Lost You Forever (2023) 长相思
Summary: As young children, Cang Xuan ft Zhang Wan Yi, grandson of the King of Xi Yan, and Xiao Yao ft Yang Zi, daughter of the King of Hao Ling, experienced death of their loved ones. Despite promising to stay together, they are forced apart. As young adults, Xiao Yao is now turned into the young man Wen Xiao Liu, a local doctor who resides in the town of Qing Shui. There, she/he saves the quiet young man Ye Shi Qi ft Deng Wei and encounters the bloodthirsty nine headed demon Xiang Liu ft Tan Jian Ci. Cang Xuan also arrives in the town under the guise of the wine maker Xuan. As their paths cross, so do forces behind them that encompass the fates of kingdoms.
Total Episode Count: 39 (Part 1)
Initial Airing Date: July 24, 2023
*Note – English translations may not match official translations
Initial Rating after 15 episodes: 8/10 – The best summer fantasy drama so far. This high quality production is a bingeworthy watch with its handsome cast, complicated characters, beautiful scenery, stunning cinematography, and interconnected plot. The main female lead has her head straight and she pairs well with each of the three men around her. I was skeptical at first but am glad to admit I shouldn’t have been.
Final Rating for season 1: 7.8/10 – A time jump and questionable actions by the female lead in the last 3rd of the drama dragged down the quality a bit but this drama is elevated overall by the stunning acting abilities by both Zhang Wan Yi and Tan Jian Ci. Still my favorite drama for the summer and I am eagerly awaiting season 2.
Wen Xiao Liu/Xiao Yao 玟小六/小夭
Yang Zi 杨紫
Originally princess of the kingdom of Hao Ling, she grew up with Cang Xuan and cared for each other deeply. But she was sent away to study where she decided to escape and ended up in the town of Qing Shui under the guise of the local town doctor Wen Xiao Liu
轩辕玱玹 xuan yuan cang xuan
Zhang wan yi 张晚意
Grandson of the King of Xi Yan. He experienced the death of his loved ones at a young age and was separated from his beloved cousin. As a young man, he seeks to regain his rightful place as King of Xi Yan while also recover his lost cousin, Xiao Yao.
ye shi qi/tu shan jing 叶十七/涂山璟
Deng Wei 邓为
Discovered by Wen Xiao Liu along the riverside, he is named Ye Shi Qi and becomes a devoted companion to Wen Xiao Liu. Turns out, he’s a ninetailed fox spirit from the fabulously wealthy Tu Shan clan.
Xiang Liu 相柳
Tan jian ci 檀建次
A nine headed demon, Xiang Liu is cruel and bloodthirsty (quite literally) and allies himself with the remnants of the Kingdom of Chen Rong. But under his cold exterior is a more complicated and warmer side he shows to Wen Xiao Liu.
Finally, I’ve had a chance to turn to this drama and I still need to clear out some of my inventory but I’m glad I started it!
Of all the dramas I’ve watched this summer, this is without a doubt my favorite so far. (I’m sorry Cathy! It does beat out The Legend of An Le in my books!) Rumor has it that Yang Zi had high expectations for this drama and it’s paying off. It has surpassed The Youth Memories for the highest popularity index on Tencent/TengXun, breaking 32,000 and climbing (The Youth Memories broke 30,000). Though to be fair, this drama is only airing online vs TYM also airing on network television so it’s not exactly the same comparison. Regardless, this drama has hit number one on many different metrics.
I binged available episodes and in my opinion, this drama boasts a decently interwoven story, strong acting, a handsome cast, high quality costumes, seamless CGI (except for the animals) and beautiful cinematography.
So what works so far?
A handsome cast of multifaceted characters! 好多帅哥!
If Fireworks of My Heart was a feast for the eyes for a modern drama, this is its worthy counterpart for a historical fantasy drama. The three male leads of this drama are all quite handsome and the screenwriters managed to make each one complicated yet understandable. In the past, audiences would roll their eyes when a drama had all the men fall head over heels in love with the female lead for really no reason but thus far, it seems like each relationship line makes sense.
I’ll admit, this drama changed my view of Deng Wei. I did not like his portrayal in 长月烬明 Till the End of the Moon at all, thinking he was too wooden. But so far, perhaps it’s because of the type of person he plays in this drama, I actually like his portrayal as Ye Shi Qi/Tu Shan Jing quite a bit. Ye Shi Qi is detail oriented, thoughtful and so devoted to Wen Xiao Liu. The character Ye Shi Qi recognizes how sacred and valuable his time with Wen Xiao Liu is as Ye Shi Qi which is why he works so hard to keep his true identity a secret. His relationship with Wen Xiao Liu is that of steady companionship and reminds me of the saying, Home is Where the Heart is.
My favorite though has to be Tan Jian Qi’s Xiang Liu. It’s hard to do the silver hair look well but he manages to pull it off with finesse. His delicate features suit him perfectly as he presents a complicated figure on screen, one that is a brutal killer but shows signs of tenderness underneath. Xiang Liu’s initial curiosity towards Wen Xiao Liu turns to bemusement after they spend time together to growing attachment and love. But his feelings are always restrained and he’s not above using Wen Xiao Liu to achieve his means even if he wants to protect her from other dangers. He has more raw sexual tension with Xiao Liu than the other 2 men in contention.
Zhang Wan Yi’s Cang Xuan is the most well acted. Perhaps because Zhang Wan Yi has a baby face but he doesn’t fit the whole group as well as the other 2 men. He’s supposed to be the older brother to Xiao Yao but I think of him as a younger brother instead. However, I do think he has the best acting of the bunch. His enunciation and articulation on screen though are top notch (and reminds me quite a bit of Luo Jin). Plus he and Yang Zi managed to make me cry buckets so kudos to him.
If I were to rank the three men in terms of looks, it would be:
- Xiang Liu ft Tan Jian Ci
- Ye Shi Qi/Tu Shan Jing ft Deng Wei
- Cang Xuan ft Zhang Wan Yi
But if I were to rank the three men in terms of acting, it would be:
- Cang Xuan ft Zhang Wan Yi
- Xiang Liu ft Tan Jian Ci
- Ye Shi Qi/Tu Shan Jing ft Deng Wei
So many CPs! (Couples!) 太好嗑了
How did Yang Zi’s Wen Xiao Liu make it possible for me to want to ship her with so many men? At first I thought her childhood story with Xuan was already heartwrenching enough, but then when Ye Shi Qi arrived I’m like ok, I ship them now. And then when Xiang Liu shows up with his silver hair and stern look, his cruel but curious interactions with Wen Xiao Liu immediately made me want to ship them too! At least in the first 15 episodes, the drama manages to flesh out each of these three characters so that at least to me, it feels like she can’t go wrong ending up with any of them! There’s plenty of source material for fans to ship Yang Zi with any of these men and I will gladly start watching those fan videos. I’m sure Yang Zi had a blast filming alongside so many handsome men.
A Clear Headed Female Lead 女主脑袋清醒
Yang Zi’s Wen Xiao Liu is part of the goddess clan/basically a deity. In Chinese, part of Shen Zu 神族 meaning her life span is extremely long. In one blink of an eye the story moves to 300 years later and she just grew up to be a young woman disguising as a man. But because of that, she clearly understands what her place is in life in the little town she’s decided to live. She recognizes that her life span far outstrips her mortal friends but she is happy to stick her neck out for them, care for them and raise them as family to enjoy a level of companionship. Yet she knows one day they will leave her and she, for now, is prepared for that pain. We learn snippets of the hardships she faced in her youth which molded her into the much more hardened individual she is today. This forces her to recognize she cannot rely on others to help her, that her biggest strength is herself, a lesson we should all keep in mind.
In contrast to many other female leads, when she sees a severely injured stranger, her first reaction is to leave him be because she’s not responsible for saving the world. Most other female leads would of course jump in to save the person without thinking of the consequences. When I saw this I was like Ok, I’m impressed. In a face off with the arrogant and spoiled princess, Wen Xiao Liu’s first reaction is to beg for forgiveness rather than start fighting. Of course, she does then poison the princess’s maid but that was only after trying to diffuse the situation without brute force.
I also do like Yang Zi’s portrayal thus far. All of her scenes in the beginning of the drama are her as a man and she’s a little overacting the role but for the most part, she seems natural and engaging. On the surface she’s all laughs and jokes but there is depth in her character such that in front of, for example, Xiang Liu, she shares her loneliness.
Other noteworthy points
- Decent child actors! – Often times in flashbacks, the children are rather wooden but I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode with the young Cang Xuan and Xiao Yao so kudos to them!
- High quality production – From the set to the costumes to the cinematography, it’s easy to see that this was a costly production. This is in stark contrast to The Legend of An Le which looks extremely cheap compared to this drama. I love the costumes and set design. Only the animal CGI could do some work but for the most part, it lives up to a well produced drama.
Final Thoughts [Spoilers Below]
I was waiting for season 2 to air but given that we don’t know when season 2 will happen, I am writing my thoughts for season 1 first. This is Tencent’s best summer drama to air breaching 33,000 on Tencent’s popularity index. On Douban, initial ratings came out at 7.6 as well. Yang Zi and her crew of male costars all have skyrocketed in popularity with many trending posts, variety tv show appearances and live streams. Lets talk about what went well and what didn’t.
Zhang Wan Yi’s acting blows me away, followed by Tan Jian Ci and Yang Zi. These three deserve all the acting praise.
This drama is all about the different couples that people ship. Which camp are you? At first I understood Xiao Yao + Jing but I fell in the Xiao Yao + Xiang Liu camp. However, especially with the last 10 episodes, I am so impressed with Zhang Wan Yi’s acting as Cang Xuan that now I am firmly Xiao Yao + Cang Xuan, then Xiao Yao + Xiang Liu. I’m absolutely obsessed with Zhang Wan Yi now.
I see many awards in Zhang Wan Yi’s future as his portrayal of this conflicted, reserved, powerful yet repressed individual is brought to life on screen. Zhang Wan Yi commands your attention every time he appears and you cannot help but be drawn to him. Finally, someone knows how to portray a young ruler and he does it with ease. Many of his inner turmoil and complicated scenes were done with just one take. There’s plenty of behind the scenes evidence to support this. That’s how impressive he is. He IS the bonafide male lead.
Cang Xuan as a character isn’t too likable but Zhang Wan Yi’s portrayal improved Cang Xuan tenfold. Cang Xuan loves Xiao Yao with all his heart but he knows he cannot give her what she wants. He must walk a path to amass as much power as possible which means that if he must marry many women, he will do so in order to save lives or consolidate his power. While he is heartbroken every time he sees Xiao Yao going off with another man, he picks up the pieces of his broken heart by himself. He never lets Xiao Yao know his true feelings because that is his way of protecting her. Everything he does is so that she can be protected and so that he never loses her again. Zhang Wan Yi was able to make audiences relate to the heart wrenching decisions he makes.
Zhang Wan Yi is so hilarious in real life too. He trained in singing and in many of his blooper scenes, he just bursts out in song or shout sings. I’ve favorited many of those clips since they’re so funny.
Tan Jian Ci truly adores the role of Xiang Liu
His management company periodically posts additional clips of him with his pet bird that are filmed outside of filming the drama and they’re all super cute. It’s clear Tan Jian Ci and his management company were hoping to use this drama as a stepping stone for his career and it’s paying off. Xiang Liu’s love for Xiao Yao is reserved but bursting with raw emotion and sexual tension, a clear contrast to the other 2-3 men in contention for Xiao Yao’s heart. Though he can be rough and rather rude at times, he respects her enough to know that he cannot give Xiao Yao what she ultimately wants which is someone to be with her forever because he has other commitments in his life. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t do his best to try to protect her. He teaches her archery and even procures the best materials for her to build her a bow. He spends 37 underwater saving her life for peats sake! Tan Jian Ci’s portrayal of Xiang Liu is extremely detailed. His eyes are immensely expressive and he knows how to use the camera to his benefit. Ugh. Xiao Yao! Why did you have to run off with the one man in the cast with the worst acting abilities???
Plus, Tan Jian Ci is extremely talented! He is part of a boy band. He can sing, he can dance (he was actually a trained dancer) and he can act! His only “pain point” is that he’s not as tall as other men but that shouldn’t prevent him from reaching further heights in his career!
Yang Zi! Keep focusing on acting and not beauty!
Yang Zi has been acting for many, many years and is considered one of the better actresses of her age. I really she hope she takes note that she should focus on finding roles that showcase her acting capabilities. She has spent a lot of time in recent years improving her beauty and it’s obvious that she has maybe done a little too much botox. So please! Don’t worry about looks too much right now. Just focus on the acting component and you will be fine! Her scenes with Zhang Wan Yi are stellar and it just shows that when paired with costars who are equally good at acting, 1+1>2.
Fleshed out side characters and motivations.
There’s a big cast of characters and the drama does a commendable job making each one multifaceted. Xiao Yao’s sister A Nian in particular started off being hella annoying but then grew to be an adorable and trusting younger sister. I love her so much now.
Chen Rong Xing Yue is extremely two-faced and only thinks about power but we hear her backstory and understands why she is the way she is. In this drama, love isn’t the only thing. Power, politics, money are all at play and each person’s very real motivations are on full display. This is quite refreshing for this type of drama. Cang Xuan point blank tells Xiao Yao he’s using her just by having her be close to him and she takes that in stride. Their relationship is so rock solid that they know how each of their actions will be viewed. Chi Shui Feng Long wants to marry Xiao Yao not for love, but because he wants to use her title as his stepping stone to becoming clan leader. Chen Rong Xing Yue may like Cang Xuan but she must be married as his queen and princess to fit her position. This leaves a drama with plenty of food for thought.
But there are issues with the latter half of the drama.
What didn’t work:
Deng Wei + Tu Shan Jing….Sigh
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m so confused by Deng Wei and also Tu Shan Jing’s sudden popularity from this drama. Deng Wei’s just…not a good actor. He was fine in the beginning but in the second half of the drama, particularly when compared to Zhang Wan Yi and Tan Jian Ci who act circles around Deng Wei, his weaknesses are brutally exposed. Even in reality/variety show appearances, he seems so much more rigid and wooden than his contemporaries. His fans all expected the big fight in the cherry blossom forest to be his blowout scene but you know what I got from it? I thought that Tu Shan Jing set the fire that surrounded them and he just waited there to die with Xiao Yao. Completely NOT what actually happened. I thought that scene was acted extremely poorly and largely due to Deng Wei’s wooden portrayal.
While I understand why Xiao Yao wants to be with Tu Shan Jing (because she is his one and only), but his character ends up being weak and almost useless. As a third party observer, Tu Shan Jing is already betrothed, cannot fight against his grandmother and ends up with a kid! If you were Cang Xuang or Xiang Liu, how would you feel about seeing a guy hurting Xiao Yao this way? And seriously, Xiao Yao. You wake up after 37 years and your first thought is to sneak over to find Tu Shan Jing who just wanted to die for 37 years while Cang Xuan spent that entire time helping you seek revenge, grow his power and planted an entire forest waiting for your return. Xiang Liu helped cure you every month for 37 years. What did Tu Shan Jing do? He lied in bed waiting to die! Hello! I was totally in Cang Xuan’s camp at being upset Xiao Yao didn’t see him first when she woke up. Ugh. And then afterwards when Xiao Yao basically threw herself at Tu Shan Jing when he could not keep any of his promises, I was just shaking my head.
Basically, in the last 3rd of the drama if you just remove all Tu Shan Jing scenes, this drama would have been much better.
37 Years Later – So many issues with this time jump
One of my biggest annoyances with fantasy dramas is that time jumps are just a number. They’re meant to tug at your heartstrings because “wow 37 years” but unfortunately just creates a whole slew of plot problems instead. Let’s recount why this bugged me so much.
- Tu Shan Jing is lying waiting to die for exactly 37 years and is about to snuff it just in time for Xiao Yao to come back or at least be healthy enough to come back?
- Tu Shan Jing’s grandmother was sickly and nearing death but managed to live for another 37 years in time to force a recovered Tu Shan Jing to marry Fang Feng Yi Ying? Why didn’t she die earlier and Tu Shan Hou take over as clan leader? So many problems would have been resolved.
- How did Tu Shan Hou and Fang Feng Yi Ying’s affair not get discovered for 37 years? And how did she just manage to get pregnant at the exact right time?
- Cang Xuan’s building took 40 years to build but then was rebuilt very quickly when needed? I think I missed something here.
- Cang Xuan’s relationship with everyone around him doesn’t change but then he needs to marry suddenly after the building collapses?
- A Nian didn’t see Cang Xuan for a whole 40 years? They didn’t communicate at all during that time?
Perhaps the book explains this more but this time jump really annoyed me. It feels like for 37 years, nothing happened and everyone was just waiting for Xiao Yao to come back for the plot to continue. The plot moved at a brisk pace, save for her scenes with Tu Shan Jing, after she returned but the time away just felt like it could have easily just been 3 months rather than 37 years. In any case, I feel like the drama could have just ended after the battle in the blossom forest and it would have been fine too.
I almost don’t want to watch season 2 because I think where season 1 ended was just fine.
What did you think of season 1?