The Ingenious One (2023) 云襄传
Summary: After studying at Yun Tai for over 10 years, Yun Xiang ft Chen Xiao leaves the mountains, to seek revenge against those who murdered his entire family. Of the many skills he developed at Yun Tai, martial arts is not one of them, but he is extremely gifted and intelligent. On his journey, he meets the skilled fighter Shu Ya Nan ft Mao Xiao Tong as they both try to save a man that helped them in their youth. Both Yun Xiang and Shu Ya Nan are driven to seek revenge for tragedies in their youth and they team up alongside several others in their quest for justice.
Total Episode Count: 36
Initial Airing Date: May 1, 2023
*Note – English translations may not match official translations of iQiyi/Tencent
Initial Score [After 8 episodes]: 6.8/10 An adequate drama that attempts to bring out qualities of Wuxia but doesn’t quite stick the landing. The main pair Chen Xiao and Mao Xiao Tong are hilarious with Chen Xiao, the ML, being the physically “weak” one and needs protection from Mao Xiao Tong. However, the intrigue of the revenge storyline and side characters are not as impactful as the drama hopes it would be.
Final Score 6/10: A drama that could not decide if it was a wuxia, romance or scheming drama and failed to excel in any of these genres. Heavy marketing from the leads and initial strength of the first few episodes could not save this bloated drama from falling into mediocrity, particularly in the middle portion. Sadly, while you could tell there was intent to make a thoughtful drama, it ultimately fails to make a strong impact.
Yun Xiang ft Chen Xiao’s real name is Luo Wen Jia. Fifteen years ago, his entire Luo clan of 313 people was mysteriously murdered one night with the young Yun Xiang as the only survivor. He was saved by Wen Cong, a member of the Yun Tai sect, who sends the young boy to Yun Tai to learn skills. After 15 years, Yun Xiang, now a young man with unparalleled intellect but no martial arts skills whatsoever, heads down the mountain to experience the real world. However, his true goal is to seek the truth about the death of his family and enact revenge. Yun Xiang’s specialty is plotting and scheming to achieve his goals and is one of his master’s most outstanding students.
His journey starts with trying to connect with his childhood savior, Wen Cong but soon hears that he has been captured and tries to stage a rescue. Along the way, he meets Shu Ya Nan ft Mao Xiao Tong, a skilled fighter and the sole remaining member of the Shu family and adoptive daughter of Wen Cong. The two work together to save Wen Cong and while they succeeded in breaking him out of jail, they were unable to save his life.
With his dying breath, Wen Cong gives Yun Xiang additional clues on his family’s death which leads him and Shu Ya Nan on a quest where they team up with a noble mercenary Jin Biao ft Liu Guan Ling and become interconnected with the wealthy Su family, responsible for imperial fabrics and embroidery.
Yun xiang 云襄
Chen xiao 陈晓
A handsome young man with many unusual skills, just not martial arts. He is a disciple of Yun Tai and uses his skills for good.
Shu Ya Nan 舒亚男
mao xiao tong 毛晓彤
A powerful and intelligent fighter Ya Nan is quick to act in a fight and can hold her own easily.
su ming yu 苏鸣玉
Tang xiao tian 唐晓天
Son of a wealthy family, he strives to live beyond his merchant life and enter into Jiang Hu.
Ke Meng Lan 柯梦兰
xu ling yue 许龄月
The object of Su Ming Yu’s affections, Meng Lan is a beautiful courtesan with strong principals.
Jin Biao 金彪
liu guan lin 刘冠麟
A skilled mercenary with his broadsword that ends up being hired by Yun Xiang
su huai rou 苏怀柔
qin lan 秦岚
Su Ming Yu’s older sister who runs the Su family silk enterprise.
qian rong 钱荣
Huang Hai Bing 黄海冰
The manager for the Su family business and confidante to Su Huai Rou.
qi tian feng 戚天风
wang jin song 王劲松
A quiet leader of the dock and ship worker gang possesses powerful martial arts skills
Chen Xiao is absolutely killing it in 1H23 with no less than THREE, yes THREE dramas airing pretty much back to back. This one, Miles to Go and also Thirteen Years of Dust. Both Miles to Go and Thirteen Years of Dust received high viewership and strong reviews respectively. For this drama, he is teaming up with Mao Xiao Tong and they’ve acted together in a few dramas together. The most notable one is The Romance of the Condor Heroes where he played Yang Guo and she played Guo Fu.
Their familiarity is reflected on screen as he seems very relaxed while acting alongside Mao Xiao Tong and therefore, there is more immersion for the audience. Both he and Mao Xiao Tong are heavily marketing this drama as well, even changing their weibo usernames to reflect those of their characters in the drama which is a first for at least Chen Xiao. I totally thought someone had hacked my weibo account when I saw these random posts pop up and had to refollow them after I realized it was a marketing scheme. Hey, it worked at least.
Mao Xiao Tong gets the opportunity to play a bad ass martial artist while Chen Xiao is basically physically helpless but the brains of the duo. After the first 6 episodes, the story moves at a brisk pace and there are plenty of lighthearted moments as well as tense fighting. Chen Xiao is absolutely hilarious as the “weakling” in a world of constant fighting. You can just tell he’s having fun with this role.
This drama is trying to capture some of that Wuxia charm we’ve sorely missed on screen but my initial thoughts are that the production quality, lighting and cinematography is a B at best. The cast’s chemistry is the strongest part of the drama so far. The story is intriguing enough and there are plenty of familiar faces in the broader cast that should give this at least above average buzz but I don’t think this will be a breakout hit. The suspense isn’t as strong as the drama wants it to be. It’s a fun drama to have in the background but not one that will make it a thrilling chase.
Sadly, I ended up disappointed with this drama and I completely disagree with the 7.3 douban rating which I think is way too high. This drama had a lot of potential but by episode 15, I just didn’t care. This reception is reflected in its middling popularity index scores breaking only above 8000 on iqiyi and also very limited weibo trending topics while it was airing. Perhaps people really enjoyed the initial Wuxia aspect but as the drama progressed, that component became a much smaller portion of the drama. Overall viewership was acceptable but not a knockout by any means.
Of the three dramas that Chen Xiao had airing this year, this is probably the least interesting for me. And while I like Mao Xiao Tong a lot, her turn as the lead here did not land too well and their romantic chemistry wasn’t convincing but that I think was more of a directorial error than a problem with the actors. Their friendship chemistry was fantastic in the initial episodes with their banter and what not but the moment it turned heavy on the romance, the chemistry almost didn’t know how to hit that mark.
The main issue with this drama is, as I’ll discuss further, there was so much talking about the different schemes that it’s easy to get lost or else have your mind wander while the characters monologue endlessly and monotonously. This could have been a 24 episode drama if we cut out a lot of the bloated relationship issues and monologues.
What Were the Issues:
- Too much talking + not enough doing = bland story: Yun Xiang’s strength is scheming and plotting so that’s what this drama focused on while sprinkling conflicts with his sect and other authority figures in his way. While the drama tried to create an atmosphere of calmness within the mess of fighting, the end result was less intriguing and more dull.
- Long and monotonous monologues – Because Yun Xiang and his opponents all had master plans to outdo each other, there will, of course, need to be times people, mostly Yun Xiang, need to explain his master plans to the audience. But then that just becomes long drawn out monologues. And due to the directorial choice of Yun Xiang being such an all knowing and rather stoic individual, his monologues are delivered in a flat fashion. The most interesting and fun people in the drama were the martial artists or business people that would actually crack jokes and make fun which brought liveliness to the cast but they are not front and center in the show.
- Background music that does not help create tension leading unimpactful reveals: It doesn’t help that while the music of this drama is beautiful with the emphasis on traditional Chinese music, the music tended to be very slow, drawn out and calming. Thus, during big reveals with Yun Xiang’s monotone delivery paired with non-intense music, the audience doesn’t get to fully experience those large emotional swells of triumph making even the most interesting schemes rather bland. Contrast that to the awesome heart pumping but still “traditional” inspired Chinese music we have from The Story of Yanxi Palace.
- Too many genres in the drama with none of them done well: This drama tried to market its wuxia component heavily but then focused so much time on the sappy romance between the main leads that the wuxia fighting component of the show took a backseat. Additionally, many of the schemes in the drama were actually focused on money and finances so we were presented with business issues rather than martial arts challenges. Only when the plot needed it did the martial arts sects come back into play almost as an afterthought which for me was the most interesting part of the drama. It’s fine to keep the romance but it shouldn’t be front and center as much as it was especially in the last 3rd of the show.
- Chen Xiao’s portrayal of YunXiang was more dazed than intelligent: Chen Xiao decided to portray Yun Xiang as someone who constantly looks at the floor and is often times hunched. I think he’s trying to show that Yun Xiang is more of a master schemer working in the shadows but I don’t see or feel any spark in his eyes to show his intelligence. Instead, his eyes feel rather glazed over. Even the frequent cuts to eyes in this drama did not bring out those sparks and so the end result is that I felt that Yun Xiang was bored a lot of the times leading to boring conversations on screen and making me feel bored as well.
- Main lead who was way too mopey with his relationship: Dude moped for MANY episodes when he had relationship troubles. He got himself piss drunk, recited lachrymose poetry about his heartbreak and made a mess in front of his friends. One episode of this is fine but several episodes? Come on! I’ve been watching too many dramas with strong women who were able to pull themselves out of heartbreak very quickly so to see this from Yun Xiang was such a drag on the show.
What Was Alright:
- Beautiful Scenery and Costumes – While not explicitly stated that this drama was set in the Ming dynasty, there are many hints and references to it with the costumes and the titles of the detective that shows up to work with Yun Xiang. I liked the theme and the clothing and the general atmosphere the drama portrayed but I don’t think it fully matched the wuxia aesthetic, which again, is a point on this drama not fully knowing what it was trying to portray on screen.
- Adequate martial arts – It’s not the most amazing martial arts fighting on screen we’ve seen but it is a step up from a lot of the green screen special effects we’ve had in dramas of late. It’s evident the cast at least went through training (except Yun Xiang of course) and the fights were choreographed adequately. Again, these martial arts/wuxia scenes were probably the best in the drama.
- Strong supporting cast but was wasted potential – There were a lot of familiar faces in the supporting cast of older actors with Qin Lan, Huang Hai Bing, Wang Jin Song, Hui Hong Ying etc. I felt like they really added a lot of character to the show but none of them stayed too long in the show. Instead, we were left with the main group of youngsters which were, in my opinion, much less interesting. If we had more content with these older supporting actors, I would have been much happier. The show should have swapped the romance screen time with these folks instead.
And that’s a wrap! Let me know what you think!