youth, he was unloved and abused by almost everyone and seen as a bad omen.

li su su/Ye Xi Wu/Sang Jiu 黎苏苏/叶夕雾/桑酒

bai lu 白鹿

Daughter of the Heng Yang Sect leader, she heads back in time to save the world from Tan Tai Jin’s future destruction and change destiny.

ye bing chang/ Mo Nv/Tian Huan 叶冰裳/妺女/天欢

chen du ling 陈都灵

Eldest daughter of General Ye, kind and beautiful. She is loved by almost all men for her beauty. She loves the 6th prince, Xiao Ling.

xiao ling/gong yE ji wu/sang you  萧凛/公冶寂无/桑佑

deng wei 邓为

Elder sect brother to Li Su Su, 500 years ago he was the 6th prince Xiao Ling who showed kindness to Tan Tai Jin, one of the few who did.

ye qing yu 叶清宇

 geng ye ting 耿業庭

Brother to Ye Xi Wu and Ye Bing Chang. He is a capable general and strict brother who rules the Ye household with an iron fist.

pian ran 翩然

sun zhen ni 孙珍妮

A 7 tailed fox demon who crossed paths with Ye Qing Yu, Ye Xi Wu and Tan Tai Jin.


Initial Thoughts:

You know what you’re getting into for this drama as many storylines are reminiscent of previous dramas of the same genre. There’s a Devil God that sets out to kill everyone in the realm and you have his subsequent love interest that’s from the Fairy clan.  Classic good vs evil plot. And, we have the trope of the pair living through 3 different lives together in which (hopefully) love conquers all and saves the world from the Devil God’s murder rampage. I’m largely expecting this drama to be predictable. 

What stands out so far for me is the fact that it is obvious this is a big budget production so the costumes, hair, makeup, set and world building is top notch, especially the costumes and makeup. The CGI could be improved in certain areas but overall, you feel the gravitas and wonder of being in a fantasy world. Thus, Till the End of the Moon does stand out compared to other dramas. If anything, you’ll enjoy the visual presentation on screen.

There’s been mixed reaction from this drama from what I’ve seen from fans. The negative reactions are that the finished product seen on screen is not nearly as beautiful as what the marketing photos made them out to be. Lead actor Luo Yun Xi is too thin in the role and Chen Du Ling looks less impressive than her still photos. The positive reactions are that it’s a fantastic drama and very swoon worthy.

I would say, after the first 14 episodes, this is a drama that is average in story and above average in certain areas of production quality.  (The earrings are truly magnificent in this drama!)  The criticisms people highlighted I certainly noticed but they are not dealbreakers. However, there are plot holes in the show that you cannot think too much about and the pace of the show is inconsistent. In one scene it’ll be devastating then next comical but in a very forced way. The chemistry between the main leads is also a slow burn. Their romance is not as intense as, for example, Love Between Fairy and Devil, but it is serviceable enough. 

Final Thoughts

This drama is in trouble when CCTV itself says that this drama has extremely high interest, but no substance. Till the End of the Moon could have been so much better than the final result and people have been expressing their frustration all over the internet. We also did a separate podcast episode of the drama FOR the drama while its airing and essentially, the chase of the drama has been exhausting that I really just didn’t care by the end. I just wanted it to be done.  Also the airing calendar did not help either. Airing only 6 episodes a week and mostly 1 episode a day was infuriating to say the least.

This drama has not done to many favors for the main cast, especially the ladies. Bai Lu and Chen Du Ling who were hoping to use this as another jumping off point in their careers. I wouldn’t say it’s backfired entirely but it certainly has not garnered the same result they wanted. Chen Du Ling has been to many red carpet events since the beginning of the airing of this show yet the sparks are just not there for her.

This will most likely be Youku’s biggest drama of the year in terms of viewership and interest but that does not make it a great drama by any means. My final rating is kinder than the Douban ratings which started off at 6.2 and then continued to slide down to now about 5.6.  I really do attribute it to my love of the costumes and Luo Yun Xi’s acting. The drama is hurt by the amount of spoilers and expectations there were for the drama that didn’t make the final cut adding fuel to the fire of fan fury.




What were the issues [MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD]: 

  • Immature relationships that are cliched and infuriating: The main couple Li Su Su or Ye Xi Wu and Tan Tai Jin fall into the common traps of 1) not trusting each other whatsoever and 2) not communicating their issues. This made for an extremely exhausting chase of their love story when often times I just wanted to yell at the screen that they just needed to TALK. While I understand why they don’t trust each other – Li Su Su cannot let the future of the world fall on luck that Tan Tai Jin won’t turn into the demon god and Tan Tai Jin was abused so heavily his entire life that he is a commitment-phobe, so much of the conflicts in the drama could have been alleviated if they just communicated. I loved the cute scenes they had together but for drama purposes, their relationship was built off of so much hurt then reconciliation and then further hurt that I’m worried what kind of message this drama is giving about relationships for viewers. (Hint, its not healthy).  I do struggle with how manipulative both people are in the drama to each other and suggest viewers not mirror personal relationship to theirs.
  • Low effort schemes that caused major damage but should not have:  Several conflicts happened were so “low level” if placed in any palace drama would have been immediately resolved. At some points in the show, the cast is on point with their intelligence and then in other parts, they immediately fall victim to the simplest of schemes. I’m like, Zhen Huan and Wei Ying Luo would have retaliated in two seconds or saw through these acts immediately. Why Tai Tan Jin and Ye Xi Wu are you so blind? It’s really because they don’t trust each other even though they love each other which again, is exhausting and caused major issues later on. They would hurt each other because they fell victim to these schemes and didn’t trust one another enough to actually talk the issues out. 
  • Massively inconsistent tone: Same theme as above, the drama did some episodes well when focused on the relationship between the main leads, aka the sweet + cute portions. But in one episode you could be squealing with delight for how cute the show is and then in the next moment, be pissed as hell or else tearing up at the betrayal and distrust that happens. There are certain episodes that shone and other episodes that were utter trash. 
  • Chen Du Ling and Deng Wei – Beautiful in still photos but horrible in acting:  There’s going to be a lot of controversy here because online conversations have been extremely pro Chen Du Ling but I’m sorry, her acting as Ye Bing Chang and Tian Huan were so wooden, her beautiful costumes and hairstyles couldn’t even draw me in. She is impossibly gorgeous in photos but on screen, I felt no interest whatsoever in most of her scenes. She did a little bit better in her last character as Mo Nv but by that time, I just didn’t care. Don’t even get me started on Deng Wei. His facial expressions for anger and sadness were pretty much indistinguishable and he often times just stared off into the distance without much emotion. Of the main cast, he was certainly the weakest. When he cried, it just seemed like someone placed teardrops in his eyes for those tears to come out. That’s it.
    • I also do not get all the hype and defense for Chen Du Ling’s characters in the drama. Tian Huan straight up murdered an entire clan because she was jealous and Ye Bing Chang killed her grandmother because she was upset her grandmother favored Ye Xi Wu. How is this a redeemable character moreso than Tan Tai Jin and Ye Xi Wu?  I understand that Ye Bing Chang was mistreated as a child as well but to turn around and kill your grandmother when she did show kindness to Ye Bing Chang later on in life? Someone please explain this to me.
  • Choppy last 3rd of the drama due to editing issues: Apparently 18 episodes were cut from the final version of the show. What that meant was that a lot of the drama, ESPECIALLY in the last third of the show was missing. While I did try to give the drama a pass earlier on for cutting some cute moments here and there, it was painfully obvious that heavy chunks of the drama was missing by the end. Nian Bai Yu and Yue Fu Ya’s storyline? Apparently there was suppose to be a romance there. Not present in the final cut. Pian Ran and Ye Qing Yu’s love story resolution? Also cut.  Li Su Su and Cang Jiu Min’s excursion to the Jing Kingdom to defeat some demons and also meet Ye Qing Yu who was posing as the Jing Kingdom Emperor for 500 years was largely left out EVEN THOUGH there were flashbacks in later episodes referencing stuff that might have happened in those scenes. Sigh… I’m sad that there was so much left out. 
  • Mediocre soundtrack: When the drama first came out and the soundtrack revealed, everyone was extremely excited since the set list had a lot of heavy hitters. But in my opinion only one song, Xuan Niao (mysterious bird) stands out.  Given how much I LOVED The Starry Love’s soundtrack and how popular other fantasy drama soundtracks have been, this is a disappointment for the production value of this drama. 




What were the strengths:

  • Luo Yun Xi’s acting: Of the main cast, the main male lead Luo Yun Xi had the best acting of the bunch. He played multiple characters in the drama and, with the help of different makeup and costumes, I felt drawn to each distinct version of himself (despite people thinking he’s too thin in this role). He is able to skillfully use distinct parts of his face, for example, to express the tiniest of emotions. Small twitches of his lips or his eyebrows were enough to present his subtle feelings. In one moment he could be full of hatred and you’re worried he’ll turn into the devil god and in the next he’ll present his more tender and softer side. I connected to Tan Tai Jin as he tried to stave off the expectations placed on him as the potential next devil god when all he wanted was to love and be loved by others.
  • Chemistry between Luo Yun Xi and Bai Lu: This is the second time Luo Yun Xi and Bai Lu are paired together in a drama and their chemistry on screen shows. It was a slow burn after the first couple of episodes but I absolutely LOVED all of their cute romance scenes together and would rewatch them many times. Especially episodes 18-23 had extremely cute moments that I obsessed over.  Luo Yun Xi’s gaze and changed expression really helped solidify his love and he was certainly the stronger of the two but I still enjoyed it nonethelss.
  • Pian Ran and Ye Qing Yu’s love story: The storyline that was most “normal” was the love story between the fox spirit and the handsome general Ye Qing Yu. I’m extremely annoyed that the resolution for their relationship was axed on the chopping block so we don’t see the final result but their love story was extremely sweet. I loved the progression so much more so than Ye Bing Chang and Xiao Ling’s storyline and often times Ye Xi Wu and Tan Tai Jin’s storyline. At least Pian Ran and Ye Qing Yu actually talked most things out! And due to this drama, I am now a fan of Pian Ran’s actress, Sun Zhen Ni. She’s quite young but was stunning in this drama. 
  • Beautiful costumes and hair accessories: This is what a big budget drama should be like for a fantasy drama. All of the costumes in the drama were stunning. Not just for the women, but for the men as well. You could tell everything was intricately made and the result on screen was that I give this drama a higher rating just for how beautiful everyone looked because of the costuming. 

Stray Observations

  • Uhhh Sang Jiu basically drugged Ming Ye to spend the night together. Even though Ming Ye probably didn’t mind it, but that was a huge “oh no” in my mind. This drama TRIED to foster selfless and well meaning themes and messages but man did it fall short. 
  • I also absolutely despise the trope “Even though I love you with all my heart, I need you to hate me in order to save the world”. Sigh. 

The Ending [SPOILERS]: There were so many issues with the ending/last episode. Many storylines did not get resolved, the pacing was off and there is a big question mark as to what exactly happened at the end.  

Let me know what you think! Do you agree with my review?




Miles to Go (2023) 人生之路

Summary:  The drama follows Gao Jia Lin ft Chen Xiao and his friends in the countryside of Shaan Bei during the 1980s. Gao Jia Lin is an intelligent and talented young man who aspires to go to university, expand his horizons and leave behind the farming life. However, he failed to pass the university examinations and is left to remain in his impoverished living conditions. But with the help and encouragement of the uneducated but extremely capable Liu Qiao Zhen ft Li Qin, he decides to reinvent himself and continue to walk his path of life.

Unbeknownst to Gao Jia Lin, his university acceptance was stolen and his childhood friend Gao Shuang Xing ft Wang Tian Chen took his place, and the life he should have enjoyed in Shanghai.

Total Episode Count: 37

Initial Airing Date: March 20, 2023

Platform: CCTV, iQiyi


*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match iQiyi’s official translations


Rating: 7.5/10: A powerful and thought provoking drama that follows the lives of youngsters from the countryside who fight to walk their paths in life while also accepting the hardships life throws at them.  Understandable and imperfect characters, beautiful scenery and realistic life conflicts help make this an introspective and engaging watch.

Gao jia lin 高加林

chen xiao 陈晓

Highly intelligent and a gift writer, Gao Jia Lin thought he would be accepted to university to go on to bigger and better things. However, his acceptance letter and university spot was stolen which changed his life forever.


Liu qiao zhen 刘巧珍

Li Qin 李沁

A young woman with a heart of gold, she is a country girl who admires Gao Jia Lin for be educated which is something her father denied her growing up. She supported Gao Jia Lin his worst times but had to face the reality of their compatibility.

huang ya ping 黄亚萍

Zhang jia ni 张嘉倪

A beautiful woman originally from Shang Hai, Huang Ya Ping who loved to dance. She became attracted to Gao Jia Lin after seeing him work and actively pursued him.


gao shuang xing 高双星

Wang tian chen 王天辰

A childhood friend of Gao Jia Lin who took his spot to go to University and pretend to be Gao Jia Lin in Shang Hai. He tried his hardest to live up to the spot he stole but the truth still ate at him inside.



ma shuan 马栓

Tang zeng 唐曾

A classmate of Gao Jia Lin and Gao Shuang Xin. Ma Shuan is a hardworking man who loves Qiao Zhen

Chen xiu li 陈秀礼

guo xiao ting 郭晓婷

A young woman born and raised in Shanghai, she fell in love with Gao Shuang Xing while at University together



Plot Summary

Based off of a book called Ren Sheng by Lu Yao, the drama begins in the 1980s in the countryside of Shaan Bei. High school students Gao Jia Lin, Gao Shuang Xing and many other classmates are preparing to take the university entrance exams. Liu Qiao Zhen is a young girl who was unfortunately not allowed to go to school because her father thought women did not need an education. She is a capable individual who grew up with Gao Jia Lin and Gao Shuang Xing and has always admired Gao Jia Lin for his intellect as he is top of the class.

The day of the university entrance exam comes and goes and Gao Jia Lin is eagerly awaiting the results. He hopes to change his life and leave the mountains to not be just a farmer as his family has been for generations. He hopes to see the world outside his village. But when the results came out, he did not pass the exam. Instead, it was his friend Gao Shuang Xing that passed the exam. This was a huge blow to Gao Jia Lin who could not accept that he has to live out the rest of his life now as a farmer.

However, the reality is that the village leader, Gao Ming Lou, father of Gao Shuang Xing, stole and swapped out Gao Jia Lin’s university acceptance letter. He then gave the opportunity to his own son Gao Shuang Xing who originally did not pass the exam. Gao Shuang Xing, using Gao Jia Lin’s name and identity, heads off to Shanghai to attend University.

With the lives of these two men dramatically changed, Gao Jia Lin struggled to accept that he missed his opportunity. Liu Qiao Zhen stepped in to help bring him out of his rut and encouraged him to live his life to the fullest. Soon after, they begin a relationship. He finally stepped out of his depression and was able to secure a job in town as a reporter after the return of his uncle. This opportunity marks a turning point in his life as he finally is able to showcase his writing capabilities to a greater audience and attracts the attention of his former classmate, Huang Ya Ping, where they realize they share passions and interests. Gao Jia Lin is left to consider which relationship he views as more important, Liu Qiao Zhen or Huang Ya Ping.

The path of life takes these youngsters through various stages of life as they make their mark not only in ShaanBei but in Shanghai as well.





Overall Thoughts

This drama garnered surprisingly high viewership on CCTV, peaking at 3.17% by its finale (when breaking 2% is already considered a hit) and reaching 8500 on iQiYi’s popularity index (a relatively high number for this type of drama).  This is currently only outclassed by The Knockout in terms of viewership stats this year.  Miles to Go is a drama that certainly is more appealing to the masses, i.e. older crowd, rather than young folks but it had plenty of trending posts online as well. I did not think I’d like this drama because of the subject matter but I decided to give it a go because I’m a fan of Li Qin and was surprised by how much I liked it. It’s a very grounded show that touches on very real topics and provides powerful introspections on life.

The direct Chinese translation for the title of the drama is The Path of Life and the original book’s name is just Life.  This is a drama about how to face adversity and challenges life puts in front of you and how you decide to walk your life. There are many ways one can walk life and it’s not always going to be picture perfect but that is the whole point. There’s bitterness and sweetness in every life around us.  A key line that Qiao Zhen says in the drama which really stuck with me is “Walk your own life and you will know what your path is once you walk it. You should not try to walk another’s life if it’s not meant to be”. 

What shines:

  • Realistic setting: The first half of the drama is set in the countryside in Shaan Bei and the cast really did spend several months filming there. The rustic homes, the never ending dirt, and beautiful scenery added plenty of immersion in the drama. While the main cast didn’t speak the local dialect, supporting characters who had the ability most certainly did. Chen Xiao and Li Qin also purposefully put on tanned makeup to better portray their characters as individuals from the countryside. There was plenty of criticism around how “dark” and “ugly” the drama made these actors/actresses look but I thought it showed dedication from the cast that they are willing to let go of the beautiful looks that are pervasive in fantasy and historical dramas to portray more realistic characters. Also, I feel like the criticism came from people watching the drama with their modern lenses. Both the production company and Lu Yao (the book’s author’s) family members have praised the look of the cast saying this was an accurate representation of life at that time.
  • Imperfect yet understandable characters:   Chen Xiao’s Gao Jia Lin is absolutely an imperfect character. Many viewers while chasing this drama were surprised by this since many dramas try to make the main male and female leads as perfect and righteous as possible. Gao Jia Lin loves writing and reading, hates being a farmer and thinks extremely highly of himself. Perhaps what most people could not stand was his wishy-washiness around his relationship with Liu Qiao Zhen and Huang Ya Ping. He ultimately gave up his relationship with Qiao Zhen because he realized he was a better fit with Huang Ya Ping. While it would have been very easy to hate on him, you are still drawn to this character because you could perhaps understand why he made the choices he did.  You can dislike Gao Shuang Xing and Huang Ya Ping for what they’ve done to Gao Jia Lin and Liu Qiao Zhen respectively but they didn’t do what they did just to be bad people. Their motivations were complex or at least, understandable. Liu Qiao Zhen and Ma Shuan though? They’re the best. No doubt about it.
  • Liu Qiao Zhen – the woman with a heart of gold: I’ll be biased here but I was blown away by Li Qin’s Liu Qiao Zhen. This young woman felt insecure about not having an education but that did not stop her from having an extremely positive outlook on life. She was always the positive force that brought people up around her and her earnestness, determination and courage helped her change her life in Shanghai after she went there to help cure her daughter. She was always a shining beacon on screen and I was drawn to her scenes because she was rarely selfish and always tried to take care of the people around her. She fought to make her path in life with the hand she was dealt and always persevered forward. I strive to be more like Liu Qiao Zhen and hope to meet more people like her.
  • Powerful ending: [SPOILER ALERT]  – I thought the drama did a great job with the ending, giving a reasonable and thought out resolution to each character’s lives. I most definitely cried buckets at the end of the drama and walked away satisfied with how they handled the various storylines, something that cannot be said about many fantasy and romance dramas out there.





What didn’t work:

  • Gao Shuang Xing’s side story: The drama added these scenes of Gao Shuang Xing in University in Shanghai to show the challenges he faced while there using the guise of Gao Jia Lin’s identity but it didn’t really captivate me. Perhaps because I was much more invested in Gao Jia Lin and Liu Qiao Zhen’s story that anything outside that orbit felt unnecessary. His romance with Chen Xiu Li was fine at best because this was not grounded well in the story world that the book created so the liberties the screenwriters took here were certainly the weaker of all of the other storylines out there.  Only until Gao Shuang Xing and Gao Jia Lin’s stories converged in Shanghai did it become more interesting.





Falling Before Fireworks (2023) 最食人间烟火色

Summary: Bank manager Si Qing 司清 (ft Lu Yang Yang 卢洋洋) has worked tirelessly to get to her level and title at the bank. But, as a daughter of divorce, and a woman working her way up in a new city, she lacks a sense of security and belonging.

She just bought a new car and apartment and was hoping for another push to make her bonus this year. But one of the customers default on payments. As she tries to collect payment, she encounters the cold and aloof Jing Chen 景琛 (ft Chen Xin Hai 陈鑫海) . He’s a talented but poor artist that lives in a beautiful village. After one night with clients, Si Qing angrily finds Jing Chen and proposes marriage. He at first refuses but has a change of heart a short time later. What was at first a flash marriage becomes a loving one as two people with broken families find each other.


Total Episode Count: 23

Initial Airing Date: March 31, 2023

Platform: iQiyi


*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match iQiyi’s official translations


Rating: 7.2/10: A heartwarming and engaging romance about the hardships of succeeding in a tough career as a woman and what it means to continue the traditions of old. Set in a beautiful old village, we are presented with a feast of Chinese delicacies and the quiet life. The female lead Lu Yang Yang carries the show with her endearing turn as the ambitious but at times hot headed bank manager. However a nosy ex-girlfriend drags some of the episodes in the middle of the drama.  

Si Qing 司清

Lu Yang Yang 卢洋洋

Account Manager at a Bank in Nan City. She’s excels at work and wants the stability of a house and car. She meets Jing Chen when she’s trying to investigate a bank customer who has defaulted and finds that he is quite despicable. However, due to nasty rumors from her co-workers, she hastily proposes marriage to Jing Chen.

Jing Chen 景琛

Chen Xin Hai 陈鑫海

A poor young artisan who lives in a historical village. He is an orphan who was adopted by Grandpa Jing. He learned the traditional arts of carving and painting. He was content in his life until Si Qing once again upends his life.

Yun Pian 云篇

Nan Sheng 南笙

A Han clothing designer and Jing Chen’s college classmate. She deeply loved Jing Chen while at school but Jing Chen refused to move abroad with her after school. She returns after 6 years hoping to rekindle the relationship but finds that he’s married. She decided to move next door and become his neighbor.

Jing Mu Sheng 景木圣

Zhao Zhen Ting 赵振廷

The biological grandson of Grandpa Jing and older brother to the adopted Jing Chen. He moved in with his mother when she remarried. He and Jing Chen had a couple of scrapes when they were younger, leaving Jing Chen rather traumatized. He returns after the death of Grandpa Jing



Chi Zhong Yu池中煜

Ji Hao 籍皓

Apprentice to Si Qing at the bank, he’s from a wealthy family and went to school with Jing Chen and Yun Pian. He’s always there to support Jing Chen but oftentimes accidentally does the exact opposite

Jian Yue简约

Qian Xuan Ying 钱宣颖

Si Qing’s best friend in the city. She always devises ideas and plans for Si Qing when the latter feels lost with regards to her career or romantic relationship



Plot Summary

Si Qing has steadily climbed the ladder at her bank for the past several years. She travels to a traditional village on the outskirts of town to reclaim the loan of a client. There, she encounters a rather cold Jing Chen who cleverly aids his neighbor. It quickly becomes apparent that Si Qing and Jing Chen do not see eye to eye on many matters. Si Qing finally persuades the client to repay the loan after showing her proof that her husband has been having an affair but Si Qing cannot bring herself to leave the woman destitute and agrees to stall repayment. However, this means that Si Qing must work doubly hard at the bank or else all of her team’s bonus will be forfeit.

After having to deal with some slimy clients, she scores the bonus. Unfortunately, her success has caused several of her co-workers to spread nasty rumors about her methods. Despite her best efforts to hide her resentment towards her colleagues, Si Qing feels desperately alone and finds herself at the traditional village where Jing Chen lives. She rashly blurts out a proposal of marriage. Jing Chen is shocked and rejects this proposal.

Sometime later, Jing Chen heads to the bank where Si Qing works. After visiting her office, he suddenly agrees to the marriage. She’s shocked but they move ahead and get married. Turns out, when Si Qing was 20, she spent all of her birthday savings on a piece of art by Jing Chen. This was his graduation work. The name of the piece was “Winter Solstice” and shows a family enjoying the fireworks in a traditional family courtyard during the Winter Solstice. Her purchase changed Jing Chen’s life.

The two get married but quickly realizes that it’s not all sunshine and roses because in essence, they barely know each other. However, they slowly fall in love as they each help each other achieve their professional dreams and move past their childhood traumas.

Overall Thoughts

This was a very enjoyable short drama to binge. It tackles a wide range of topics in its short runtime including the struggles of a woman’s career, the realities of dying trades, and the struggles of every day life. I especially appreciated the focus it placed on traditional Chinese arts and handicrafts and the struggle of keeping those traditions alive. This drama had the right mix of romance and tension without being too saccharine or having characters be too dramatic. I’m very pleased with the choice of adding in traditional set pieces and making that a part of the overall plot. After watching this drama, I just wanted to spend some time in a small village sipping tea and enjoy time with family and friends.

What shines:

  • The traditional village and the rustic life: I honestly think the main character of this drama was really the village where Jing Chen lived. The setting and design really transported me and the characters into another world that is separate from the hustle and bustle of life. The winter scenes and the plum blossoms really added to the atmosphere of living in an 18th century village where all of the neighbors know each other and each are making a living using their own skills. Jing Chen’s kitchen was so charming, especially how he used traditional cooking methods to cook every day.
  • Lu Yang Yang’s portrayal of Si Qing: Lu Yang Yang impressed me with her acting in this drama. She showed range for the different scenarios her character went through, whether that’s sadness from the vitriol from her colleagues, her unwillingness to bend for money, her jealousy towards Yun Pian, and her budding love for Jing Chen. I was especially impressed in the scenes with her parents because I could tell that Si Qing as a character wanted her parent’s love but didn’t know how to ask for it. A few people also mentioned online that Lu Yang Yang looks like the lead from a Korean drama. There were certainly scenes with her where I’m like – whoa! I’m watching a different type of show! I don’t necessarily mean that she looks like a Korean actress, it’s just her overall vibe is very similar to what I saw in Kdramas. Her style was also very on point in this drama with several notable outfits.
  • Focus on tradition: Jing Chen decides to stay in his village to continue the traditions of Chinese handicraft art alive. There are some great discussions in the drama on how and why the aging artisans chose their craft and the reality that their craft might die with them. It’s tough work that can’t be replicated by machines but who wants to spend the years to train as an apprentice? This plot line gets wrapped up a little too neatly in the end, but I enjoyed the spotlight it highlighted for these artisans.





What didn’t work:

  • Chen Xin Hai as Jing Chen: I’m probably in the minority but I didn’t find Chen Xin Hai’s portrayal of Jing Chen as very convincing. Here’s a character who is an orphan and became adopted but he always lived in his brother’s shadow and spend his time trying to live up to his grandfather’s expectation. Because of this he learned to control his emotions. What I got was a character who was rather wooden and showed little emotion. He was just nice. I was thoroughly enjoying everything from Si Qing but I felt like every time we got to Jing Chen, the drama went to a standstill. He was scared, he had trauma. I barely felt much of it. In the end, I was rooting for the couple mainly for Si Qing’s sake. Chen Xin Hai is very young and this is a great start to his career but hopefully he’ll develop more range.
  • Ex-Girlfriend Yun Jian: We get this trope of an ex-girlfriend who returns to win back Jing Chen’s favor. At least she doesn’t outright try to make him have an affair. However, her stance at the very beginning was – I don’t want to marry anyone. She just wanted to see Jing Chen and Si Qing’s relationship end and then she and Jing Chen can be together without getting married. I would have respected her a little bit more if she held onto that stance but basically she decides to marry someone else in the end. Overall, she wasn’t too annoying of an ex-girlfriend, but I felt like some of her plotlines could have been omitted.
  • Jing Chen and Jing Mu Sheng’s conflict: We spend a lot of time seeing Jing Chen trying to move past his childhood trauma of his rivalry between Jing Mu Sheng. The resolution was rather sudden in my opinion; I won’t spoil it but I’ll admit I was very puzzled at both of their reactions to certain events in the drama. Moral of the story – they should have just had a conversation years ago instead of this drawn out storyline that we got in this drama.

Stray Observations:

  • The OST! They actually got the rights of a very famous song from the Korean movie The Classic. It was translated to Chinese and boy, it really did add to the mood of the drama. Maybe that’s why I was saying I felt Kdrama vibes at certain times.



Romance of a Twin Flower (2023) 春闺梦里人

Summary:  Nie Sang Yu 聂桑榆 ft Peng Xiao Ran 彭小苒 jumps off a cliff after finding out her husband, Ning Yu Xuan 宁钰轩 ft Ding Yu Xi 丁禹兮 marries another woman. She is rescued by Ning Yu Xian’s men but when she awakes, she has lost all of her memory and curiously now has talents in cooking, medicine, and skincare. Ning Yu Xian is suspicious of her 180 change in nature but soon gets drawn into her antics as Nie Sang Yu’s only focus is now to leave her husband and become a rich merchant. 


Total Episode Count: 38

Initial Airing Date: March 21, 2023

Platform: Tencent


Final Score 6.0/10 – A mindless yet playful romantic comedy that has literally every trope in the book. Deng Yu Xi and Peng Xiao Ran make for a cute couple and this is a fun drama to watch but one can probably guess where the drama is heading right from the beginning.

Initial Thoughts:

A light hearted romantic comedy that leans heavily into comedy. After her rescue, Nie Sang Yu tries her best to earn money, despite her husband’s best efforts to prevent her from doing so. Don’t think too hard about this drama because the point is to watch the lovely Peng Xiao Ran and handsome Ding Yu Xi build their romance. 

The plot is paper thin and heavy with tropes. You want lost memory, mistaken identity, long lost twins, slow moving shots to highlight the main couple? You got all of them! It’s quite a saccharine drama with little tension, so if you’re looking for a sweet, non-threatening romance drama with lovely costumes, then this is one for you.

Ning Yu Xuan

宁钰轩 ft Ding Yu Xi 丁禹兮. The Marquis of Mo Yu, he is married to Nie Sang Yu. He is surprised at her change in temperament and finds himself slowly falling in love with this new version of her 



Nie Sang Yu

季曼/聂桑榆 ft Peng Xiao Ran 彭小苒. She wakes up without a memory, to find that she’s married to the Marquis and has a nasty reputation. She wants to build a business empire to fulfill her dream


Yuan Lang

袁朗 ft Yi Da Qian  易大千. A member of the Tea Gang, he vowed to get revenge on his father’s death. He encounters Ji Man and recognizes her as his long lost sister and protects her in her business endeavors

Ling Jian Xing

凌剑星 ft Ma Ke 马可. Ruthless and cunning, he is an enemy of Ning Yu Xian at court, he strives to find every opportunity to strike down the Marquis and solidify his position at court. 

Wen Wan

温婉 ft Jia Nai Na 加奈那. Concubine to Ning Yu Xuan, she has ambition to replace Nie Sang Yu as madame of the household. She will do anything to achieve that goal



Gui Bai

鬼白 ft He Chang Xi 何昶希. Loyal soldier to Ning Yu Xuan, he is sworn to protect the Marquis with his life and live in the shadows. However, his life changes after he meets Shui Niang Zi


Shui Niang Zi

水娘子 ft Luo Qiu Yun 罗秋韵. A famous prostitute who agrees to partner with Nie Sang Yu in opening a skincare shop. She falls for Gui Bai but must grasp their future together

Qian Lian Xue

千怜雪 ft Ah Li Ya 阿丽亚. Cousin to Ning Yu Xuan, she constantly has to bail out her gambling addicted brother. She is rescued by Ji Man and agrees to run her shop for her.

Plot Overview:

Known as the evil madame in the capital, Nie Sang Yu (ft Peng Xiao Ran 彭小苒), daughter of General Nie and wife of the Marquis of Mo Yu, Ning Yu Xuan (ft. Ding Yu Xi 丁禹兮), cannot bear the thought of her husband marrying another woman, Wen Wan (ft Jia Nai Na 加奈那). In an act of defiance, she jumps off a cliff on his wedding day. Ning Yu Xuan’s men rescue her but when she wakes, Nie Sang Yu has lost all memory of who she is and her relationship to Ning Yu Xuan.

Nie Sang Yu suddenly has new skills such as cooking, medical expertise, and knowledge of how to make skincare products. She’s also much more interested in becoming rich and escaping the Marquis manor than she is in her marriage. She happily uses the Marquis manor and Ning Yu Xuan to make money. Ning Yu Xuan is highly suspicious of his wife’s change in demeanor and attitude but initially waves it off as her trying to find new ways to capture his attention.

Ning Yu Xuan has spent his entire life trying to round up members of the Tea Gang, believing them to be the ones who killed his father. Yuan Lang, a leader of the gang, almost gets captured in the capital city. One day, he see’s the jade pendant that Nie Sang Yu owns and believes that she is has strong ties to the Tea Gang and decides to build a relationship with her, posing as a merchant. He 

Ning Yu Xuan’s political enemies at court close in on him, leveraging Nie Sang Yu’s poor reputation at court to banish Ning Yu Xuan to a port city. At this point though, Ning Yu Xuan feels drawn to his wife as she seems truly to have changed. He invites her to join him to the port city. While at the port city, Nie Sang Yu seems to be recognized by several others as a Miss Ji. Ning Yu Xuan becomes suspicious and orders his men to do a little bit of digging on this Miss Ji. 

Unaware of these rumors, Nie Sang Yu is intent on opening her own skincare shop and build a reputation for herself in the city. She befriends a local performer who agrees to collaborate with her in this venture. Things do not go smoothly as the local merchants and seamen have their own ways of conducting business. Nie Sang Yu must find her own path and turn the tide for her business. Meanwhile, Ning Yu Xuan finds concrete proof that his wife, is not in fact, Nie Sang Yu, but another woman called Ji Man. 


Overall thoughts

I’d say that this drama was below average. It’s a fun mindless watch in which the viewer just has to throw all logic out of the window, accept that nearly every romance drama trope is going to be stuffed in this drama, and go along for the ride. When it’s cute, it’s very cute, but when it gets eye-rolling, it’s VERY eye-rolling. There’s clearly a market for this type of drama for its light and breezy style or else these dramas wouldn’t be made but it was clearly not meant for me.

This drama also aired with little fanfare. The last episode just aired and there was basically no marketing from Tencent about this drama. It has unfortunately been labeled as a dud both critically and viewership-wise.

Ding Yu Xi and Peng Xiao Ran both had hits with Romance of the Rose and the Tiger and Farewell My Princess respectively, but both have failed to capture that same spark from those two dramas. Ding Yu Xi’s character in this drama is basically the same as his character in Romance of the Rose and the Tiger so this is an easy role for him. Sadly for Peng Xiao Ran, there was an interview with her where she said this role was the only one she would get cast in, which is shocking to me. I hope she chooses her next projects more wisely. 

I will go on a mini-rant on this drama because in the year 2023, I cannot believe dramas such as this are still being made. 




Why did I not like this drama?

Rehash of old tropes: There’s so many romance tropes in this particular drama that I was basically ticking them off by episode 5. I don’t have any issue with these tropes, but the problem with this drama is that there’s nothing new about them. It was like the drama itself had a quote to fill and then just went through the motions to add all of them into the drama. Let me list a few of them:

  • Twins separated at birth
  • Memory loss of our female lead
  • Mistaken identities
  • Falling in love and then discovering that your beloved is the child of your father’s murderer
  • Evil concubine who tries to ruin the main couple
  • Love triangles galore!

In the original book, the character of Ji Man was a modern day woman who transported through time to this era and I think it translated rather poorly to the small screen.

A female lead who is basically a Mary Sue 傻白甜 : Everything in this drama came way too easily for Nie Sang Yu / Ji Man. Ji Man, without any of her memory, finds herself in the Marquis household and wins everyone over by being extremely nice and having crazy skills. A maid she “punished” before? She makes a miracle skincare product that will remove all the scars and then all is forgiven. Ning Yu Xuan gets injured? She writes a prescription to cure him! She doesn’t have any money? Why, she’s a genius businesswoman who will make money however she wants! Then, with all of that, her husband and a mysterious stranger start actually falling in love with her? What luck! Everything that Nie Sang Yu and Ji Man does basically has no consequences and attracts praise from everyone around her. She is an intelligent woman and has her own ambitions, but so much of it is BECAUSE of her husband that it was really hard for me to believe much of this was feasible.

The premise is that these are twins separated at birth but each fell into very powerful households; one, a general, and another, the leader of a fleet. They barely knew any hardships in life. Nie Sang Yu chose the evil route “out of love” and marries into the Marquis’s household and basically tortured everyone because of how possessive she was of her husband. Ji Man wanted to be the wealthiest businesswoman in the empire. I really wanted those two separate storylines instead of the memory loss story that we got.

A Knight in Shining Armor who’s basically has no job: I admit that Ning Yu Xuan is extremely easy on the eyes. However, for much of this drama, he’s spending his time chasing after Nie Sang Yu / Ji Man and I am wondering how he gets anything done at work. He’s also there to be pouty and jealous whenever Nie Sang Yu / Ji Man gets too close to Yuan Lang. His whole rivalry between Yuan Lang and Ling Jian Xing are after thoughts that really just serve to push his relationship with Ji Man forward. At least he understands that he loves Ji Man and not Nie Sang Yu. 

Complete disregard for history: I guess this drama just decided to throw any semblance of history out the window and put set this drama in an alternate universe where the director just decided to pick and choose what parts to use. Yes, every drama does this, but it was especially obvious in this drama. This really took me out of the drama as I was watching it. For example, I’m praising costumes in general below, but I literally could not get over Nie Sang Yu / Ji Man’s hairstyle and outfits for the entire drama. She’s a married woman, why is her hair down?? She’s still frolicking around the whole city as though she was unmarried. There’s also a ton of modern language that’s used in the drama that was very jarring. I guess I just need to accept this alternate universe. 

Weak Evil Characters: Wen Wan is the typical evil concubine who set out to ruin the main couple. However, after the first few episodes, I’m understood where she’s coming from. Nie Sang Yu had a terrible reputation. She tortured servants and basically disregarded others. Why wouldn’t she believe she has a chance? Ning Yu Xuan made it clear that nothing would happen between the two of them but he also barely gave her much respect as a concubine. As for Ling Jian Xing, he was a pretty weak character who’s main motive was just for political gain. 


Why should you watch this drama?

  • Wonderful settings and production design
  • Handsome looking cast
  • Cute side plot with Gui Bai and Shui Niang Zi


After episode 2, I sped through this drama and grew more and more frustrated with it. I recommend passing this one for other dramas.





Pledge of Allegiance (2023) 山河之影

Summary:  Set during the 3rd year of Ming Emperor Jian Wen’s reign, a thief Li Wu ft Zhang Yun Long becomes mixed up with the Investigation Bureau (Jin Yi Wei) and comes into possession of a special lock that various forces in the capital are seeking to find. He crosses paths with Detective Lu Zheng ft Chen Ruo Xuan and assassin Shu Tang ft Sun Yi who are both in search of this special locket that is also tied to a devastating event 10 years ago that changed all of their lives. 


Total Episode Count: 24

Initial Airing Date: March 28, 2023

Platform: iQiyi


*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match iQiyi’s official translations


Rating: 7/10: This is an action-packed humorous political thriller with decent martial arts, stunning scenery and interesting history. Zhang Yun Long carries this beautifully shot Ming dynasty saga with his charm and chemistry with his co-stars. It is dragged down by Chen Ruo Xuan’s weaker storylines and the political component that is not as intriguing. 

Lu Zheng 陆铮

 Chen Ruo Xuan 陈若轩

Son of a detective in the Investigation Bureau (锦衣卫), Lu Zheng takes his job very seriously as he saw a young thief he saved kill his father in their youth. From then on, he vowed never to let anyone go who broke the law 

li wu 李雾

zhang yun long 张云龙

A thief raised in the streets, he has a heart of gold as he cares for his neighbors and the people around him. He doesn’t know how to read or write but is a master lockpick and has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to help him solve many problems.

shu tang 舒棠

sun yi 孙怡

A skilled assassin part of an underground spy network called Ye Bu Shou. She arrived in the capital from the north to procure the special lock and also gather intelligence for the Prince of Yan. 

Zhang Jun Qing 张俊清 

ma yu jie 马渝捷

The business owner of a renowned clothing store in the capital, she is in reality a skilled assassin and leader of the spy network in the capital.  

Plot Summary

Ten years ago, during the 25th year of Emperor Hong Wu’s reign, 3 teens escaped from prison and was saved by one of the teen’s father. However, Song Zhen, saw the other boy, Li Wu, kill his father and fled. The young girl with them also disappeared. Song Zhen, full of hatred for what happened, had to change his name to Lu Zheng as his father was indicted and his life would be threatened otherwise.

In present day, Lu Zheng is now a detective with the powerful Investigation Bureau (锦衣卫) in the capital, his adoptive father a good friend  and colleague of his late father and a high ranking official in the Bureau. Li Wu grew up as a thief, living in the streets and off of the charity of the neighbors. One day, Li Wu decides to steal from the newly arrived official, Wang Ke Gong by stealing the invitation to the welcome party from another official Li Dong Fang and pretends to be him. Once inside the Wang Manor, Li Wu happens upon Lu Zheng who is wary of this “Li Dong Fang”. The night becomes more chaotic as Lu Zheng spots and fights against an assassin in the manor while Li Wu stumbles upon a mysterious lock as he raids the treasures of the manor. 

The assassin and Li Wu cross paths as she is injured and he recognizes her as the young girl he was stuck in prison with all those years ago so he saves her. Her name now is Shu Tang. 

Li Wu is given the opportunity to take Li Dong Fang’s identity as a Detective which he does in order to try to clear his name from the records of what happened 10 years ago. He works with Lu Zheng as partners to clear Lu Zheng’s father’s name as well while also saving each other from bigger plots in the Ye Bu Shou spy network from the Prince of Yan against Emperor Jian Wen. 


Overall Thoughts

I’m liking the number of Ming Dynasty dramas we’re seeing right now. First it was Under the Microscope and here we have Pledge of Allegiance. I’m quite enjoying the show and wish it received more attention and higher viewership but alas, the main leads aren’t superstars so it’ll have to stay in its lane of missed dramas for the year. 

There are issues with the drama but I appreciate the thought that went into making a beautiful product. Both of these Ming dynasty dramas this year really impressed me and it’s clear the production value is high compared to other fantasy and romance dramas that have aired recently.

What shines:

  • Zhang Yun Long’s portrayal of Li Wu: He excels in this type of character who is sly and quirky but is in reality a sweet and caring man. This guy just exudes charm. Zhang Yun Long added several unique mannerisms in his acting of Li Wu and it makes the character so much more enjoyable to watch as it adds a lot of depth to this individual. His cute relationship with the assassin Shu Tang is swoon worthy and utterly adorable. (I ship them very hard). He is also the primary driver of humor in this drama which I think is done right as compared to some of the more forced antics in other dramas (like Royal Rumors).  I generally favor watching his scenes compared to the scenes of Lu Zheng/Chen Ruo Xuan who is too stoic and not as expressive as he should be. 
  • Couples pairings/shipping everywhere! This drama should also be called Li Wu and his wife and husband. Hahaha. Who cares about the inevitable invasion of the Prince of Yan that forever changed the course of the Ming Dynasty? The bromance between Li Wu and Lu Zheng is hilarious and second only to Li Wu’s romance with Shu Tang. Though some people might think the bromance is even stronger. Regardless, I love Li Wu’s interactions with his fellow costars.
  • Complex small character portrayals: Through Li Wu’s kindness, we get to meet rather complex motivations in small characters that in other shows would be completely ignored. Song Tian Yi is an assassin sent to kill Li Wu and steal the special lock but through Li Wu’s conversations with him, we find that Song Tian Yi deeply loves Zhang Jun Qing and will do anything for her, even die for her. Xie Keng Ran saved Li Wu’s life when he didn’t have to so that he could save Lu Zheng’s life. There are several others characters throughout the show that we meet and they left a lasting impression on me, much more so than the political components of this show.





What didn’t work:

  • Romance for Lu Zheng (Chen Ruo Xuan’s character): I’m sorry but I felt absolutely no chemistry between Lu Zheng and his love interest in Zhang Jun Qing so much so that I was primarily skipping through their scenes to get to Zhang Yun Long’s scenes. Both of these two characters were way too wooden for there to be romantic sparks and their attraction seemed forced. Conversation between the two just felt like they were reading lines which is very odd because Chen Ruo Xuan’s chemistry with Zhang Yun Long is quite strong so not sure where this fell apart for his actual love interest. 
  • Politics: This era of the Ming dynasty where Zhu Di (Prince of  Yan) usurped the throne from his nephew and moved the capital to Beijing and altered history is fascinating. But sadly, the drama doesn’t excel in making me interested in this conflict because it is too convoluted in the smaller story lines of Lu Zheng, Li Wu, the Investigation Bureau and the spy network. It’s too unbelievable that the balance of the Ming dynasty hangs on the actions of Li Wu and a few others when we know better. The humor placed throughout the drama also causes disconnect because the gravitas is not there. A better drama to look at this time period is The Imperial Age 山河月明 that aired last year (though it has its fair share of issues too).

Stray Observations:

  • The guy from The Starry Love who played the worst father ever aka Tian Di (Emperor of the Sky) is here in this drama as another despicable character. I’ve carried my hatred over from that drama here and he makes my blood boil.







Royal Rumors (2023) 花琉璃轶闻 

Summary:  General Hua’s daughter Hua Liu Li Ft Meng Zi Yi is invited to the capital of the Jin Kingdom and given the title of County Princess in order to quell rumors and discontent in the kingdom that the Hua family has too much power. Once in the capital, Hua Liu Li hides her capabilities and plays up the sick and feeble young woman in order to establish a foothold in her new environment. This behavior catches the attention of the Crown Prince Ji Yuan Su ft Xu Zheng Xi who is focused on ensuring stability in the Jin Kingdom from threats from neighboring countries, particularly the kingdom of Jin Po.


Total Episode Count: 24

Initial Airing Date: March 15, 2023

Platform: Tencent


*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match Tencent’s official translations


Rating: 6.2/10: A serviceable romance drama that is light-hearted and beautiful on the eyes but suffers from lackluster chemistry between the main couple and a weak overall plot. The antics between the main pair are entertaining enough if you’re looking for a short drama to pass the time. 

Hua Liu Li 花琉璃

Meng Zi Yi 孟子义

Intelligent and crafty, Hua Liu Li is given the title of County Princess and arrives from the border to the capital city of Yu Jing. To hide her skills, she portrays the image of a weak and frail woman who will fall over at the push of a wind. In reality, she knows martial arts and has studied military tactics from a young age and is here to protect her family’s standing.

Crown Prince 姬元溯

xu zheng xi 徐正溪

Cold and calculating crown prince of the Jin Kingdom, he immediately sees through Hua Liu Li’s initial act of playing a damsel in distress but cannot help but be intrigued by her. He cares mostly about securing his kingdoms borders and has a loving cat called Hua Hua he dotes upon.

He Yuan Ting 贺远亭

Zhu Yuan Bing 朱元冰

The unfavored second prince of the bordering country Jin Po. He tried to trick Liu Li while the nations were fighting in order to kidnap her and blackmail her family but ultimately failed. He arrives in the Jin Kingdom for peace talks.

Tian Jia Min 田嘉敏

Su Meng Yun 苏梦云

Daughter of a princess, this adorable princess in her own right grew up with vast amounts of wealth and power but when faced with a foe like Hua Liu Li, can only learn to back off. But Liu Li doesn’t mind her harmless schemes and they develop an interesting friendship in the capital.

Plot Summary

The Jin Kingdom and Jin Po Kingdom had been at war for many years and it was General Hua and his wife General Wei that fought a victorious battle that secured the Jin Kingdom and maintained peace for many years. However, in the capital of Yu Jin, the court officials started highlighting how the military strength of the Hua family will soon threaten the stability of the Jin Kingdom. In order to quell the anger and rumors swirling around the Hua family’s loyalty, the Emperor decides to give the title of County Princess to the Hua family daughter and invite her to the capital. 

18 year old Hua Liu Li arrives in the capital of Yu Jing, and knowing she’s being watched by everyone on her way in the capital, feigns illness after being blown by the wind.  There were assassins in the crowd hoping to kill her but she is saved by the Crown Prince. She and the crown prince have been pen pals for a while in their youth and in her letters to him, she was extremely fierce and capable, the exact opposite behavior to what the Crown Prince sees now in the feeble and weak woman in front of him. This confuses while also intrigues him. 

Liu Li settles into the old Hua manor and starts to gather intel on the climate in the capital. Her primary goal is to ensure that her family is protected from the various court officials in the palace who aim to dismantle the army. She contends with Princess Jia Min and the Prince of Ying who aim to limit her influence in the palace. Elsewhere, the crown prince works with his undercover network to ensure the border is protected and threats from Jin Po Kingdom are discovered.


Overall thoughts

This drama is just…fine. It’s short but even with the shortened length, there was a lot of bloat in the story. It’s clearly a simple, cheesy romance drama that you’re just going to enjoy and not think too much about. The character traits of the main leads where they’re basically changing face on a dime is entertaining enough but there isn’t much gravitas to the story. Almost as if most of the threats to the kingdom are child’s play that the characters are able to easily manipulate.

One of the most important takeaways is Hua Liu Li’s monologues on border safety and military strength. Her fierce devotion to her country, family and those of the Hua family soldiers are touching. That was one of the key moments in the drama where her character really shines as someone who is focused on making change and doing more for her country.

My main problem is with Xu Zheng Xi, the main male lead. He’s pushing the age limit of where he should be acting in these cheesy romance dramas and it seems like he’s staying in his comfort zone. He’s just been pumping out these romance dramas over the last few years without much substance.  The warmth of romance and his smile rarely reaches his eyes when he’s acting in this drama. Instead, he shines when he’s the cold, calculating crown prince conducting official state matters. I’m more interested in his solo scenes with his subordinates and Meng Zi Yi’s solo scenes. Their scenes together? They just aren’t as cute and heart fluttering as they should be.

I do really enjoy the costumes and hairstyles in the drama though. Particularly Princess Jia Ming’s outfits and hairstyles. This reminds me a lot of the lavish Tang dynasty outfits and quite a change from the rather bland hairstyles from fantasy dramas of late.  But something that has been a problem for several of these period dramas of late is that it’s very clear these are modern day women in historical clothes. How they behave and act is rather outlandish. Meng Zi Yi’s hair accessories are whipping her in the face all the time and it’s rather distracting…






The Starry Love (2023) 星落凝成糖

Summary:  Twin girls are born to the emperor of the human clan. The graceful older sister Qing Kui is betrothed to be the Empyrean consort while the feisty younger sister Ye Tan, who was ignored and abused her entire life, is betrothed to be the Void clan crown prince’s consort. Despite their different upbringing, the two sisters deeply care for one another. 

On their wedding day, the devious Void clan 3rd prince Chao Feng swaps the two women resulting in Ye Tan going to the sky while Qing Kui ends up in the Void.  

The drama follows as these two women try to adjust in their new environments while protecting each other and securing romance along the way. 


Total Episode Count: 40

Initial Airing Date: Feb 16

Platform: Youku


*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match Youku’s official translations


Initial Rating (12 ep in): 7.5/10 – An absolutely hilarious fantasy romance drama that is full of laugh out loud but also tender moments. The drama follows some familiar tropes while turning others on its head as the love and care between the two main sisters drive the story along. The relationship of their romantic counterparts are also extremely entertaining. Despite not being as tightly written as it could be with some less appealing side stories, it is ultimately a worthy drama to chase for those seeking a fun rom com!  Oh and the main theme by Sa Ding Ding is an absolute banger of a song!

Final Rating: 7.2/10 – A solid show with strong, healthy relationships throughout the drama in romantic, friendship and sibling terms that beat out relationships from similar themed fantasy dramas. Decent acting from the main cast also help keep viewers engaged. However, the drama, particularly the last 8 episodes suffered from an inconsistent tone and rushed storylines that detract from an otherwise chase worthy drama. 

Main Characters


离光夜昙 Li Guang Ye Tan – 李兰迪 Li Lan Di

A young feisty woman with a tragic past. Her birth was wrought with bad omens leading her father to ignore and punish her for her entire life. She knew she was going to marry into the Void and coupled with her unpleasant upbringing, caused her to become a fierce and feisty woman. She accidentally marries Shao Dian You Qin



少典有琴 Shao Dian You Qin – 陈星旭 Chen Xing Xu

2700 years old, the most powerful being in all the realms.  He underwent intense solitary study for 1,500 years resulting in low social acumen when he returned to his family. He is betrothed to Qing Kui but ends up marrying Ye Tan.  At first, he is utterly annoyed by Ye Tan’s antics but slowly warms up to this outlandish young woman. 

离光青葵 Li Guang Qing Kui – 何宣林 He Xuan Lin

The kind, serene and graceful older sister to Ye Tan, Qing Kui is a skilled healer but relatively naive. She is brought to the Void clan where she awaits marrying the next crown prince. Qing Kui’s kind hearted nature helped save her sister’s life many times when they were young and helped ease her transition in the Void.

嘲风 Chao Feng – 陈牧弛 Chen Mu Chi

The unloved 3rd prince of the Void Chen Yuan 沉渊 clan, he schemes against his 2 older brothers for the throne.  One of the pawns in his schemes is Qing Kui whom he swapped to marry to the Void rather to the Empyrean clan. However, his plans go slightly awry as he falls in love with Qing Kui. 

Initial Thoughts

No one thought this drama was going to be any good. The actors use their own voices and Chen Xing Xu (main male leads’) voice in particular was ridiculed because it was so deep and muddled. He also does not look as handsome as he did in Goodbye My Princess or 东宫. But, as more episodes came out, interest grew because after all, it is a fun drama.

Is it the best drama out there? No. Is it funny? Without a doubt.  Will it make you smile? Absolutely. Some of the antics of this show are so ridiculous that you can’t help but be drawn into the story because it will make you feel happy. What’s better than a drama where the sisterhood is more important than romance? You’re not going to get extremely deep history or introspective narratives in this drama and that’s fine! The drama, at least for the first 12 episodes, knows what type of drama it is and doesn’t try to be more complicated than that. Though I will say, the characters are surprisingly multidimensional.

The overuse of average CGI and emptiness of the set do detract from making this as beautiful as other fantasy dramas. Some of the side stories/relationships are also not as interesting. If those lines were cut out, this might have been a shorter but more tightly written drama. 

Overall though, I think it’s a fun romantic drama to chase. 

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed this drama WAY more than I expected and am now deep in the rabbit hole of watching fan videos of the cute relationship between the main couple. While not a perfect drama, I thoroughly had a blast chasing the show and feeling engaged with the characters. It helps that most of the main cast actually all went to school together so chemistry was through the roof. The behind the scenes clips are all very fun to watch as well because everyone is extremely comfortable with each other. 

This drama was the dark horse for February/March and performed much better than expected compared to next door’s The Journey of Chong Zi with solid douban ratings of 7.4.





What I liked:

  • Healthy bond between sisters: Ye Tan and Qing Kui were born on the same day but Ye Tan was seen as a bad omen and therefore mistreated her entire life. Rather than mistreat Ye Tan as well, Qing Kui instead tried to help and protect her sister in whatever capacity she could. When the two married to the wrong place, each sister’s focus was the other’s safety. Their bond never waivered even in the face of their romantic relationships which is much healthier. Gotta help your sisters first!
  • Chen Xing Xu’s (main male lead’s) acting: Chen Xing Xu had the daunting task of playing 5, yes FIVE, different versions of himself for this drama and I was quite impressed with the end result since I had no idea what to expect for this drama. In behind the scenes clips, he spent a lot of time with the director in coming up with different postures and speaking cadences for the different versions of the character in order to differentiate himself to great effect. It shows just how thoughtful of an actor he is which fans have said makes sense because he was top of his class at the Central Academy of Drama.
  • Shao Dian You Qin’s rightful protection of his love: I absolutely swooned at Shao Dian You Qin’s change and subsequent protection of Ye Tan. He has a very clear understanding of who saved him and who the love of his life is. Unlike other dramas, looking at you Eternal Love/三生三世十里桃花, Shao Dian You Qin is not afraid to go against his father and all of the rules placed on him as the protector of the realm. He does not make Ye Tan sacrifice anything for him in order to be together with him which Ye Hua totally did to Su Su in Eternal Love. (So  many fan videos show ppl panning Ye Hua and commending Shao Dian You Qin). Shao Dian You Qin has no interest in becoming Emperor and only wants to spend time with his wife because she was the one to save his life after his father was like, no, you can let You Qin die. 




What Suffered:

  • Convoluted side plots/characters: There were several character stories that just didn’t feel interesting. For example, Hu Sui, a little plant fairy that was saved by Qing Heng, Shao Dian You Qin’s brother. They dragged on that storyline of their romance that just didn’t appeal to me.  To be honest, most of the romances outside of the main two I didn’t think were too appealing and was watching on fast forward for the show. 
  • Inconsistent tone towards the end of the drama: Starting from the second half of ep 33, the show needed to create a climatic conflict to bring us to the end. For me, I felt this was not necessary because the beginning of the drama was extremely light hearted and the show wanted to keep elements of that, but then bring in the big conflict that resulted in heartbreak and death. So what ended up happening is moments of laughs and other moments of deep sorrow causing severe inconsistencies in the show. That brings me to other point. Why do so many of these fantasy dramas need to have a conflict that would destroy the world and our main characters need to solve it? If the drama removed these elements and literally ended in episode 32, I would be a much happier camper. Who cares about some of the loose ends? That’s just my romantic take of this. 





Under the Microscope (2023) 显微镜下的大明之丝绢案

Summary:  A Ming Dynasty era mystery, the brilliant but singularly focused mathematician Shuai Jia Mo ft Zhang Ruo Yun discovers an inaccuracy while out calculating the area of a plot of land. That leads to further discoveries of inaccuracies in the county’s accounting and tax numbers that may also be related to the death of Shuai Jia Mo’s parents 20 plus years ago. 


Total Episode Count: 14

Initial Airing Date: Feb 9

Platform: iQiyi


*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match iQiyi’s official translations


Rating: 7.7/10 – A fantastically fun show that is nail biting and sprinkled with humor, this short drama manages to make a potentially dense topic of taxes into an intriguing introspection of human nature.  The acting across the board is superb, particularly by the older actors and makes this a thrilling watch though it is held back by some pacing issues and some moments of dryness due to the subject matter at hand.

Main Characters


帅家默 Shuai Jia Mo – 张若昀 Zhang Ruo Yun

A prodigal mathematician, he is only focused on making sure his numbers are right. He has high IQ but low EQ as he only knows what’s right and wrong from the numbers but does not know how to balance the benefits and consequences behind human nature. He experienced a traumatic childhood and is best friends with Feng Bao Yu. He measures land area for a living, as his late father did.

丰宝玉 Feng Bao Yu – 费启鸣 Fei Qi Ming

Technically a studying scholar, he loves gambling instead and relies on his best friend Shuai Jia Mo’s math skills to help rake in the money. But when push comes to shove, he is willing to help his friend fight for what is right and is a great balance for his friend who does not know much on how to speak to people. 

程仁清 Cheng Ren Qing – 王阳 Wang Yang

The equivalent of a lawyer, this individual can twist words to meet his desired result. HIs catch phrase is however much money you give me, I’ll give you that amount in fairness. At first, this guy can seem extremely slimey and greedy but as the series progresses, there is more than meets the eye.

丰碧玉 Feng Bi Yu – 戚薇 Qi Wei

Feng Bao Yu’s older sister and manager of a local meat curing business, she has money and brains to run a successful business. Unfortunately, her status as a woman prevents her from achieving more in life. She absolutely adores and dotes on her brother and looks out for his friend, Shuai Jia Mo.

范渊 Fan Yuan – 吴刚 Wu Gang

A ruthless and calculating man. He was formerly a highly respected court official who retired to Jian An Prefecture where he maintained a highly connected web of individuals that he relied on to maintain his power and status. He primarily focused on maintaining his power and monetary gain by asserting his influence on various spheres of society.

Plot Overview

This drama’s screenwriter is the author Ma Bo Yong who wrote the book for this drama. He is also a well known author behind books that turned into several dramas such as Luo Yang and The Longest Day in Chang’An. This 14 episode drama is based off of one case in his full book Under the Microscope or 显微镜下的大明。

At the beginning of the show, Shuai Jia Mo, who the director says has Asperger’s, calculates the square area for a plot of land as part of his job. But he discovers that the calculation is off compared to what official documents states. This causes him to be singularly focused on this wrong number even as a fight breaks out behind him. He next goes to help his friend, Feng Bao Yu, make some money at the gambling house. They get into a tiff with the gambling house owner who accuses them of cheating, when in reality, it’s just that Shuai Jia Mo can do math really well and can calculate the odds of his cards. A huge fight breaks out where the duo are saved by Bao Yu’s sister, Feng Bi Yu. 

The group is brought forth to court and are met with a formidable lawyer, Cheng Ren Qing who easily twists words to fit his goals, or the person who pays him the most. Fortunately, Shuai Jia Mo is able to be released with the help of the Feng family. However, after he is free, he decides to investigate further his inaccurate calculation. After intense calculation, he finds that there is an extra tax amount that his county is paying. A total 3530 taels of silver each year. He brings this up to the county magistrate and beyond. While Shuai Jia Mo is only interested in correcting a wrong answer, this incorrect tax amount soon uncovers the various connections between not only different counties but also between the landed gentry.




What I liked:

  • Setting, production and costumes!
    • The production and setting of this drama is top notch in that for once, we actually see what the poor citizens in town are like. The main character, Shuai Jia Mo, has broken shoes, his clothes are made of coarse material and his face is dirtied. You look at him and you can tell he’s not wealthy. The townspeople and farmers in this story also do not have the nicest clothes. Their faces are tanned and lips dry. Even one of the officials is shown to have patched clothing. That brings a level of immersion we have not seen in recent dramas particularly palace dramas which love showing off the glitz and glamour. I really appreciated this change because it also shows that the cast is not afraid to get down and dirty for a role which many young stars are unwilling to do these days.
    • The scenery of this drama is also stunning. While some parts were filmed in Heng Dian, many scenes were filmed on location in An Hui province and that brought about another layer of beauty to the drama.
    • Ming Dynasty Setting
      • We haven’t had too many dramas set in the Ming dynasty lately. I know some people liked Royal Feast which is set then but again I feel like the setting here is more grounded since we’re away from the palace. It’s a nice change of scenery and is leading me down another rabbit hole of Ming dynasty costumes and etiquette. 

  • A deep introspection of how rare it is to keep a pure heart; how society tramples even those with the best of intentions:
    • Often times, corrupt officials are painted as just officials looking to make a quick buck. They don’t care about the citizens and are easy bad guys. In this drama, there are very few purely “bad guys” and also few purely “good guys”.
      • Bad guys – The most intriguing are officials who all took the imperial entrance exams and originally wanted to do good for the world but then reality came crashing down and beat them down. How reflective is this of current society? County Magistrate Deng privately deeply admires Shuai Jia Mo’s mathematical acumen and in another world would want to be friends but is forced to turn Shuai Jia Mo in due to pressures he faces as a relatively new official. County Magistrate Mao knows his defense of Fan Yuan is unethical but he has no connections or money apart from his aging old mother. He has no choice but to sell his soul in order to do some type of good for his county and to live up to all the suffering his family went through to place him where he is. Lawyer Cheng Ren Qing was once headed for the top in his class and even got the girl of his dreams. But then his classmate snuck cheating materials in his bag which caused Cheng Ren Qing to be banished from ever taking the imperial examinations. That and the death of his wife meant he could only make a living as a lawyer to the highest bidder, thereby turning his back on his bigger aspirations at court and being a good person. Official Ren recognizes that there may be inaccuracies in the tax numbers but he has to fight against it because he does not want to burden his county any further with even a tael more of taxes which could equal the death of one of his citizens. County Magistrate Fang at first is called a statue because he doesn’t do anything, partly because he’s lazy. But when push comes to shove, he does care about his citizens and steps in to help Shuai Jia Mo and Feng Bao Yu many times.
      • Good Guys – Shuai Jia Mo and Feng Bao Yu meet Huang Zhi Fu and Li Xun Fu, two magistrates who help them along in their quest to correct the incorrect silk tax number. But guess what, they are not doing this purely to help these two men. While both these officials are benevolent, they are more interested in seeing how they can use the case to bring them back on top. Huang Zhi Fu (prefecture magistrate) in particular was just demoted from the Capital and desperately wants to use this case to return. 
    • I really enjoyed this aspect of each character we met that it often times wasn’t as simple as black and white. Shua Jia Mo put it best. Why did a simple math question turn into such as mess?  
  • Strong acting by a diverse cast:
    • For marketing purposes, Zhang Ruo Yun, Wang Yang and Fei Qi Ming have their faces plastered everywhere but honestly, Wang Yang’s Cheng Ren Qing was the most interesting individual to watch. Though, the rest of the cast, primarily all of the officials we meet in this drama were just as captivating. No matter how few scenes or lines these individuals were in, they captured their moments to help draw you in to their world and motivation. As described above, almost each person in this case had many layers and you can’t help but be glued to the subtleties on screen. Also, everyone used their own real voices for the drama so each person had to showcase their real enunciation abilities without the aid of a voice dub. 

Some hesitations:

  • Pacing Issues: These are small nitpicks to an overall strong drama.  I did think the pace of the show was a little all over the place particularly near the end of the drama as the stakes grew higher and climactic events were met with screeching halts or else long monologues.  The flashback scenes in particular detract from the story and I kept wanting to skip those flashback scenes and return to the present. Overall, this does not detract from a highly enjoyable watch
  • Jargon: Surprisingly, the more complicated math talk in this drama was limited. What scratched my head a little more was the tax and administerial talk.  This is probably just a me thing that even I was slightly confused at the different levels of court ministers and the administrative requirements of land ownership in the Ming Dynasty. I feel like the drama did the best they could though with the subject matter so this is just a small warning that some people might be lost even with English translations on some of the more involved monologues.


Stray Observations:

  • SO MANY FACES FROM JOY OF LIFE – I felt like I was watching Joy of Life 2 because you have so many people from Joy Of Life or 庆余年 in this drama. I will admit it took me out of the story for the first few episodes because you have an affinity for each person thinking oh, they must be a good or bad guy, but then the drama drew me in. 
  • Kitty! Cat lovers rejoice as there is an ADORABLE stray kitty prominently portrayed in this drama. In all the behind the scene clips, everyone adores this little stray cat that they found on set and had great acting timing. The original cat was not cooperative on set so this kitty took its place. They all named named her Nv Ming Xing or Female Celebrity, only to find out at the end of filming that she’s actually male. Haha. 


Let me know what you think of this drama!




A League of Nobleman (2023) 君子盟

Summary:  Set in the fictional Yong Empire, Lan Jue 兰珏 (ft Jing bo ran 井柏然) is a Vice-Minister in the Ministry of Rites. He’s locked in constant battle with the other officials at court. During a secret operation, Lan Jue’s operation is thwarted by Zhang Ping 张屏 (ft Song Wei Long 宋威龙), a young idealistic man, who came to the capital to take his imperial entrance exams. Zhang Ping surprises everyone with his logic and reasoning abilities and accurately solves the case in record time. Lan Jue is disappointed that his operation failed but is also bemused that this young man was able to so easily upend what he thought was a fool-proof plan. As the drama continues, the two become both friends and teachers towards each other. They, along with a group of young gentlemen, jointly investigate cases and the mysteries of their own pasts to bring peace to the Empire.


Total Episode Count: 29

Initial Airing Date: Jan 30, 2023

Platform: Tencent


*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match Tencent’s official translations


Initial Rating: 7.5/10 – A fast past case-solving drama that revolves around political factions at court and a mysterious decimation of a village is led by two well-matched characters. The beautiful set design and costumes make for an entertaining watch. Warning! There are some jump scares along the way!

Final Rating: 7.0/10 – 7.0 – A visually beautiful and satisfying drama with intriguing interlocking mysteries. Jing Bo Ran truly shines as the elegant and noble gentleman who is haunted by his father’s death. However, Song Wei Long isn’t able to match his costar in this lead role. The lack of female characters and obvious cuts to the drama left me frustrated for a full cut of the drama.




Main Characters


兰珏 Lan Jue – 井柏然 Jing Bo Ran

The always elegant and upright gentleman had a little known and tough upbringing. The son of a disgraced minister, he clawed his way to his position at court. Despite his politicking, he strives to find the moral solution for the people. He admires Zhang Pings detective skills and the two collaborate to solve the mysteries plaguing the empire and of his past.

张屏 Zhang Ping – 宋威龙 Song Wei Long

The intelligent but bright young scholar makes a living of selling noodles on the street in the capital city to support himself as he prepares for the imperial exams. His dream is to enter the Court of Judicature and Revision so that he can meet the author of his favorite detective stories. He surprises and impresses everyone when he is able to solve a cleverly devised operation by Lan Jue. The two team up to solve mysteries in the Empire.

王砚 Wang Yan – 洪尧 Hong Yao

A Vice-Minister in the Ministry of Justice, he is Lan Jue’s best friend. He also helps solve cases whenever he is needed and always has his friend’s best intentions at heart. He develops a friendly rivalry with Zhang Ping to see who can solve cases the fastest.

陈筹 Chen Chou – 郭丞 Guo Cheng

An enthusiastic fellow scholar who dreams of becoming passing his imperial entrance exams and become gentleman, just like Lan Jue. He met Zhang Ping in the capital and the two poor students support each other to make a living and prepare for the exams. He is eager to help his friend solve mysteries along the way.

辜清章 Gu Qing Zhang – 汪铎 Wang Duo 

A enigmatic gentleman who once rescued the destitute Lan Jue on his road towards passing his entrance exams a decade ago. The motive for his sudden return to the capital is quickly questioned by Zhang Ping who suspects something nefarious is afoot.

景启赭 / 永宣帝 – Emperor Yong Xuan – 张舒沦 Zhang Shu Lun

The young and motivated Emperor trying his best to consolidate power despite the iron grip the Empress Dowager has on court. He can only turn to the young gentleman at court and aspiring scholars to try and achieve his ambitions.

Plot Overview

In the Yong Dynasty, Lan Jue (played by Jing Boran), the servant of the Ministry of Rites, mediated in court disputes all the year round. He seemed gentle and elegant, but in fact there was a little-known growth history hidden behind it. During a secret operation, Lan Jue ran into Zhang Ping (played by Song Weilong), a young idiot who came to Beijing alone to rush for an exam and pursue his ideals. The honest and straightforward Zhang Ping solved the case with his genius reasoning ability, but it also disrupted Lan Jue It was originally a well-planned and unmistakable plan. Since then, the two people with different identities and personalities have also become teachers and friends, and they have cooperated tacitly with a group of young gentlemen to jointly investigate cases and protect the peace of the people.

Lan Jue is impressed with Zhang Ping’s abilities and offers him a job as an accountant at his manor. Zhang Ping refuses, stating that he only wants to join enter the Court of Judicial Review to meet his idol, the author of a compilation of cases, who must be employed at that office.

Lan Jue must ward off deadly accusations from his political enemies, and, on the surface uses questionable methods. Zhang Ping, who is only intent on finding the truth, oftentimes finds himself at odds with Lan Jue. However, the two begrudgingly become friends as Lan Jue recognizes Zhang Ping’s talent and Zhang Ping realizes that Lan Jue’s methods were not as dark as he had previously believed. The two each have their own personal burdens of a tough childhood. Lan Jue is intent on clearing his father’s name while Zhang Ping can barely remember his past.

More and more murders happen in the capital and the two must race against time to find the real culprit. However, as they solve each mystery with the help of fellow gentlemen Wang Yan and Chen Chou, they uncover a far more mysterious secret dating back decades and is closely tied to both of them.

The return of the enigmatic Gu Qing Zhang raises questions to his true motive and is the final piece to the puzzle of what happened to both Lan Jue and Zhang Ping’s family.


Overall Thoughts

I enjoyed the case-solving murder mystery aspect of the drama, and they pulled me in for the first 10 episodes. This drama cleverly pits Lan Jue and Zhang Ping against each other in the beginning to solve the same mystery so we get different angles of how they are each able to come to the same conclusion. As the drama progresses and the two join forces, the drama then highlights each of their strengths.

However, my interest began waning towards the latter half of the drama because of the pacing and odd cuts to the drama. It seemed like everything that Lan Jue and Zhang Ping encountered conveniently tied to their own backstories and we had little time to breathe. Some of the coincidences in the drama were also hard to believe.

This was one of the first heavily male oriented idol dramas to release in 2 years (the last being Word of Honor) but was released with little fanfare and honestly didn’t get much buzz. It was released over the course of 3 weeks, 10 episodes each. I think Tencent just wanted to get it off its books but it really had bad luck with its airing. It had to compete against the finale of The Knockout when it first aired and Arthur Chen’s scandal took a lot of eyeballs away from the drama too.

This drama is only 29 episodes long with roughly 30 minute episodes. I do recommend a watch if you want to see Jing Bo Ran as the handsome gentleman solving some intriguing mysteries. I am a scaredy cat and there were some jump scares that I wasn’t expecting!





What I liked:

  • The atmosphere and costumes – The atmosphere of the drama is very quickly set in the first episode. It’s gloomy but bustling. People go about their lives, but there’s an eerie menace in the air. That really set the tone, at least for me, that something is wrong with the empire. Although, the atmosphere might get a little too eerie at certain points. The costumes especially for the gentleman and upper class all are exquisitely done. Whether it was for Lan Jue, the Empress Dowager, or Gu Qing Zhang, each had a distinct style that was a reflection of their personalities. The red court attire was especially really striking against the overall gloomy atmosphere.


  • Jing Bo Ran – Jing Bo Ran was the true standout for me in this drama. He truly embodied Lan Jue, a gentleman who was trying to do right for his country, his father, and the people. Jing Bo Ran was able to showcase the different layers of this seemingly elegant and noble Vice-minister to the poor young boy who lost everything because his father committed treason and his struggle to reach his position. I always preferred his scenes in the drama because he was able to emote so much despite having to remain stoic in several situations. His friendship between Wang Yan and Gu Qing Zhang also were also a great plus to watch.


  • Intriguing mysteries – I thought the mysteries were rather unique, especially paired with the eerie atmosphere. How each is presented is quite beautiful and while there are some far-fetched murders, most do make logical sense. As I mentioned earlier, I also enjoyed the different angles present to solve several mysteries. Each also builds up to uncover a larger plot with a final big boss that mostly seemed organic (I’ll talk about pacing in my dislikes).


What I didn’t like:

  • Song Wei Long – Unfortunately, as the other male lead, Song Wei Long really could not keep up with his costar. His acting was wooden and emotionless. Oftentimes, it seemed as though he was just reciting his lines as he was solving each case. It doesn’t help that he was out-acted by basically every other actor in the drama. On paper the character of Zhang Ping should have been a stubborn but compassion solver of mysteries. The end result was an annoying man-child who literally did not care about the reason behind people’s actions and was only hung up on finding the “truth”. I basically skipped his scenes in the end. For a drama that was supposed to have some homoerotic undertones, I got nothing between Lan Jue and Zhang Ping mainly due to the lack of any emotion from Song Wei Long. 


  • Rushed and odd pacing – this drama was cut down from its original 40 episodes to pass the censors and it shows. I felt like we were just moving from one mystery to another and each just so happen to conveniently be related to Lan Jue and Zhang Ping’s past. I wanted more Sherlock and Watson vibes and have them solve mysteries, but it was just go go go! I understand that focus should be to close out the story for our main characters, but I couldn’t help thinking, how is it that the main characters are able to conveniently find all these long lost people after 20 years? Zhang Ping’s supernatural abilities are also weirdly explained at the end.


  • Lack of women – I understand that this is called A League of Gentleman but the complete lack of women in this drama was very striking. There were basically 2 women who had minimal speaking roles. The rest were either killed or quickly discarded. I was also rather disappointed with the characterization of these two women. One was a power-hungry woman who discarded her child to gain power. The other sacrificed herself for her children. This then is the foundation for the trauma for basically all our male characters. Could we have at least one female character that isn’t traumatic to the men in this drama?