Wonderland of Love (2023) 乐游原

Summary: The fictional kingdom of Yu is thrust into turmoil as Sun Jing enacts a coup. He kills the Emperor and Crown Prince and deems himself as the ruler. Li Ni ft Xu Kai is the 17th grandson of the late Emperor and was stationed on the border and leads a resistance army to regain control of the Empire  Li Ni meets a powerful adversary from the Cui family army, Cui Lin ft Jing Tian. The two are equally matched in terms of wit and cunning and soon work together to bring peace back to the land. 

 

Total Episode Count: 40

Initial Airing Date: November 6, 2023

Platform: Tencent

 

*Note – English translations may not match official translations

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Final Rating 6.5/10: A fictional historical romance that is heavy on the romance. This drama’s main draw is the chemistry between Xu Kai and Jing Tian which is excruciatingly sweet. However, the drama is dragged down by boring/annoying side characters and plots that seem out of place compared to the electric intelligence of the main pair. 

Li Ni 李薿

Xu Kai 许凯

The 17th grandson of the late Emperor. He honed his skills on the battlefield securing the kingdom’s border in his youth. 

Cui Lin 崔琳

Jing Tian 景甜

Disguising her identity at first, Cui Lin is the sharp witted and physically adept daughter of the Cui family army general, Cui Yi. 

Tao Zi 桃子

Zheng he hui zi 郑合惠子

Cui Lin’s trusted maid and doctor.

liu cheng feng 柳承锋

gao han 高寒

Cui Yi’s adoptive son. He grows up as Cui Lin but then turns commits treason in order to marry Cui Lin

Overall Thoughts

This drama aired right as two other juggernauts ft Bai Lu started airing and unfortunately was not able to beat out the competition in terms of viewership or buzz. However, what has been rather interesting is that while many social media videos have been panning the competition, they have inserted comments to say if you’re looking for a more “normal” drama, head on over to watch Wonderland of Love. It has a 6.4 on douban which I think is quite fair. It’s not a perfect drama by any means but it is watchable for those looking for a decent romance. 

While this hasn’t been the win Xu Kai has wanted, I do think it stabilized his career trajectory rather than continue to sink it. There’s certainly more buzz for this drama compared to any of his other dramas that aired this year. He has also done significant marketing with Jing Tian to promote this drama. Those livestreams, videos and images have been quite fun as Jing Tian has the ability to build a lot of chemistry with her male costars. The last time she went marketing with Zhang Bin Bin was a total success but now that she’s out marketing with Xu Kai, I’ve seen several comments saying, sorry Bin Bin but I ship Xu Kai and Jing Tian now. It’s rare for actors to be so open about their romance marketing nowadays but these two have been going on a tear. Their naturalness around each other off screen cement the romance being portrayed on screen.

This drama has decent production value, though CGI in the Le You Yuan is quite awful and the close up horse-riding scenes are hilariously fake. The screenplay boasts the author of the book coming in to take the helm which helped a bit but it was evident that the screenwriters knew how to write romance very well and not the political component. 

 

What I liked

  • Xu Kai and Jing Tian’s chemistry- The main draw of this drama really is their incredible chemistry. They have a natural comfortable aura around each other so that you are easily drawn to their story. When they are together, pink hearts are basically coming out of the screen and you can actually believe that they are in love and dating. What’s a welcome change for this drama is that these two are “dating” for much of the drama and it does seem like you’re watching them develop a solid foundation for their relationship. Plus, the drama is not timid about kissing scenes and as the drama progresses, these types of scenes turn more natural. You do feel like this is a more “grown up” relationship because indeed, there are quick pecks on the cheeks or lips that just seem normal rather than making it the biggest deal when they kiss. There are plenty of cute scenes of these two interspersed in the drama so you actually see their every day life as a dating couple which is perhaps the biggest draw of the show
  • Li Ni is the dream lover/boyfriend – He is kind, caring, charismatic, quick-witted, physically adept and so devoted. In these types of historical romances, I do believe that the man needs to be the anchor because of the patriarchal society. He holds much of the power and if he ever waivered on his devotion and love towards Cui Lin, then their relationship would have many more problems. He is also not blind to the advances Gu Wan Niang tries to make and shuts her down as often as she can. And, he voices his discontent about Liu Cheng Feng to Cui Lin so that they are on the same page. Their relationship always felt solid despite their many arguments.
  • Cui Lin’s a strong independent woman – Cui Lin matches Li Ni in terms of wit and abilities. Funnily enough, in this relationship, Li Ni is certainly the “lian ai nao” or the one that is love struck while Cui Lin has a clearer head on her shoulders. She doesn’t need love nor does she want the crown prince consort title but she’s not afraid to take on whatever role that is presented to her no matter how challenging or powerful. Jing Tian plays this role of a general’s daughter quite well and is able to swap between the poised young woman and handsome military leader. 
  • Sun Jing/Consort Xiao’s side plot – of all the side stories in this drama, I really liked this ill-fated love. Sun Jing may have usurped the throne and led a coup but he was dearly in love with Consort Xiao, the prior Crown Prince’s wife. She in turn knew that the easiest path for her was to die but she decided to stay alive and play the part in order to try to help efforts to recover the dynasty. Except she also did feel some turmoil over her minimal affections for Sun Jing. This made both Sun Jing and Consort Xiao multi-dimensional and more complex characters. Additionally, in the entire drama, Consort Xiao is probably the most clear headed person.  She could have had her own drama and it would have been like a Legend of Zhen Huan type situation. 
  • Costumes – Many people don’t like the hairstyles in this drama. I don’t mind them that much but I really adore the costumes, especially Cui Lin’s military outfits. They are very sleek and athletic but many are beautifully colored with intricate embroidery.

 

What did not work – Sadly, even with the author of the book as a screenwriter, there were many problems with the screenplay

  • Spurned love interests – Can’t people just see that their love is unrequited and back off? These two characters seem to have been written in to create conflict that was quite unnecessary. Mainly because the characters were poorly written. 
    • Liu Cheng Feng was just the worst. His character turned to the dark side when he realized that Cui Lin wouldn’t marry him. This character was extremely one-dimensional which made him a poorly written character. He didn’t mind poisoning his adoptive father, didn’t mind committing treason and didn’t mind kidnapping Cui Lin multiple times in order to “marry” her. This type of character may have been more welcomed 10-15 years ago but now, he’s just boring. Every time he’s on screen, I just wish he would disappear and go away. He was certainly the low point of the drama
    • Gu Wan Niang was slightly better but also not much of a threat. She’s over there trying to enact all the drama of a palace drama except Cui Lin isn’t having any of it and Li Ni similarly is rebuffing any and all advances. Perhaps the drama was trying to show how much of an impenetrable fortress Li Ni and Cui Lin’s relationship is but then it made Gu Wan Niang’s attempts seem so childish. 
  • Poor villains drag down the intelligence of Li Ni – The beginning of the drama brought forth an impressive start but that was due to the complicated conflicts. Cui Lin and Li Ni were going toe to toe on different military tactics in order to win supplies and regain land.  Furthermore, the best villain of the drama, as stated above, was Sun Jing. But, he isn’t the only one. And problem is, the other villains really aren’t that impressive or interesting, especially as we get into the middle of the drama. Li Ni’s father is dim-witted and easily swayed. His two older brothers are similarly so. In the midst of these types of boring enemies, the fact that Li Ni often times struggles to stay alive and is so internally conflicted makes him seem similarly weak by comparison. Unfortunately, as we get into the back half, the main driver of continuing to watch this drama are all of the scenes between Li Ni and Cui Lin. All other scenes are really quite boring in comparison. 

-Karen

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