When a family was unjustly massacred by a great general, a young boy named Ning Que escaped. He managed to survive in the wilds through his wits and growing fighting skills. One day he dug out from a pile of corpses a baby girl, that he named Sang Sang. Since that day the two of them are inseparable. Ning Que joined the frontier military and eventually become part of the entourage of Princess Li Yu as she traveled back to the capital. He managed to discover the hidden school known as the Upper Storey, which leads him and Sang Sang to many wondrous adventures. Many hostile forces are gathering around them, and people are not who they appear to be. Is Ning Que the son of the King of Underworld, or the savior of humanity against the Eternal Night? Ning Que would defy the powers of Heaven and Earth to protect his beloved and take revenge... Edit Translation
Cast & Credits
The relationship between Ning Que and Sang Sang is complex due to their unusual circumstances and there are multiple layers to their dynamic. She initially appears to be a maid who happens to be very fond of the person she serves, but it's quickly evident that their power dynamic is not quite that cut-and-dried. When he was a young child, he found her as a baby in a pile of corpses and took her in. They are a few years apart in age, and although he was obviously her caretaker in her younger years, it wasn't too long before she was carrying her own weight. He has made a living by killing bandits, while she has taken care of domestic chores and finances. There are subtle elements of caretaker-dependent and older brother-younger sister to their interactions at times, but overall they seem best described as platonic life partners for the first thirty or so episodes (with occasional, subtle hints of romantic feelings/attraction).
Later in the series, when Ning Que shows up with a love interest after a period of being away from home, they're forced to confront their true feelings and figure out what they really want. It's pretty obvious just by the fact that Sang Sang is the second lead which way Ning Que will lean (or even by the synopsis on this page), so I don't think this could be considered a spoiler. I watched this drama on Viki with comments on, so I know how divisive their relationship is. It is an upsetting development for some viewers who only see one aspect of Ning Que and Sang Sang's dynamic. Some viewers consider Ning Que to be too much of a father figure to Sang Sang to accept the turn their relationship takes, claiming (or implying) that it is incest. I personally don't agree with this viewpoint – but if you think the relationship could be squicky for you based on how I described it, and you believe that would interfere too much with your enjoyment of the series as a whole, you may want to give this one a pass. Just a heads up.
I rated this drama highly in large part because I really enjoyed most of the characters and the main relationship (I can forgive a lot if I become attached to the characters), however I did feel that there were some issues with the plot. The pacing is a bit uneven, and the exposition scenes are quite dull at times. Although there were a couple of exceptions, I felt that the antagonists were much too one-dimensional. The character arc for one of the main antagonists – Long Qing – particularly felt like a waste of time. Most of his scenes could have been left out and the result would have been the same. That was especially irritating given that his scenes were so tedious to watch. The last ten episodes are sluggish and feel like they could have been cut in half (at least). In fact, the same could be said for the series as a whole - but that has been true with almost any Chinese drama I've seen.
Another thing that I found off-putting is that, sometimes, some of the characters would know what's going on in a distant location without any apparent reason - as if they were watching it on television. When it was Fu Zi - who is generally considered the greatest cultivator in the world - I decided to just go with it. It didn't make sense, but whatever. When it was Fu Zi's disciples, I also just accepted it; they learned it from him, I guessed. But when it was still used with characters who had no background in cultivation, it became kind of aggravating. No matter what, it feels like lazy writing, but there really should be some brief explanation given for something like that. Similarly, there were many times when characters received news quicker than really seemed believable. Things like this were just minor annoyances, but they did pull me out of the viewing experience.
I've read some criticisms of Chen Feiyu (Arthur Chen)'s acting, but I didn't think he was a bad Ning Que overall. He was actually pretty expressive, though unevenly so; he was effective at conveying affection/infatuation and anger/aggression, but fell short in scenes that required him to express emotional anguish and physical pain. One thing that I found a bit annoying is that he frequently raises/moves his eyebrows in a way that kind of looks like they're spasming. Sometimes the eyebrow raise is effective, but more often it's not. That aside, I became attached to his character in spite of his considerable shortcomings, and some of that was due to Feiyu's charm and charisma. (Note: He won't be returning to the role in the second season due to scheduling conflicts; he will be replaced by Dylan Wang.)
I felt that Song Yiren (Ireine Song)'s acting was stronger; she was lively, sweet, and adorable as Sang Sang. Whatever the scene called for, she was almost always able to hit the right emotional notes. When I watched the trailer, the only thing I had reservations about was her character, so it's kind of ironic that she ended up being my favorite. I looked forward to her scenes most, and I'm very glad Song Yiren will be returning for a second season. There were many great supporting characters, and the other actors were quite good overall. I enjoyed the fact that several older characters had prominent roles in the story, and they also ended up being among the most interesting characters to watch (most notably Chin Shih Chieh as Yan Se and Ni Dahong as Wei Guangming).
Pros – memorable characters, cute relationship, great action scenes, beautiful cinematography, lovely OST, mostly good CGI
Cons – one-dimensional antagonists, potentially squicky relationship (YMMV)
If you're into action/adventure and fantasy dramas, and you don't think that the main relationship would negatively impact your ability to enjoy the series, then definitely give this one a shot.
Story: The story was very fleshed out and complex, and did the novel justice. Each character, even the minor ones felt like they were placed wherever they were for a purpose and not just as a tool for the plot to move on. The plot was a little draggy in some parts but as I don't really pay attention to these things I didn't take any points off for it. One thing I can say is that I never felt like I wanted to take a break from the series (as I do with a LOT of Chinese and Korean dramas) or drop it. In fact, if I ever missed something accidentally, I would go back and rewatch it in case I missed something important. I also fast forward and speed up my other dramas, but I didn't for this one which I think expresses my devotion haha. The plot is also quite original and there are certain things that set it apart from other wuxia fantasy shows. For example, the fight scenes are very realistic. The opening scene really shocked me as you can see the work the crew and actors have done to make it look and feel real (it worked). Also, the regular tropes that other dramas used are completely changed in this drama. For example, in one of the scenes, the Emperor says (I can't remember exactly what he said oops) "A child born of royalty can live and take revenge, but the child of a doorkeeper can't? What sort of rubbish idea is this?" And this actually made me think...
Acting/Cast: Chen Feiyu, being quite young, filled the shoes of the complicated NingQue very well. He was good at expressing happiness, shamelessness, and quick-fire retaliation with his words. His smug face when he won something from someone is so endearing. I would give him personally a 9.5 for acting as just a few scenes (mostly of negative emotions) felt off. Song Yiren was absolutely amazing, and I would say she is the best main character of the show, She was perfect at expressing child-like dependence and admiration for NingQue as SangSang. She also showed off SangSang's practicality and work ethic very well, as well as her underlying love for NingQue. The romance between the two is extremely subtle in the first half, but from episode 40 or so when NingQue returns with Mo ShanShan, it begins to show as the two are forced to confront each other with what they really want from each other. I loved the endearing way NingQue treated SangSang, you could tell that even though he made fun of her and treated her as a maid sometimes, he really cared for her and would do anything for her. In one scene, he says "SangSang isn't the door to my life, she is my life." Oh God. The other side characters did very well in their roles. I found YanSe and WeiGuangMing particularly astounding, and I'm glad some veteran actors had big roles in the drama (unlike some dramas which only focus on the young actors to attract more audiences). Other characters I loved were ChenPiPi (and his bromance with NingQue and his cuteness), YeHongYu (as NingQue said: "You are THE strongest woman I've ever met."), LiYu (the princess of Tang, an ambitious woman) and every person in the Upper Story.
Music: I like most of the songs in the OST and some of them are very suited to a particular character or setting. For example back in the army they would sing the song "Take your life" and so on. However there would be a song for a particular character but then used for another character which was awkward (but it was a nice song so I didn't mind).
Rewatch value: Okay so the only reason I won't rewatch this is because it's kinda long. Also there's a second season, so I'll just wait for that. BUT the second season won't have Chen Feiyu, which is a shame as I grew used to his face and acting style. The romance and other relationships won't be the same... I've heard news that the main lead in the second season is going to be Dylan Wang, who played DaoMingSi in Meteor Garden. I found his character childish in that and kind of restricted to a few emotions (I didn't even finish, stopped at episode 30) so we'll see how it goes.