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Completed
The Rise of Phoenixes
120 people found this review helpful
Oct 6, 2018
70 of 70 episodes seen
Completed 18
Overall 8.5
Story 7.0
Acting/Cast 9.5
Music 8.5
Rewatch Value 9.0
This review may contain spoilers
A deeply flawed drama with absolutely phenomenal acting, gorgeous sets, elaborate costumes, layered characters bogged down by inconsistent pacing, questionable editing and unsatisfying scripting, especially towards the end. I love this drama a hell lot, followed it from its initial broadcast which I've never done for cdramas. After watching the making of documentaries, I deeply appreciated what this team tried to do, but its flaws are also so apparent and hard to overcome that I don't know how to recommend this to anyone, but I still want to so I'm going to try.

The plot is actually about princes' power struggle with sprinkles of romance, the focus is on Ning Yi, Feng Zhiwei plays second fiddle to him, do not come in looking for romance, you will probably be disappointed. Their interactions were actually pretty jarring compared to the rest of drama due to its different tone. It was super restrained, there were no real kiss here, I'm serious! There were just scenes hotter and cuter than kisses. I do like what's shown of their romance, it's nice to have an OTP who understand each other on a fundamental level and have similar ambitions, even if they disagree when it comes to methods. It meant they don't really go through misunderstandings, until the drama crashed and burned in the last 10 episodes, but I digress. It's lovely to have a drama that cared so much about details and trusted the audience enough to interpret things that's half said, the schemes were fun since everyone, including multiple antagonists who were smart, so it was always multiple parties trying to further their own agenda and screw up lead to unexpected circumstances. The protagonists weren't infallible either, they disagreed and sometimes they end up doing things that would seem unwise to the audience. This drama doesn't really play by the books.

The thing is, the first half of the show, up to ep 45 is fairly steady, packed with lots of information in each episodes. Then Minhai arc got shaved off probably 75% because of NRTA*, which ugh but can't be helped, we can make out important things that happened (it's all in the dialogues) but that's a pretty bad viewing experience. It returned to normal with some explosive acting, Jinshi arc was relatively simple because scriptwriters couldn't really touch it but I think it was mostly fine, Dayue arc got probably 30% cut, but it was mostly still there. Then came the last arc, which I'll just say features a lot of sudden appearance, sudden deaths, sudden misunderstandings (which will get cleared up, no worries! but it sure as hell shouldn't have happened) I suspect that the ending was a very rushed rewrite (which would explain all the plot holes) and the pacing was 3x of the earlier episodes, making everyone who stuck around for 60 episodes fairly confused. The events and character motivations do make sense if you analyse it and fill in the gaps, but they needed more lead up, foreshadowing and detailing that it was so good at before. Never have I, after watching 70 episodes, wanted to have more episodes so the story wouldn't feel so jarring. I honestly think when they edited it, they should have repaced the drama, if latter arcs were cut due to main plot not popping out, this is NOT how you pop it out.

Ning Yi, as a protagonist is one of most layered character I've seen. He is a gifted manipulator, but also someone who care deeply for people close to him because of his childhood. He can be ruthless to his brothers. childish and awkward with Zhiwei, utterly broken when it comes to his mum. He deeply wants a father-son relationship with the emperor but they sort of can't, as being an emperor means being on guard even against your son. He's pretty morally grey, but some of his lines were dubbed over due to NRTA (most notably, end of crown prince arc and the ending). Chen Kun did an astounding job playing Ning Yi, I was quite bemused by his overacting in the first episode. which I know can put off people, it's just Ning Yi likes to be on the edge and taunt people. I was also not a huge fan of his long hair look, but it did signify Ning Yi's carefree attitude. Chen Kun can definitely overact at times, rather like stage acting, but he's also very good at microexpressions and small gestures that just make some scenes so much more real.

Feng Zhiwei is the female lead that I love through and through, even if I'm somewhat disappointed with how they wrote her. To make her more realistic (compared to how OP she was in novel), she was made into a smart but bit naive and impulsive girl who gets dragged into power struggle for the throne and had to grow. That's fine, except Minhai arc was basically her time to show her abilities is equal to Ning Yi got cut (because the main plot doesn't pop? political reasons? idk). Jinshi and Dayue both had limited time and significant changes, so while she wasn't helpless, she was still partially damseled to prop up Ning Yi more, who honestly doesn't need more focus. I know the romance is linked to the plot but it's just badly plotted. I do appreciate that FZW is more straightforward, so she tends to lead the romance. I LOVED Ni Ni who portrayed her, she's gorgeous as a man AND a woman, and neither looked jarring. She had some of the best crying scenes I've seen and had wonderful chemistry with her co-actors. I shipped the otp so hard and was deep in otp hell for a long time after this drama.

My other favourite character is probably the emperor, who was the smartest I've seen in recent years. Emperors in these kind of dramas are usually overly suspicious or useless, and he's neither. He's not a good father or even a good husband, and I'm pretty sure he's sort of an antagonist but that doesn't stop him from being a complicated person. Thanks Ni Do Hong, I'd watch all your scenes all day long. Headmaster Xin had great chemistry with Ning Yi, they shared the same goal but had very different methods and priorities making their scenes a blast to watch. The various princes all had their shining moments too!

It's such a shame most of the people around FZW's characterisations weren't as layered. Her mum was rather conflicted between reviving the kingdom and having her live peacefully, but she was one of the big reason the OTP didn't proceed as well so it's somewhat hard to like her. Her brother is kind of an idiot but had a few nice scenes that I really liked. Gu Nanyi had awesome lines and decent character development, but we weren't show how that happened. I'm actively mad about how they cut out Hua Qiong, who was originally promoted as a main character, and reduced to essentially cameos. Her scenes were largely in Minhai arc, she appeared later and played pivotal role as a best friend and in a scheme then was promptly written out of the story, excuse me?! There wasn't even mourning for her? Helian Zheng actively seemed like he was in a different drama just because of his behaviour and he literally couldn't follow along what Zhiwei is thinking, good as comic relief I guess. I suppose he could also be used as a contrast against Ning Yi, but they also hastily wrote him out of the plot.

Honestly, I think they were too ambitious when they wanted to fuse power struggle + romance, where the OTP can go head to head, they lost their balance. The romance and anything involving the female lead had noticeably more plot holes and was weaker. They also tried to make it more realistic but still fuse in book characters, I love them a lot and would have liked to see a realistic version of them, but I'm in the minority. They should have cut their loses and fused more characters or plot lines. Jinshi is honestly not really needed as an arc, FZW could have gone elsewhere. If it was for uniting the kingdoms, the drama didn't really accomplish that either (whereas the novel managed to establish an alliance there). Dayue had very nice characterisation moments, but it wasn't plotted that well, they could have written other scenes to get the idea across.

I must emphasis this was recorded live while filming, which is super rare in recent years in historical cdramas due to noise pollution, accents and actors' acting. The drama usually have ambience sounds as bgm, and only play its insert songs during important moments. The sets and costumes are exquisite, I did spent fair amount of time just staring at them. I loved the use of go/weiqi, the tea pouring, the small differences in manners in different countries. I'm a little mixed about the dialogue, I have been taken out of the drama by some rather modern words, but it also quote a lot of classical Chinese, some rather cleverly (like when FZW became imperial adviser) , some I had to look up but got its meanings through context, some were just plain wrong. I appreciate the attempt but they could definitely have made it flow better, rather than feeling like they just dropped it into the drama to look well studied.

Despite all of its issues, I still loved this a lot and will probably rewatch it just for acting and characterisation, which is something I basically never do, as someone who largely care about plot. I deeply wish the female characters played bigger roles as they had likely intended before, but even as is, I still love them because they are different and varied, and they are allowed to be flawed, to make mistakes, just as male characters are. I would love to see more effort in fusing more serious elements with romance because that's much closer to life than just fluffy fun times or only serious business time.

P.S: *NRTA is the government agency that all cdramas have to go through, this drama went through it at least twice and they also had people come in half way through filming to check on their progress, and part of the script were rewritten on set. Historical dramas, especially ones that go on prime time slot (this one is, the only other one this year is Ashes of Love) are subjected to stricter scrutinisation, this year have gotten even tighter. Main characters can't be overly dark which is why some of Ning Yi (and maybe Zhiwei?)'s lines were dubbed over.

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Completed
The Disguiser
44 people found this review helpful
Jan 5, 2016
48 of 48 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 7.0
Acting/Cast 8.5
Music 7.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
Confession: I watched this because I missed the Nirvana in Fire cast too much. I was very reluctant to watch this because China produces piles and piles of dramas set in 1930s/1940s, and vast amount of them are terrible. I have faith in Shanying production team though. Not to mention it's a spy drama set in 1940s Shanghai, with a focus on a wealthy family who all seem to lead double lives, okay I'll roll with this. This drama is actually Japanese/puppet government vs KMT (the party in power in republic era, later fled to Taiwan) vs CPC (current ruling party of China), in case anyone isn't familiar with the power struggle at the time.

I must note that while there is a loveline in the story, I think it's horribly written, so if the family angle doesn't capture you, I don't recommend watching this for romance, because the romance nearly ruined the drama for me. Although it doesn't show up much (comes in around episode 8?), so I guess regardless, one shouldn't watch this for romance.

Hu Ge as Ming Tai is probably what draws most people to this drama. His character here is a spoilt 20 something who would have spent his days horsing around with his friends, picking up girls if he didn't meet Wang Tian Feng. He's immature, impulsive and thinks he knows the best, he does have some sort of character development but not by much. Don't get me wrong, he's very likable, his interaction with his sister, Ming Jing is adorable, and he does look very cool in various outfits; but he's fairly simple compared to other characters.

Jin Dong as Ming Lou is the other main character in this drama. It's him that I love despite this drama's many many faults. He's spectacularly layered as a double agent and he oozes charm. He is basically living in a web of lies and setting up more lies. To convince the audience that he's a double agent, he'd have to have microexpression or looks or something to show that he's not really working for the puppet government. On the other hand, these can't be too obvious or they would easily be caught by characters in the drama and he'd be expose. To begin with, his loyalty was already questionable, it's just he's one of the very few people who can do this and who are willing to.

Even though it wasn't meant to, his relationship with Wang Man Chun is the only romance that interested me in this drama. They were once an item, but Ming Jing broke them up (for reasons that you'll find out). It's almost the plot of Romeo and Juliet except they both changed and have adopted vastly different ideals. His relationship with Ming Cheng, Ah Cheng, is even more fun. I'm struggling to find words to describe it, it's almost mentor-like, since Min Lou is older and more experienced; it's also a schemer/executioner relationship on top of sibling affection and friendship. Regardless, it's a relationship with 100% trust in each other, and this is rather difficult to have in a spy drama.

Wang Kai as Ming Cheng, or Ah Cheng. To the outside world, he's an assistant, almost like a very competent butler. He's actually very much part of the family though. Like Ming Lou, he bears a lot of pressure working for the puppet government, but he wears even more masks because of his peculiar position in the Ming family. Liu Min Tao as Ming Jing, probably the most clueless one in the family, but she's a very capable lady who managed their family business since she was 17. She's graceful and fiercely protective of Ming Tai because he's the youngest and she felt more like a parent than a sister to him.

There are many many characters that I love, like the ruthless Wang Man Chun (played by the gorgeous Wang Ou, I need more drama with you in it please), the adorable Liang Zhong Chun who just want to live his life peacefully in times of turmoil even though his position really wouldn't have let him. The strict and almost cruel teacher, Wang Tian Feng, or the frail looking but actually fierce as hell Yu Man Li (Song Yi! you don't even have a profile on here ;A; <3), I should probably stop before I list all of the characters.

So, how's the story? I like the premise and I really do love the family angle. It's refreshing and their interactions are a lot of fun. The action scenes are pretty well done, even if sometimes, it seems things are done for the sake of looking cool. The schemes near the end seems confusing and might need rewatching, but I don't recommend looking too closely to it. Since all kinds of question and plot hole will pop up. I just accepted what the drama told me and called it a day.

Now I need to complain about my biggest gripes with this show, setting aside plot holes and unrealistic action scenes. Its goddamn stupid romance. I repeat, if there's ever a cut without the romance (if you can understand Mandarin, I recommend bilibili), watch that version instead because it's so so so much better.

I actually didn't have a lot of problems with the love interest to begin with, aside from its cliche situation and cliche lines, it's disappointing that we don't see anything new, but it make sense for the character (wealthy young man). I just can't deal with it when love interest nearly ruin an operation, putting everyone in danger because...because...I don't even know, some kind of upstanding morals? That's not the first nor the last time a character does stupid thing in a drama but it still infuriates me. Not sure if it infuriates me more because I ship some other ship that won't happen.

I never quite bought the love between the two characters and that's weird because I bought the friendship, the familial relationship and even bygone romance, but when it comes to the very visible ongoing romance, I never cared about. I have no idea is it the chemistry or is it the actress' acting ability (because I haven't seen her in anything else).

Side note, I must bring up the fact she was injured during the course of filming and therefore had to use a lot of doubles (5 different people I think?), close up shots while she was clearly in pain. I really respect that she tried her best to film despite being in severe pain and not wanting to delay filming or straight up change actress. But a lot of c-netizens are wondering maybe the drama would have been better if she was swapped out. She had fair amount of scenes but latter parts had to be re-written, her close up shots/acting were terrible and in the end the product was subpar.

Anyways, I've rambled long enough. My 8 honest goes to all the characters I loved in this drama, the amazing Jin Dong and spectacular team behind this drama, it sure has been a ride. Now I'm off to catch up 20 years of c-drama. WHY MUST YOU BE SO LONG c-drama.

This is my first review so if you have any constructive criticism or want to flail about dramas with me, feel free to message/comment.

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Completed
Young Blood
24 people found this review helpful
Dec 12, 2019
42 of 42 episodes seen
Completed 12
Overall 9.0
Story 9.0
Acting/Cast 8.5
Music 8.5
Rewatch Value 9.0
This is a historical espionage story full of twists, filled with adorable characters, main or supporting or even antagonists, has fair share of comedy, lots of adventure, friendship and just enough romance to die for, and so much heart that I want to recommend it to everyone.

Our main character Yuan Zhong Xin is a playful cunning street savvy guy, who tends to scheme and compete against Zhao Jian, a proud independent smart girl. They are the kickass otp I've been waiting for, it's so much fun to see two people on the same level, whether against each other or working together. Wang Kuan is also pretty intelligent, but tends to be rather straightlaced. Xiao Jing is a cute innocent girl who's generally the peacemaker, Xue Ying is the simple minded brawns, and Ya Nei is the one with connections. The former three are all smart in slightly different way and devise plans, while the latter three all have their shining moment, and generally follow the plan.

The group go from a ragtag team to slowly getting to know each other, go through life and death and betrayal, to a highly effective team that's always there for each other. It's an incredibly emotionally satisfying journey to watch them grow, the camaraderie is awesome, you can ship any characters you want, since most have some fantastic moments. The supporting characters and antagonists are all very memorable with their share of humanising moments, no matter their allegiance or goals. The antagonists are often temporary due to all the twists, and they tend to be pretty smart, which is refreshing. The familial relationship is incredibly touching as well, like Yuan Zhong Xin's relationship with his brother, Zhao Jian's awesome dad, Lu Guan Nian's mentoring.

The plot is very unpredictable, and this is an original script! Which is so rare in this day of (web) novel adaptations, especially for a historical, and one that's so heavily reliant on a good script. I do think the last two arcs aren't as well done, second last arc have some draggy bits, and the twists could feel little forced at times, while the last arc felt a bit rushed towards the end (There's 5 scriptwriter for the series). That doesn't change that there were a lot of choice dialogues, some awesome ones that still applies today, like Zhao Jian's rather feminist values, or Wang Kuan talking about soft power. It also doesn't lessen the heart of these kids that wants to give their all to protect people they love, and the country they vow to protect.

The filter was a little off-putting at first, since I associated with low budget not very good webdramas, this drama is certainly low budget, but the story and acting was on point! It actually quite fit the bright, idealistic, adventure atmosphere of the drama once you get used to it The costumes aren't necessarily historically accurate, but that's okay, it's an idealistic drama about young people in Song, and they all fit their respective characters, which I liked. The music is pretty decent, the fight scenes is sometimes okay, sometimes really lackluster, but it does add in some unintentional comedy.

If you want a fun adventure drama with a lot of heart, please give this drama a try!

P.S. The original creator wrote an epilogue on weibo after lots of messages were sent his way when the drama finished. This drama actually only cover half of the story (he wrote like rough outline of the story, not a script), but the latter half could be hard to write and get pass NRTA due to what it covers (more politics involving Xia). He's in the middle of adapting a well known wuxia novel, and still have two more project, as well as probably Joy of Life s2 now that s1 seems to be doing pretty well. Anyways, I'll spoiler the gist of the short epilogue in the comments for those that finished the drama and need it.

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Completed
Awakening Age
27 people found this review helpful
Jun 25, 2021
43 of 43 episodes seen
Completed 8
Overall 10
Story 10
Acting/Cast 10
Music 10
Rewatch Value 10
This review may contain spoilers
This drama is a rather different republican drama, it's not about espionage, not about the civil war or fighting against the Japanese, it's not even about glamourous Shanghai. It's set between 1915 till 1921, but majority of the story happen between 1917 till 1919 and revolves around the New Culture Movement (or May Fourth Movement) and mostly set in Peking University. It's about young people trying to find a way to save their country, it's about introducing new ideas and changing customs that had been there for thousand of years.

A little background first, Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1911 and Republic of China was established, but life didn't change much. Most ports and a lot of important railways were under colonial control because China had lost multiple wars in the past century and Qing's government had been on a decline. Even with the new government, it was still rather chaotic times, there were warlords abound (and they continue to be influential and powerful in their various regions until Second Sino-Japanese war), the government was far more interested in infighting and power grabbing (as depicted in multiple cabinet changes throughout the drama), and there were many that wished Qing would come back.

I had imagine the drama would be relatively hard to get into, but it's actually not! The beginning loosely revolved around the creation and publishing of Xinqingnian/New Youth/La Jeunesse, which was a magazine created by our protagonist Chen Duxiu, and promotes science and democracy. It slamed Confucianism and classical Chinese while promoting using vernacular Chinese. It's during these times, the famed Lu Xun wrote his first vernacular Chinese novel, a short story called Diary of a Madman, where the narrator sees the traditional customs as "man-eating". Vernacular Chinese would end up making education much much more accessible to the common people. The drama even had someone that wanted everyone to abandon characters altogether and adopt latin alphabet. While this didn't end up happening, it set the grounds for the modern pinyin system that students use to learn characters \nowadays.

With some of these rather outrageous suggestions, there's of course some opposition, there's some that support the return of the emperor, there's understandably some that doesn't want to abandon thousand year old traditions and customs, there's those that sing praise to beauty and simplification of classical Chinese. These technical "antagonists" were portrayed respectfully and even somewhat adorably. They weren't backwards dimwits, multiple of them were well respected professors who had sound ideas and were remarkable in their respective fields. e,g, Gu Hongming was a notable polyglot and translator who studied for decade and half in UK and knew western culture as well as he knew Chinese culture, but he was a staunch conservative because he deeply believed in preserving the roots, he gave my favourite speech in the entire drama!

Like the movement itself, the drama mentioned and showed various political philosophy. The drama started with students arguing if constitutional monarchy or democracy was better, Hu Shi who idolises experimentalism was prominent part of the drama, anarchism and mutual aid was explore quite a bit through the Chen brothers (Chen Duxiu's sons), and of course Marxism comes into play late in the drama too. Despite my description, the drama wasn't like a dry political lesson, it was times of multiple parties debate and tried to see what fits China, I don't know how to describe the joy of seeing some of these debates. It helped that it featured so many well known people that pioneered or made great contribution to various fields in modern China. Seriously, some one off cameo might be a well known revolutionist :P

The culmination of the New Culture Movement is May Fourth Movement. After end of WWI, Treaty of Versailles was signed, but the German concession in Shandong province was transferred to Japan (due to Twenty One demands that's mentioned in ep 1), instead of given back to China, despite the fact China had sent tens of thousands of workers to the frontlines and contributed greatly to the war. It was the first time in a century that China was part of the victor's side, and everyone had hoped that might be the start of fighting back against colonial control. Unfortunately, the government had failed them, they simply didn't have enough power to demand it back, nor did the other countries care to get involve when it didn't concern them. This caused mass demonstrations all around China, starting with students and not long after workers as well, eventually this led to the government refusing to sign the peace treaty, the first time in recent history where China tried to fight back in diplomacy. May Fourth movement further promoted new ethics system, mobilised students and workers to express their dissatisfaction and protect their interest, led to reorgnisation of KMT, and contributed to the start of Chinese Communist Party.

Normally I wouldn't spend so much time essentially spoilering the show, but this is all history, and rather complicated history that I personally didn't know much about (besides May Fourth), so I thought I'd go over the gist while gushing. It was a lot of fun wiki‘ing while watching the drama, and I'm glad it ended at 1921, since that way the drama was mostly uplifting. I'd say avoid wiki'ing if you don't want to know who meets their early demise (many do), but the drama will tell you when they appear for the last time anyways. The drama was surprisingly light despite the chaotic background and heavy historical basis, the humour was fairly natural and the characters were mostly very smart even though they argued a lot, the young people were super relatable and a fair few end up being world changing. These were 90s and 00s kids of the previous century and I can't begin to imagine doing some of the amazing things they do despite being the same age or even younger.

I actually love so many of the characters that I don't know where to begin, the Chen brothers were probably my favourite though, since they were rarely portrayed in dramas before this. They were resilient and idealistic, had a rather complicated relationship with their father that was portrayed pretty thoroughly throughout the drama. It's one of the biggest deviation from actual history, historically they would have been estranged for most part of their lives, and they likely wouldn't have been around for most the drama if it stuck closer to history. Zhang Wanyi and Ma Qiyue did amazing in this drama, I look forward to Zhang Wanyi's role in Daylight Ent's drama with Bai Yu + Mao Xiaotong + Song Zu'er, Ma Qiyue was only 14 when he played Qiaonian (who's 13~18 in the drama) so he has a bright future ahead of him! The acting was all around splendid, especially Yu Hewei who played Chen Duxiu amazingly (and won Magnolia award for it woohoo!) and Ma Shaohua who played the adorable University principal Cai Yuanpei that facilitate the awesome environment where various ideals could flourish.

Unfortunately, one of the few female characters with significant role started off rather terribly, playing a spoilt and unreasonable girl, she comes around rather quickly but it was jarring. I think her acting/her character was one of the few flaws of the drama, but she still have some shining scenes here and there, most notably a play that acts out the debates they've been having and notes the oppression that women have been facing. The other minor flaw was female characters don't get much screen time, a lot of well known female revolutionists weren't in Beijing at the time (they were in France or Hunan province, there are other dramas that do feature them), and they mostly weren't relevant to New Culture Movement. The few older women around were wives regulated to homemaking roles (despite one being educated and could be portrayed less stereotypically), younger women tend to play more active roles (all fictionalised) since students were first supporters of the movement.

Lastly, I must applaud the drama for the absolutely spectacular directing! Hot damn, I was big fan of the director after Advisor Alliance (do rec! Fun retelling of Three kingdoms!), but now I'm a super fan and will gobble everything Zhang Yongxin puts out (also got a Magnolia!). He has amazing eye for framing shots, he filled the drama with symbolism that I don't know how to interpret sometimes. I loved the astounding sequence that introduced Lu Xun and clearly referenced his story "Medicine", the goose bump inducing scene of Li Dazhao encountering a crying bride without a groom (likely a ghost marriage), the incredible usage of wide angle shots + heavy clouds to create heart aching scene that broke Chen Duxiu near the end of the drama, and of course the montage of Chen brothers as they leave for France stayed with me months after I finished the drama. The soundtrack was super memorable, the distinctive art used to denotes some important events was gorgeous, and I just love the aesthetics of the drama in general.

I've been sitting on this review for whooping 3 months because I don't know how to begin, I feel like all my words pale in comparison, sometimes explaining a scene without seeing it seems to make it lose all of its magic. This is the first time I found the entire drama just screams art to me, and I love it so so much that I want to recommend it to everyone. Please give it a try! I'm dump some interesting tidbits in the comment below, may or may not be spoilery.

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The Qin Empire Season 2
14 people found this review helpful
Nov 6, 2019
51 of 51 episodes seen
Completed 2
Overall 9.5
Story 9.5
Acting/Cast 9.5
Music 9.0
Rewatch Value 9.0
This is the second entry in Qin Empire, following the first King of Qin. The first one was about his dad and political/legal reform that create solid foundation for Qin to gain power. It followed fairly closely to the novel it's based on, it was atmospheric, idealistic but had very perfect protagonists. The second and third were filmed together in 2011, had completely different directors + writer, so tonally and thematically were very different, and they stuck closer to history than their previous entry. The third was about Ying Si's son and continue expansion of Qin, and the fourth that have been filmed but not broadcasted, is about great great grandson Qin Shi Huang, Ying Zheng who conquered various states and united China.

I was actually rather taken back when I started, since this drama was noticeably lighter in lighting, atmosphere and acting compared to the first instalment, it took a little bit getting used to, although I think this made it much more accessible to wider audience. While its main focus is on Qin, there's fair amount of attention paid to other states too, since this was a time of diplomatic relationship, battles, betrayals and chaos. It can get rather difficult to follow for someone unfamiliar with the period, though I believe a quick runover of the various states' names/location should help a lot.

Our main protagonist Ying Si had a playful demeanour that masked his true feelings, cunning when it came to analysing situation and determining what's best for his country, manipulative and ruthless when he must do what's best, but he could also be affectionate towards his cousin, sincere towards his trusted adviser, reluctantly adoring to woman he loves. He also suffered a lot, lost his mother when he was young, grew up mostly with his uncle as his dad was too busy with the country, exiled as a teen, and had to sacrifice much more while on the throne during the span of this drama. Fu Dalong did an amazing job as him, I wasn't huge on his portrayal at first since it's a stark contrast to what I'm used to and expected, but he grew on me, and he played the various layers very very well.

There was very small amount of romance in this, although it's not the focus, they do help built up Ying Si and Zhang Yi's character and show us various women and the ways they could have lived back then. Mi Bazi (Consort Mi? idk) was daughter of an exiled noble, willingly entered a political alliance marriage, despite the fact she already had a child with a man she loved. Ying Si and her started with lust but end up with love and companionship, she lacked manners and could be rather blunt and open, knew what she wanted and rather determined on her goals. It was a pretty unusual relationship and characterisation, but rather true to history. She was the first Empress Dowager, in de facto power for 40 (?) years while her son was on the throne, till she dies, she really should be no less famous than Empress Dowager Cixi. I really disliked her makeup but I guess it's suppose to show she's young and clueless? Ning Jing seems to have pushed a little too hard when she first appeared, but she got better later.

Wei Shu was comparatively much more standard, tied to men around her, well mannered and educated. I did like the helpful inn owner Zi Xuan and smart and brave Ji Hu though, even if I'm not huge on their character trajectory. Overall, the major supporting characters were pretty varied, and fair amount of them were layered, which is very hard to do with such a large cast. The back and forth scheming between Zhang Yi and Gongsun Yan were very engaging, and had been enlightening watch. I think someone more familiar with the period would have a field day with this, I've definitely recognised some names, and was kind of disappointed we haven't got to their spotlight time.

The costumes were comparatively plain compared to today's dramas, but it was filmed 8 years ago and this was set 2000 years ago in a country that was rather poor, constantly battling and preferred more subdue style. Note that other states' clothes were bit fancier than Qin's. Unfortunately, the battle scenes weren't as good as the first entry, though they were pretty okay in general IMO, maybe it's just because I don't care about battles. Most of the drama was recorded live, but there was some VERY NOTICEABLE dubbed lines by super minor supporting character, and it was all by one person and not tuned at all, so it was hilariously jarring. There was also a couple scene (one very major one) that have people noticeably CG'ed in, please adjust the lighting properly!!

I actually think this is the best entry for international audience, since it doesn't just focus on Qin but also other states, the characterisations are't black and white and sometimes even refreshingly different, the story is engaging with enough history sprinkled in that you want to learn more about the period afterwards! Please give it a try!

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Qin Dynasty Epic
12 people found this review helpful
Dec 30, 2020
78 of 78 episodes seen
Completed 15
Overall 6.0
Story 5.5
Acting/Cast 6.5
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 6.0
This review may contain spoilers

Why I end up being disappointed with this epic

Qin Dynasty Epic used to be called Qin Empire 4, I watched the previous three installments last year, they were about previous kings/duke of Qin, all building up to this installment's Ying Zheng unification and start of 2000 years of Imperial China. I'm not overly familiar with Ying Zheng, but he's too well known and has too many achievements for this to not be epic, but I came away rather disappointed. (spoilers reference historical events)

First of all, the drama focused on the wrong bits and have terrible pacing issue. Ying Zheng died at 49, most of the common achievements people think of are unification at 38 and what comes after it. He had a fairly interesting childhood and rough start, so I totally understand giving fair amount of attention to that. I'm perfectly willing watch him grow from ascending to the throne at 13 to gaining control of court at 22, clearing obstacles and finding awesome generals and ministers before starting to conquer other kingdoms. Hell, aside from setting up prefecture system, standarising writing system, linking great walls and building roads for carts, his life after unification could have been neat too, he defended Qin against Huns, conquered Bai Yue (modern southern China), and did bunch of things to ensure his reform stayed. Not to mention there's the whole elixir for immortality, didn't name a successor that resulted in Qin's early demise.

The drama covers up to unification so 78 ep over 38 years, which I somewhat understand, since it's more positive ending then setting up for tragedy. It spent 13 ep on first 13 years of his life, bit longer than what I expected but hey it's a long drama, and then 9 ep on last 9 years. These are IMO the best parts of the drama, not just due to pacing but also acting and writing were the best. I'm happy to note that the drama bought up some of the reform fairly early in the drama, and it's sprinkled here and there, so it's not just battles and unification. But these last 9 ep should have been the focus of the drama, I understand that battle scenes are expensive, you could have given me more time to battle strategies? Or other kingdoms' internal issues? Like Chu Kingdom, it lasted less than 2 ep!

Ep 22 to 60 covers him from 18 till 22, that's roughly 10 ep per year, is that really necessary, drama? There's two major events that I expected (from wiki'ing Ying Zheng when I saw him ascend the throne), one lasted 3 ep (bit longer than I expected but reasonable pacing for this story), one lasted 15 ep! There were number of episodes used to set up Zhao as a major opponent, which I don't mind as they were historically rather strong and formidable at the time (featuring two well known generals of Warring States, the other two are Qin's), but I do feel it could have been shorter, or again maybe other kingdoms could have used some focus too? Other episodes feature one major battle and two minor battles, and couple small notable events. Zhengguo Canal was a marvel at the time, but we never saw other big construction projects either, like mausoleum or the roads mentioned in later parts of the drama? The way the drama is paced, the ending arc where the meat of the story should be just feel really rushed. If you slash the middle by half, the pacing would feel much more balanced.

Secondly, the drama's writing was all over the place. Some of the dialogue swere classical Chinese, some of it were fairly plain modern Chinese, which is fine. What's not fine is certain word choices, why does the drama start with what sound like a translation of a western king's speech? What was with that conversation between Ying Zheng and Lv Buwei at ep 12 (?), they make me question if I'm watching a historical epic or a fluffy romcom? To get across the shock, hurt, and confusion, there could have been a lot of other ways, in fact if you just delete some sentences, I wouldn't be all "wtf???" Not exactly word choice, but how the scene was shot, what was with the assassin scene? Okay he got his hair cut to show it was dangerous, but why was he rolling on the floor? What were the other people doing? Why was he fighting like a samurai, it seriously looked super kendo-y? Director, did you just watch the 1998 movie and used that as inspiration and called it a day instead of using historical records?

A big part of the drama was humanising Ying Zheng, as his image to average person is a tyrant. That might have partially been due to Han's Sima Qian's "Record of Historian" demonising him and Qin, since Han is Confucius while Qin is Legalist and dynasty they overthrew, not to mention Qin probably overdid it when it was reforming. That said, I'm constantly confused by the drama being bizarrely in love with "pls love me one more time" narrative, I guess because he had troubled childhood, it make sense and it plays up the tragedy? I found it rather awkward though and it was used way too many times for my taste. The drama was also very intent on selling him as a benevolent king, and it feels super wrong to me. It's fine to have him want to conquer the other kingdoms AND also help some common people he might have met, but why does every decision where he has to kill someone, it's always like he's forced to? He's an emperor, I'm sure they sacrifice some things for their goals, and I'm sure there's some calculated moves, that would made this more interesting. Even with all his flaws (even including tyranny + elixir) , it doesn't diminish any of his achievements.

I had a lot of fun celebrating amazing relationship between previous kings and their ministers because they shared common goals and overcame obstacles together. Ying Yiren and Lv Buwei sort of have that, but there were too little time for it. Lv Buwei became a reluctant antagonist at some point due to circumstances, but Li Si didn't fill his gap as he should have. In fact, Lv Buwei was the most interesting character of the drama, and I could see his love for Qin and I bought everything he does is for mighty goals. Li Si on the other hand, tend to be all talk and not much action, or what little he does seems to end up with a huge mess, e.g. Lao Ai. The writer's plotting simply isn't as awesome as they seem to think, and they really spent way too much time where every single person seem to think unification was totally sure-in and shout it at every chance they have, that's not the case!

Thirdly, our protagonist is completely miscast. I know casting Ying Zheng is real difficult, there's lot of expectation. He did so much when he was young but your average 20-something probably can't hold down such an epic drama and act reasonably well against so many veteran actors. I also know that dramas try to have main lead come out early, but if Han Wu Emperor's Chen Baoguo can come out at ep 22 (out of 58) and leave a classic epic behind, so can you! Casting 40 year old is totally expected, though I would have preferred 30 year old since aging makeup is easier than deaging someone. I can handle 40 playing 20, but you can't possibly convince me they are 13, especially when your actor look older than their age! Couple with some plot points that only make sense if he's super young, he constantly pulls me out of the drama. What's wrong with having him appear in ep 20 or 22 out of 78? You know what, your drama ends before Ying Zheng even catch up to Zhang Luyi's age!

I've been a casual fan of Zhang Luyi since I watched his slow burn republican drama The Red. He fit that role perfectly, he even had a tinge of Shanghaiese accent despite not being one, (it's fairly rare for accents or dialects to appear in cdramas!) Oof this role though, he really really doesn't look like an emperor, ok? He didn't look like one playing Li Longji in Legend of Demon Cat, and he doesn't look like one here. He doesn't always hold himself straight and seem to lean forward at times, it's very apparent when he meets up with Zhao Yan, who looks real regal next to him. The winter costume piled onto him also made his neck disappear, and couple with his posture, it's....not pretty. He tends to yell a lot during intense scenes too, it's not that he can't yell, but he doesn't have that powerful volume? powerful aura that I expect him to have, sometimes I think the scenes would have been more effective if he was quieter. e.g. there was an intense scenes with him and two kids, he looked dangerous and it was nerve-wrecking.

Then there were other little bits that's just really annoying. I know you want to differentiate the countries, but you can't possibly tell me Han could afford purple for the whole army 2000 years ago! Purple is not an easily found natural dye, especially one that bright, it's why nobility/royalty likes purple, did this not cross anyone's mind? Zhao Ji is really really stupid and appeared way too much, Lao Ai shouldn't have that much power and shouldn't look like a final boss! Seriously, why was there street celebration for that arc and not unification? Why was sexual assault even necessary as a plot point? Being Uncle Ying Xi is real suffering, but he was supportive all the way, just because of that one look? You could have implied something happened during that night or was it two nights (ep 12?)? Don't tell me they just stood there and talked?

Despite all of my complaints, I did like fair amount of it. It opened and closed with epic battle scenes, best battles I've seen in cdrama, thank you tencent for all your money. I really like the music, I think that one song that makes me cry is from previous installments but I still love every scene that use it (and important scenes really love using it). I actually rather like Zhao Kingdom's cast and their characterisations, they were source of comedy at one point, later on they had fabulous Queen who could actually scheme and plan and very hateable Guo Kai that I end up half rooting for. There were some memorable supporting cast that only appeared for few episodes, like Ying Yiren who managed to win people's heart with that one speech, or Han Fei with his lofty goals and dignity in dire times. There were a lot of segments I really liked as well, Ying Zheng and his dad overseeing the army and stating their goals, Li Si detailing Qin's couple failed opportunities to conquer, Lv Buwei's final scenes, Zhao Yan's entire visit to Qin, Ji Dan sending Jin Ke off etc.

At the end of the day, epics like this are hard to come by, so I definitely don't regret watching it from day 1. I think if you don't come in with expectation like me, and don't constantly compare drama to history, you would have lot of fun as others did. I had a lot of fun wiking and discussing with others in the comment section. I even made a timeline and everything, since I wanted time to move, which I'll post in the review comment section, as well as some other interesting bits I found that might be helpful. Shoutout to @PeachBlossomGoddess and @WandereR for encouraging me to post a rather negative review, since I wasn't going to write one as it felt bit like raining on people's parade. Little did they know, once I start, I can't stop!

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Completed
Tientsin Mystic
12 people found this review helpful
Feb 23, 2018
24 of 24 episodes seen
Completed 3
Overall 7.0
Story 7.0
Acting/Cast 7.5
Music 6.0
Rewatch Value 7.0
I had high hopes for this drama, it's rated 8.2 on douban, and c!netizens are incredibly harsh on cdramas, some of  the beloved popular dramas on here range from 5 ~ 6. I should probably note I'm even harsher than douban though. I haven't read the novel which was by the same guy who wrote the well known Candle in the Tomb series. It was half talking about Tianjin and half (rather simple) plot, and the drama added the much needed two female main characters to add more interesting dynamics, so I won't touch how it adapted.

Anyways, this is fairly unique drama, it's I think best described as a mystery thriller with a dab of folklore and mysticism which I was 120% in for but also mix in some cult and other odd supernatural elements that left me mildly confused. There is bit of romance but it's probably 1/10 of the drama if even that. (mostly blatant crush, little bit of flirting and a few scenes here and there) so don't come in looking for them. The duality of mysticism/traditionalism vs science/modern sensibilities embodied by our two sets of main character adds interesting layers to the plot.

 I can't tell you how happy I am by the Shuo Shu (storytelling?) style of recapping at beginning of every episode,  all the tidbits about local customs of Tianjin, particular accent of a supporting character; they all subtly bring the setting alive. I think the plot started out pretty engaging, as they seem to stumble into more and more mysteries that's interconnected. The relationship between the two main characters were pretty fun, since they played off each other well and the banter was delightful. I'm rather unhappy with the antagonist side though, from disappointing resolution of minor antagonists, to what I think rather ineffectual evil plot, not to mention supernatural bits that I think could be better utilised in other stories, but I digress.

I was pretty surprised by the use of fresh faced young actors in this drama but I'm happy they did so. Li Xian did an excellent job as Guo De You, his character has the most nuances,  and can spout out unpopular opinions but the acting makes it perfectly believable that it's something he would do, Zhang Ming En started off over acting quite a bit but I think settled in his role as Ding Mao fairly nicely after few episodes.  Wang Zi Xuan had the hard job of playing the somewhat annoying, overeager Gu Ying, but I personally wasn't bothered by her and she's the brawl of the group! Charlene Chen's Xiao Lan Lan was probably my favourite character, but she was bound to be by the virtue of being a daughter of a well off and powerful family who's determined to have her own career in those times.  Honestly, the two female characters could use more character development and more layers, but they aren't boring one note characters so I'll take what I can get.

I rather like the aesthetics of the drama, even though the somewhat muted filter threw me off so much when I first started watching it. Some of the hairstyle are a little wait what? Like Ding Mao's Doumyouji hair, but I got used to that; Guo De You's....I don't even know what that is, I adapted to surprisingly easily due to what I can only presume to be Li Xian's sheer charms; Gu Ying's damn frizzy pigtails with bird's nest on top is a sight to behold though'. She also have this unfortunate plait wrapped around into a bun on top of her head with dangling flowers or some bits on the side at some point that convinced me the stylist really hates her. The patchwork whatever clothes they wear are confusing but seems to make sense in this bizzaro world.

Wait, I was talking about liking the aesthetics...! Right, there are some bits of animation in the drama that's drawn in a fairly realistic style that I really liked. The OP was....literally  the characters yelling out their own characteristics while random images are cobbled together into a creepy unsettling montage that set the tone of the series really well but freaked me out quite a bit for the initial few episodes. Love the ED a lot which was by Jam Hsiao as well as the deleted scenes? that plays before the ED at the end of every episodes since they fill in some gaps and you can hear the drama without the dub! (This being a web drama, I think the actors all dubbed themselves but don't quote me on that.)

All in all, I think it's a drama worth watching despite all of its faults, which I have detailed far more than its good points, but please believe me when I say I did enjoy this drama a lot and love some of it to bits. Season 2 has been confirmed so I'll definitely be on a look out next year!

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Completed
Your Fukubukuro
5 people found this review helpful
May 25, 2020
12 of 12 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 10
Story 10
Acting/Cast 9.5
Music 10
Rewatch Value 10
This is a fantastic episodic-ish (8 stories in 12 ep) drama with fresh face that bought us quality acting, soothing sountrack and down to earth storytelling. I was super surprised it came with awesome english subtitles by itself, I later found out that the main creators consist of mostly oversea background, largely female, it started to make sense.

The stories are mostly unrelated to each other, they all just happened to happen in same place, the fukubukuro is mostly a gimmick for some magical realism. The stories could be hilarious body swapping between boss & employee, or heartfelt story about family, or finding true love in the most unlikely places or all of the what ifs and we all learn to grow up and find what's best for us. I really appreciate one of the story focused on a middle age couple that doesn't make a lot of money, they can find beauty in everyday life, and comfort with what they have, cdrama deeply needs stories like this. There was also one about being busy and always on the go, and touches on infidelty which is a rather difficult subject but I found the story pretty poignant and on point.

The themes all hit pretty close to home for 20 something, and even when the tone of some stories can be bittersweet, it's generally fairly positive about the future, something I sorely need, I really hope the team can create more dramas like this.

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Completed
The Red
3 people found this review helpful
Jan 22, 2020
48 of 48 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 8.5
Acting/Cast 9.5
Music 8.5
Rewatch Value 8.5
This is a republican drama, I expected mystery thriller (what the first episode looked like) or espionage (common drama genre for the era), but in reality it's a slow burn romance heavily featuring slice of life moments about regular people in the relatively peaceful French Concession area in Shanghai during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Our protagonist Xu Tian is a smart observational guy and the show's resident Sherlock, whose sole goal is living a mundane peaceful everyday life, but constantly gets dragged into various plots for variety of reasons. He's unlike most protagonists we see, he's not traditionally heroic, tends to run away from trouble until he can't, mild mannered but little surly with his mum, stingy but have no issues buying the best for the woman he loves, entirely head over heels for a girl but struggled for a long time to confess. Zhang Luyi did a phenomenal job as Xu Tian, especially if you consider his personality is nothing like the character he plays, he talks and walks entirely different.

Tian Dan is a smart cookie who can match Xu Tian in terms of meticulous planning and logic. She's very straightforward and a doer, but also rather sheltered and innocent, which contrasts her killer abilities. Tao Hong played the sweet courageous young woman so well that I'm in love with her, her smile is the sweetest and she's so adorable that I want to hug her. It's unbelievable that she's 40 when she filmed this! Xu Tian's mum is notably refreshingly understanding and helpful, it's so nice to have drama full of female characters that doesn't play into toxic tropes. The prime antagonist is Japanese spy (?) Yin Zuo played by Takashima Shinichi who did an amazing job playing an intelligent and cruel maniac that's intent on converting Xu Tian to his side. It's a shame that the focus of the drama is more chill slice of life, as the cat and mouse game between Xu Tian and Yin Zuo were quite a lot of fun.

Xu Tian meets a variety of other interesting characters, like Tie Lin, played by Zhou Yiwei, who's a hot blooded and righteous police officer, became fast friends with Xu Tian and think the world of him. Jin Ge/Jin Ye played by veteran Li Tianzhu, who's a greedy conman that later successfully climb up the ladder and end up being an influential businessman. Liu Rusi, played by Liu Min, a gorgeous singer who gets caught between the two men and tries to stay true to herself. Tian Dan's friends that housed her temporarily and later employed her, are agents that went on missions even if they seemed impossible because that's what they swore to do, showed us what your average agent really might have been back then, they get anxious and they might hesitate and might not plan well. Xu Tian's neighbourhood also have a trio of regular folks, a book seller, a tailor, a barber that tends to argue over smallest things, that make the drama much more relateable and real. They all have their own motivations and dreams, and they are all trying to carve a place in the world in times of turmoil.

I really need to applaud the drama for having all the major characters speaking Shanghai accented mandarin with sprinkles of Shanghainese every now and then. It's just so rare in world of cdrama where most of them are dubbed in perfect standard mandarin, the language definitely made it more immersive. Chang Gu, the Japanese lackey that followed Yin Zuo was actually played by a Chinese actor Zhao Jian, there's a slight accent to his Japanese but he spoke it with such confidence that it's not noticeable unless you specifically listened for it. Zhang Luyi's Japanese and Takeshima's Mandarin were fantastic as well, it's just so nice to have a drama that pay attention to these details.

It's a little unfortunate that first episode was edited to cut out an actor that had a drug problem (common practice in cdramas to cut out problematic actors), which made the drama flow less well, as it was a thrilling start. They also filmed I believed 60 episodes, and the aired version was 48, with some additional cut scenes later uploaded by the directors that rounds up to about 52? 53 episodes? (full first case span over two episode, later scenes were mostly slice of life scenes, as well as a case around ep 20 that was edited differently that reduced the level of suspense and wowness). That said, I actually found some of the drama fairly slow, likely because slice of life isn't quite my thing, but considering how unusual this angle of republican drama is and how delightful the characters are, please give this drama a try!

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Completed
Madhouse
2 people found this review helpful
Dec 24, 2018
24 of 24 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 9.5
Acting/Cast 8.0
Music 10
Rewatch Value 9.0
It's lovely to have a unique cdrama that's not based on novels these days. The drama is split into two half, s1 and s2. s1 is two episode arc based suspense thriller wrapping with human drama as meat, s2 is less episodic and more interwoven story about superpowers + consipracy theory.

The director obviously have a lot to say and themes to explore and most of them are right up my alley! It's rare to have mental illness in dramas, and they did reasonably well in having some realistically portrayed, sometimes it might not be sympathetic for story reason, but it's still nice to create dialogues about it. Not only that, it also touch on dysfunctional family relationship, groupthink mentality, plagiarism/work stealing, sensationalised media. cult etc, all very topical issues.

There's fair amount of English in the drama, and it's fantastic Liu Chang who played the main character did decent job with it, even though he has a noticeable accent (and his character probably should have diff one or lighter Chinese one). But he spoke it with confidence, and the shorter sentences definitely flow very well. The dialogue can be noticeably translated in that it's rather stilted when the sentences are long or get technobabble-y, but the grammar and content are mostly fine and don't take me out of the scene.

I love the variety of characters who pop out throughout the drama. In s1, character drama is core of each story and with fantastic acting by all the supporting cast, it's incredibly easy to get attached to them. In s2 where there's various characters with their own motivation and factions come into play, one can end up feeling rather mixed about a character, which I mean as a compliment since humans are pretty complicated.

I love the style of the drama too. There were lovely framed scenes, interesting filter that worked with the mood of the story, nicely timed sound design to build atmosphere that was vital in s1, lovely soundtrack that complimented the story. The director made fabulous posters for the drama too.

There were lot of easter eggs at the end of episodes, early ep were nice technobabble background information, latter ep have some fantastic parody of food documentary and gov promotional video, vital and interesting tidbit about supporting character as well as additional worldbuilding information. Sprinkles of parody and homages were everywhere in the show. These small things basically cemented my love for the drama.

Please do give the drama a try if you get a chance, the first arc is more horror-based than the rest of the drama is!

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