Fighting for Love (2024) 阿麦从军

Summary: A Mai ft Zhang Tian Ai saw her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Sheng, slaughtered at the hands of their adoptive son, Chen Qi when she was just a child. From then on, her one goal is revenge. Now a young woman, she instead disguises herself as a man to more easily get the information she needs. She saves the life of Shang Yi Zhi ft Zhang Hao Wei who turns out to be the son of the Princess. Their fates turn towards the battlefield where A Mai joins the army that Shang YI Zhi leads in order to not only protect their borders, but also seek revenge.

 

Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: January 31, 2024

Platform: iQiYi

 

*Note – English translations may not match official translations

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Initial Rating: 7/10 [First 14 episodes]: A surprisingly decent drama that sees Zhang Tian Ai grungy and dirtied as A Mai, a young woman who joins the army disguised as a man. A somewhat familiar story but she is a captivating character with extreme survival skills and a devious wit.  Strong adversaries and a focus on the military makes this a pleasant departure from fantasy and palace dramas. This is easily bingeworthy and a fun chase so far

Final Rating: 5.8/10: Sadly, the drama lost its luster in the second half as it tried to be too many genres at once. Instead of focusing on A Mai’s revenge plotline, the drama added in politics and imperial harem conflicts that were very cliche and strongly diminished the value of both A Mai and Shang Yi Zhi. 

a Mai 阿麦

zhang tian ai 张天爱

Orphaned daughter of the Duke of Sheng. She disguises herself as a man to enact revenge.

shang yi zhi 商易之

zhang hao wei 张昊唯

Son of a Princess with even more secrets to his identity, he leads an army to defend the borders of the Southern Xia Kingdom

chang yu qing 常钰青

wang rui chang 王瑞昌

Famed general of the northern Mo kingdom. He aims to conquer the south

tang shao yi 唐绍义

gao ge 高戈

A soldier that befriends A Mai and ends up being her trusted friend

Initial Thoughts

I had little expectations for this drama but I do think Zhang Tian Ai is impossibly gorgeous so I thought hey, let’s give it a try. This far exceeded my expectations. I easily binged 8 episodes over the weekend and caught up with what was available. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be too much buzz on iQiYi only breaching 6000 on its popularity index but Zhang Tian Ai and the cast are doing quite a bit of marketing for this drama so hopefully things improve. The drama suffers from not having a well known cast and even Zhang Tian Ai doesn’t have as much star power as she used to so the natural draw here will only be word of mouth.

Despite the heavy focus on war, this drama is sprinkled in with a lot of comedic moments thanks to the main male lead. Oh! He’s familiar to audiences as the Crown Prince from Joy of Life! The rest of the cast is not super well known but I appreciate that the drama gives the opportunity to many actors to get some screentime. I can tell that money was spent on creating the militia rather than perhaps hiring a star studded cast but the final product is quite decent for a military focused drama. 

Zhang Tian Ai surprises me with this role. It’s clear she’s put time and effort into it and does not shy away from the hard and dirty work. She’s riding horseback, doing weapons training, getting thrown in the mud and actually fighting. I’m hoping this will be a ramp up in her career to bigger and better projects in the future!

But please, WHYYYY choose this name Fighting for Love? Ugh. That totally diminishes A Mai’s contribution. iQiYi, I volunteer as tribute as your English drama title translator. 

What I’m liking

  • Strong and numerous adversaries – Strong enemies are needed to showcase the value of the main character.
    • The evil emperor – Yay! Is it weird that I’m happy that the emperor of this drama is actually terrifying? The actor is the same guy as the Right Chancellor in The Longest Day in Chang An and he was also in A Journey to Love. But the Emperor does bring a palpable level of terror to the story because he’s both very sharp and very ruthless. He’s not above killing every young man born in a certain year regardless of their rank in order to eliminate all threats to his throne. He is able to whiff out hints of betrayal and weakness amongst his sons and count officials but his ego and thirst for power keeps him from seeing the real threat. I really enjoyed his tight grip at the beginning of the drama because it does make him as a threat more credible.
    • Chang Yu Qing + Chen Qi:  Yes, they’re the enemy but Chang Yu Qing is shown to be an extremely capable albeit arrogant general. He captured many strongholds with ease. While bloodthirsty, he does have a bottom line while Chen QI does not. They will prove to be interesting foils for A Mai. 
  • Interesting mix of war themes with comedy – The literal translation of the drama is A Mai Joining the Army so there’s going to be a lot of war themes. It doesn’t necessarily shy away from the bloodshed, tears and heartache involved with war but there are plenty of lighthearted moments in the drama so that this is an easier watch. It helps keep the drama flowing despite the burdens of being at war. I also appreciated that the drama contemplates the themes of brotherhood and also what it means to be a leader of an army. One order can bring glory but also bring about the deaths of many people. How does one face that? This drama touches on defense policy and diplomatic relations too. You can’t think too hard about them but at least they’re being addressed.

What Needs Work

  • Weird pacing/timelines: It’s probably due to budget constraints but certain plotlines happen extremely fast or were described through exposition so that if you’re not paying attention, you would miss some major storylines. But then there’s plenty of filler scenes with comedy or some other lighthearted nature. It does just feel like sometimes things happen very quickly while other times not a lot happens at all. 
  • Main male lead’s diminished value: Don’t get me wrong, I think Zhang Hao Wei is doing a good job in this role. He is the funniest person on screen and his enunciation is quite good. No need for voice dub to understand him. But the character of Shang Yi Zhi is painstakingly naive compared to A Mai. He seems to be the damsel in distress all the time and constantly needs her help or one of his advisors to tell him what to do. He has a kind heart but many of the lessons he’s being told seem quite childish for someone in his position. For example, he should know that he shouldn’t help A Mai while she’s in the army because otherwise, she’ll be mistreated for nepotism. He’s learning quickly and I hope he matures into a strong leader but at present, he doesn’t seem “worthy” of his post or of A Mai’s affections.  Basically, A Mai, you’re too good for him and anyone at this point!

Final Thoughts [mild spoilers ahead]:

Ooof, the drama started going downhill at the 22 episode mark. I really wished this show focused on A Mai at war and leading an army rather than what we got which is writers trying to stuff too many things into the end of the drama. This drama sadly did not garner too much buzz which is a shame for Zhang Tian Ai because she does look great as a female general and this show was generally a palette cleanser. Unfortunately, any praise I had for the beginning of the show faltered as we returned back to issues in the palace.

So many problems in the second half of the drama

  • Weak main male lead: I wrote about it above but the problems with Shang Yi Zhi only got worse as the drama went along. While it’s clear that he cares deeply about A Mai, in this entire drama it doesn’t seem like he is worthy of the role he takes. General of the Zhen Bei army? He only got that post because he’s the son of a princess and duke. He had the likes of A Mai and other advisors to help him at every step. He was joking about his first time in a military tent which raised my eyebrows as to how not only privileged he was but also unworthy of leading an army. His advisor had to teach him multiple times the cost of him acting rashly while General. Why is that acceptable for a man of his position? Later on, his mother basically plans everything for him in order for him to resume his true identity as the sole heir to the previously assassinated crown prince. Shang Yi Zhi seems to just go with the flow rather than be an integral decision maker.  His primary praiseworthy quality is that he has a kind heart and wants to see the people of his kingdom prosper. 
  • Tons of cliches that are now too overdone: Prince trying to overtake the crown prince for the throne? Check. Simple miscommunication leading to heartbreak? Check. Ill-intended servants adding to miscommunication? Check. Gossipy and jealous women in the imperial harem? Check. In the last 3rd of the drama, the writers basically threw whatever simple historical drama cliche they could to add “drama” but it ultimately ended up being infuriating because come on! We’ve seen all these tactics already! We’re in 2024. Let’s not revert back 10 years with what we’re seeing on screen. 
  • The “competition” for A Mai’s heart fell flat: This drama tried to play up the two male leads as options for A Mai. There is certainly more sexual chemistry between A Mai and General Chang but I’m sorry, I simply do not think that Wang Rui Chang is attractive. General Chang Yu Qing might be attracted to A Mai but it’s not fully fleshed out whether he truly respects her or wants to possess her as a prize. I don’t see Chang Yu Qing treating her like an equal if they were to actually go back to Bei Mo. Shang Yi Zhi is just useless overall but he does treat A Mai with more respect. He just doesn’t know the best way to protect her because of his own limited capabilities. Key takeaway here is that A Mai! You are better off alone! You don’t need no man!

 

Let me know what you think

 

1 thought on “Review: Fighting for Love (2024) 阿麦从军

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