Dr. Tang (2022) 关于唐医生的一切

Summary: Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) is a very talented cardiothoracic surgeon who suddenly returns to China after spending years abroad. She is appointed as the director of Cardiology at the An He Hospital where she builds her own critical surgery team. She quickly wins over her team with her experience, skill, and grit. As she settles into her new role, she also begins building relationships with her fellow co-workers. However, a reminder from her past comes back to haunt her. She must find her way through professional and personal struggles as she must navigate the best paths for her patients and her heart.

 

 

Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: June 25, 2022

Platform: CCTV8, iQiYi

 

Final Rating: 8/10

I decided to go down a Qin Lan (秦岚) rabbit hole since we’re covering The Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略) for our main podcast. I saw previews and some fan videos of this drama during the summer with Qin Lan 秦岚 and Gao Lu 高露 (of famous Mistress Lin 林小娘 from The Story of Ming Lan 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦) so I thought, hey why not check it out!

I personally really enjoyed it. It was a down to earth drama that I thought did a great job telling individual stories, fleshing out characters, and developing our titular character of Tang Jia Yu 唐佳瑜. The plot moves quickly as Tang Jia Yu and her team diagnose and resolve over 20 cases over the course of this drama. Most of the show was focused on Tang Jia Yu and her relationships with her team and patients. The subplots were neatly connected back to the overall storyline.

This drama doesn’t skirt from the ethical questions that doctors must face when having to choose between the life of their patient and what is medically available, and I thought that really hit home with one of Tang Jia Yu’s patients. The drama also presents a pretty feminist lens as it gives the viewers different choices that different women take. The men, surprisingly, actually reflect on their choices and their goals.
I think 秦岚 really shone here by portraying the hardships of being a doctor, the struggles in her own personal life, and the resentment she feels towards her own family. But in general, I thought the acting from the cast was very comfortable, relaxed, and authentic.

I don’t watch that many medical dramas, so I don’t have much to compare. I’m also not a doctor so I don’t know how accurate any of the cases or the medical procedures are, but nothing really took me out of the experience, so as the casual viewer, it hit its mark.

 

Tang Jia Yu 唐佳瑜 – Qin Lan秦岚


The director of Cardiology at An He Ji Sheng Hospital. She at first seems to be cold-hearted and arrogant, but she’s really a kind-hearted and caring doctor who oftentimes builds personal relationships with her patients. Her patients are her top priority, often to the detriment of her personal life. She escapes back to China to flee from her personal life, but the same troubles come to find her. She finally agrees to support the development of artificial hearts once she sees the future benefits that it could have for her patients.

Ye Yi Ming 叶弈明 – Wei Da Xun 魏大勋


An anesthesiologist at An He Ji Sheng Hospital, he is a very caring and considerate guy. Hailing from a family of doctors, he chose anesthesiology instead of following in his father’s footsteps in surgery. He partners with Tang Jia Yu in several of her operations, and to their surprise, find that they make a great team. The two become closer but Tang Jia Yu needs to fight through her own demons before accepting him.

Liu Feng 刘沣 – Huang Jue 黄觉


Deputy dean of An He Ji Sheng Hospital and a Pulmonology surgeon, he is gunning for the role of Dean and was the one who invited Tang Jia Yu to take up the director position. The two dated some years back and he has always admired her skill and talent. He continues to be one of Tang Jia Yu’s biggest supporters especially in the development of artificial hearts. However, he is experiencing his own marital troubles that has him reassess his own career goals.

Ou Yang Zhen Yu 欧阳真予– Gao Lu 高露


The Medical Director at An He Ji Sheng Hospital and organ transplant coordinator. She is direct, meticulous, and unflinching. Because of her personality, she doesn’t have many friends but is viewed as a great employee. When Tang Jia Yu first arrives at the hospital, Ou Yang Zhen Yu wasn’t very pleased with this new doctor. However, after getting to know each other, they become each other’s best friend as they navigate their journeys at the hospital

 

 

Plot Overview:

Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) is a very talented cardiothoracic surgeon who suddenly returns to China after spending years abroad by invitation of Liu Feng, the current deputy dean of the An He Ji Sheng Hospital, to lead the cardiology department. She quickly forms her own critical illness team. Faced with swirling rumors between herself and Liu Feng because they used to date, she nonetheless wins over her team and the rest of the hospital with her experience, abilities, and perseverance.

As she settles into her new role, Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) finds a great operating partner in the form Ye Yi Ming, a rising star in the anesthesiology department. Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) moves into the unit next door to Ye Yi Ming due to its proximity to the hospital and the two begin to form a closer bond. Ye Yi Ming was warned by Liu Feng that dating Tang Jia Yu will have its own difficulties, but he nevertheless begins to fall for her.

As the new department lead, Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) must also adhere to proper medical practices and procedures. These are overseen by the meticulous and distant Ou Yang Zhen Yu. The two women spar at first but they develop a begrudging respect for one another. The two quickly become friends after Ou Yang Zhen Yu comes to Yang Jia Yu for relationship advice.

 

The hospital believes that the R&D of artificial hearts will bring extra revenue to the hospital and hope that Tang Jia Yu will lead the research. However, she’s hesitant on this project as she believes she doesn’t have the time and energy to make it successful.

With each successful surgery, her team continues to learn from her, but individual team members each face their own personal pressures and must decide whether to continue a career in medicine.

The sudden return of Tang Jia Yu’s husband surprises everyone at the hospital, including Tang Jia Yu. He cheated on her with one of his students but wants to rekindle the relationship. She agrees to give him a chance. Ye Yi Ming is heartbroken at this news. However, Tang Jia Yu’s relationship woes are only compounded when her husband’s former fling also arrives to continue the affair. When the woman is diagnosed with a rare heart condition, Tang Jia Yu has no choice but to save her. After the surgery, Tang Jia Yu finally files for divorce from her husband.

Over the course of the drama, Tang Jia Yu is faced with constant challenges. Some difficult cases include what she must do when one of her friends falls into a coma while waiting for a new heart. Her stepsister has a rare heart condition, and she must decide whether to proceed with a surgery while pregnant.

Tang Jia Yu finally agrees to support the R&D for acritical hearts, but they collaborate with the engineer to agree on a proposal and obtain funding.

As Tang Jia Yu finds peace with her own career and family, she must finally choose the relationship that she wants to have with Ye Yi Ming.

 

Overall thoughts:

I binged watched this show in the summer and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it.

To me at least, it wasn’t really a drama that was really a romance drama cloaked under a medical drama, but the opposite. Tang Jia Yu’s team had to solve medical cases and we saw the aftermath of how those cases impacted each of the characters. The focus was on the patients and the cases. The subplots and romances grew organically out of those cases.

I particularly enjoyed the range in cases that Tang Ji Yu and the rest her team had to face. I won’t spoil too much of them here, but many also involved ethical and financial questions. For example, how should a patient decide whether to move forward with a surgery if it will cost $40K but they don’t have the money? What if the patient does have the means to pay but that $40K will only buy a few more days of survival in hopes of finding another donor? What is the risk a patient is willing to take for not fully vetted treatment?

These are questions and cases that the characters in the drama need to choose. I liked that many of the answers were intentionally gray because those are tough choices!

In general, the whole drama just feels alive. The show doesn’t hesitate to show how tough life is for a doctor. Tang Jia Yu is constantly exhausted. She doesn’t cook. She looks frazzled and when she does have days off, all she wants to do is sleep. Hey, you know what, I totally feel her! I’m not a doctor but when work is really tough, that’s all I want to do as well. But when she is at work, she’s at the top of her game. She’s a badass surgeon who is also a tough but fair boss. That’s so refreshing because oftentimes, we just see female characters in Chinese dramas wearing heels and a full face of makeup performing the most ridiculous tasks that don’t fit their occupation at all.

I literally breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that all of the female doctors were wearing sneakers, had minimal makeup, and just put their hair up in a ponytail when not in the operating room. Based on what I know from my doctor friends, no one has time to get dolled up.

Which brings me to my next point. In the drama, each person has her or his own life and we only get a glimpse of it outside of the hospital. Which is good, because otherwise, it would be a different type of show. People are ambitious and behave as you would expect in the workplace. There isn’t really a “bad” person in the drama. The one “bad” character just has his own agenda, but he doesn’t try to sabotage a patient for the sake of a promotion.

We also find out more about the different characters based on their interactions with patients and hospital staff. Ou Yang Zhen Yu is an avid romance reader. There’s an attendant who is struggling to pay the bills because well, they aren’t paid that much. Another doctor is mourning the death of his fiancée. The Deputy Dean of the Hospital, Liu Feng, is shocked to hear that his wife is depressed but tries to make amends. Each subplot moves forward without bickering and cattiness.

The only person who is a bit of a wet noodle is unfortunately our male lead Ye Yi Ming叶弈明. He’s a nice guy or in Chinese a 暖男 (Warm Guy) that’s there to support Tang Jia Yu  and that’s about it. He’s just nice. Even his sister in the show is more interesting than him. That being said, that’s basically Wei Da Xun’s 魏大勋 M.O. He’s just the nice guy so this character fits the bill.

In general, the acting from the cast was great. As I mentioned, it was comfortable. The interactions between the characters didn’t feel forced and I thought they all did admirably in the surgery scenes.

The cast is filled out with many familiar faces including the aforementioned Gao Lu. The actress for Ming Yu in The Story of Ming Lan also makes an appearance. There’s tons of cameos from other actors and actresses so please do try to see who you recognize in the drama.

I liked that at the end of each episode where this is a case, the drama added doctors or had the cast provide more details about the medical illness or condition that was being treated. Again, I’m not a doctor but it did feel like the drama did its homework with regards to the individual cases.

 

I’ll take some points off due to the prolonged will they / won’t they relationship between Tang Jia Yu and Ye Yi Ming. That whole plotline went for way to long at the end. I totally didn’t understand why Tang Jia Yu just left him hanging for so long.

I also think that maybe the drama was a little too rosy? As in each person was ultimately a nice person or had grand gestures. Perhaps because this is a medical drama and the show wanted to bring out the best in people so that’s why they did it, but there was basically no truly selfish person in the show. Yes, it’s supposed to be a lighthearted drama but I thought it went a little overboard at some points. For example, a patient says that she has no money and another character basically says, don’t worry about it. I’ll pay for your tens of thousands of dollars operation. Uh – I don’t think that’s how it work? If it is, who does that and where can I sign up?

All in all, this was a very comforting watch. It’s nowhere near as dramatic as Grey’s Anatomy but it does tug at your heartstrings at certain points. I was rooting for all of our characters by the end of the drama and I hope you do too.

Let me know what you think!

 

Cathy

 

A Familiar Stranger (2022) 虚颜

Summary: A short drama where each episode is only 10 min, the story revolves around a fateful night where the stunning beauty Shen Qin, daughter of the Chancellor, seeks a painter, a young woman named Seventeen. Using Seventeen’s sister’s life to threaten her, Shen Qin forces Seventeen to take her place and marry the handsome general Xiao Han Sheng. But the catch is, Shen Qin swapped faces with Seventeen. Unbeknownst to Seventeen, this General turns out to be the exact young warrior that saved her life three years ago.

 

Total Episode Count: 18

Initial Airing Date: Sep 23, 2022

Platform: MangoTV

 

Final Rating: 7.5/10

This drama was recommended to us by a fan of Chasing Dramas and because it’s only 18 episodes long and 10 min each, I decided sure, let’s check it out. And I surprisingly really liked it! To me, it is one of the better dramas of the year. Short dramas have become more popular this year with episodes ranging from just 2 min to 20min. A rather different format from the standard 45 min dramas we’re used to but that doesn’t mean there’s no quality content!

My first impression is that this is the equivalent of a steamy romance novel brought to life. Because of its short episode length, the drama is very tightly and well written. The chemistry between the two main leads is palpable and you end up watching this drama with a smile on your face.  It’s cute, romantic and sometimes thrilling. The cast is relatively unknown but I think they did a great job. It is not a drama you can think too much about in terms of setting and cultural restrictions because there are some plot holes and questionable actions by key characters but that does not detract from a breezy and fun watch. The length was perfect for this drama.

 

Seventeen 十七/Shen Qin 沈沁 – Ke Ying 柯颖


Originally just a young painter at a brothel who specialized at portraits, Seventeen is forced to swap faces with the beautiful Shen Qin and takes her place to marry the handsome general, Xiao Han Sheng. However, she is stunned to find that he is the warrior that saved her life three years ago and whom she loved ever since. She is torn on how to behave given that she is threatened by the real Shen Qin to do her bidding in the General’s home.

Xiao Han Sheng 萧寒声 – Cheng Lei 丞磊


A young and kind General forced to marry Shen Qin, the daughter of the chancellor, even though he fell in love with a young woman he saved years ago. After spending time with Shen Qin though, he started to suspect that she is connected to the woman he loved.

Shen Qin 沈沁/Seventeen 十七 – Song Zhao Yi 宋昭艺


A cruel and manipulative woman with stunning beauty, she forces Seventeen to swap faces with her and marry Xiao Han Sheng so that she can stay with her love, the philandering Prince Ning.  

Prince Ning 宁王 – Wang Ze Xuan  王泽轩


A philandering prince with eyes on the throne, he instructs Shen Qin to marry Xiao Han Sheng in order to get intel on the Crown Prince’s death even though he had romantic liaisons with Shen Qin before marriage. But once she’s actually married, he starts becoming jealous of her new attachment to the general.

 

 

Plot Overview:

Young painter Seventeen is simply trying to make a living painting portraits and find her older sister when she is paid an unexpected visit by a mysterious but beautiful Shen Qin. She is the daughter of the Chancellor who must marry the general Xiao Han Sheng the next day. Using Seventeen’s sister as a threat, Shen Qin first forces Seventeen to paint Shen Qin while she’s having an amorous liaison with Prince Ning.  Despite Shen Qin’s protests, Prince Ning forces her to continue with their plan for Shen Qin to marry Xiao Han Sheng in order to gain intel on Xiao Han Sheng and their knowledge on the crown prince’s death. In order to escape the marriage, Shen Qin forces Seventeen to swap faces with her and sends Seventeen in her place.

When Seventeen wakes up, she shrieks in fright at seeing her new face and is shocked at the fact that she is now getting married. But even more surprising is that the man she is married to is precisely the man who saved her life three years ago and who she fell in love with. Xiao Han Sheng is a capable general who at first respects Shen Qin but also starts suspecting something was amiss when Shen Qin starts behaving like the woman he fell in love with.  How will Seventeen, now Shen Qin, act after being caught in between Xiao Han Sheng’s kindness and Shen Qin’s threats?

 

 

Overall thoughts:

This is a drama that falls into familiar tropes but the viewer accepts that because the pace of the show is so fast and the chemistry between the leads is so strong. You’re just happy to be along for the ride and watch the unfolding of the romance before your eyes.  It is a fairytale romance drama that even older viewers would enjoy.  I appreciated that there were more risque themes throughout the show which showcased some of the freedom that the director and writers have for this drama format. It was a refreshing change from the much more conservative turns for the popular romance dramas in recent years.

The best aspect of this drama is that because it is so short, there’s no need for any secondary plot points or storylines. It’s just this one main thread from start to finish. Many dramas nowadays add filler characters which can drag down the drama if not done well (looking at you The Blue Whisper). But here, there’s no concern with that. And because each episode is so short, you’re able to easily consume the entire drama with ease.

The acting for the cast was great, especially the two female leads who portray the different roles with a distinct contrast so you can easily tell when one is Shen Qin vs Seventeen. I also really enjoyed Xiao Han Sheng’s actor. He reminds me so much of Allen Ren with his earnest gaze and kind features. I hope this helps him garner more roles in the future. 

Plus, the cute little bumpkin that is Xiao Han Sheng’s adoptive daughter is just adorable. 

In terms of improvements, this is a drama you cannot spend too much time thinking about the details. You have to just willfully accept that a mysterious person can swap the faces of two people over night with no side effects and certain life-threatening injuries are healed pretty quickly.  And it’s quite obvious that this drama has a smaller budget but again, that does not detract from the quality show. As long as you enjoy the show in it’s little contained world, there’s plenty to enjoy. 

Let me know what you think!

 

Karen

 

The Blue Whisper (2022) 与君初相识 恰似故人归

Summary: Ji Yun He (ft Dilraba Dilmurat) is a powerful and talented spirit master who grew up in the Thousand Flower Valley. She dreams of freedom to explore the world but is restrained by the secrets that shackle every spirit master who resides in the valley.

Changyi (ft Allen Ren) is a merman who was captured by the cruel Fairy Shunde (ft Cristy Guo). She wants the spirit masters of the valley to subdue the merman for her pleasure. She has three demands: The merman must speak human words, cut his tail as a gift to her, and finally give his merpearl to swear loyalty to her.

At first, Lin Hao Qing (ft Aero Xiao), Ji Yun He’s adopted brother, accepts the task, but Ji Yun He requests to join in the efforts. She plan for her freedom from the valley in exchange for Changyi’s freedom. However, as she spends more time with the innocent Chang Yi, Ji Yun He finds herself struggling more and more to proceed with her plan. She must decide whether to sacrifice Changyi’s freedom for her own.

Total Episode Count: 42

Initial Airing Date: Mar 17, 2022

Platform: Youku

 

Final Rating: 6.5/10

The Blue Whisper was touted as an eastern fairy tale drama that tells a story of freedom, love, and sacrifice. I thought it was a serviceable drama that had some great highlights but also some pretty bad low points. This drama is an adaptation of the 2019 novel “Yu Jiao Ji” (驭鲛记) by Jiu Lu Fei Xiang (九鹭非香). She is the same author as 苍兰决 or the drama Love Between Fairy and Devil.

At first glance, this seems to be your typical immortal romance drama, but after the first few episodes, it becomes clear that most of the characters are fighting for a greater goal. Whether that is freedom of self, freedom of oppression, or freedom to love, each character is fighting for some form of freedom. Oftentimes, romance comes second.

Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is a female character who is powerful from the get-go. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) as a character is resourceful, intelligent, ambitious and driven. She’s also compassionate and loving. To me, this is mostly shown, yes with her interactions with Chang Yi (长意), but also her spirit attendant Luo Jin Sang / Luo Luo (洛锦桑 / 洛洛). She will unflinchingly be the first to save her friends and loved ones but she doesn’t do it without thought. She fights, she plans, she schemes to try and get the best outcome for everyone. Only when all else fails does she decide to make the ultimate sacrifice. It’s been a long while since we’ve seen a female character willing to do so. I thought the end message that true freedom is ultimately having the freedom to choose who you want to be, who you want to be with, and where you want be was a really touching one.

In a twist, it is our male lead, the merman Changyi (长意), who is the innocent outsider, unaware of the evils and trickery of people and has to undergo what he believes to be betrayal and growth to finally become the leader of the north.

The special effects were pretty good in this drama. The martial arts direction was top notch. In the first few episodes, there are group battle scenes that rely on both martial arts and special effects and the blend of both in this drama was a delight to watch because we rarely get those in the TV shows these days.

Overall, I thought the drama was a decent adaptation of the source material. The biggest misses in this drama and the reasons for my low rating are where the screenwriter decided to shoehorn entire storylines and change characters altogether.

This drama aired in March 2022 and was one of the top streaming dramas of March and April. This drama also increased user downloads and daily active users onto Youku’s platform.

Ji Yun He 纪云禾 – Dilraba Dilmurat 迪丽热巴


The strongest Spirit Master in the Thousand Flower Valley, she is outwardly ambitious and calculating but deep down she’s a caring and compassionate. She meets the innocent merman Changyi (长意) during one of her missions. She is touched by his innocence and the two gradually fall in love. However, seeing no other option to save his life, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) pretends to betray Changyi (长意) while she get’s captured. In her efforts to gain her freedom both from the Frost Mark in the Thousand Flower Valley and from the Fairy ShunDe, she endures humiliation and torture from her captors. Throughout the series, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) fights for freedom and equality for all of the celestial beings against the repressive regime of the Immortal Master.

Changyi 长意 – Allen Ren 任嘉伦


A Prince of the merpeople, Changyi (长意) was captured by Fairy Shunde when he rescued her in the ocean. He was sent to the Thousand Flower Valley for the spirit masters to subdue him to be a loyal servant for the Fairy. His innocence to the ways of the world moved Ji Yun He (纪云禾) who vowed to free him from his captivity. However, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) could only succeed by sacrificing herself and pushing Changyi (长意) off a cliff. Believing that he was betrayed, Changyi (长意) vows vengeance against Ji Yun He (纪云禾). He, along with Kong Ming, head north were Changyi (长意) becomes the leader of the north. He rescues a frail Ji Yun He (纪云禾) from captivity, but it’s too late to save her

Fairy Shunde 顺德仙姬 – Cristy Guo 郭晓婷


She is the most noble immortal in the the realms. She is arrogant, haughty, and cruel. As ruler, she gets whatever she wants but she only wants the love of her master, the Immortal Master. Discontent brews under her oppressive rule until finally a faction in the north rebels against her. After becoming disfigured from a fight against Ji Yun He (纪云禾), she seeks vengeance against all who wronged her. She finally discovers the truth of her master’s favoritism towards her, but this pushes her to the brink of madness and she vows to destroy the world.

Lin Hao Qing 林昊青 – Aero Xiao 肖顺尧


The Young Master of Thousand Flower Valley and Ji Yun He’s adopted brother, he always competed against Ji Yun He (纪云禾). Like Yun He, he’s outwardly calculating, cold, and ambitious but he’s always tried his best to protect Yun He from the worst of the world. He hid his love for Ji Yun He (纪云禾) throughout his life and sacrificed himself to be a pawn for Fairy Shunde so that Ji Yun He (纪云禾) and Changyi (长意) might have a chance to finally defeat her

Xue San Yue 雪三月 – Fiona Fan 范桢 


A spirit master, she is Ji Yun He’s best sister-in-arms. She seems at first stern and distant. She harbors a secret. She is in love with the cat spirit Li Shu (离殊). She tries to flee with Li Shu (离殊) with the help of Ji Yun He (纪云禾) but Li Shu (离殊) has different plans.

Li Shu 离殊 – Ci Sha 此沙


A cat spirit who is Xue san Yue (雪三月)’s spirit attendant and lover. At first, he targeted Xue San Yue (雪三月) to enter into the Thousand Flower Valley in order to save the Blue Feather Bird, who had once saved him in his youth. However, he truly fell in love with Xue San Yue (雪三月) and willingly sacrificed himself to protect her

Luo Jin Sang / Luo Luo 洛锦桑 – Hu Yi Xuan 胡意旋 


A butterfly spirit who is Ji Yun He’s spirit attendant. She is Ji Yun He (纪云禾)’s only friend an confidant, who in the beginning, was only thinking about earning spirit stones to buy goodies to eat. When Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is held captive by Fairy ShunDe, Luo Luo does everything she can to try and free her friend.

Kong Ming 空明 – Wang Zi Teng 王子腾


A wandering immortal with a talent for medicine, he saves Changyi (长意) after he falls off the cliff. Wanting to overthrow the repressive regime, he persuades Changyi (长意) to head north and join the Fox spirits in the north to form a rebellion.

Blue Feather Bird 青羽鸾鸟 – Tong Lei 童蕾


Played by 徐海乔 – An ancient and powerful bird spirit, she was wrongfully imprisoned for one thousand years. After she was saved by Li Shu (离殊), she decided to seclude herself from worldly affairs. However, after seeing the suffering of the world and a stern lecture from Luo Luo (洛洛), she finally agrees to support the northern rebels to overthrow the cruel ShunDe (顺德仙姬).

 

 

Plot Overview:

For this drama review, I’ll try my best to keep to the Youtube translations so as not to confuse readers. This will be a recap of the first 14 episodes. The drama itself is split into 2 parts, the first 22 episodes are 与君初相识 which translates to “When I First Met You” and the second 20 episodes are called 恰似故人归 or “It’s as though someone familiar has returned”.

In the beginning of time, there were two clans. The Celestial Immortals maintained order while the Earth Immortals often broke order. The Celestial immortals created a group of spirit masters to moralize and subdue the earth immortals or “spirits”. The Celestial Immortals are not allowed to fall in love with the earth immortals.

The members of spirit masters (御灵师) reside within 万花谷 or the Thousand Flower Valley. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is a very talented spirit master, rising to the rank of guardian, but she secretly longs for freedom away from the Valley. She is in constant competition against her adoptive brother Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) for the top post in the Valley. The Master of the Valley, who is Lin Hao Qing (林昊青)’s father, keeps a tight leash on all the spirit masters in the valley with a secret mark called the Frost Mark. Any who dares to defy the Master will suffer the effects of the Frost Mark and ultimately die.

One day, the Fairy Shunde (顺德仙姬) arrives at the valley with a gift or a task. She has captured a rare merman and orders the spirit masters to subdue the merman and complete three tasks.

1. He must speak human words
2. He will cut his tail as a gift to her
3. He will give his spirit pearl and swear loyalty to her

At first this task is given to Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) but Ji Yun He (纪云禾) also volunteers. The two agree that it’ll be a competition on who succeeds first. In the next few days, Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) uses force whereas Ji Yun He (纪云禾) tries to gain his favor by becoming friends with him or “training heart”. Ji Yun He (纪云禾)’s initial plan was to fulfill the Fairy’s request and then finally leave the valley onto freedom with her spirit attendant Luo Luo (洛洛), a butterfly spirit.

Over the course of their interactions, Changyi (长意), at first suspicious, can tell that Ji Yun He (纪云禾) means no harm. Changyi (长意) finally says her name, thus fulfilling the first task. Ji Yun He (纪云禾), becomes racked with guilt as she continues on with her deception towards the innocent and kind Changyi (长意).

Xue San Yue (雪三月), a fellow spirit guardian returns with her spirit attendant, the cat spirit Li Shu (离殊). Xue San Yue (雪三月) and Ji Yun He (纪云禾) quickly become allies once they believe that each of them know each other’s secret, namely that they both fell in love with a spirit. This was true for Xue San Yue (雪三月) at that time and Ji Yun He (纪云禾) was beginning to fall in love with Changyi (长意).

Li Shu (离殊) also harbors a secret. He secretly became Xue San Yue (雪三月)’s spirit attendant in order to make his way to the Thousand Flower Valley and break the Ten Directions Formations that was imprisoning the powerful Blue Feather Bird. She had once rescued him when he was young and came to repay his debt. In doing so however, he was greatly weakened and sacrificed himself to protect Xue San Yue (雪三月).

Changyi (长意) and Ji Yun He (纪云禾) get accidently pulled into the broken formation. There, they meet a residual spirit of the Blue Feather Bird. Changyi (长意) believes that they should tell the spirit the truth, that the man she was waiting for died a thousand years ago. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) though believes that lies are more helpful in this situation. But after seeing the resolution of the spirit, she changes her mind. She now knows that seeking to be free from the valley wasn’t real freedom. She wants the choice to be free with whoever she wants. They declare their love for each other and promise to never part as they leave the formation. Changyi (长意) gives Ji Yun He (纪云禾) his spirit pearl. Thus, the third task cannot be completed.

Back in the valley, the two are captured. As punishment, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is forced to suffer the full effects of the Frost Mark. Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) gives Changyi (长意) an ultimatum. If he doesn’t cut his tail, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) will die. With no other choice, he does so. Task two is complete.

Upon hearing this, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is at first furious at Lin Hao Qin but shortly after understands that he was pressured by his father to do so. The two decide to form an alliance to help Ji Yun He (纪云禾) and Chang Yi escape and kill the current Master of the Valley. Unbeknownst to them, the Master of the Valley was always aware of their plan. Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) though could not go through with the plan. Heartened by this, the Master of the Valley reveals the truth, that he too suffers from the Frost Mark and dies due to his wounds from his mark. This was always a mark to enslave the spirit masters from the Immortal Master.

Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) becomes the new master and receives the Fairy Shunde (顺德仙姬) who comes to retrieve Changyi (长意) to bring him as a present to her master and witness the presentation of Changyi (长意) ’s spirit pearl. Ji Yun He (纪云禾), seeing this, cannot bear to have Changyi (长意) further imprisoned. She devises a plan with Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) to free Changyi (长意) on the road to the Immortal Master in which she will sacrifice herself to ensure Changyi (长意)’s freedom. The two spend one last carefree night in the mortal realm and make promises to never part. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) prepares her goodbyes and free’s Luo Luo (洛洛) from her service.

The bliss lasts for only a few hours and the two are surrounded by Shunde (顺德仙姬)’s guards. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) and Changyi (长意) flee to a cliff. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) declares to him that she never loved him, that she was only lying to gain power with the Fairy. In a final blow, she stabs him and pushes him off the cliff.

In probably the most badass scene in the drama, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) turns around to face Shunde (顺德仙姬) and her guards. She stands her ground against the group and makes a final stand. However, she is overpowered by the group and kneels on the ground succumbing to her injuries. But, in a surprise, she leaps back up, now not as a celestial immortal but as a fox creature with nine tales! This new powerful Ji Yun He (纪云禾) successfully fends off Fairy Shunde (顺德仙姬) is about to deal a killing blow until the Immortal Master finally steps in to save the Fairy and capture Ji Yun He (纪云禾).

That’s the general recap for the first 14 episodes. The story continues with Ji Yun He (纪云禾)’s imprisonment, Changyi (长意)’s rise to power as the leader of the north, and their reconciliation and final defeat of Fairy Shun De.

 

 

Review: 6.5/10

As I mentioned up above, I thought this was a serviceable drama.

The drama was at its best when it closely followed the source material. The first 14 episodes, which culminates in a climax where Ji Yun He (纪云禾) valiantly protects Changyi (长意) and ultimately transforms into a half fairy half spirit creature was probably the best in the drama. Weibo went crazy over her transformation scene in episode 14. The second half, when it does stick close to or expanded the source material, the drama definitely worked.

I thought the ladies really stole the show in this drama. I really enjoyed the different individual female storylines (except one). Each had their own motivations, their own path, and growth. It was refreshing to see platonic female relationships. The friendships were touching, and we saw each of them support each other unconditionally. The guys on the other hand, were overall a bit weaker.

迪丽热巴 Dilraba really embodied the character of Ji Yun He (纪云禾). We saw how easily she could manipulate characters but we also saw how she struggled with the guilt of deceiving Changyi (长意). She was a complex character who learned over the course of the show that she found freedom by choosing to do what she wanted and what she wanted was freedom for everyone. In the second half of the drama, the character of Ji Yun He (纪云禾) falls severely ill due to her long periods of torture and confinement from Fairy Shun de. To prep for the role, Dilraba 迪丽热巴 lost a bunch of weight to the point where the casual viewer actually thought she was sick. We believed that she was about to break so that when she did, it fit her character. I remember weibo going crazy to prepare for her first death because this happened in the books but everyone still cried a bunch of tears when she died.

I also really enjoyed Guo Xiao Ting’s portrayal of Fairy Shun De (顺德仙姬). She truly portrayed the unhinged fairy with aplomb. I despised her and her cruelty towards others but as we saw more of her story, I pitied her. Guo Xiao Ting also had to act completely differently as the master of the Immortal Master Ning Xi Yu and the difference between the two portrayals is jarring, which just shows the range that Guo Xiao Ting has.

I thought Allen only an okay job here in this drama portraying the at first innocent and sweet Changyi (长意)to the stern yet still caring ruler of the north in the second half of the drama. I don’t think his performance here lives up to some of his other period dramas. It might just be me but he seems to be always scowling in the second half, which yes, is what he was supposed to do but being cold doesn’t mean scowl all the time. This is the first collaboration between 迪丽热巴 (Dilraba Dilmurat) and 任嘉伦 (Allen Ren) and I thought they paired up well enough with each other.

Lin Hao Qing (林昊青)’s actor Aero Xiao (肖顺尧) was the standout for the actors for me. He truly brought life to the character. In the book, he was more one-dimensional and didn’t have a starring role. In this drama, we really see the struggle that Lin Hao Qing faced with regards to duty to his father, his love for Ji Yun He (纪云禾), his duty to the spirit masters, and even his spirit attendant. The actor portrayed Lin Hao Qing (林昊青)’s pains, struggles, and hopes very well. I just hope you guys don’t google some of his cooking videos, they’re absolutely hilarious.

This drama is the second collaboration between Dilraba 迪丽热巴 and the director Chu Yui Pan (朱锐斌). Funnily enough, they discussed this role while the two were still filming 长歌行 or The Long Ballad. Dilraba 迪丽热巴 just happened to be reading the book when she was talking to the director who said that it was his next project, which led to this second collaboration. I personally prefer the story of The Long Ballad to this one but I think the director was able to showcase more of the actors’ strengths here. The CGI and group acting was better in this drama.

 

Ok – with all of the pros, why did I give this drama such a low score? Well, because the lows are unfortunately quite low.

After episode 14, the writers decide to drag out episodes with the superfluous storyline of Changyi (长意) and Kong Ming (空明) heading to the north to meet the Fox Clan. The whole Fox Clan plot wasn’t in the book at all and the characters were all idiotic. There was a meme floating around saying that these must be the not so intelligent foxes because boy, were they annoying. There was also a randomly inserted female character who fell in love with Changyi (长意)but thankfully he never showed any sign of interest. Why include her if she ultimately didn’t matter? That is like a whole 1.5 deduction because it was very pointless.

The next big ding is the character of Kong Ming (空明). In the book, he is a handsome and distant monk! Now the whole monk character had to be changed because of censorship but I’m sorry, there is a lot to be desired from the actor for Kong Ming (空明). I would have found it more ok but Kong Ming (空明) as a character was also SO annoying and I thought acted out rather poorly. I remember everyone online saying – Luo Luo (洛洛), can you please just ditch him because he is so not worth it, which I agree with.

The OST is also just meh – nothing to write home about.

The screenwriters did make some good adjustments with the adaptation, such as including Blue Feather Bird throughout the drama, giving Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) more scenes, and giving Shunde (顺德仙姬) more of a backstory, but some of the other decisions were baffling. They cut 5-6 episodes worth of content in which Changyi (长意) brings Ji Yun He (纪云禾) to the ocean in order to save her after she saves him from the lava as A Ji. Xue San Yue (雪三月) and Li Shu (离殊)’s storyline was kind of meandering towards the end. This brings us to the most egregious example, which is the ending! What was the ending? I won’t spoil it right here but if you literally need another cartoon scene to explain to the viewer the actual ending, then you know that the ending was terrible.

Overall – if you’re looking for a decent fantasy drama with good acting, cgi, and want to shed some tears, then The Blue Whisper is the one for you. Definitely watch up to episode 14. Just skip some of the pointless storylines in the middle.

 

Cathy

 

 

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

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

 

Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: September 27

Platform: iQiYi

 Final Rating: 7/10

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

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

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

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

Karen

 

 

Lu Ling Feng 卢凌风

Yang Xu Wen 杨旭文

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

Su Wu Ming 苏无名

Yang Zhi Gang 杨志刚

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

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

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

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

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

 

What I liked

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

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

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

 

 

 

What I Didn’t Like

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

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

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

 

Let me know what you think!

Karen

 

 

Thousand Years for You (2022) 请君

Summary:  A comedic love story between a three thousand year old general, Lu Yan ft Allen Ren, and Chief of the QingQuan Village, Yu Deng Deng ft Li Qin. Set in the Republic Era of China, Lu Yan was a powerful general in ancient times who worked together with the mystical Yun Xi of the Ling Zu (a mythical clan) to bring peace. He awakes to help recover Yun Xi’s magical essence currently residing in the body of Yu Deng Deng who looks surprisingly like Yun Xi. The story opens with Yu Deng Deng ordering Lu Yan to marry her for his money to save her village which he accepts to uncover more about her connection to Yun Xi.

 

Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: September 15, 2022

 

Initial Rating: 7.5/10

As a Li Qin fan, I’ve been waiting for this drama for a whole year! It’s finally here! It is a surprisingly unique and refreshing story, one that is NOT based off of a book. Gasp! Those exist?  The first 6 episodes are hilariously intriguing as the handsome Lu Yan is married as the concubine to Yu Deng Deng. Her first husband? A Rooster. Gender roles are reversed to comical effect while Lu Yan tries to understand what connection Yu Deng Deng has to Yun Xi.  So far so good as a fun and easy watch. The biggest question mark has been Allen Ren using his real voice for the drama which I don’t find to be too big of a problem. Li Qin uses her real voice as well and she is much more articulate. 

It’s a unique world the story has built so far with magic infused into the story so we’ll see what surprises are in store!

 

Final Rating: 6.8/10

It breaks my heart to drop my final rating for this drama but it had to be done. Despite a strong start with interesting characters and a unique world, the plot lost its luster with its meandering storylines and a script that could have been tighter.  Several plot holes or unanswered questions for the drama leaves me wanting more. The main threat in the drama and its villains also seemed too small scale when the focus was saving both humanity and the entire spirit clan.  This drama is saved by the cast, especially the main leads which provide a comforting and trusting relationship to watch (except for Allen Ren’s voice dub… I’m sorry but it had to be said).  The soundtrack is also surprisingly good.  I’m writing a whole novel for this review with my thoughts so buckle in.

Lu Yan 陆炎 Ft Ren Jia Lun 任嘉伦

A 3,000 year old general and former prince of the ancient Shu Kingdom, he was given enormous power by the saintess Yun Xi of the spirit clan to bring peace between humans and the spirit clan. He sealed himself away to try to restore Yun Xi to life after her sacrifice and has now reawakened to uncover Deng Deng’s connection to Yun Xi.

Yu Deng Deng 于登登/ Yun Xi 云羲 Ft Li Qin 李沁

Born with exceptional strength, Yu Deng Deng is the current leader of the Qing Quan village. Though outwardly very tomboyish and aggressive, she is nonetheless highly perceptive and kind hearted. Her primary goal is to ensure the prosperity of her village.

Peng Da Hai 彭大海 Ft Chang Long 昌隆

Deng Deng’s devoted disciple, this comical pupil cares for his teacher deeply but has been inflicted with an interesting ailment after a run in with a spirit clan member – he turns into a woman whenever he drinks.

Lv Er 吕二 Ft Xiao Shen Yang 小沈阳

Deng Deng’s second father. This doting man helped raise Deng Deng after the death of her mother and has always looked out for her.

Gu Bei Xi 顾北西 Ft Chen Xi Jun 陈希郡

Leader of the Nan Feng Village, he nursed a strong affection for Deng Deng from a young age but had difficulty making her see it. He goes to travel with Deng Deng on her search for her father but then discovers that he is better fit as her friend. 

Zhu Rong 诛戎 Ft Lai Yi 赖艺

The spirit clan leader who was defeated by Lu Yan three thousand years ago but has returned to finish his vision of destroying humanity and bringing about an era for the spirit clan.

 

 

 

Plot Recap

 

Three thousand years ago, the spirit clan (humanoids with green blood, pointed ears and magical powers) invaded the mainland and Lu Yan, the Prince of the Ancient Shu Kingdom stepped in as general to protect his homeland from these invaders. He put up a fierce fight against the spirit clan leader Zhu Rong. The spirit clan saintess or Sheng Nv, Yun Xi, decided the mainland could provide a homeland for both humans and the spirit clan and worked together with Lu Yan to defeat Zhu Rong thereby saving humanity and creating a world where members of the spirit clan could co-exist with humans. However, Yun Xi sacrificed herself to save Lu Yan and shortly after defeating Zhu Rong, Lu Yan also disappeared.

 

Now, during the republic of China, and in a cave near the Qing Quan village, village leader Yu Deng Deng, who is a spitting image of Yun Xi, happens upon a mural of Lu Yan. As the cave becomes unstable and Deng Deng accidentally cuts herself on the rocks, her blood awakens the thousand year old general Lu Yan. Back at Qing Quan village, Yu Deng Deng’s second father, Lv Er, played by the famous comedian Xiao Shen Yang, suggests that to stave off the bad omens surrounding Deng Deng which primarily involves needing money to support the village, she should marry a man. And thus our story begins. 

 

Deng Deng heads down to the main town and forcefully proposes to marry the son of a wealthy merchant. She and her motley crew of village members are hoping to use the bride price and gifts from the marriage to fund many of the activities in the village. Except, on the day they go to marry the young man, he disappears en route back to the village. Enraged, Deng Deng and company head back to the village to try to make a fuss with the litter or you could say carriage company. iQiyi translates this as a sedan. Essentially what was used to carry the husband. On route, Deng Deng’s group see a group of bandits being chased by police and causing havoc in the streets. Deng Deng tries to save a boy from gunfire when she herself is saved by the dashing Lu Yan who just happened to be nearby.

 

And with one look, Deng Deng is smitten. She is absolutely infatuated with Lu Yan’s looks and immediately wants to marry him instead. And thus we have a comical reversal of roles as Deng Deng forces marriage with Lu Yan who only reluctantly agrees because he cannot understand why Deng Deng looks so like the woman he helped care for for 3000 years but is not showing evidence of being her. He allows himself to be taken up to Deng Deng’s village and even become her concubine in order to investigate further. What is hilarious is that Deng Deng is actually already married. Her first husband, some how persuaded by again he second dad, is a freaking rooster called Da Hong or Big Red. He’s a great chill rooster but the entire village treats him as the proper husband of Deng Deng. When Lu Yan arrives, they even call him Lu yi niang or concubine Lu. He only takes this odd disrespect because he recognizes that Deng Deng has the essence of Yun Xi and the only way to retrieve this is to kill Deng Deng. 

The big catalyst in the first part of the drama is the fun albeit rushed wedding between Lu Yan and Yu Deng Deng at Qing Quan village. They invite all of the village leaders from nearby villages in order to take the money to give to the poor and needy in her village. But the evening of the wedding, the village leaders turn into vicious monsters that are losing their vitality. Deng Deng herself is the victim of dark magic by members of the spirit clan. And so, in order to save the lives of these village leaders as well as the life if Deng Deng, she, Lu Yan, Gu Bei Xi, Deng Deng’s childhood friend and village leader of Nan Feng among a few others, head out to seek the truth. 

The group manages to defeat the monster of the spirit clan harming innocent spirit clan members and humans and return to Qing Quan village. While Lu Yan starts seeing the attention to detail and kind hearted nature of Yu Deng Deng, his primary goal is to retrieve Yun Xi’s magical essence from Yu Deng Deng in order to revive her at the cost of Deng Deng’s life. 

However, as he’s trying to kill Deng Deng, he discovers to his utter disbelief that she IS Yun Xi, the woman he spent 3,000 years protecting. The remainder of the drama follows Lu Yan and Deng Deng as they clear the air about how they each came to be at Qing Quan village and why Yun Xi has now reincarnated as Deng Deng. Meanwhile, the search for Deng Deng’s father who has gone missing and the goal to stop a similarly reincarnated Zhu Rong that continues seek spirit clan dominance over the mainland. Deng Deng and Lu Yan’s travels take them to different parts of the mainland, to the spirit clan market place and also back to Lu Yan’s homeland, the ancient kingdom of Shu in a whirlwind story.

 

Overall Thoughts

The drama broke records for reaching 9000 on the popularity index in the first 24 hours of airing and it stayed in that range for the duration of the drama airing period peaking near 9300 but never broke beyond that. This drama did well but was not at the popularity of the summer dramas. In my view, that’s fair.

This is a drama where I appreciate the effort that went into it but it needed to be polished from a script perspective. 处处不用心但处处用心 There are plenty of areas or parts to the drama where you think either the plot or the setting is not detailed enough but then in other parts of the drama it is. Take for example the costumes for the main characters. At first you’re pushed to think that the main characters don’t have too many different hairstyles and for Deng Deng at least it’s very simple. But then when you look at the detail in the costumes from the embroidery to the design as well as the style, it’s all extremely intricate. The village or clan leader outfits for Deng Deng  are masculine but with a touch of femininity. The suits for Lu Yan are understated but the collars are of very chic design and perfectly tailored. 

Qing Quan village, Gui Shi, the Spirit Clan city, and Gu Shu the ancient kingdom where Lu Yan is from are full of life but then some of the intermediate cities look forgettable and unimaginative. That’s the struggle with filming Republic of China era pieces because there are only so many sets available. I feel like I can see where this drama was trying to go in terms of world building but then it didn’t fully bring me to a fully immersive world. The actors didn’t have too much to work with or I felt like they could have done more. The secondary characters really helped bring this drama to life and I found them all very fun individuals in their own right but again, the problem is really the plot and script.

This is a drama that will have you burst out laughing but then bawling tears of sadness in a roller coaster of emotions which I felt like needed to be balanced out. Though, the soundtrack especially You Shi Wu Qi 有时无期 by Zhang Bi Chen 张碧晨 and Wu 吾 by Ren Jia Lun 任嘉伦 are quite outstanding and I have them on repeat right now in my playlist. And separately, I wish the color palette of this drama was more varied. It was primarily hues or red orange or black. I would have greatly liked more color variation throughout the drama.

 

 

What I liked:

The relationship between Deng Deng and Lu Yan. 

If I had to describe their relationship in one word it would be comforting. Lu Yan spent 3000 years helping bring Yun Xi back to life. After confirming that Deng Deng was indeed Yun Xi, he never hesitated to protect her for the entirety of the drama. He was always her rock no matter the consequences.  She, on her part, never looked at any other man after spending time with Lu Yan and also trusted him unconditionally. After clearing up some comical misunderstandings aside, the two of them worked together seamlessly to uncover secrets about who was harming members of the spirit clan and also discovering the more nefarious forces at play in the mystical realm of the ancient Shu Kingdom. It was nice to see them come together as a team and play tricks together against outside adversaries to break spells or gather evidence. I never had to worry that Deng Deng or Lu Yan would betray each other for any reason other than saving the other person’s life and even then, it didn’t involve hurting the other person. None of this let me tell you I hate you so that you stop loving me. I’m hurting you to protect you nonsense. 

For Deng Deng‘s part, she was the subject of another man, Gu Bei Xi’s affections, but Deng Deng was at first too oblivious to his affections or else only considered him as a friend after furthering her feelings for Lu Yan. Sure, Deng Deng and Lu Yan both had to figure out their feelings for a couple of episodes but once they cleared the air it was overall just very sweet.  Deng Deng towards the end of the drama actually put it quite well. The two of them started out not knowing how to love another person even though they were attracted to each other but after all of their travels, have grown immensely together.  Perhaps it’s because Li Qin and  Ren Jia Lun are both in their 30s so while the story is often times funny, it still felt like a more mature and trusting relationship.

 

Yu Deng Deng as a unique character

 I personally really liked Deng Deng as a character. In a time period where women did not have much positions of power, she was leading an entire village. A large part is because of her insane strength due to the fact that she is the sheng nv or saintess, in order to secure support and respect. But the other part is that while she is on the surface just loud and aggressive, she is actually incredibly detail oriented and observant. Not only that, she’s very kind hearted. The money she gets from forcing Lu Yan to marry her and as gifts from neighboring village heads are given to the poor and needy in her village. She cares deeply about the lives and stability of her village and works tirelessly to ensure its inhabitants are cared for. That’s the other reason why she garners respect. 

Plus, she never let being a woman stop her. One line in particular that was interesting to me is that in this drama, she said Lu Yan would be 于陆氏 which meant that she would be the primary family and Lu Yan would be second. In Meng Hua Lu or A Dream of Splendor, the main male lead Gu Qian Fan was skewed by viewers or comments for saying that Zhao Pan’er would be Gu Zhao Shi because that automatically implied a patriarchy. But in this drama, not only does Yu Deng Deng marry Lu Yan as a concubine, she does so as if she were a man without a second thought. 

Yea, there are plenty of issues with this construct as a whole but I found that to be highly refreshing even if it was ridiculous. 

She is also extremely clear of what she wants and is not afraid to be upfront about it, namely Lu Yan. When she recognized that she likes him, she made it very clear to him that she wants him and cares for him. There is no room for any doubt that she has only eyes for Lu Yan. This contributes to the comforting relationship I mentioned but most women are not as vocal about her feelings or as confident in her feelings as well as Lu Yan’s feelings towards her. 

In my view, Deng Deng’s success in large part is due to the Li Qin. She just wrote a rather long essay on her view of the character of Yu Deng Deng and I agree on most points. It’s clear Li QIn did a lot of research and thought on playing this character. Many people actually do not like her portrayal of the character because they think she over- acted the part. A contributing reason to this is because Li Qin’s very well known for her more tragic or demure roles where she’s cold and distant and so seeing her in a more comical and aggressive role was jarring for most people. But if you look at her reality tv show clips and what not, she’s much more outgoing in front of friends and during competitions so this was not that much of a shift to me. 

Though when she does cry, Li QIn certainly brought me to tears. Of the many criticisms for this drama, at least not being thin enough or beautiful enough was not one of them. 

 

What I didn’t like:

 

Allen Ren – his voice.

Man is the guy handsome. You can tell I’m quite enamored because of all the photos I’m putting up of him. He looks fantastic in this role with those tailored suits and his overall demeanor. But…

The BIGGEST controversy for this drama is that Ren Jia Lun did not use a voice dub for this role. And he is largely panned for it. It’s one of those times where viewers are actually urging him to use a voice dub. Why is that? It’s because many of his lines are stated as though he’s reading off a script. At first I didn’t mind it especially in the first 6 episodes or so because he didn’t need to have much emotion but then later one when he’s professing love or showing anger, I just wish there was more! It still felt like he was just reciting lines. What’s so odd to me is that I thought his acting was fine. Especially the moments when he smiled or was chuckling at some of the silliness from Deng Deng. His face absolutely lights up when he smiles and when he cries, you cannot help but be moved by him.  The set photos of him in this drama are also very handsome to say the least. I really do wish though he did more to bring out emotion in his lines for the drama. I’ve seen justification from fans in that Lu Yan is a character with little outward emotion as that was the toll on him for sleeping for 3000 years which yes, as stated in the drama that becoming a much colder person would be a side effect of saving Yun Xi, but still. If fans need to justify it then it doesn’t necessarily stick.

 

Too many unexplained points in the drama

The problem with this drama’s world building is that it’s clearly not thought out thoroughly. That’s one of the challenges of it being not based off of any book is that some quirks were created for plot purposes or for a laugh but then not fully explained. I can’t go too in depth into some of the unexplained plot points without going into major spoiler territory but some of the questions I had were the full extent of the spirit clan powers and how connected was the spirit clan to humans. We see Lu Yan and the main villain for the drama Zhu Rong fight immense battles and Zhu Rong can shape shift while Lu Yan can appear anywhere but how? What are the rules here? And how can the hairpin allow Deng Deng and Lu Yan to communicate with one another? Once again what are the rules there? There’s a hilarious plot point where Da Hai, Deng Deng’s disciple, starts turning into a woman after drinking. This is after being injured by a member of a spirit clan. While this created plenty of laughs in the drama which I appreciated, I’m not sure how or why this happened. And it’s not explained satisfactorily. Not everything needs to be fully explained in a world but when certain aspects drive crucial points of the story, then it’s important to flesh those parts of the story out. 

Villain(s) were not interesting

The last point I’ll make is that I found the villains to be lackluster. Because the rules of power for the spirit clan were unclear, I couldn’t understand exactly what Zhu Rong was doing half the time. Sure he may not have had as much power as Lu Yan but he controlled so many spirit clan members and could have wreaked way more havoc than what was portrayed. His ultimate motivations just seemed weak and how he went about bringing about the demise of humanity seemed too rushed towards the end. 

Additionally, the final conflict just seemed too small scale. The drama emphasized humanity vs all of the spirit clan but the deaths and decay seemed to only revolve around QIng Quan village. I couldn’t feel the immense impact or weight of the villains compared to what I believe the writers had hoped. In any case, the drama just left me thinking ok…what else? It’s hard to write good leads but even harder to write good villains and I don’t think the drama managed this time around.

 

That’s it for me! Let me know what you thought and if you agree or disagree!

 

Karen

Checkmate (2022) 民国大侦探

Summary:  Set in Republican Era (民国) China between 1911-1949, we follow the lawyer turned detective Si Tu Yan (ft Hu Yi Tian 胡一天) and his wealthy police best friend Lu Shao Chuan (ft Zhang Yun Long 张云龙) solve mysterious murders and crimes in the northeast city of Harbin 哈尔滨. They, along with an insightful young woman Zhou Mo Wan (ft Zhang Xin Yu 张馨予) and local reporter Jin Qi Ming (ft Xuan Yan 宣言), comprise of a motley crew to solve some of the trickiest murders in the city. Checkmate is billed as the first Chinese adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot stories

 

Total Episode Count: 24

Initial Airing Date: Aug 10, 2022

Platform: iQiYi

 

Initial Rating: 7.5/10

Initial thoughts [12 episodes]: This is a pretty serviceable adaptation of the adventures of Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple. It reunites Hu Yi Tian (胡一天) and Zhang Yun Long (张云龙) back together again after their surprising 2020 hit My Roommate is a Detective (民国奇探). They bring back they easy bromance and partnership back in this drama which makes it easy to draw the viewer in. The show will cover 8 “murders” or mysteries, which is quite brisk for a 24 episode show. That averages to around 3 episodes per mystery. The first mystery is an adaptation of perhaps one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mystery, Murder on the Orient Express. I won’t spoil the rest of the mysteries but it’s fun to guess which of the stories ties to the corresponding Agatha Christie mystery.

The setting of Harbin 哈尔滨 during the Republican Era 民国时期 adds a lot of unique flavor to the drama.  Being in the northeast part of China, Harbin had a mélange of Manchu, Han and European influences. The Russian influences are especially obvious in the city’s architecture.  This backdrop allows for some of the more “Western” mysteries to unfold in this multicultural city. 

Final Rating 7.5/10

I’ll keep my 7.5 rating of the show. It was a fun and short summer watch of a drama.

This drama got rather mixed reviews while it was airing and didn’t get great viewership but both Karen and I thoroughly enjoyed it and also recommended this to our mom. This won’t be as thrilling as some other detective stories or even the latest installments of Poirot by Kenneth Branagh in his films Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile but because the cases are so short, you don’t have too much time to think about big plot holes. That made this a very easy and intriguing watch.

I think Hu Yi Tian does a great job adding warmth to the role as the detective. He’s never overbearing and subtly tries to find the solution to each mystery.  He and Zhang Yun Long have great chemistry since this is their second drama together as leads and so they play off each other seamlessly. Honestly their chemistry was better than their chemistry with their respective romances. The acting overall is good, the stories are gripping (I mean, it’s Agatha Christie so I don’t think they will be too bad), and the fashion is gorgeous. Check it out if you enjoy some murder mysteries!

The writers do a clever job of creating a Big Bad that becomes clearer and clearer towards the end of the drama. But they did have me guessing on who the culprit ultimately was in the final episodes. However, I’m not sure if it really landed with the rest of the viewers. If you want something that is intriguing but isn’t too heavy and want to see a Republican Era show with beautiful people, this is the one for you.

Cathy

 

SiTu Yan 司徒颜 ft Hu Yi Tian 胡一天

 

 

The Hercule Poirot of the series. He was a lawyer in Beiping but after a failed case in the opening scenes of the series, he travels to the city of 哈尔滨. On the trip to Harbin, he encounters Luo Shao Chuan and his first “murder mystery”. After arriving in Harbin, he quickly establishes proves himself as a brilliant detective when tasked with solving a wide array of mysteries.

 

Luo Shao Chuan 骆少川 ft Zhang Yun Long 张云龙

A policeman who is also the son of the wealthiest man in Harbin. After meeting Si Tu Yan, they solve their first murder mystery together. The two quickly become friends and become an excellent duo in solving crimes and mysteries. Luo Shao Chuan’s father is mysteriously murdered and Luo Shao Chuan requests Si Tu Yan to help solve the mystery.

 

Zhou Mo Wan 周墨婉 ft Zhang Xin Yu 张馨予

A mysterious beauty with an outgoing personality, she is introduced as a music teacher for an all-girls school. She first meets Si Tu Yan at a restaurant and they bicker about Si Tu Yan’s penchant for cleanliness. She gets wrapped into supporting Si Tu Yan on some of his murder mysteries while having several mysteries of her own.

 

Zou Jing Xuan 邹静萱 ft Shen Yu Jie 沈羽洁

Luo Shao Chuan’s fiancée, she grew up as a relatively sheltered socialite. She is related to Luo Shao Chuan and they grew up together. Luo Shao Chuan however, doesn’t want to be tied down with this marriage. When Luo Shao Chuan’s father was mysteriously murdered, she provided crucial evidence to help his case. Over the course of the series, she gradually becomes an independent woman who finally captures the gaze of Luo Shao Chuan.

 

Jin Qi Ming 金启明 ft Xuan Yan 宣言

A reporter that Si Tu Yan and Luo Shao Chuan encounter on their trip to Harbin. He helps the two solve murder mysteries by providing helpful background information from the newspaper archives. However, just like all the characters in the drama, Jin Qi Ming has several secrets on his own.

 

 

 

Plot Summary

 

It’s the 1920s in BeiPing (present day Beijing). The young lawyer SiTu Yan loses his job due to a failed murder case that impacts him heavily. He makes his way up to Harbin in hopes of starting afresh and to visit his mentor – Mr. Shen. Before leaving however, he encounters Luo Shao Chuan, a young police officer and they get into a small argument. On the train ride, he becomes a suspect in a mysterious murder that occurs in the first class cabins. He’s surprisingly on the same train as Luo Shao Chuan. To prove his innocence, SiTu Yan agrees to find the real culprit. Using his impeccable skills of deduction and observation and some help with a local journalist on the train Jin Qi Min, SiTu Yan solves the case.

The train arrives in Harbin and SiTu Yan leaves the case to the local authorities for final judgment. In Harbin, SiTu Yan arrives to find that his mentor Mr. Shen has shockingly died of a heart attack, leaving a widow behind. He agrees to stay with her while trying to find employment as she is also an important mentor of sorts to him. Soon after, SiTu Yan, who gained the respect of Luo Shao Chuan, is introduced to Luo Shao Chuan’s family. Luo Shao Chuan’s father is the wealthiest man in Harbin. An aunt and her adoptive daughter Zou Jing Xuan also lives with the Luo Family. Zou Jing Xuan is Luo Shao Chuan’s fiancée but Luo Shao Chuan makes it clear that he views Zou Jing Xuan as a sister.  

On an exploration of the city, Situ Yan encounters the attractive Zhou Mo Wan at a fusion restaurant. The two get into a minor squabble and part ways but leave a lasting impression on each other. Elsewhere, Luo Shao Chuan gets into an intense argument with his father which results in Luo Shao Chuan leaving their house to drown his sorrows in drink. The next day, servants arrive to find Luo Shao Chuan’s father, Mr. Luo dead in his room. All evidence point to Luo Shao Chuan as the culprit. With no one to turn to, Luo Shao Chuan asks SiTu Yan for help to clear his name.

It takes some time but SiTu Yan is ultimately able to help Luao Shao Chuan clear his name. After solving the mystery of the true culprit, Luo Shao Chuan nudges SiTu Yan into opening a detective agency to solve crimes. Seeing that he doesn’t want to be a lawyer anymore and in need of an income, Situ Yan agrees. The next case quickly arrives in the form of a mysterious death at a prestigious all-girl’s school. Zhou Mo Wan just so happens to be a music teacher at this school. Her skills of deduction an logic impress SiTu Yan and he brings her along as they try to solve this case.

Over the course of the show, SiTu Yan, Luo Shao Chuan, Zhou Mo Wan, Zou Jing Xuan, and Jin Qi Ming basically form a small detective force as they solve murder cases. However, as SiTu Yan continues to solve cases, he find subtle hints of a larger force working behind the scenes. Somehow, it seems like all of the cases are related. While solving his murder cases, he must also find the larger organization and mastermind behind these cases. What does he find? How will that impact him? Watch and find out!

 

For those of you who are Agatha Christie fans, these are the stories that get adapted for this drama.

  1. Murder on the Orient Express
  2. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
  3. Cat Among the Pigeons
  4. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
  5. Five Little Pigs
  6. The Kidnapped Prime Minister
  7. Three Act Tragedy
  8. Curtain

What I liked

There is great chemistry with the leads. Perhaps it’s because this is the second time around for Hu Yi Tian and Zhang Yun Long, but I was quickly and easily won over by their frenemies turned best friend rapport. The romance aspect of the show between the characters was subtle enough but I thought they also moved appropriately. There’s also a wide supporting cast of characters for the different mysteries. There are some heavy hitters in the cast so it was great for me to see many familiar faces in the show.

Also, the show looks great! In recent years, studios and production companies have built several Republican era sets and the abundance of sets and sound stages really add to the effect of bringing forth a dramatized version of Harbin in that ear. A big plus is that the series was filmed in the winter, so when the actors and actresses wore furs and jackets, it added more realism because Harbin is famous for being called the Ice City in China. I do also quite like that they emphasized being in Harbin and made it an important aspect of the drama because I feel like most shows are set in BeiPing or ShangHai to show off the grandeur of the time, especially Shang Hai, but that doesn’t mean other cities weren’t interesting. Having Harbin be the primary setting for this drama added a differentiating factor to this drama. 

And the best thing going for this show is that it moves at a really brisk pace. It’s only 24 episodes with 8 mysteries so it’s around 2.5-3 episodes per mystery. Perhaps due to the source material, there isn’t much screen time wasted on any superfluous plot. It’s a refreshing and gripping 24 episode watch. This fast pace is I think it’s saving grace. Many of the dramas this year have felt too long or else I lost interest midway through and struggled to finish watching but this drama, because it’s so short, felt much more “doable”.  If you’re familiar with the source material, it’s a serviceable adaptation. If you aren’t, then have some fun trying to guess the murderer! 

 

What I didn’t like

I just mentioned how the show looks great. But, this is a broad nitpick to all shows set in the Republican area, everything just seems WAY too Western. Now Harbin might get a pass because of its Western and Russian influences but I personally don’t like how all these shows set in the Republican era are just like a glorified backdrop for Chinese dramas as a way to use Western technologies. It’s still very much a fairy type air for these dramas set in this time period.

While we praised the two male leads, the two female leads I do think left me wanting more. Particularly Zhang Xin Yu. She is absolutely stunning in this drama but her beauty almost is at odds with her character. Perhaps it’s because my impression of her is still left in the gorgeous and extravagant outfits from the Tang Dynasty from previous dramas. Her character is complex but I’m not certain she fully sticks the landing. Though, Zhang Xin Yu left a 1000 or so word essay on weibo after the drama aired explaining her interpretation of her character and I felt it was quite thoughtful. But again, I don’t know if it fully sticks for me. 

I also don’t know how well the Big Bad in the drama worked. I had my suspicions during the course of the drama but they did throw several red herrings to throw me off. When the big bad was revealed in like the last 15 minutes, I was like – wait, what’s the resolution!

  

 

Love Between Fairy and Devil (2022) 苍兰诀

Summary:  Set in a fantasy land, Xiao Lan Hua (ft Esther Yu) as a kind-hearted young orchid fairy with limited powers and no real name. (Xiao Lan Hua literally just means little orchid). She watches over the written fates of all beings. One day, she accidentally realized that her secret love, the powerful Chang Heng (ft Zhang Ling He) will be in danger and rushes over to protect him. This results in her a life changing encounter with Dong Fang Qing Cang (ft Dylan Wang), the powerful leader of the Yue (Moon) clan who had been locked away for 30,000 years.  This interaction changes the fates of all three individuals. 

 

Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: Aug 7, 2022

 

Initial Rating: 7.5/10

Initial thoughts [18 episodes]:  This is a romance fantasy drama that is exceedingly cute. It’s actually quite popular right now only 6 days after airing and is pushing Love Like the Galaxy and Immortal Samsara onto the backburner for many viewers, myself included.  The relationship between Xiao Lan Hua and Dong Fang Qing Cang is quite natural and Dylan Wang does a pretty good job portraying the unemotional yet powerful leader of the Moon Clan who struggles with his budding emotions for Xiao Lan Hua. It’s not like this drama doesn’t fall into tropes but the first couple of episodes are hilarious because this weak orchid fairy swaps bodies with the all powerful Moon Clan leader and after the switch back, Dong Fang Qing Can realizes that every injury and emotion Xiao Lan Hua feels, he feels himself. Thus starting an amusing series of events where Dong Fang Qing Cang has to protect Xiao Lan Hua from herself while Dong Fang Qing Cang has to surpress his frustration at being tied to someone as weak as Xiao Lan Hua.  Luckily, she’s super sweet and treats him as an equal.

Final Rating: 7/10

An above average drama for this genre, Love Between Fairy And Devil started strong in the first half but was unable to carry the momentum towards the ending. That does not detract from the strong main trio of characters and an even more interesting secondary plot between the ill-fated teacher/student pair, Chi Di Nv Zi and Rong Hao. Wonderful special effects and a great original soundtrack allows me to see why this drama is loved by fans.

The Love Between Fairy and Devil or 苍兰诀 was THE breakout hit of the summer. After airing with little fanfare, the drama reached a peak popularity index during its finale of 10500. For context, most dramas would love to break 9,000 but this drama did so quite easily and continued to peak. The online platforms don’t release viewership stats anymore so it’s difficult to see exactly how many views or hits the drama has but it’s clear from the number of trending topics on weibo that this was a popular drama.  Even now, days after the finale, there are many trending topics on weibo for the drama and the main stars, especially the main male lead 王鹤棣 skyrocketed in popularity. His weibo followers increased dramatically and there’s been plenty of fan service and interaction between the main stars. 

Dong Fang Qing Cang 东方青苍


Played by 王鹤棣 or Dylan Wang – Leader of the moon clan or 月族. In this instance, instead of a demon clan, they’re called the moon clan. Imprisoned for more than 30,000 years at the hands of his foe, Chi Di Nv Zi. He is currently the most powerful being across the land.

Xiao Lan Hua 小兰花


Played by 虞书欣 or Esther Yu – She is a little orchid flower who doesn’t have a real name. She is a very young flower of just 1,500 years old and she lives in 司命殿 where she helps watch over all of the fates of each being. She is a member of the fairy clan but doesn’t have many friends because she is rather weak.

Chang Heng 长珩


Played by Zhang Ling He 张凌赫 – he is the younger brother of the current Fairy clan leader and newly named general or zhan shen 战神 of the fairy clan. He is betrothed to Xi Shan Shen Nv 息山神女 a powerful mythical woman who has gone missing for 30,000 years and so their marriage has stalled. 

Chi Di Nv Zi 赤地女子


Played by Guo Xiao Ting 郭晓婷. Another general from the fairy clan, she sacrificed herself in a ferocious battle between the fairy clan and the moon clan in order to seal away Dong Fang Qing Cang and also freeze 100,000 moon clan soldiers. She is the teacher of Rong Hao

Rong Hao 容昊


Played by 徐海乔 – Fairy clan member – student of 赤地女子 and best friend of 长珩. He was devastated at the loss of his teacher and has sought for the last 30,000 years to bring her back and now has a two different identities

 

 

 

Plot Overview:

Dong Fang Qing Cang was banished to a magical tower as a result of his fight against the powerful 赤地女子 from the fairy clan. For many thousands of years, the moon clan and the fairy clan fought against each other and their lives are entwined with hatred towards each other because both sides have lost loved ones in the ensuing battles.

赤地女子managed to seal away 东方青苍 by sacrificing herself and for 30,000 years there has been peace in 仙族 or the fairy clan as the Lord of the Moon clan has been banished. Fighting between the two clans has since ceased but the moon clan fell into chaos as different factions sought to gain control of the clan after 东方青苍‘s demise. 

With the big picture conflict out of the way, we are introduced to 小兰花. She is just a weak little orchid flower that watches over the fates of each being in her lonely hall of 司命殿。 Her teacher left 1000 years ago to travel leaving the young xiao lan hua all by herself.  She watches over the fates that are written on leaves of the fate tree which she helps to protect and repair if ever there is damage to them. She does have someone she likes though. The handsome 长珩仙君 or just 长珩. 长珩 saved 小兰花 when she was very young and therefore she wants to thank him personally for helping him and has always nursed this bit of gratitude or infatuation towards him. 

Her and 长珩’s fates should have been entwined but one day, when 长珩 and the other fairy lords worked together to try to reinforce the magical tower that confined 东方青苍,小兰花 foresaw that this could be the end for 长珩 due to her powers working with fates so she steps in to protect him. She blocks a blast from the tower meant for 长珩 and while he is protected, she is instead sucked into the tower.

Once in the tower, 小兰花 unwittingly restores the powerful 东方青苍 back to his human form, with a kiss no doubt, where he was before just wisps of consciousness and in the process swaps bodies with him. This is utterly unacceptable for 东方青苍 because he cannot be trapped in the body of someone so weak and feeble as 小兰花 while 小兰花 is having a blast having the enormous power of the leader of the moon clan. 东方青苍 manages to swap bodies again with 小兰花 to regain his former strength and believes all he has to do is kill 小兰花 and there will be no issues with him escaping the tower and reclaiming power again. But the twist he finds out is that the two are now bound together by some mysterious power. Any time 小兰花 is hurt, he will suffer the same injury on his body. And her emotions? He will feel them as well. If she cries, he’ll start crying. If she’s scared, he’ll start feeling scared. 

Ultimately, 东方青苍 escapes from the tower with 小兰花 and return to her place of residence and hilarity ensues. The cold, calculating and menacing 东方青苍 is subject to being 小兰花‘s personal caretaker because he has to nurse her back to health after their foray in the tower. The reason being is that 东方青苍 has uncovered the fate of a woman named 谢婉卿 that looks to be related to his mortal enemy, 赤地女子. He needs 小兰花 to repair this fate so he can see exactly what he needs to do to recover his mortal enemy so that he can release the 100,000 moon clan troops that were frozen in time and then destroy the fairy clan. But 小兰花 doesn’t care too much for restoring the fate and is too weak anyways. She also totally mishears 东方青苍’s name and just calls him 大强 rather than his real name which if she knew who he was she would have been too scared to interact with him. After all, 东方青苍’s name is known throughout the land.  But because she thinks he’s just 大强 and is a fairy who has been imprisoned for some past wrong and has nowhere to go, she takes him in. 

Thus the relationship between the most powerful being 东方青苍 and the weak 小兰花 begins. 东方青苍 has been stripped of his emotions in order to earn his strength but through his interactions with 小兰花, he is touched by her kindness, optimism, determination and thoughtfulness. He slowly starts to regain some emotions which, in this drama, is represented by a tree. At the beginning of the drama, it is a frozen tundra with no leaves whatsoever. After interacting with 小兰花 something changes in him. 

While he is experiencing some changes, we learn that 长珩 actually also likes 小兰花. He is betrothed already to someone already but after meeting 小兰花 in a chance encounter has grown attracted to this kind hearted orchid flower. She offered to protect him while no one has ever done that for him. Yet he is very respectful of his feelings towards her because he knows he is betrothed and any affection he shows towards 小兰花 could mean her demise which he does not want and does his best to protect her despite his obvious interest. 

All of this comes to a head with 小兰花 is revealed to have a different past, one different from the other fairies of the fairy clan. Despite 东方青苍 saying he does not care for 小兰花, he steps in to protect her in front of the entire fairy clan court who accused her of being a spy from the moon clan and was about to sentence her to death. Using his unique brand of fire power which turns blue, he pushes back against the fairy clan lords and takes 小兰花 with her. 长珩 steps in to try to take 小兰花 back but is easily defeated by 东方青苍. With this one battle, the future relationship between these three individuals becomes clear. 

That’s the general recap of the first 10 episodes or so. The story goes on to develop the relationship between these three individuals and also a stint into the mortal realm as they search for more answers about the fate of 赤地女子。 

 

 

 

Review: 7/10

One of the better romance dramas of this genre that is a fun breezy watch with some memorable moments. I have a more tempered opinion of the drama than perhaps what weibo and other fans think though I can understand the hype, especially for younger fans.  

The drama really shone in the first half, particularly at the beginning when 东方青苍 was figuring out how to interact with 小兰花. Episode 9 where 东方青苍 steps in to protect 小兰花 is one of the most badass scenes of the summer. There are plenty of cute scenes and belly laughs in the first half especially considering what the all powerful 东方青苍 is subject to in order to help 小兰花 who has no clue how to protect herself and is somehow always getting hurt. 东方青苍 and 长珩 in particular have two well written parts that make you naturally really like them as these powerful members of the moon clan and fairy clan respectively. I do believe that the two main male leads 王鹤棣 and 张凌赫 have bright futures ahead of them and were the stronger of the trio compared to 虞书欣’s 小兰花.  王鹤棣 in particular was able to showcase his acting range in this drama in ways that are subtle yet very apparent, though I don’t think he as handsome as some of the other male actors out there.

The special effects are quite good and in my opinion has come a long way for fairy romance dramas though some of the wire work for the actors could be improved. The original soundtrack especially the title song called 寻一个你 by 刘宇宁 is an instant classic and I’ve been listening to it on repeat for the last several weeks now. 

I personally really enjoyed the secondary storyline between 赤地女子 and her pupil 容昊. Let me just take a second to discuss the actors for 赤地女子 and 容昊. Both of them you could say won this year with two amazing roles in two different dramas. 赤地女子‘s actress 郭晓婷 has been on the small screen for many years, playing notable roles in both Chinese Paladin 3 as Xiao Tu Dou and also Startling With Each Step as 敏敏格格 all when she was under 18. She is a strong actress but hasn’t had good luck in notable roles for a while. But this year, she’s killed it with her role here in this drama for 赤地女子 and also in her role as 顺德仙姬 in 与君初相识 or A Blue Whisper. She is absolutely crazy but stunningly beautiful in A Blue Whisper and in this drama, portrays the ill-fated mortal woman 谢婉卿 with jaw-dropping grace. It’s hard to take your eyes off her when she is on screen. 容昊 is played by 徐海乔 who we just saw as 欧阳旭 in 梦华录 or A Dream Of Splendor where he was lauded by fans for his fanatic portrayal of the man that betrayed 赵盼儿 and then applauded him in his role here for the faithful student that suffered for thousands of years and betrayed his soul to find ways to bring his teacher back to life. For me, their storylines were the most intriguing part of the drama despite it not having too much screen time. 

But unfortunately, the drama does falter towards the end with convoluted conflicts and eye-rolling cliches and I docked 0.5 from my initial score because the drama lost momentum. 

 

So, if you’re looking for a fun and cute drama to watch with handsome lead actors, this is certainly a drama to try out at least for the first 20 episodes or so.  It is not a classic drama but it was an enjoyable watching experience. 

 

Karen

 

Love Like The Galaxy (2022) 星汉灿烂

Summary: Cheng Shao Shang (ft Zhao Lu Si 赵露思), daughter of brave generals, was left at home to be raised (neglected) by her grandmother and aunt while her parents fought on the battlefield. The result is that despite Shao Shang’s natural intelligence, she was not raised as a “proper” young girl – one who can read and write or knows proper etiquette. Ling Bu Yi ft Wu Lei 吴磊, is a hardened young general raised in the Imperial Family but bears a terrible burden. The two paths cross multiple times and a romance emerges. Based on a book of the same name and by the same author as The Story of Ming Lan

 

The drama is split into two parts. Part 1 is 星汉灿烂 Xing Han Can Lan (27 episodes) and Part 2 月升沧海 Yue Sheng Cang Hai (29 episodes).

 

Initial Airing Date: July 2022

 

This is a SPOILER FREE review

 

Initial Rating: 6.7/10

Initial thoughts [after 30 episodes]: The drama is… just fine.  I binged the first 18 episodes over a weekend which tells me it’s at least palatable.  The older cast is more enjoyable to watch than the younger ones particularly those outside of the main pair of Zhao Lu Si and Wu Lei.  Perhaps my view is colored by the more muted tones and grayer skies of the production after enjoying the brighter hues in A Dream of Splendor.  Zhao Lu Si is fine in her role as Cheng Shao Shang but it seems like she plays similar characters in other dramas. Wu Lei as the handsome general is far more intriguing though his screen time in the first half of the drama was rather limited. There are some genuinely funny moments in the drama yet also a number of unreasonable scenes which I did not know needed to be there. I do think part 2 of the drama is picking up to be more intriguing than part 1.

 

Overall thoughts [Full Drama]: Though the world building of this drama is top notch and you can tell the production value is high, I actually found that the drama was perhaps 10 episodes too long. I struggled to get through the end of the drama and lost my eagerness to “chase” it.  The drama tries to stuff too many genres into the entire show and also force too many “sweet” moments between Shao Shang and Ling Bu Yi. Wu Lei’s Ling Bu Yi has the more interesting backstory and the older generation of actors (parent age and above) captivated me more than the younger ones.  I am probably on the lower end of the spectrum here with my rating as Dou Ban currently gives the drama a 7.5.

 

Story: Set in a fictional world that is heavily influenced by the Han dynasty, the young Cheng Shao Shang meets her birth parents who are both generals in the army after being off to war for her entire life. Shao Shang, despite being naturally intelligent, was neglected by her grandmother and aunt in her education. This results in Shao Shang being rather “wild” and interested in crafting various contraptions. Upon the return of her mother and father as well as her two older brothers, she finally has a family again but her mother cannot accept that her daughter is not what she envisioned her daughter would be. Clashes arise between mother and daughter while Shao Shang is also bullied by ladies in the capital for not being a proper lady. Meanwhile, Shao Shang crosses paths with three men. 1) Ling Bu Yi, the young and accomplished general raised by the Emperor and Empress. 2) Lou Yao, the young son of an unfavored branch of the powerful Lou family. And 3) Yuan Shan Jian, the handsome and extremely intelligent scholar turned court minister.  Shao Shang’s bravery and unwavering tenacity to stand up for herself attracts these men and help her become more than an educated woman of the Cheng family. 

What I liked:

No Drama Between the Empress and the Consort

The relationship between the Empress and Consort Yue is one of the sweetest palace relationships I’ve ever seen. The relationship between these two women and the emperor, Wen Di, is based on the true story of Emperor Guang Wu of Han or Liu Xiu 刘秀 and his original wife, Yin Li Hua or 阴丽华 and the subsequent woman he married as his Empress, Empress Guo or 郭圣通. In the drama, Consort Yue was originally married to Wen Di but had to be demoted to role of Consort in order for Wen Di to marry Empress Xuan due to her family’s military backing. In any other palace drama, as well as the drama that depicts this relationship called Xiu Li Jiang Shan (秀丽江山), the Empress is overbearing and evil.

But in this drama, Empress Xuan is kind hearted, accepting, and unjealous. She treats Consort Yue with respect and understands that she’s the third party to Consort Yue’s relationship with Wen Di. Empress Xuan didn’t want to marry the Emperor but her uncle forced this marriage so she had to comply. Consort Yue also does not blame or disrespect Empress Xuan in any way. On the contrary, she views Empress Xuan as her older sister. The two women respect each other and knows each other’s place in the palace. While they don’t actively interact with each other, there is no animosity. That is honestly just so sweet and heartwarming. The Emperor, to his credit, does not mistreat the Empress despite loving Consort Yue. The respect and care expected between a husband and wife is afforded to Empress Xuan. The Emperor also does not have any other women in his palace, which again, is rare. 

The Emperor

My favorite character in the entire drama has to be Wen Di or Emperor Wen. Played by Bao Jian Feng 保剑锋, I’ve watched him in dramas almost my entire life so I have a soft spot for him. He also just finished his turn as Emperor in A Dream of Splendor right before this drama aired. In this drama he is so hilarious in his double standard for his adoptive son Ling Bu Yi vs anyone else. Other youths causing havoc due to love interests? They have to be severely punished! Oh, Ling Bu Yi was out with a girl? Oooo that’s not a problem at all. Let me find out everything about her and help match them together!  He is literally all of us watching the gossip or your favorite couples getting together. And then when he’s trying to share his thoughts with the Empress or Consort Yue, both of them push him out for being too annoying.  Hahahaha.  He is fair and kind, as I mentioned earlier, to the women in his life, and cares deeply for the loyal brothers that helped push him to the throne.

What I didn’t like:

Too many genres; 

My primary gripe with the drama is that it tried to be too many things at once and stuff too many characters into the drama which led to a final result that falls flat I wish it stuck to one or two genres and did them well or else gave similar screen time to each genre.  Part 1 is primarily about the family feuds for Shao Shang, particularly between her own mother, and also with other ladies in the capital after Shao Shang is brought out to society. After 20 episodes, then it shifts gears into a palace drama for a couple of episodes, and then almost a detective drama where Shao Shang has to help solve a number of plots, and then shifts into a political drama in the later 30+ episodes. It also turned from being a rather light hearted drama to one of immense pain and despair. Lots of tears were shed in the last 10 episodes of the drama. The pacing was just not there for me. It also made me struggle to care that much about the relationship building scenes between Shao Shang and Ling Bu Yi. Often times those scenes were placed to add “cuteness” to their relationship but hampered down the pace of the drama. In my view, those scenes were added just so people can see them as a cute couple. Yet it was often times very forced and not too natural. 

Additionally, from what I described, the scale of the drama went from being very micro to then impacting the fate of the entire empire.  I don’t think this would have been a problem if the pacing of the drama was better. The drama spent way too much time on Shao Shang’s struggles and growth period at home that made the challenges later on in the palace a little jarring.  Though the drama tries to bring everything back at the end, I almost didn’t care. I really do think the drama should have only been 40 episodes long and cut out some of the fat.

Too many characters

Because the drama moves through so many different genres, there are also many characters introduced in it. This meant that some of the antagonists didn’t really have much impact. I can’t exactly put my finger on it since in other dramas we’ve had many characters survive for only a few episodes but they had more “oomph” to it. In this drama, Ling Bu Yi, the main male lead, had a number of women be infatuated with them and would make life difficult for Shao Shang to which I’m like, who are you again? Why are you back in this drama? Many times it’s just as a plot device to further along an interaction between Shao Shang and Ling Bu Yi and then once done, that character is discarded and only to resurface when needed/convenient for story purposes again. Often times that resurfacing doesn’t entirely make sense. (Looking at Madame Luo).  

The end conflict is similar. It takes X many years for some people to resurface again. But for what? The motivations are flimsy and almost too easy or coincidental. 

 

Other observations: Is it just me or did this entire drama film when it was raining. In so many scenes, the floors are sopping wet which results in many of the women’s dresses being coated in dark water or dirt. Not that THAT’s an issue but the overall color palette of the drama is so much darker than I prefer it to be. I guess that’s an intentional choice because of the darker themes later on in the drama. That’s just something I noticed.

Let me know what you think!

Karen

 

A Dream of Splendor (2022) 梦华录

Summary: Set in the Song dynasty, the story follows the lives of three women ,each with unique skillsets, who head to the capital following personal troubles and create a thriving restaurant business. The drama stars Liu Yi Fei, Liu Yan, Lin Yun Er and Chen Xiao.

 

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Initial thoughts [after 14 episodes]: The drama just aired on June 2nd and I am absolutely obsessed. It is without a doubt my favorite drama this year and that is high praise. It is the first time in 16 years that Liu Yi Fei has acted in a historical Chinese drama and the only way to describe her is stunning. Her chemistry in the drama with Chen Xiao is one to reminisce about and her storyline with her two close sisters are heartwarming as well. The costume and set design truly bring you to the colorful world of the Song Dynasty capital. It is NOT a drama to miss! There are certainly small issues here and there with pacing but overall, a captivating and engaging drama. 

Overall thoughts [after watching the full drama]:  This drama deserves a solid 7.5 and then I’m adding a full 1 point just because I am in awe at just how beautiful Liu Yi Fei is. (For this review I cannot help but post a bunch of drama photo of her and the rest of the cast). I seriously cannot describe how much of a treat this drama was just for the elegance and grace exhibited on screen by Liu Yi Fei.  This is certainly by no means a perfect drama nor do I think it will be a classic compared to the likes of Nirvana in Fire or Empresses in the Palace. I would even rank this below Ode To Joy in terms of drama quality but that does not mean I did not thoroughly enjoy this drama. For me, it was a light hearted, sickeningly sweet and surprisingly serious story of young women hoping to change the world’s view of themselves in the capital during the Northern Song dynasty.

《梦华录》主演是谁?

Story: The drama is loosely based on the story Zhao Pan’Er Feng Yue Jiu Feng Chen 赵盼儿风月救风尘  written by Guan Han Qing 关汉卿during the 17th century. The story tells of Zhao Pan’er 赵盼儿 saving her friend, Song Yin Zhang(宋引章), from her abusive and philandering husband Zhou She, 周舍,using her wiles as a woman to save her friend.  The drama name in Chinese, 梦华录, A Dream of Splendor, comes from 东京梦华录, Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor written during the Song dynasty that is a memoir about the lives and wonders of people during that time. (We talked about this quite a bit in our podcast series on the Story of Ming Lan).

Set during the Northern Song Dynasty, the story follows the lives of three women (shown below) and their trials and tribulations in ultimately running Yong An Lou, one of the largest restaurants in Kai Feng. 

 

Zhao Pan’er 赵盼儿 ft. Liu Yi Fei 刘亦菲


A young woman with many talents and the owner of a small tea parlor. She heads to Kai Feng, the capital of the Song dynasty to speak to her betrothed after learning he had passed the imperial entrance exam and wants to take her in as a concubine rather than wife.  She was the daughter of a general who’s father committed a crime that resulted in her status as a citizen fall from daughter of an official to the lowest aka Jian Ji 贱籍. The drama’s youtube english version translates this to Pariah status which I don’t think is strictly right. Think of them almost as slaves. Women in particular in this class were seen essentially as prostitutes and had very little rights or ownership of themselves. Luckily, Pan’Er was “removed” from this class with the help of her father’s old subordinates and she is now a shop owner. Her background of having been in the lowest class is an extremely important point of contention in the drama.

Sun San Niang 孙三娘 ft Liu Yan 柳岩


A 30 year old woman who has the strength of an ox and the incredible cooking abilities. Sun San Niang was heartlessly divorced by her husband whom she worked tirelessly to save money for to start his business and was ditched by her teenage son. Left without a hope in the world and nothing left to lose, she accompanies her good friend, Zhao Pan’Er to the capital to start a new life. 

Song Yin Zhang 宋引章 ft Lin Yun 林允


One of the best pi pa artists out there, Yin Zhang struggles with her identity due to her class. She desperately wishes for someone to help her out of her status in jian ji and is whisked away by Zhou She who subsequently abused her. After being rescued by Pan’Er, she also joins the ladies to start a new life in the Capital where she dazzles listeners high and low with her impeccable pi pa skills. 

What I liked: 
A feast for the eyes: Have I gushed enough about how beautiful this drama is? In my mind, its beauty does not lie in the dazzling gleams of jewels and extravagant clothing we’ve grown accustomed to in palace dramas. Instead, it seeks to have a more understated and elegant air. The director in behind-the-scenes clips stated they wanted to film in locations with plenty of water which is evident throughout the drama with small little boats that people used everywhere. It added a sense of calm and serenity that also showcased the charm of historical China. The costume were also explicitly designed to be as floaty as possible which came into great effect whenever Liu Yi Fei (Zhao Pan’er) danced (as you see below). 

That brings me to my next point. Liu Yi Fei. I have watched Liu Yi Fei growing up. She hasn’t starred in many dramas but the ones she did film definitely made an impact – Chinese Paladin 仙剑奇侠传 and Return of the Condor Heroes 神雕侠侣. In China, she has the moniker of 神仙姐姐 or Goddess Sister for how stunningly beautiful she is. Her poise and composure is rarely matched in the Chinese entertainment industry and I just could not tear my eyes away from her in this drama. Her dancing doesn’t seem forced but actually as if a goddess has come to earth to dance. 

History lover: The drama does try in several episodes to show off important elements of Chinese history. In episode 16, we are treated to an entire episode dedicated the art of tea making during the Song dynasty. We actually already touched on this in our podcast series for The Story of Ming Lan but it even more beautifully brought to life. Fun fact, the dancing that Pan’Er does was improved by Liu Yi Fei which I thought added a lot to the scene.  There are many other examples in drama where the director clearly wanted to share the vast wealth of culture and history that China has to offer. 

Various facets of Women: The drama’s key theme is that just because you’re born of a certain status does not mean you are not able to make a name for yourself. This is evident in the journeys of the three women, Pan’Er, San Niang and Yin Zhang.  Each woman has their strengths and weaknesses which ultimately makes them human. Often times dramas want perfect humans but that’s not realistic. While certain scenes were frustrating, it did make the journey for these women seem more deserved. 

What I particularly enjoyed about this drama is that it once again emphasized that women are appreciated by having their own skills. Women should not simply rely on men resolve their issues. Pan’Er could dance, could make tea, could play soccer, could gamble, could run a restaurant. That did not make her overbearing but instead, only more impressive. San Niang may not have been educated, but she had her strength and cooking skills that no one can take away from her. Similarly, Yin Zhang’s pi pa skills were enough for her to actually be quite wealthy despite what it meant to be a musician.  The key takeaway for me is that women should strive to be the best for themselves and not just for others. 

The drama also did not push the same beats we’ve seen where women turned behind each other’s back. Take Zhang Hao Hao over here. One could expect that she feels threatened by Song Yin Zhang as the new belle of the capital but no, she took one look at Yin Zhang and decided to partner with her. 

 

Mature Relationships: The romance of this drama is also quite relaxed. How Zhao Pan’er and Gu Qian Fan interact is so natural that you truly believe they’re in a relationship. There’s no slow, drawn out takes for kissing scenes which is so cliche.  I could have a whole 20 more episodes of just their day to day. Once they solidified their relationship, the only word to describe them is “sweet”.  What people say about their relationship is that it is very “adult” which makes sense since their portraying older individuals and it shows. 

The drama also highlights the abuse and neglect women undergo in relationships. All three of these women, San Niang, Yin Zhang and Pan’er endured hardships in their relationships before settling into who they truly are. 

Fantastic supporting cast: I cannot say enough about how adorable the supporting cast are especially Chi Ya Nei and He Si. They provided literal tears of laughter in certain scenes. They are legitimately adorable and hilarious which makes this drama all the more fun. 

 

What I didn’t like:

The OST: Ok, I thought the soundtrack was just FINE. The thing is, the soundtrack is sung by Jane Zhang and Liu Yu Ning, two of the most popular artists today for singing soundtracks. I think I just had higher hopes for this drama to have an exquisite soundtrack but unfortunately that is not the case.

Middle of the drama dragged on a bit: Yin Zhang’s arc or storyline of growing a second time I thought wasn’t wholly necessary. Indeed, fans of the show piled on their criticism for the days those episodes aired. While I really appreciated the end version of Yin Zhang we got afterwards, I wish we didn’t have to endure the second growth arc. While that was happening, Gu Qian Fan underwent his own cowardly struggle which in my view was not needed. I understand the director wanted there to be payoff between Pan’Er and Gu Qian Fan afterwards but still. 

 

 Let us know what you think! 

-Karen

 

 

The Autumn Ballad (2022) 嫣语赋

Summary: Qiu Yan ft Qiao Xin (Bridgette Qiao) is the unloved daughter in Qiu household who goes toe-to-toe with the cold faced duke, Liang Yi ft Xu Zheng Xi (Jeremy Xu) as she fights for her life and happiness using her own wit in the face of antiquated views of society. 

 

 

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Overall thoughts: This is one of those rare dramas where the plot/screenplay outshines the production and acting. While I don’t mind Qiao Xin who tries her best in this drama, I feel like this drama would have been even more popular with someone better suited to historical dramas.  I thought Jeremy Xu’s Liang Yi was quite handsome and the scenes between him and Qiao Xin were cute enough.  For this drama, the plot and interesting values espoused for women were the highlights rather than the acting. 

Story: The drama opens with our main female lead, Qiu Yan, getting married. She is off to her husband, the He family’s house, decked out in red. But just as they’re about to be announced husband and wife, her soon-to-be but not yet husband falls to the ground, dead. Qiu Yan and the family are shocked. The thing is, Qiu Yan didn’t even know who she was marrying as her family arranged this marriage for her but the husband’s side of the family is furious and determined to have her killed to join her husband in the afterlife! Qiu Yan does not want to (I mean, who would) and in the chaos, escapes the He family’s home. Out in the streets, she bumps into Liang Yi, Duke of Wei Yuan and head of a department called Pi Chai Chu (kind of like an internal investigation department for the Emperor). She begs him for help but he refuses and sees straight through her lies as to why she’s running. Regardless, Qiu Yan manages to escape home and through a series of events that depended on her wit, superior deduction capabilities and with the begrudging help of Liang Yi, is able to discover why her groom-to-be ended up dead, thus saving her life.  After this initial case is settled, Qiu Yan and Liang Yi continue to cross paths as they work to solve a number of mysteries that escalate up to the safety of the Empire. 

嫣语赋

What I liked:  This is a drama with a rather fast paced plot. Case-in-point, Qiu Yan’s supposed husband dies within the first 15 minutes of the first episode to kick off her sad state of affairs and then the drama goes head first into seeing how she resolves her issues. There are only 34 episodes which makes it a relative breeze to get through compared to some of the other 40+ episode ones and when there are plot holes, you don’t really have too much time to think about it because the drama forces you to focus on the next mystery or case. 

In this drama, the story doesn’t shy away from the fact that being an unloved shu chu daughter of a scholar family is difficult. Qiu Yan’s own mother doesn’t care much for her which seriously damages Qiu Yan’s relationship with her birth mother. Her birth mother, a concubine, only cares that her son, Qiu Yan’s brother, is given opportunities. This then created an environment where Qiu Yan had to learn to be very attentive and watchful of the tiniest details in order to survive at home. Through these challenges growing up, she learned to be independent and also quite aggressive in getting what she wants. In a rare twist, Qiu Yan actually has a great relationship with the main wife of the house. The main wife raised Qiu Yan as if she was her own and dotes upon Qiu Yan. We’ve seen too often where the main wife of the house dislikes any shu chu children so this was quite the breath of fresh air.

Through this drama, Qiu Yan is adamant about the inequities the she as a woman faced at her time which obviously can be translated to today. She questions why women have to serve their husbands, fathers, brothers and children. Why can’t they live for themselves for once? She questions why when a man plans for his career and future, it’s seen as natural but when a woman does the same, she’s being difficult? One scene that stuck out to me was when she used a few tactics to help create some affection between her and Qin Xuan, an initial love interest, she is admonished by the male lead, Liang Yi. He is disgusted that she would manufacture affection in order to get what she wants. But she retorts that just because there was some help in creating the affection, does it mean that it’s not real? That made me pause because it really reflected what it meant for a woman to know who she wants and to work towards it. If the guy ends up interested, is it necessarily a bad thing that she created the environment for him to notice her?  It’s these questions and scenes that actually make one think about where one wants to be in our own lives today. 

The relationship between Qiu Yan and Liang  Yi developed in quite a hilarious way as well. At first there were no sparks whatsoever and they even tried damaging the other’s relationship conquests: Qiu Yan was interested in Qin Xuan while Liang Yi was interested in Qiu Min (Qiu Yan’s sister). Through their repeated interactions however and the fact that Liang Yi saved Qiu Yan several years before which prompted her to learn to read and become the person she is today, the two ultimately get together. Their scenes together as a couple are sickeningly sweet and made me swoon for Jeremy Xu. 

嫣语赋

What suffered:

I’ve seen Qiao Xin (Bridgette Qiao) in a number of dramas throughout the years (Nirvana in Fire, Ode To Joy amongst many others). When this drama came out, one of the biggest criticisms from viewers was that her oration needed improvement as well as her posture. It just seemed like she was a modern woman who was placed in costume and that really brought viewers out of story. You couldn’t hear her well because now the trend in dramas is to not use as much voice dubbing and her composure was just odd for a historical drama (which is not usually the case in modern day dramas). Her acting as well was fine in delivering lines but to bring someone into the historical setting, her acting needed to get to the next level. In general, I thought she was acceptable whereas I much preferred her counterpart, Xu Zheng Xi.  

It just seemed like the drama was of a lower quality in terms of costumes and production which is regrettable because I think many of the views from the drama were quite refreshing as I described above. But alas, what can you do. I picked up this drama during a period when there really wasn’t much interesting airing so it sufficed for the time being but it was not a drama I chased too seriously. 

 

-Karen