Pledge of Allegiance (2023) 山河之影
Summary: Set during the 3rd year of Ming Emperor Jian Wen’s reign, a thief Li Wu ft Zhang Yun Long becomes mixed up with the Investigation Bureau (Jin Yi Wei) and comes into possession of a special lock that various forces in the capital are seeking to find. He crosses paths with Detective Lu Zheng ft Chen Ruo Xuan and assassin Shu Tang ft Sun Yi who are both in search of this special locket that is also tied to a devastating event 10 years ago that changed all of their lives.
Total Episode Count: 24
Initial Airing Date: March 28, 2023
*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match iQiyi’s official translations
Rating: 7/10: This is an action-packed humorous political thriller with decent martial arts, stunning scenery and interesting history. Zhang Yun Long carries this beautifully shot Ming dynasty saga with his charm and chemistry with his co-stars. It is dragged down by Chen Ruo Xuan’s weaker storylines and the political component that is not as intriguing.
Lu Zheng 陆铮
Chen Ruo Xuan 陈若轩
Son of a detective in the Investigation Bureau (锦衣卫), Lu Zheng takes his job very seriously as he saw a young thief he saved kill his father in their youth. From then on, he vowed never to let anyone go who broke the law
li wu 李雾
zhang yun long 张云龙
A thief raised in the streets, he has a heart of gold as he cares for his neighbors and the people around him. He doesn’t know how to read or write but is a master lockpick and has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to help him solve many problems.
shu tang 舒棠
sun yi 孙怡
A skilled assassin part of an underground spy network called Ye Bu Shou. She arrived in the capital from the north to procure the special lock and also gather intelligence for the Prince of Yan.
Zhang Jun Qing 张俊清
ma yu jie 马渝捷
The business owner of a renowned clothing store in the capital, she is in reality a skilled assassin and leader of the spy network in the capital.
Ten years ago, during the 25th year of Emperor Hong Wu’s reign, 3 teens escaped from prison and was saved by one of the teen’s father. However, Song Zhen, saw the other boy, Li Wu, kill his father and fled. The young girl with them also disappeared. Song Zhen, full of hatred for what happened, had to change his name to Lu Zheng as his father was indicted and his life would be threatened otherwise.
In present day, Lu Zheng is now a detective with the powerful Investigation Bureau (锦衣卫) in the capital, his adoptive father a good friend and colleague of his late father and a high ranking official in the Bureau. Li Wu grew up as a thief, living in the streets and off of the charity of the neighbors. One day, Li Wu decides to steal from the newly arrived official, Wang Ke Gong by stealing the invitation to the welcome party from another official Li Dong Fang and pretends to be him. Once inside the Wang Manor, Li Wu happens upon Lu Zheng who is wary of this “Li Dong Fang”. The night becomes more chaotic as Lu Zheng spots and fights against an assassin in the manor while Li Wu stumbles upon a mysterious lock as he raids the treasures of the manor.
The assassin and Li Wu cross paths as she is injured and he recognizes her as the young girl he was stuck in prison with all those years ago so he saves her. Her name now is Shu Tang.
Li Wu is given the opportunity to take Li Dong Fang’s identity as a Detective which he does in order to try to clear his name from the records of what happened 10 years ago. He works with Lu Zheng as partners to clear Lu Zheng’s father’s name as well while also saving each other from bigger plots in the Ye Bu Shou spy network from the Prince of Yan against Emperor Jian Wen.
I’m liking the number of Ming Dynasty dramas we’re seeing right now. First it was Under the Microscope and here we have Pledge of Allegiance. I’m quite enjoying the show and wish it received more attention and higher viewership but alas, the main leads aren’t superstars so it’ll have to stay in its lane of missed dramas for the year.
There are issues with the drama but I appreciate the thought that went into making a beautiful product. Both of these Ming dynasty dramas this year really impressed me and it’s clear the production value is high compared to other fantasy and romance dramas that have aired recently.
- Zhang Yun Long’s portrayal of Li Wu: He excels in this type of character who is sly and quirky but is in reality a sweet and caring man. This guy just exudes charm. Zhang Yun Long added several unique mannerisms in his acting of Li Wu and it makes the character so much more enjoyable to watch as it adds a lot of depth to this individual. His cute relationship with the assassin Shu Tang is swoon worthy and utterly adorable. (I ship them very hard). He is also the primary driver of humor in this drama which I think is done right as compared to some of the more forced antics in other dramas (like Royal Rumors). I generally favor watching his scenes compared to the scenes of Lu Zheng/Chen Ruo Xuan who is too stoic and not as expressive as he should be.
- Couples pairings/shipping everywhere! This drama should also be called Li Wu and his wife and husband. Hahaha. Who cares about the inevitable invasion of the Prince of Yan that forever changed the course of the Ming Dynasty? The bromance between Li Wu and Lu Zheng is hilarious and second only to Li Wu’s romance with Shu Tang. Though some people might think the bromance is even stronger. Regardless, I love Li Wu’s interactions with his fellow costars.
- Complex small character portrayals: Through Li Wu’s kindness, we get to meet rather complex motivations in small characters that in other shows would be completely ignored. Song Tian Yi is an assassin sent to kill Li Wu and steal the special lock but through Li Wu’s conversations with him, we find that Song Tian Yi deeply loves Zhang Jun Qing and will do anything for her, even die for her. Xie Keng Ran saved Li Wu’s life when he didn’t have to so that he could save Lu Zheng’s life. There are several others characters throughout the show that we meet and they left a lasting impression on me, much more so than the political components of this show.
What didn’t work:
- Romance for Lu Zheng (Chen Ruo Xuan’s character): I’m sorry but I felt absolutely no chemistry between Lu Zheng and his love interest in Zhang Jun Qing so much so that I was primarily skipping through their scenes to get to Zhang Yun Long’s scenes. Both of these two characters were way too wooden for there to be romantic sparks and their attraction seemed forced. Conversation between the two just felt like they were reading lines which is very odd because Chen Ruo Xuan’s chemistry with Zhang Yun Long is quite strong so not sure where this fell apart for his actual love interest.
- Politics: This era of the Ming dynasty where Zhu Di (Prince of Yan) usurped the throne from his nephew and moved the capital to Beijing and altered history is fascinating. But sadly, the drama doesn’t excel in making me interested in this conflict because it is too convoluted in the smaller story lines of Lu Zheng, Li Wu, the Investigation Bureau and the spy network. It’s too unbelievable that the balance of the Ming dynasty hangs on the actions of Li Wu and a few others when we know better. The humor placed throughout the drama also causes disconnect because the gravitas is not there. A better drama to look at this time period is The Imperial Age 山河月明 that aired last year (though it has its fair share of issues too).
- The guy from The Starry Love who played the worst father ever aka Tian Di (Emperor of the Sky) is here in this drama as another despicable character. I’ve carried my hatred over from that drama here and he makes my blood boil.