Unchained Love (2022) 浮图缘
Summary: A young concubine Bu Yin Lou 步音楼 ft Chen Yu Qi 陈钰琪 is to be sacrificed as tribute to the recently deceased Emperor. However, she is rescued as she is literally being hanged by the ruthless and powerful eunuch Xiao Duo 肖铎 ft Wang He Di 王鹤棣 from a request from the Emperor’s younger brother the Prince Fu 福王 ft Peter Ho 何润东. Prince Fu desires Bu Yin Lou for himself and tries different tactics to win her heart even though she is technically now a Dowager Concubine. At the same time , Xiao Duo finds himself drawn to the spunky, sassy, and amiable Bu Yin Lou when he finds that she is an observant and gentle woman. However, their current stations in life prevent the relationship from going any further. Xiao Duo also has another mission at the Palace that he must face alone.
This is based off of the book 浮图塔 by 尤四姐
Total Episode Count: 36
Initial Airing Date: Dec 27, 2022
Initial Score: 7/10 – A lighthearted comedy that shakes up the traditional romantic palace drama premise with a Eunuch falling in love with a Dowager Concubine. The leads of Dylan Wang and Chen Yu Qi make a convincing couple and are supported by a fun cast of characters. The straightforward script makes this an easy watch with little depth.
Final Score: 6.5/10 – A paper thin romantic comedy that wastes away its intriguing premise of a Eunuch falling in love with a Dowager Concubine. The main couple was constantly overshadowed by the supporting cast and overall, there was little the actors could do little to save the crazy storylines and ridiculous ending.
Initial Thoughts – Through episode 12
This is Dylan Wang’s first drama to air after his surprising success from Love Between Fairy and Devil 苍兰决. He’s paired with the lovely Chen Yu Qi, who has had several dramas air over the years but without making much of a splash.
I was intrigued by the premise of a ruthless and conniving eunuch falling in love with a Dowager Concubine. It is a cute watch because we see Xiao Duo falling in love with Bu Yin Lou but Bu Yin Lou has no clue this is happening because well, he is supposed to be a Eunuch! According to her, eunuch’s aren’t supposed to fall in love! The shenanigans and hijinks between the two when they first meet are quite funny. Xiao Duo finds himself being jealous at other’s attention towards Bu Yin Lou despite himself.
Xiao Duo is a dark knight in shining armor only to Bu Yin Lou, while Bu Yin Lou is the witty damsel who tries to fight against her fate but often will rely on the power and money of Xiao Duo. This just means that we do fall into some of the same romantic comedy tropes. However, in this drama, you’ll just have to really go along for the ride and not think too carefully on the feasibility on any of the plot points.
The leads do a decent enough job as the main couple of the drama and they play well off each other. However, it is jarring when almost every other character apart from the two leads uses his / her real voice in the drama. This then gives the side characters more gravitas when they’re on screen compared to the leads. This is especially noticeable whenever the Empress played by Zeng Li 曾黎 is on screen. She just commands the attention of the audience (at least for me) that not even the Dylan Wang nor Chen Yu Qi are able to do.
Overall, it just has a much smaller scope of a drama, so we’re focused squarely on the small cast of characters. It’s enjoyable for what it is, a romantic comedy.
I’m reading the book concurrently. The drama heavily leans into the comedy aspect and avoids some more of the explicit discussions surrounding eunuchs. I’ll discuss a comparison between the drama and the book for my full review.
Xiao Duo肖铎 – Dylan Wang / Wang He Di 王鹤棣
The Director of the terrifying Zhao Ding Si, he is feared throughout the Empire for his brutal and ruthless methods. He entered the palace as a lowly palace eunuch who clawed his way up to the top of the food chain, so much so that the royal family feared him. However, he has an agenda for entering the palace. This all gets upended when he unknowingly saved Bu Yin Lou. The two fall in love other but Xiao Duo must decide between her and his own revenge.
Bu Yin Lou 步音楼 – Yukee Chen / Chen Yu Qi 陈钰琪
A lowly daughter born from a concubine, Bu Yin Lou is sent to the palace to be a palace concubine. But before she was summoned for a night with the emperor, he dies. As is customary, Bu Yin Lou was supposed to be sentenced to death to serve the Emperor in the afterlife. She was saved by the Eunuch Xiao Duo on behalf of the Prince of Fu’s orders. Bu Yin Lou and Xiao Duo gradually fall in love, but she is pulled into many conspiracies at court and the imperial harem.
Mu Rong Gao Gong 慕容高巩 Peter Ho / He Run Dong 何润东
The Prince of Fu, mocking known as The Lord of the Lantern, unexpectedly finds himself thrust on the throne after the death of his older brother and only nephew. He has had a crush on Bu Yin Lou since his childhood and vows to have her as his own. As he gets more comfortable on the through, he becomes suspicious of all his subjects and begins to play political games to consolidate power
Empress Rong An 荣安皇后 – Zeng Li 曾黎
The Empress of the late Emperor. She is an ambitious woman who hails from a noble family. Xiao Duo was her confidante. After the death of the her husband, Empress Rong An immediately poisoned a rival concubine and her son to consolidate her power. She forms a secret alliance with Prince of Nan Yuan. However, she is quickly thrown out by the machinations of Xiao Duo
Tong Yun 彤云 – He Nan 鹤男
The cheerful and cute personal maid for Bu Yin Lou, she serves her master faithfully. Although somewhat naïve, she always has her master’s best interests at heart and fully supports Bu Yin Lou’s relationship with Xiao Duo. Tong Yun and Cao Chun Ang gradually develop feelings for each other as they get along.
Cao Chun Ang 曹春盎 – Wang Yue Xin 王栎鑫
A Eunuch in Zhao Ding Si and is both the godson but also confidante of Xiao Duo. As one of the few who knows of Xiao Duo’s agenda, he stays loyal to a fault. As a subordinate, he is quick-witted and capable. Bu Yin Lou’s maid Tong Yun catches his eye.
A young concubine Bu Yin Lou 步音楼 ft Chen Yu Qi 陈钰琪 is to be sacrificed as tribute to the recently deceased Emperor. However, she is rescued as she is literally being hanged by the ruthless and powerful eunuch Xiao Duo 肖铎 ft Wang He Di 王鹤棣 from a request from the Emperor’s younger brother the Prince Fu 福王 ft Peter Ho 何润东. Prince Fu desires Bu Yin Lou for himself because he has had a crush on her since their childhood when he was a student under the tutelage of her father.
There is a power vacuum during the interregnum and Empress Rong An 荣安 tries to seize power by capturing the late Emperor’s only son. She conspires with the Prince of Nan Yuan, a non royal prince, in hopes to make a puppet out of the Emperor’s son as she rules as Empress Dowager. However, her plans are unfortunately botched as the prince accidentally dies at the hand of the Prince of Fu. With no other male heir, the throne now turns to the Prince of Fu. The whole court believes that it was Xiao Duo who killed the prince, but Bu Yin Lou consoles him and tells him that she believes that he didn’t commit the crime.
Empress Rong An is banished to a buddhist temple while Bu Yin Lou is also banished to the Imperial Mausoleum to live out her days. She is actually quite happy with this development believing that she could escape the wandering eyes of the new Emperor. The newly installed Emperor constantly tries different tactics to win Bu Yin Lou’s heart even though she is technically now Dowager Concubine and off limits according to normal decorum.
Her life at the Imperial Mausoleum is quite dandy because Xiao Duo has made it clear to everyone that she is under his protection. She sees the plight of the women stuck at the Imperial Mausoleum and realizes what Xiao Duo has done for her.
Bu Yin Lou also befriends the Emperor’s younger sister, Mu Rong Wan Wan慕容婉婉 ft Guan Chang 关畅. The Prince of Nan Yuan’s younger brother Yu Wen Liang Xu 宇文良序 ft Hang Hao Tian 韩浩天 secretly enters the imperial city. After losing a match against Mu Rong Wan Wan, he falls in love with her and decides to stay and win her affection.
The Emperor, intent on having Bu Yin Lou as a concubine for himself, sends a senior maid to teach Bu Yin Lou proper etiquette. Bu Yin Lou believes that the maid was sent by Xiao Duo and, in an act of defiance, goes to learn dancing at basically a brothel. Surprisingly, she finds Yu Wen Liang Xu there as well trying to learn the ways of winning Mu Rong Wan Wan’s heart.
Xiao Duo and Bu Yin Lou finally reconcile but Bu Yin Lou still has to find a way to avoid the Emperor’s clutches. Xiao duo suggests that the two of them head south. He is on a mission of revenge and she hopes to further escape the Emperor and to see her family. During the trip, the two finally confess their love for each other, but they must decide how to face the ever more suspicious Emperor.
The drama started out strong with an intriguing premise, a ruthless and conniving eunuch falling in love with a Dowager Concubine. We have a handsome cast with Dylan Wang and Yukee Chen and we followed the two of them trying to navigate the boundaries between a eunuch and a dowager concubine.
During my initial review, I enjoyed that it was a pleasant lighthearted watch. Bu Yin Lou as a character is an easy one to like. She’s optimistic, hopeful, quick-witted, and realistic. Rare for a protagonist these days, she comes from no money or power as the discarded daughter of a court official but that doesn’t stop her from trying to find the best in every situation. She also isn’t naïve. She’ll retaliate when push comes to shove. In this drama, we can see why both Xiao Duo falls hard for her and why the emperor once did too.
Unfortunately, as the drama moved on, I found my attention wandering. It fell into many familiar tropes of a dark knight in shining armor, not communicating with one another because one person didn’t want to hurt another etc. The plot is paper thin and squanders its intriguing premise without exploring how love between a eunuch and a woman could work. We essentially get the following. Boy likes girl. Girl likes boy. Girl finds out boy isn’t a real eunuch. Problem solved! Now they try to escape under the watchful eye of the emperor.
It really doesn’t help that the main couple, especially Yukee Chen wastes a pretty good role. Dylan Wang is serviceable in this drama but he doesn’t not reach anywhere near his heights in Love between Fairy and Devil.
Little made sense with the plot towards the latter part of the drama, and we get a mind-boggling ending that isn’t even an ending. Fans went so far as to petition for another ending, which the platform did provide in the end.
- Dylan Wang and Chen Yu Qi have an easy chemistry that makes for a decent pairing.
- Zeng Li as Empress Rong An just lights up the screen whenever she appears. Unfortunately, that’s few and far between
- The supporting characters of Mu Rong Wan Wang, Yu Wen Liang Xu, Tong Yun, and Cao Chun Ang all make for fun and cute couples. Their acting is also quite comforting.
- Yukee Chen / Chen Yu Qi’s performance: Every time I see Yukee Chen on screen, I always want to give her a chance. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll surprise me with another great performance like the one she had in The Princess Weiyoung back in 2016. Alas, she has thus far disappointed me and unfortunately, this one is no different. She has been criticized for her over-the-top acting in many scenes and lack of emotion in others. Out of all the actresses in this drama, she is probably the worst. In scenes with Zeng Li, the spotlight instantly shifts towards Zeng Li despite not being the main character
- Xiao Duo’s role as Director of Zhao Ding Si: We constantly hear of Xiao Duo as the terrifying Director of Zhao Ding Si but we rarely see him or his team in action. When they do act, it’s typically to save someone, namely Bu Yin Lou. It seemed like they were reduced to her personal bodyguards.
- Random disposal of the bad guys: We essentially have 3 bad guys in this drama. They, however, are dispatched rather anticlimactically. Which leads me to the next point.
- Poor plot development: Characters are given more screen time in the drama to flesh out a pretty thin source material. However, I didn’t think they added much to the overall plot. Bu Yin Lou spends a lot of time learning “skills” at a brothel but literally nothing comes of it. The Emperor, especially, became extremely creepy towards the end of the drama with his obsession with Bu Yin Lou. There’s also the blatant disregard of rules by Bu Yin Lou and Xiao Duo that I found both amusing and astonishing.
- Waste of a premise: I truly wished that a Chinese drama would actually dive into this rather unexplored topic of love between a eunuch and woman. The drama gives many reasons as to why it would basically be a wasted life for the woman but they just hint towards the fact that it’s not everything. We do get a eunuch / woman pairing but none of these topics are explored.
- Voice Dubbing: This is just a nit pick. It was jarring the 3 main characters all have their voice dubbed while everyone else used their real voice. It kind of gave the impression that they weren’t up to snuff, which is weird, because they’ve all starred dramas using their real voices, so I don’t know why the post-production team decided on this
Lastly, I know I mentioned reading the book. The book itself is only 100 chapters long but it also didn’t really pull me in. The book gives us more information between Bu Yin Lou’s and Xiao Duo’s feelings towards each other but it’s also squarely focused on those two. The drama significantly expands characters roles in the drama, which I think is fine.
All in all – if you just want a light hearted romantic comedy, here’s one for you. But, apart from fans, I doubt this will appeal to mass audiences.