I have very mixed feelings about the show. My apprehension makes me uneasy about devoting time because it is eerily reminding me of the reviews of another show that, for the most part, good reviews but never really engaged me (Noble Aspirations, I have it on hold). I will hang on for a few more episodes because:
1.Like all fantasy tales, it takes a while to set the stage for the drama. So I am hanging on...
2.I checked out reviews on the novel and according to the readers, the novel boasts excellent world building/character development/relatable characters (author seems like the StephenKing of Wuxias because it is so long) and the male lead is supposed to smart, introverted, calm, and 'a little childish'
3.Rong'er is listed as his love interest, which sort of disappoints me because she hasn't left the biggest impression on me and just seems like another 'noble and perfect girl' (I get bored of so many noble, smart, perfect girls) (one of the strengths of Noble Aspirations, I think, was that the lead came from an evil sect). We shall wait and see it is truly to early to make a judgment because she could very easily turn out to be really awesome (Like in Journey of Flower, female lead blew me away at the end)
4.The entire novel is supposed to emphasize his growth as a person, and I think it is in its favor that the male lead does not start out perfect but his 'normal ness' gives it a very shounen vibe. But I will hang on. I always tend to be more biased in shows where the main lead is male, because I find them to be less interesting. I don't know why. Maybe its because I am a girl. The fans are very divided: they either think this novel is the best thing since the discovery of fire or they think it is extremely wordy, long winded, and the author is getting paid by the word to write lengthy chapters. Others are here purely to see Mr. Luhan, who I am very proud to say, I now know is a big deal in China (I think he is like their Justin Bieber)
5.I can see why fans of the shows are critical of it, because the male lead is supposed to be 'plain' and while the male lead is young, like the character, he doesn't exactly fit my definition of 'plain' or 'average' looking but I will be the first to admit that I would rather watch a show with an attractive male lead.
--What do other watchers think? Some like it already. I invite people to comment, and please don't talk about the actor in terms of his popularity, I am more curious in what people think of the story and how well developed it is as an adaptation--
I view it as a kind of slice of life series with various other plot points weaving through, carried along by one large arc. I'm at ep 16. but there are plenty of plot threads that I want to see followed through on, especially the mother/son one. The good thing is, I find all the various characters very interesting. The supporting casts aren't an afterthought, and if I could say one thing about these characters, it's that everyone is so damn nice. The love rival is a super nice guy (although everything points to him being evil at the end - and it's by no means through his doing), He's sweet to his juniors. And there's this guy who is smiling in almost every scene like he's advertising for a toothpaste commercial. He's probably the happiest guy in the whole damn world. Even when certain characters have their douche moments, you can see better sides of them.
And the Empress. She's very refreshing. Every single empress in every single series I've seen is either conniving or gullible, used as a foil against the poor little heroine. The Empress in this series is smart, not conniving, and is actually nice. Did I say nice again? There are very few gullible and dumb characters here and I'm enjoying that. And the love rival for our male lead? She couldn't care if he loved her back. How great is that? Not a desperate female... exception is Nan Ke. What are you doing girl? Of course there are the "big bad guys" but they're really outweighed here. Most have a rhyme or reason to what they do. Don't know about the Black Robe. I think he is going around destroying everyone's party because they burnt his toast or something. Who knows?
Now, the female lead. I find her very similar to the little dragon girl from Return of the Condor heroes series, Long'er. Their names are even only one letter a part. Instead of a cave, this female lead lives on a secluded mountain. If you understand Long'er's character, then you'll know exactly what to expect from Rong'er, except Rong'er is a lot less naive and she has better agency compared to Long'er, who mostly just reacts to what other people are doing. One ,Long'er, can't show much emotion due to how she was raised. The other, Rong'er, can't show much emotion since it's a part of her teachings. They both love those white outfits, and they're seen as very pure.
With settings, I usually ignore if it's not too bad. The interiors are very elaborate. I will say though, that it seems the production is deathly afraid of dirt. In period dramas, the liberal use of dirt thrown here or there can grounds the settings in reality. In FotD, everything looks like it just came freshly out of the printing press. If you watch a village scene and look at the ground, a place of heavy traffic day in and day out, you'll see that the streets are minty new, as if there's secretly a bunch of people hiding with bleach buckets around the corner to clean up after the traffic after they've passed. But I'm getting very nit-picky at this point.
I think the only bias I came into this series with is Luhan's age, or his perceived age. I think his pictures make him look younger than what he is. Also, I was so struck by his prettiness and all the sparkles floating around him that I forgot about the age thing. I don't mind his acting either. I think he's carrying his character well.
I also like it when there's a whole bunch of new actors that I'm unfamiliar with, so most of the actors being new to me in FotD added to the enjoyment. When I watch an actor I usually try not to typecast them in my head but I typecast them in my head. When I see the same actors over and over in different series, it can get a bit boring sometimes, and I think "OMG stop acting - no, not really because I know you gotta eat and feed your spouse and 2+ children - but please stop acting." ...Except for Wallace. Wallace can keep acting because he's pretty.
And thank you for answering my question about Rong'er. She sounds like a female BZH (JOF) perhaps significantly less evil (Yes, I think BZH is an awful human being. I also like that show a lot, especially because he gets what's coming to him in the end). She also sounds like an updated version of Long'er (I haven't seen Return of the Condor heroes it is on my extremely long list of shows to watch but I know the show has heavily influenced this genre).
You're right that the story has been done dozens of time, so now it'll have to depend on how much you like the characters to carry you through it.
As to Noble Aspirations, I completed the first season of it (I think 50-something episodes) and I found it very very boring. There was a definite lack of chemistry between almost all the characters all around. It didn't help that the lead was always being beaten around and it seems like there wasn't anything being done to counteract that. And so many fillers. They came out with a second season and I'm like NOPE.
Currently I am up to date with with the latest (raw) episodes of FotD (18 at time of writing) and I find some of the episodes in between weaker than the earlier ones. However, I do intend to finish the whole series, as I consider 5 and a half hours of viewing per week still worth my time to see how it all ends.
The shortcomings of the source novel aside, I was surprised by how a screenwriting team with at least two well established writers can be so oblivious of problems with their adaptation.
One of the writers, Yang Pan took pride in revealing publicly that he is responsible for scenes in Episode 6, a decisive competition match in Episode 17 and 18 and a spoiler scene in a future episode. He also declares that he is a big fan of Chen Shu (the Queen), even professing this to the actress's face on the set. (Probably one of the reason why the Queen gets some of the better dialogues in the show)
@Jordan: Another screenwriter of the FotD team is Dorothy Jin Yuanyuan happens to also write for the Perfect Couple drama you disliked.
Aside 1: While Perfect Couple is marred by inconsistencies due to 6 writers working on the original script and director Joe Wong's sometimes lack of location awareness and sense of story flow while working alone (a situation which also surfaced during his making of Border Town Prodigal) most native viewers would disagree with you on this drama's comedy appeal, the lead's chemistry together and even the music. Some of this could be to due to a culture difference on appreciating this type of mixed-genre, slapstick, filled with cultural reference, modern retelling of folkloristic story setting which is based on "is marriage (pre)destined?" and a relationship comedy of odd couples. There is a perhaps a sense of meshing of contemporary display of sensibility in a ancient setting - which might be jarring to some Western audience, but it is intentional. It might be surprising to some, but among similar works in this Chinese subgenre, this is a superior drama.
Aside 2: Classic wuxia (Condor Heroes), modern Xianxia (Noble Aspirations) and Cultivation fantasy are different subgenres and don't overlapped very much due to different worldviews - classic Xianxia does overlap, but they are few works of such around.
At this point, based on what others have said, it is really up in the air when it comes to deciding to continue watching. Many reviewers sing the shows praises, 'it gets better' and yet you mention it gets weaker. I may try one more episode but after that I may just relegate it to on hold. I don't want to commit a lot of time to a show that even by episode five I feel like am forcing myself to watch. This should be an enjoyable experience
Random Aside: I am increasingly disappointed with Rong'er's character because she is incredibly passive and blank. When she keeps everyone at a distance but, for reasons completely unexplained, lit up around Changsheng I immediately wanted to know why. Most shows build up towards these kinds of things, and here I am scratching my head wondering why she would let her guard down him but keep it up around everyone else? Maybe this will be explored. I am certain her character will be developed more. But right now I just feel nothing for her. I don't feel any attachment for the male lead. And the supporting cast seems to be specifically created to make the male lead look better. Again, I have seen this in other dramas but it just irks me in this show. I feel like I am overly critical.
I did not read the novel (and I realize this is a personal preference) but I tend to favor novels with a female protagonist. I have read novels with a male protagonist but I don't often pick them up. Typically novels that I read with male leads fall in the horror genre.
You mentioned that Perfect Couple enjoyed immense popularity in its country of origin, and that could very well be a cultural barrier. I am not convinced. I truly think that it was an unbalanced show. They wanted to produce a modern interpretation of traditional tropes but its representation, I think, failed. But I am just one person, and at the end of the day, it often boils down to a matter of 'like' and 'dislike'. Also, I am not Chinese, maybe I have no right make a statement like I just did, but given the shows I have seen from China, it feels like that kind of slapstick humor is steadily being 'aged out' in favor of better writing. But I could be wrong.
....Why Can't I like it???
I feel so much better in knowing that I am not crazy for thinking that the acting in Noble Aspirations was not that great. It was so dull. They had a great plot, but the chemistry...it just wasn't there. Maybe they will one day redo it with a different cast?
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