Parallel World (2023) 西出玉门

Summary: The beautiful and mysterious Ye Liu Xi ft Ni Ni searches for a guide to into the desert. She’s in search of Chang Dong ft Bai Yu who is now a local shadow puppeteer. He was once a famous desert guide but after a tragic accident two years ago, decided to retire from that life and take up shadow puppetry. Ye Liu Xi presents a clue to Chang Dong about that tragic accident that pulls Chang Dong out of retirement. But she cannot provide anymore information as Ye Liu Xi seems to have her memory selectively removed. She found herself hanging from a tree 1 year ago with no clue how she ended up there. She found a bag with a priceless object and an 80s camera with some peculiar photos which led her to Chang Dong. Now, she enlists his help to guide her to the desert, West out of Yu Men, to find her past and the mystery of who she is.


Total Episode Count: 38

Initial Airing Date: September 7, 2023

Platform: Tencent


*Note – English translations may not match official translations


Final Rating 7.8/10: It’s a gripping supernatural thriller that peels back the layers of the mystery of the Parallel World at a brisk pace. The leads really embody their characters, especially Ni Ni as the heroine Ye Liu Xi. A great adaptation of the source material, it was an engaging watch that I thoroughly enjoyed. The drama brings us to the deserts of western China, a rarely explored vista but unfortunately the director wasn’t able to capture the true beauty of the desert

Ye liu Xi 叶流西

ni ni 倪妮

A skilled scholar and doctor, Mu Zhuo Hua’s only goal in life is to become a court official in order to escape her life at home as the forgotten 7th daughter in the Mu Family.

chang dong 昌东

bai yu 白宇

A skilled desert guide who retired after a tragic accident 2 years ago. Ye Liu Xi barges into his life with clues about that accident. He joins her on a supernatural expedition

Fei Tang 肥唐

zhao da 赵达

A failed antique store owner, he tags along with Ye Liu Xi and Chang Dong after learning that she might be in possession of a priceless object

jiang zhan 江斩

Jin han 金瀚

A co-Lead of the rebel organization, Scorpion Eye, with a vendetta against Ye Liu Xi. He will stop at nothing until he enacts revenge on her for her betrayal

qing zhi 青芝

Meng Zi yi 孟子义

 A co-Lead of the Scorpion Eye, she’s also hunting down Ye Liu Xi. However, she is more than meets the eye to everyone around her.

ding liu 丁柳

xia meng 夏梦

The young and spunky god-daughter of Liu Qi, an investor for Ye Liu Xi’s trip, she’s tasked with finding investment opportunities in the desert. She’s more than capable of handling herself.

Gao Shen 高深

li yun rui 李昀锐

The young muscle of the group. He’s quiet but lethal and utterly devoted to Ding Liu. He’s faced with challenges as he must decided how to save his friends

Plot overview

For this review I don’t want to spoil too much of the drama because unraveling the mystery was the fun part in both the book and the drama. 

The beautiful and mysterious Ye Liu Xi finds the retired desert guide Chang Dong currently making a living as a Shadow Puppeteer. She woke up hanging from a tree with only fragments of her memory and a bag with a mysterious object, a camera with a few photos, and her name written on a piece of paper. She needs a guide to help her find her past and the photos led her to Chang Dong. Chang Dong agrees to aid her after seeing that one of the photos include his dead fiancée. An acquaintance of Chang Dong, Fei Tang, learns of Chang Dong’s expedition, and in hopes of finding antiques to sell, joins them. 

As the trio enters the western desert, supernatural events keep occurring. Whether that’s random pulls from the air, unexplained light shows at night, and mysterious sand storms, Chang Dong finally deduces that these all events are somehow related to Ye Liu Xi. They must now try and uncover this Parallel World.

Overall Thoughts

Similar to some of the other late summer / early fall dramas this year, it is a pity that this drama didn’t gain more of a following when it aired. It got some buzz when it first aired, but perhaps the timing of when the drama aired and the subject matter wasn’t able to capture more audiences. 
The original book had been on my radar for years and had gotten quite a lot of fan coverage. I didn’t know much about the drama apart
from the fact that it was set in the desert. So when the drama started airing, I finally decided to read the book first. I completely devoured the book in a week and was very excited to see how the drama would adapt this book. I had my trepidations because recent book adaptations have all been quite disappointing.
I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation and believe it’s success really lies with how closely stuck to the source material with adding unnecessaries characters, scenes, or complexities. As of this writing in October, the rating on Douban dropped down to 6.9 which I think is a bit low for the drama. I think a lot of criticism from non-book audiences was that the pace of the drama was too slow which I disagree with. I thought the drama moved at a very brisk pace, in line with the book. CGI was better than expected and the world building lived up to my expectations. It’s rare that we see world building in a modern day Chinese drama and I thought it worked on screen. I had some quibbles with the world building in the book but I won’t extend those to the drama since it was mainly just following the original source material. Overall, this was a fun adventure to watch, almost like a video game, as we follow our heroes fight across check points until the final fight. 


What I liked

  • Ye Liu Xi as a fierce, independent, yet clever woman – Ni Ni really embodied the character of Ye Liu Xi and I’m glad we’re finally getting female characters who aren’t meek and docile
    • Independent – when we first meet Ye Liu Xi, we immediately knew that she was a woman who will get what she wants. She’s out there working various gigs to support herself such as cutting melons or grilling kebobs all to get enough money for her journey. Despite needing Chang Dong as her guide, she is quickly established as someone who will forge her own path.
    • Fierce – Ye Liu Xi is a fighter who will not hesitate to use force and quite frankly ruthless methods to achieve her goals. One character notes that she doesn’t operate within the confines of law and order, which really describes who her moral compass.
  • Complex Characters with own agendas – each of the characters who join Ye Liu Xi and Chang Dong on their initial expedition all had their own agenda. Upon first glance, each was in it for money, but throughout the journey, every person in the core group developed, faced their inner demons, and fought against the challenges put in front of them. This also applies to the antagonists in the drama. The main antagonists had a mission that they sought to accomplish and we were able to explore their motives.
  • Fascinating World
    • Using shadow puppets as our entry way to a Parallel World, the drama does a great job in blending between our world with a supernatural world from Chinese legend that is not out of the realm of possibility.
  • No useless miscommunications
    • In the beginning of the drama, Ye Liu Xi and Chang Dong establish that they’ll be open with each other. Thankfully, they actually do so, along with all the rest of the other characters. We don’t get useless miscommunication because a character decides to act nobly, well, there’s only one instance, but that’s quickly resolved.
  • The Roosters! 
    • At a certain point in the drama, roosters become fun little side characters that become quite integral to the plot of the drama. They were fan favorites in the book and definitely the same in the drama. It was quite funny seeing these rooster run and flap around our main characters




What could have been better 

  • Cinematography – the cast and crew spent months in the beautiful areas of the Gobi desert, the dried lake of Lop Nur, and many other places. We do get some stunning views in the drama, but the main atmosphere that I got was “sand”. I wish we saw a bit more of the landscape. Speaking of, many scenes set at night in the drama were obviously filmed during the day with just a filter placed over it. I wonder why the director just didn’t film at night. Maybe it was too hard?
  • Finale – The finale didn’t pack as much of a punch in the drama with the final battle. It was all leading up to so much and I wanted a splashier end. 


Stray observations –

  • The drama made some interesting name alterations from the original novel. For example, they replaced all the references to real places and people in the drama. The city of Xi’An was replaced as Li Cheng. The creator of the Parallel World was the Emperor Wu Di of the Han Dynasty but the drama changed him to a powerful general. 
  • The subtitles also purposefully changed the name of certain more common events so that people wouldn’t conflate them with reality. For example – 西出玉门 vs 西出钰门 or 南斗行 vs 楠枓星



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