During the Datong era of the Southern Liang Dynasty, Northern Wei sent troops southward and General Lin Xie took his only child, the 17 year old Lin Shu to the battlefield. Unexpectedly, Lin Xie was framed by a political rival, causing the unjust deaths of seventy thousand Chi Yan army soldiers, just after they drove off the hostile Wei forces. Fortunately, Lin Shu was rescued by a loyal subordinate, although he barely escaped with his life. With the help of Lang Ya Hall, Lin Shu was able to establish the Jiang Zuo Alliance, and returns to the capital 12 years on as the leader Mei Changsu. He secretly assists his friend Xiao Jingyan, the unfavoured son of Emperor Wu and wisely rids the court of all scheming officials.
*The drama is based off the novel by Hai Yan (海宴).
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At First glance, this might look like another revenge drama, but it is much more than that. The goal of the main characters is not to infect pain and suffering on the ones who have done them wrong, and it's not to simply right the wrongs, but to do so while making the ones who've committed the wrong realize the gravity of their actions. In a sense, this is the hardest route to take for correcting what has been wronged, people don’t want to be reminded of their dark past, and even more to accept their faults. Nevertheless, the reason why I love this drama so much is exactly this, the main characters, although they’ve literally been through hell, are not out there for revenge nor to make themselves feel better, but they’re trying to reveal the truth.
The plot is complicated and very intelligently written. There are 54 episodes, but I have to say there is no dull moment. The story has many layers and builds up on its episodes, becoming more and more intense as the episodes go by; we watch the characters execute their plans and try to overcome all the foreseen and un-foreseen obstacles in the most magnificent way possible.
In my opinion there are two main characters, Mei Chang Su and Prince Jing.
Mei Chang Su is the most intelligent character that I’ve ever came across in a drama. For achieving his goals, he uses his knowledge to manipulate people to do exactly what he wants them to do, without them even realizing his involvement! Despite his ingenious and composed personality, he carries the deepest sadness inside him, and that is what gives him the greatest determination for concluding his goals.
Prince Jing is the moral barometer of the story. He is bold and true to himself, he values his loved ones more than anything, and he’s willing to do anything to protect them. That said, he would never go against his moral code, he is a constant reminder for Mei Chang Su (and us the audience) that they should never be untrue to themselves. His bold and strong character attracts capable people to him enabling him to have true leadership characteristic.
This duo is the best I’ve ever seen anywhere, their relationship is so endearing to watch and their personalities compliment each other so well. Just having them both on screen was enough to make me give up everything I was planning to do for the rest of the day and give my undivided attention to this drama.
Another thing that I really like about this drama is that the other characters are all intelligent as well, which makes us understand why they were in power to begin with and why they’ve been successful so far. This point makes watching the main character manipulate these smart and sneaky characters much more enjoyable
This drama is for the intelligent, for the ones who are willing to sit through long conversations and enjoy putting the pieces of the puzzle together, for the ones who understand that sometimes no matter the cost one has to fight for what is right. (sorry for the long review! if you made it this far, that means you're interested!! give it a try, you won't be disappointed!)
As for the plot, it basically is a Chinese version of The Count of Monti Cristo transposed in Chinese empire. However, the story felt grander than the original French novel, and more than just a revenge tale. It is a story that goes beyond life and death, but setting the truth free. We are introduced to Mei Chang Su, a sickly man and part of the pugilistic world. He has established the Jiangzuo Alliance, a very powerful alliance with eyes and ears basically everywhere. Such power has given Mr. Su the title of Divine Talent. Two princes that are fighting for the throne sought after such talent. He was welcomed to the capital, but he had his own agenda. The two princes have been set against each other by the emperor. However such an act has corrupted the royal court, making the whole empire lose its strength. Mr. Su wants to remove both princes as contenders to the throne and bring forth the seventh prince, who's unfavoured by the emperor and looked down upon in the court. Mr.Su does so by studying the whole situation, going after each of the corrupt officials and brings their misdeeds to light. This is his way of removing corruption, and rebuilding the empire's strength.
That set the story forth as things start changing since the appearance of the mysterious Mei Chang Su. Soon enough, people start realizing that things are moving, and interest starts to increase in that mysterious figure. Little do they know he’s Lin Shu, survivor of the Chiyang army, and a victim of a tragedy from 12 years ago. The capital is full of people who benefitted from his tragedy, and those whose time has stopped since that time, unable to accept reality, but incapable of changing reality. Among them loyal friends join our protagonist in his quest to set things right.
Though the story is all about machinations, with smart villains, and smarter hero, what make this drama so special, addicting, memorable and endearing are the characters and relationships. Starting with Mei Chang Su, he’s a tragic character. The son of General Lin, and cousin to the princes, his world with filled with love, his potential was infinite and his dreams are big. Suddenly, all was stolen from him, even his face. He goes back home but it isn’t home anymore. As much as he denies himself the desire to go back to his previous self, he can’t help but show it in the most vital moments. Then there’s the 7th prince, Prince Jing. He’s very straight forward, to a fault, and never hides his feelings. What he thinks of the Chiyang army is no secret to all, making him unfavoured by his father, the emperor. He and Lin Shu grew up as brothers, and his feelings for Lin Shu haven’t changed. However he seemed to have inherited his doubtful side from his father. He has a hard time trusting Mei Chang Su since Mr. Su isn’t as straightforward as he’d like him to be, and he has a prejudice against strategist. I have to say seeing the relationship between these two develop is the most appealing in the drama, and the most carefully planned.
Then there is Princess Ni Huang, Lin Shu’s fiancé who can’t get her hand on what makes her trust Mr. Su this much. Princess Ni Huang is an army general, and the emperor wants to control her by finding her a husband from the capital. However she isn’t one to be controlled and will always get her way, and has a cute brother watching out for her. She is the weakness that makes Mei Chang Su go back to being Lin Shu, even for a moment. She is always the warmth he needs when things are too hard or too sad for him. Next is general Meng, the ever so loyal friend of Mei Changsu, and captain of the royal guards. He’s the strongest person in the capital, but not the smarted of the bunch. Even so he is one Mr. Su depends on most and when he takes charge, he kicks ass.
Other memorable characters are: the smart and warm Concubine Jing; the strong and childish puppy-like Fei Liu; the upright heartbreaking sweetheart Jing Rui; the sunshine Yu Jin; the kickass Xia Dong… the list goes on and on.
The opposing side doesn’t disappoint either. Many antagonists were interesting but most intriguing for me was Prince Yu. He’s very careful in what he does, and knows how to always make himself look in a favourable light in front of the emperor, making him favoured among the princes. However, there was always this emotional detachment he felt from his father, creating a void in him. Throughout the drama, with all his actions, being good or hateful ones, I felt he was always trying to fill this void. Another intriguing character, and maybe the most intriguing of all characters, is the emperor. My first impression of him is, that man is no fool. However everyone know he’s no fool, and of his doubtful nature, which became a tool used by our protagonists and enemies alike. He gives this fatherly figure impression, but that can change in a moment. He does care for his sons, but the power he has over the throne precedes all. He rather punishes innocents rather than let go of suspect. His conscience still haunts him because of past misdeeds, but he rather ignores it to protect his pride.
What brought those characters to life are talented actors and their on screen chemistry. Those favourite moments of mine when Hu Ge looses his composure, or veteran Ding Yong Dai playing such a complicated character like the emperor, who you both hate to love and love to hate.
Of course there is more to this drama than acting and characterization. The writing itself is fantastic. You got the tight plot, you got the character depth, and you got a great balance between all. Not a moment was wasted, as every arc got better than its predecessor. As for the direction, it was flawless for the most part. The story was fast paced, the action scenes were engaging, and overall the scenery was just gorgeous. The music is spot on, and the OST was beautifully fitting, written just for this drama. My only complaint in that area is the beginning, which was overwhelming with information. Especially to a newbie to cdramas like me, I’m getting to know the actors as well as the characters, and this drama doesn’t make it easy. Thankfully, by episode 4-5 things clear up and everything becomes easier to swallow. Another complaint would be when some characters disappear for a long period of time, and we miss them too much. However we’re usually too preoccupied with what is going on, so it’s not like we have the time to get bored.
The ending did not disappoint, and all brought together, with closure to all.
This drama is a perfect example portrayal of the possibility of what is means to run a kingdom through loyalty, love, strength, and wisdom. I’m usually a cynical person, but the experience we go through in this drama doesn’t leave any cynicism in me. I think it’s mostly the focus on love and loyalty between characters throughout the drama that eliminated any doubt in me.
Again beautiful drama and was worth every moment of my time. If you’re not sure yet do try the OST:
When the Wind Blows by Hu Ge
Loyal Blood Runs Forever Red by Wang Kai
Aging of a Beauty by Liu Tao