Aged to perfection.Since Love and Destiny was produced by the same team and resides in the same world, comparisons to TMOPB are inevitable. Pleasingly, the only connection is that it takes place earlier in the same 3L3W universe. This is efficient as less time is wasted on world building and explaining the tribes, hierarchies, time and other conventions. The story-line sticks to the 3L3W formula of an unforgettable love story that spans three lives and three realms. While TMOPB was an intensely passionate love story, this has more of a romantic comedy flavor. This is the story of a pure heart-ed young fairy who falls in love with the powerful and much older God of War. This relationship dynamic sets up for a different love story that again succeeds in delighting and captivating in a way that is now becoming a 3L3W brand.
The plot is common for this genre (save the world or save the girl) and is this drama's biggest weakness. Those familiar with the director may observe the backstory of some leading characters (Jiu Chen, Ling Xi and Jing Xiu) were inspired by Journey of Flower - (Bai Zhihua, Hua Qiangu and Dongfang). That said, L&D is neither another TMOPB, nor JOF but a delightful story that stands on its own, albeit with a few cliche tropes. The three main arcs could have been better balanced - the first two took too long and did not leave much time for the final, most satisfying arc. There were too many (well executed) comedic fillers in this drama. This made it feel like "nothing's happening" or the relationship progressed too slowly.
The weak plot was compensated for by superb acting by the main leads. Veteran actors Chang Chen (Jiu Chen) and Ni Ni (Ling Xi) were perfectly matched. They are both gorgeous actors whose emotions and facial expressions transform and make them compelling in their appeal. The role of Jiu Chen was made for a Chang Chen that is aged to perfection - his sculpted bone structure and fierce expression exudes the aura of a stoic, mature and powerful God of War. Any suggestion that some young idol actor could have pulled this off is ridiculous. Jiu Chen is a formidable character that wears the lonely responsibility of keeping the realms safe. He moves mountains to force a win-win in his terrible conflict between duty and love. His instinct is to protect Ling Xi, to the fault of hiding the truth from her. He is alternately stern and helplessly indulgent with her. His impassive expression softens, he even smiles and becomes open and vulnerable only with Ling Xi. He is touchingly candid and unguarded when he confesses his feelings to her. With insight beyond her youth, Ling Xi recognizes the loneliness and burden inherent in Jiu Chen's role. She captivates him with her spell-blinding smile and mischievous antics; he is touched by her devotion and inept attempts to aid him. As their feelings grow, you can feel the invisible bond of their awareness and affection for each other. Ling Xi's best, most courageous moments are when she makes unbelievable sacrifices in order not to add to Jiu Chen's burdens. Each loves the other more than they love themselves.
In the first arc (20+ episodes), the Ling Xi wakes up Jiu Chen, who had been frozen for 50,000 years after sealing the Demon King. He is suspicious that such a weak fairy could have awakened him and takes her in, ostensibly to care for his health. The guileless and infatuated Ling Xi is delighted and disrupts his household with her comical attempts to entice him. She loses her senses over him and fires up his stone cold heart with her devotion. However, as God of War it is his duty to execute the young fairy with the ability to release the Demon King. Initially I found Ling Xi too subservient; a bird immortal with a bit of a bird brain. Yet Ni Ni's portrayal of Ling Xi was never annoying, indeed I was charmed despite my preference for stronger characters. She won me over when she bravely steps up to protect Jiu Chen and takes responsibility for her own life.
In the second arc (up to episode 50), Ling Xi is reincarnated as a mortal Lin Mo who has to go through three trials. She overcomes many challenges and becomes independent along the way. This is where Jing Xiu emerges as a manipulative, petty and sinister love rival to Jiu Chen. Episodes 30-40 can be skipped - this part was draggy and I struggled to empathize with Jing Xiu. This actor overacted the villain when he is actually supposed to be a grey character - he was so selfish, manipulative and creepy I was irritated at Ling Xi for not being wary of him. There were many unnecessary side characters in this arc that lingers too long on Ling Xi's coming of age. The best moments are between episodes 40-50 where Jiu Chen and Lin Mo fall touchingly in love (again). The final arc was the shortest and the sweetest. Ling Xi becomes a powerful high goddess who forces Jiu Chen to let her share his burdens and they face their enemy together.
The supporting cast was strong and there is a lovely secondary love story between Yun Fung and Qing Yao that is nicely intertwined with the primary. The villains did a decent job being evil and hateful but their motivators were typical: revenge, envy and obsessive unrequited love. The OST is very good but the CGI is quite dreadful. Overall a quality and enjoyable drama with a big budget. The bottom line remains as a love story, it boils down to the main leads. In this, they delivered - virtually all of their scenes brought a silly, lovesick and goofy smile to my face. You will enjoy this immensely if you appreciate leading actors and a love story that is truly aged to perfection.
A highbrow production with broad appeal.The Longest Day in Chang'an is an immersive, visually stunning, culturally authentic and thrilling journey back over 1000 years in time to Lantern Festival in Chang'an at the peak of the Tang Dynasty. This is a highbrow and very demanding drama that is immensely enjoyable even if taken simply at face value. The viewer gets to decide how much they wish to invest in it. The production basks in rich historical and cultural detail that marvels over the intellectual, political, legal, administrative, military, cultural and scientific sophistication of Chang'an and the Tang Dynasty more broadly. The faithfulness to historical accuracy and strong edu-drama aspect to this show has history buffs raving with ecstasy. As a layman, the finer nuances would be lost on me were it not for the many knowledgeable insights on this and other sites. That doesn't appeal to everyone and some have remarked on the frequent historical and cultural digressions that interrupt the story-line. My simple take is that "smart fillers" are better than the nonsensical fillers that other dramas spam us with.
The absolutely stunning cinematography is the first and most consistent impression throughout - every frame is beautifully angled to create a visual, vibrant feast for the eyes. Even flames from explosions burst in an artistic pattern of controlled natural assymetry. The production is not shy about indulging in artistic license and is littered with lithe and gorgeously willowy Tang ladies with only one small section acknowledging more ingrained images of the classical, prosperously rotund Tang lady. A number of Chinese manhua worthy characters are almost casually dropped in among the otherwise characteristically Tang dynasty cast including Djimon Hounson's Gao Le, the menacing African slave-trader and lord of Changán's underworld; a deadly female assassin who is fanatically devoted to her radical master; and a wildly improbable Western Persian Prince priest with impressive kung fu and building leaping skills. At the end of the day, this is very much a work of fiction and suspension of disbelief will be required as the lead characters achieve superhuman physical feats and survive certain death. All of which make for gripping, visually compelling and heart stopping action scenes.
The drama is not an easy, light watch. The first season (24 episodes) opens with the intense urgency of a fast moving, action packed thriller as the two leads Zhang Xiaojing (Lei Jia Yun) and Li Bi's (Jackson Yi) race against time to foil a terrorist plot during the Lantern Festival. The constraint of the 24 hour timeline forces the narrative to alternate between the high speed chase, political machinations around a power struggle and flashbacks that set up the backstory; all threads which converge in the unraveling of the conspiracy. The many plot twists interact with an extensive cast of complex characters from various factions with unclear and/or malleable loyalties in the power struggle between Li Bi's patron the Crown Prince and his powerful rival the Right Chancellor. In short, there is already a lot to take in so the occasional non sequitur cultural or historical digression can come off as one thing too many.
It took me a long time to care for any of the main characters in this show. Even relatively "good" characters are flawed, primarily driven by self interests and had questionable loyalties and morals. It wasn't obvious that Li Bi' s cause, the Crown Prince was more worthy than the Right Chancellor. Zhao Xiaojing's dealings with Gao Le alienated me; especially when it appeared his real motive was to protect the reckless and misguided Wen Ran. That episode and short lived character stayed with me for a long time because it is the first of many times that bad things happen to good people. And that is how good people can end up doing bad things. Thus there are no outright good or bad characters in this show, they are all products of events beyond their control. Time and again the drama explores how circumstances can push any character to act against his innate nature and self interest. It is a very realistic portrayal of the complexity of human nature's capacity for both good and evil and was acted out compellingly by a truly superb cast. I started to understand the true spirit of the drama when the plight of the common man of the Peacekeeper Corps moved the phlegmatic Li Bi to tears and made him their reckless champion. The real "heroes" in this drama are the common people; that is why it intentionally neglects the main characters and does not attempt to make you root for them and does not care if they have a happy ending. It celebrates the hardships and unrecognized capabilities of the nameless, faceless, powerless, voiceless man - from the forgotten soldier that gives his life for king and country to the ordinary citizens of Chang'an. It wants you to see them, hear them and care about them.
Season 2 (episodes 25-48) was much more enjoyable for me as the intensity of the chase abates and the narrative focus really zeroes in on the power struggle and the unvieling of the conspiracy and ulitmate mastermind. Finally the lead characters are also allowed to shine and shine they did. Zhao Yi Wei's Long Bo was the most provocative and masterfully portrayed character in the drama. As his path converges with that of Zhao Xiaojing, we see the many parallels between the one who seeks vengence and the one who fights to keep dreams alive.
I was surprised by how much I fun I had unraveling the conspiracy. It was very well done and largely kept to the unspoken bargain of hiding enough clues in plain sight that I was able to figure much of it out on my own. The motives of the ultimate mastermind were not convincing. While I had my eye on him as a suspicous character early on, I assumed he was just a link in the chain but not "the guy". It was a stretch that was probably one plot twist too many. One of the other suspects may have been a more credible choice.
Of course it is a foregone conclusion that the emperor was the ultimate villian. While the power dynamics between a manipulative and insecure emperor and his most trusted advisor and his heir has been done before, it was still extremely very well done here. I was completely satisfied when the son takes a leaf out of his father's book in the ultimate act of emotional manipulation. Checkmate. This was the most satisfaction I got from the ending. The bigger question of whether good things happen to good people is left open.
This is definitely the most epic, most idealistic, substantive and thought provoking drama of 2019. Its biggest flaw is that it is overly ambitious and tries to take on too many themes. That it came together so well is a feat in and of itself but as a result, it was not always easy to watch and certainly not something I wanted to dive right into after a hard day at the office. That said, I truly believe it is a must watch and may even be more enjoyable if taken more simplistically just for its stunning aesthetics, intrigue and action.
Even better than the real thing.Investiture of the Gods is one of my less favorite Chinese classics because it is a lengthy, chaotic collection of Chinese myths and anecdotes involving gods and demons. It would not be easy to turn this tome into into a coherent and well-scripted drama with an engaging plot and proper character development. Impressively, this production pulls it off by making storyline a very, very loose adaption of the original novel. Most of the criticism highlights the plot changes and that it doesn't tell the whole story. That is absolutely fair but the end result is a vast improvement from other cheesy, incoherent and lengthy versions. As someone who is not attached to the original story-line, I am good with it.
Although released in 2019, this drama was shot in 2015 and has struggled with censorship - yeah even ancient uprisings/regime change is not a popular topic with the Chinese censors. From what I can tell only 56 of the intended 65 episodes survived. It takes a bit of effort to find the last 4, which were never aired (links at the bottom). Nonetheless it is a quality production and the ending did not suffer much from excessive editing although I hope the 65 episode version gets released some day. The all-star cast includes Luo Jin, (a very young) Deng Lun, Wang Likun, Yu He Wei and Zhang Bo. They were awesome together and it was quite evident from the rapport between the characters that they had big fun filming this. It is obvious from the CGI, sets and costumes (albeit beautiful) that this is from an older vintage than the more polished 2019 releases but it also doesn't suffer from the excessive filler disease that is plaguing the latter.
The story recounts the reign of the evil King Zhou of the Shang dynasty (an early Chinese dynasty); a time during which allegedly both gods and demons still walked among man. He was a tyrannical and decadent ruler who inflicted great suffering on his subjects under the undue influence of his favorite consort Daji. Daji is said to have distracted him from affairs of the state and exhorted him to acts of great cruelty. Even the heavens intervened and Jiang Ziya was actually an immortal tasked to raise an army of heroes to defeat this evil king. Many lives were lost in King Zhou's overthrow and these heroes were memorialized as gods in popular folklore. The novel likely emerged as a romanticized account of their epic struggle where gods and demons fought alongside mortals on both sides of the conflict. The drama very broadly sticks to this overarching plot but is creative and loose with the details around how they got there.
Yang Jiang (Luo Jin) is a half immortal child born with the Third Eye predestined to cause the down fall of King Zhou. Lord Su conceals and raises him in his household as his foster son alongside his daughter Daji (Wang Likun). The young Yang Jiang and his foster sister Daji, who is renown for her beauty and kindness, are in love. This is one of the major departures from the novel, where Daji and Yang Jiang barely intersect. In order to save the lives of her family and their people, Daji forsakes all to enter the palace as a concubine but they are all slaughtered anyway. Grief stricken and vengeful, she vows to make King Zhou and his empire suffer. She sells her soul to the evil thousand year old fox spirit (Deng Lun) in exchange for his aid. Wang Likun's Daji was masterful from her transformation from an innocent young girl to the ravishing, cruel and manipulative temptress that brought down an empire. I was stricken at the barely concealed loathing and sadness in her eyes when she seduces her worst enemy; I prayed she could suppress the hatred and the evil that was consuming her; I was repelled by her indiscriminate and breathless cruelty. Throughout she has sad and angry eyes and she clings to the memory of the person she once was. I was wowed by her acting. The young and yet undiscovered Deng Lun pulled off the role of the evil fox spirit who is Daji's only confidante with great relish and panache. They had remarkable onscreen chemistry - as she lost her soul he found his when her cause became his. Even though Luo Jin is technically the male lead his role of loving Daji unconditionally from afar didn't leave much scope for character development. So Deng Lun stole his thunder a bit on this one.
While Daji's scenes are mostly quite intense, the rest of the drama is somewhat irreverent and littered with comic relief. Yu He Wei's Jiang Ziya is the glue that pulls everything together this character absolutely rocked! He is kind hearted, a bit goofy, naive and unambitious immortal that is banished to the mortal realm as punishment and is tasked with investing or martyring the gods. His mortal identity is as a hapless noodle seller with a terrifying termagant of a wife and a lovely daughter. He takes Yang Jiang and Jifa as his first disciples and together they gather the rest of the immortals as they prepare for their fated mission to topple a despot. While falling safely short of slapstick , the camaraderie between Jiang Ziya and his family and disciples had me howling with laughter. Although some the comic moments dragged a little bit at the end, it was very bearable. It makes such a difference to watch something with such a confident, experienced and well-rounded cast. Even the villains were well cast and really captured the spirit of their characters, especially the evil fox spirit and King Zhou. This was truly a fun drama to watch - it has good vs evil, gods, demons, some romance, some bromance, love, hate, friendship, honor, loyalty - it made me laugh as hard as it made me cry. I enjoyed this so much I kept putting off watching the last episode because I didn't want it to end. I am not sure why this drama didn't get higher ratings but I suspect it was some combination of the plot changes, that it looks a bit dated and the fact that it never finished airing. Undoubtedly the humanization of Daji may have also been controversial - after all Daji was one of the most bloodthirsty villains in Chinese history and literature.
The last 4 episodes that are hard to find (a full one hour each):
Junk food with no calories: highly addictive and binge-worthy.This is THE drama that revived my love for Chinese costume drama. I was hopelessly addicted and inconsolable after it ended. I hungered for the next Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms and was crushed and then frustrated when I realized there is nothing else like it. I still have to restrain myself from binge re-watching my favorite parts. My conscience always struggles with inflicting this on someone else so be warned: TMOPB will connect with you and compel you to fall in love with it but it will also ruin everything else you for a long time.
At its heart, this drama very simply an intense, fantasy love fairy tale that spans three lives and three worlds. The plot is not complex, the CGI and some of the fight scenes are not the best and there are small holes and loose threads but nothing diminishes the utterly spell-blinding love story between Bai Qian (Yang Mi) and Ye Hua (Mark Chao).
In the first part of the story, Bai Qian is disguised as a boy Si Yin, the best loved disciple of Mo Yuan (also Mark Chao), the God of War. The young Bai Qian/Si Yin is a carefree, mischievous and indifferent student. A terrible betrayal by her first love that leads to a devastating war and the sacrifice of her beloved sifu Mo Yuan’s soul leaves Si Yin inconsolable with grief and remorse. If Bai Qian occasionally comes across as dislike-able, it is because Yang Mi did not successfully convey how deeply and utterly wounded Si Yin/Bai Qian was by these events. This transformed her into an aloof, cynical and outwardly cold goddess who closely guards her innately warm and loyal heart.
As for the Ye Hua character, part of his magic is there is no such thing as a Ye Hua - he is the brilliant, invincible and handsome Crown Prince of the powerful Celestial Tribe. He is also a great cook, a wonderful father and he loves only once and unconditionally. But underneath that too good to be true surface, he has his own glaring flaws. His first hopeless love is Susu, a lonely, kind heart-ed, docile mortal woman he meets on a chance encounter. It is an unequal relationship that was doomed to end in tears. As a result of his inexperience and hubris, he makes many miscalculations and ultimately betrays her in a way that tragically ends their relationship. He mourns her and waits for her return for hundreds of years and against all logic and odds. When he discovers Susu and Bai Qian are one and the same, he is elated and goes to extreme lengths to crack the ice around her heart and win her love and forgiveness. But Bai Qian is a much older and complicated woman who is initially dismissive of his puppy love. She is a high goddess and a queen and thus more than his equal. While he was thrilled by this spicier version of Susu, he finds to his frustration and fear that she has a past and her heart is not as easily won.
Mark Chao’s Ye Hua will forever be the defining Ye Hua. It doesn’t hurt that this dude has the best eye ogling motion and is capable of the most unbelievable micro facial expressions. He is not afraid to look ugly when he is terrified or devastated with grief. As Susu’s Ye Hua, he is the austere young prince who discovers love and happiness for the first time. As Bai Qian’s Ye Hua he is darker, more passionate, more aggressive and much wiser. Chao's Ye Hua literally gets better looking as the drama advances. Its an illusion that arises as he compels you with the many faces of Ye Hua; the serious and dutiful prince, the valiant warrior, the besotted bridegroom,the grieving widower, the protective father, the frustrated lover... He is equally persuasive as the stoic Mo Yuan who silently mourns the love he lost while he was recovering from saving the world.
Yang Mi and Mark Chao together are a heady, addictive combination. They are both so gorgeous that it is just a gigantic eye candy feast. This drama unabashedly spams you with steamy scenes of the two of them kissing and rolling around in bed. I suspect Mark Chao was cast as Ye Hua based solely on how shockingly good he looks lying down and his terrific acting skills were just an accidental happy bonus. Their chemistry gets noticeably more intense and you to fall in love with them falling in love. In lighter moments, the dialogue is both hilarious and touching. As a couple they subtly mock many cliche costume drama stereotypes – Ye Hua is the cook, he is Mr Mom, he cross dresses and he turns on the waterworks more easily. She is a much older woman who can drink him under the table, proposes to him and likes to lecture him. While the drama is sloppy elsewhere, Ye Hua and Bai Qian’s scenes are shot with meticulous, loving attention to detail. In each life, they hold each other the same but slightly different way when they sleep, she combs his hair the same but slightly less loving way, and when Bai Qian hugs Ye Hua the way Susu hugged him you just KNOW he has almost wormed his way back into her heart.
All of the emotionally moving scenes are accompanied by one of the four haunting love songs from the OST. The production team had a cheeky sense of humor when it came to Ye Hua’s costumes - they sneaked in a number of really sidesplitting outfits. In the memorable episode when he meets Bai Qian for the first time, he looks like Big Bird in a black feather outfit that highlights his beaky side profile in not the best way. By then, I was so smitten that the thinking part of my brain barely processes this. And then there is the cross dressing.… In most of the love scenes, Ye Hua borrowed my pajamas and copied my hairstyle. I can't explain how I am not bothered that he had the audacity to look so delicious in my nightgown. At the end he even pulls off this black with pink peach blossom flower print dress that I have aptly named Su Jin’s Revenge. None of it matters - he can speak the cheesiest lines, cry, cross dress and still come across as this crazily sexy, hot man beast. Love is blind indeed.
The strong cast of supporting characters brings this story to life - the uncle confidante, the brother and his "friend", the deranged evil concubine and the usual love rivals. There is also Dijun (Vengo Gao) and Feng Jiu's (Dilraba Dilmurat) love story which has charming and heartbreaking moments but the main couple is a tough act to follow.
There are better, more well-rounded shows with more substantive and complex plots out there. This one still wins on the strength of its simple, brilliantly accomplished mission: it forces you to relive all of the joy, passion and pain of an intense love. Like junk food, it appeals to all of your most basic instincts and can result in binge-ing. Don’t ask why - just enjoy it. Over and over and over again if you must.
There are about 60 episodes of very funny bloopers on Youtube on the Croton Mega Hit channel but most of them are not translated.
Footnote: Forget the rubbish Netflix title Eternal Love, this drama is Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms.
This is like a fine dining experience - to be savored and remembered. It deserves an 11/10.Nirvana in Fire is an exceptional drama by any and all standards - nothing else I have watched comes even close to surpassing it. It truly checks all of the boxes in terms of a complex plot, an incredibly talented cast, excellent screenplay, well executed action scenes and overall movie-like visual impact and production quality.
This is the story of Lin Shu's single minded quest for justice and reform. His father, a powerful general in command of the 70,000 strong Chiyan army is framed as a traitor while away defending the Liang state. Victorious but battle worn, he is slaughtered along with his entire army before they have a chance to return to the capital. Young Lin Shu barely survives and re-emerges 12 years later as Mei Changsu, the mysterious leader of the powerful pugilist Jiangzuo Alliance. His appearance is completely altered and he is a sickly, shadow of the vigorous young warrior he used to be. He returns to the capital amidst a power struggle between the crown prince and his brother Prince Yu as the Divine Talent, a brilliant strategist regarded as an emperor maker. He plays them against each other and is on surface allied with Prince Yu while he surreptitiously advances the out of favor Prince Jing. The complexity in the plot arises in the brilliant and occasionally cruel strategies he employs to uncover the full extent of the conspiracy and all those complicit in his family's murder as well as to advance Prince Jing's position. This is not a story about revenge, it is about justice. It is also about reform as justice is worthless without reform. Making abiding changes to the court and the system that would be overseen by a just and moral ruler was an equally important outcome to Lin Shu/Mei Changsu. To achieve his mission, he had to do many things he considered despicable. Cleaning out the corruption in the court was the only thing he could do to make the senseless massacre of his family and comrades in arms mean something.
This is an impossible show to binge watch - I can at best get through two episodes in one sitting. We learn from the get go that Lin Shu is living on borrowed time. That imbues the drama with an omnipresent sense of sorrow and inevitability that grows as it steadily progresses towards the end. Whenever the mood gets unbearably heavy, there are welcome moments of brilliantly timed comic relief. The first episode is probably the most difficult to follow as most of the key characters are introduced all at once .Thankfully there are many excellent character guides online that are super helpful in the beginning. There are no unnecessary characters in this show; each one was brilliantly cast and has an important role in the unfolding storyline.
The role of Lin Shu/Mei Changsu is a complex one and not at all easy to play. This was without a doubt Hu Ge's defining role and he just killed it. Time and again he was able to subtly convey a multitude of intense emotions behind a superficially stoic expression. As Mei Changsu the strategist, he was brilliant, ruthless, calculating, Machiavelli and breathtakingly cruel when necessary while battling his self-loathing for the person he was forced to become. He is filled with longing, regret and fear of discovery as he re-encounters his former love, friends and relatives under this new identity. He masterfully portrays a callous indifference that masks unbearable hurt as his actions and morals are misunderstood by his best loved friend. As they inevitably begin to recognize his old mannerisms and think the unthinkable, he cannot help but tease them with the truth before skillfully evading their suspicions. The chemistry between Lin Shu/Mei Changsu and the rest of the cast and in particular Prince Jing (Wang Kai) is mesmerizing. Twelve years later Prince Jing still misses Lin Shu, his boyhood friend and cousin and was never quite convinced the Lin family could be guilty of treason. Despite his initial aversion to Mei Changsu for his lack of moral scruple, the principled Prince Jing's soul knows him and he is eventually drawn into a strong and touching bro-mance with him . Equally moving were the rare smiles, flashes of humor and fatherly affection that emerges when Lin Shu/Mei Changsu teases Fei Lun, his lethally skilled and fiercely loyal boy protector. Despite his crushing physical weakness, he desperately lies to shield his loved ones from the extent of his suffering and true condition. I found myself grieving for not only the lost friendships and love affair but for the Lin Shu that Mei Changsu can never become again.
The character development in this drama is so sophisticated and multi-layered that even the worst villains of the piece are to evoke a sense of pity for their human failings and have some redeeming aspects. The story builds towards an epic climax that sees Lin Shu/Mei Changsu confront the person ultimately responsible for this terrible and unforgiveable betrayal. Both actors in this final showdown were phenomenal but I think the tyrant's rant from rage,to hubris, to denial, to defeat , to defiance and then finally to almost but not quite remorse truly blew me away. It is in this encounter that Lin Shu delivers his most excoriating, most tragic and and most damning indictment -"If you knew your son you would never believe he could betray you. If your son knew you, he would not have refused to believe you betrayed him." The script writing is powerful and we are treated to many emotionallly loaded lines but for me, this one was the one that summed up the root of the tragedy and made me weep for both of them. But Lin Shu/Mei Changsu was beyond tears.
I love it that this show pretty much ends after the climatic peak with most of the loose ends tied up well ahead. Even though we know from the very beginning that Lin Shu/Mei Changsu dies, it still broke my heart. Nonetheless, the drama comes to a very fitting and satisfying end. While this was an enthralling, immersive journey from start to finish, I think I need to take a break with something less intense. I suspect this will remain the very best drama I have ever seen for a long time although I still love Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms best.
Fantastic appetizer but don't bother with the main course and desert.This drama really wowed me at the beginning - heart stopping kungfu fight scenes, the two leads had good banter and chemistry, the set was gorgeous (obviously big budget) and the story had a good balance of intrigue, romance, action and good and evil characters. I was hooked and truly enjoyed the first 25-30 episodes of it. Then just when you are at the point of addiction, the show peaks, which is just plain cruel. And then in a truly impressive way the show crashes and burns, getting progressively worse as it advances. I kept watching in the desperate hope that it would turn itself around but sadly it did not. It was as if an entirely different production crew took over and set out to purposely destroy the show. The plot meandered down multiple mind numbingly boring and ultimately repetitive political plots to steal the thrones in 3 of the 5 kingdoms only to be foiled by Fuyao and her friends. There were lots of unnecessary side characters and multiple unanswered and non sequitor sub plots. Not to mention the many long winded and boring philosophical discussions that I strongly suggest fast forwarding through unless you have trouble falling asleep at night.
Ethan Ruan and Yang Mi were great together most of the time and especially at the beginning. However, there were long periods where Fuyao/Yang Mi was on her own and the story/actress could not really carry those moments alone, frequently coming across as reckless and annoying. I did not love the supporting cast either and I felt that Vengo Gao's role/storyline was almost as if they were trying out two potential male leads with parallel (repetitive) plots to see which was better. Obviously Yang Mi and Vengo have zero chemistry and that sub plot that went on forever should have been eliminated altogether. I guess the entire crew was being paid by the episode judging from how it ended up being all pasted together to create one big mess of a storyline. Its a shame because this could have been a terrific and memorable (much shorter) drama with some ruthless editing and tighter script/plot writing.
The only thing epic about this drama is the effort I had to put in to see it through the end. Starts with a bang and then death by a thousand cuts of boring inanity. This is one of those shows that definitely would have benefited greatly from the latest Chinese government ban on excessive budgets that lead to too many unnecessary episodes in Chinese costume dramas. To be fair, I would say the first say 30 episodes are actually worth watching. If you can endure some suffering you can even watch a few more episodes until Fuyao discovers Wu Ji's real identity. After that, do yourself a huge favor and drop it. You will just feel angry and cheated if like me, you persist until the bitter end because it then becomes just so, so much more bad than good.
We are back!!! 铁甲依然在 (tie jia yi ran zai).Novoland Eagle Flag is about a time in fantasy world Novoland's history where the outlawed Tianqu warriors are revived for an epic showdown with growing evil forces of the supernatural Chenyue cult.
These are tumultous times in Novoland, where the ruling Yin Empire only has a tenuous grip on its power over its vassal kingdoms. The emperor and the ruling nobles of the various kingdoms are protected by their own armies led by skilled generals. By coalition and mutual self interest, an unstable balance of power is maintained. Internal politics and power struggles within the empire and the kingdoms complicate the plot. These sub threads are quite well written but can be ignored or followed loosely without losing track of the story-line. This inherent instability is manipulated by the Chenyue cult who preys on the superstitions, insecurities and ambitions of the ruling elite. As war breaks out when a powerful warlord seizes power, the might of the Chenyue's undead Redteeth army grows surreptitiously with the death count. This sets the stage for the return of the formidable Tianqu warriors, historical protectors of the realm until banished for killing a despot. Only the Tianqu warriors, lead by their chief suzerain with a legendary sword, had been able to suppress the Chenyue.
Our three main characters are destined to play a critical role in Tianqu's return. They are bound together by a touching friendship as they come of age during these troubled times. Asule is crown prince of the nomadic Qingyang tribe who are fierce warriors in the harsh wintry North. He is sent at young age to Eastland as a political hostage. Yuran is an orphan from the elite of the Winged Tribe who is a princess in name at the Xiatang court. Ji Ye is the unfavored elder son of a nobleman whese mother was a concubine. They were lonely children whose paths crossed in Xiatang and essentially become each others' families. Yet they are pawns in this ruthless world where their friendship is constantly tested by ambitious and powerful actors who use them to achieve their own agendas. Asule is an idealist who wants to use his power to save the world. Ji Ye wants to prove himself, he is a conqueror who wants to rule the world. Yuran doesn't care about the world or the future, she just lives in the moment for herself and her friends. The relationship between the three leads was one of the best parts of this drama and well written. They balance each other out perfectly. Asule is a gentle soul who cannot bear to kill even when it is the only way to achieve the greater good. Ji Ye has no such reservations but his ruthless ambition is checked by Asule's goodness. And Yuran is the glue that binds them together and keeps them grounded on what is truly important - their friendship and the importance living for oneself.
The cast was very strong as this big budget production spared no expense with veteran actors. Many did not like the actress Song Zuer but I thought she was the perfect Yuran, which is not a deep character, just a very vehement one. While Liu Haoran did a good job portraying Asule, the character was poorly written and waffled in the back half. Don't hold it against him that the scriptwriter turned him into a brainless incredible hulk-like killing machine whenever he is angry. And while Chen Ruoxuan overdid the petulant youth in the beginning, Ji Ye's character is a strong one that showed tremendous growth towards the end.
The script-writing which was fantastic and gripping in the first half turned into an epic disappointment in the back half. It became repetitive, deviated into half heart-ed ill fated romantic tropes and took odd and messy turns with several core characters including Asule. I realized too late that this is the same dastardly Linmon Pictures that similarly destroyed the back half of Legend of Fuyao. It is their signature gimmick of replacing the production team with Team B so that Team A gets to move onto new projects. At that point you are so invested that you end up watching the rest of it anyway. The only thing that helped Novoland is that it is backed by the substance of a real book whereas Fuyao descended into 100 pct script-writer induced train-wreck. Given the record budget, the popularity of the novel, serious hype and the veteren cast this should have been a 9 or 10, one of the best of the year. What an epic let down - despite some truly superb battle scenes and cinematography, it ended up as just an OK overall production due to the messy writing.
The ending is controversial and felt rushed. Unlike most, I believe the Eagle Flag chapter of Novoland ended where it should have. One of the biggest misconceptions of this drama is that the story is character driven. It is not. The three leads may have their own subplots but all of the plot threads converge in the final conflict between Tianqu and Chenyue. The characters are relevant only as far as their roles in the build up to an epic climatic clash between good and evil. What happens to the characters after that is not important since the story is not really about them. A sequel or season 2 seems unlikely in this context although there could be spin offs that once again touch upon some of their subsequent paths - someone who read the books will know better than I.
The plot was lost somewhere along the road to redemption.Heaven Sword is one of my all time favorite Jin Yong stories. While this 2019 adaption is overall done well and quite watchable, I am still disappointed because the story is so gripping and epic that properly executed it could have and should have been a 10. I feel that way about most of Jin Yong's stories and I am time and again disappointed with C-drama's inability to turn the gift of a fantastic storyline into a kick-ass 10.
The first problem is that riding on the gift of a great storyline, the production team was very sloppy with the cast and the casting of the key roles. It was obvious from the start that many of the lead actors struggled to get into character: Zhang Cuisan and Zhao Min notably. And while I think Zeng Shunxi is a very promising young actor, at 21 he is too much of a boy still to fully pull off Wuji. He wasn't bad but his chemistry with both female leads was little more than warm and friendly. That's just not good enough as Wuji's two main love interests are bad-ass, devious and willful women; a handful for any man much less a boy. To make matters worse, they saddled him with the worst man bun that highlighted an unflattering roundness to his features - many times I thought the Pillsbury doughboy was going to burst right out of him! It wasn't till the much later episodes they fixed his look in a good way. In addition to the main leads, poor chemistry between the couples is a consistent theme throughout this show. Whoever paired up the actors must surely be the matchmaker from hell. The initial flat romance between Zhang Cuisan and Yin Susu almost made me give up on this early on but it somehow clicked once the fantastic child actor playing young Wuji was brought into the mix.
While it seems I will still have to wait for a version of this epic story with the A-list cast it deserves, some of the roles were played by quite strong performances (Yangsiu, Zhou Zhirou, Xie Xun, Song Qingsu) while the others were good enough (Wuji, Zhao Min) that the uninspired ones (Xiao Chao etc) were drowned out and it still came together well enough to be quite enjoyable. And the action was quite good although they went a little bit overboard with the slow motion that made the many good kung fu scenes a lot less exciting. While it is definitely technically much better polished than my best loved 1986 version, the A-list 1986 cast wins hands down when it comes to breathing life into the main characters.
While this version broadly sticks to the original storyline, it digresses meaningfully from it in a very subtle way. This is a more politically correct version that dials down the cruelty of many of the darker characters and deals with them compassionately, offering them a path to redemption. In the case of Song Qingsu, it was well done because he is just a weak character that strayed off the wrong path. But in the case of Zhou Zhirou, I really didn’t see the point – this is an ambitious, selfish and cruel character that is innately much more bad than good, it is fundamental to the plot. Zhu Xudan is an actress that is naturally blessed with a mal-contented expression – she would have been an even more brilliantly wicked Zhou Zhirou if they didn’t try to make her slightly nicer. But what was even more criminal was they kind of tuned down Zhao Min, one of my all time favorite Jin Yong heroines by making her less sassy towards the end to the point of being almost like the clingy and pathetically devoted Xiao Chao (yuck). It was as if they were flirting with the idea of a shock alternative ending where Wuji ends up with the Zhirou and then thankfully chickened out at the last minute. Two thumbs down is all that I can say. And they didn’t stop with Zhirou and Qingsu, they pretty much made excuses for and/or tried to make all the bad guys slightly less bad. Boring and tiresome after awhile and it had the overall impact of diluting the passion and vehemence of Jin Yong’s characters both good and evil.
Of course all of this greater focus on character development and whitewashing comes at the cost of extra time focus on unnecessary characters. But again, another travesty – there are so many C-dramas with shallow plots that are dragged out over 60 episodes but this really engrossing story was all squeezed into 50? The natural consequence of this was they just threw the whole plot under the bus. They cheated by counting on the fact this is a well known story - after all it is one of Jin Yong’s most popular works. So it rushes through many cursory character introductions and transitions that didn’t make the most sense that I would feel much sympathy for anyone who didn’t already know the story in advance. This entire epic tale that tragically spans so many lives and events over such a long time is brilliantly tied together by a grand conspiracy. The complicated plot unfolds around the unraveling of this conspiracy that among other things led to the misunderstanding between the sects and Wuji’s parents tragic deaths. All of that was pretty much lost because the production team deemed it more important to help us empathize with Zhou Zhirou? Really? It came at the cost of rushing through many key parts of uncovering the intrigue. At the end I happened to blink and almost even missed the entire denouement it was dealt with so almost dismissively. The scriptwriters did Jin Yong and us a grave injustice in this matter. Shame on the production team. Really.
Overall this was still a very polished effort but it didn’t really live up to the heart of Jin Yong’s epic story. While the plot was lost along the path to redemption, it is still very watchable and one of the better efforts out there. And it is still Jin Yong and that beats a lot of the no substantive storyline 2019 new dramas I have skimmed through so far (as of June 2019).
The Adventures of Sher-Luo Hommies in ShanghaiThis drama unabashedly sets out to create a Chinese Sherlock Holmes that is an upgrade from the original. I wish they had not done that but that changes nothing about how awesome this drama is. Set in the lavish sophisticated glitter of 1930s Shanghai, the glamorous surface visuals stand in sharp contrast to the darker and more ominous undertone of its citizens' dark side. The production borrows heavily from recent popular Sherlock Holmes movies and dramas. This is most notable with the OST which sounds uncannily like parts of the OST from both the movie and the BBC hit drama but has the audacity of being well... just better!
This fun and engaging drama follows gifted police consultant Luo Fei (Bai Yu) and his sidekick rookie female detective Qin Xiaoman's crime solving adventures. They are aided by forensic doctor Ben Jieming and criminal psychologist Dr. Huo Wensi under the eagle eye of Detective Supt. Shawei. Despite the overt allusions to Sherlock Holmes, this is really a crime solving team that is a bit of Elementary in the two leads combined with a bit of CSI and a bit of Criminal Minds. Despite the requisite sharp intellect and deductive talent, Bai Yu's Luo Fei is far too sociable, too stylish, too charismatic and way too relate-able to qualify as an iconic Chinese Sherlock Holmes. His interpretation lacks a defining obsessive eccentricity and that dispassionate deductive logic that is the quintessential Sherlock Holmes.
Nonetheless, the humorous antics of the all too human Detective Luo as he falls for his gamin and plucky young sidekick are simply delightful. Xiaomin is a strong, smart and tenacious female character who can kick ass but is also not afraid on occasion to just be a girl. I really like that about her. What I like less is how condescending Luo Fei is when explaining certain deductions to Xiaomin - all that "Elementary my dear Watson" crap is such an overused and passe preamble to a "this is how it went down" walk-through in this genre. In general, all of the lead roles are colorful characters that were well written, well developed and well acted.
What impresses me most about this drama are how well written the cases are and how they come together in an overarching larger plot. I devoured the Complete Sherlock Holmes when I was twelve and have probably read every critically acclaimed detective out there since. I am not that easily wowed by just any old whodunit. These cases are intriguing, cleverly crafted, largely original with cheeky allusions to many of Holmes cases, both famous and lesser well known. They were mostly crimes of passion, where we end up feeling rather sorry for the perpetrators following the great reveal. In this sense, the cases are much more Agatha Christie than Arthur Conan Doyle.
The approximate three-episode per case format is just the right length to properly develop the backstory to each crime and the potential suspects. However, the production rushes through some key interactions, as if they don't really want the viewer to have enough time register what happened and think things through carefully. A really good whodunit lingers to the point of actually rubbing it in your face. The casting is also a bit off in the cases. For example, if there is to be a femme fatale in a case, she has to look the part. It is like saying Mrs Peacock seduced Professor Plum in the Conservatory - all you get is a big fat eye roll and yeah, right. Replace that with Miss Scarlet and then its oh yes, of course she did, that tramp! I suspect that the producers just don't understand that part of the big hook in this genre is the audience really does want to have a fair shot at more or less figuring it out. And between the rushing (every episode is really only about 30 mins) and the misleading casting, they are kind of cheating a little bit. But its not a big issue, just don't hesitate to rewind if you think you missed something.
[MILD SPOILER - PROCEED WITH CAUTION]
The way the cases converge towards the end is marvelous (and original) and builds towards a Reichenbach Falls like moment as a final homage towards Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle was bored with his creation and had intended to kill off Sherlock Holmes. I don't think that is the intent here - I think it this is clearly angling for a second season but even if that doesn't happen, I think the ending is excellent and can stand as it is.
How to top an already phenomenal first movie.Brotherhood of the Blades 2 is one of those rare second movies that I liked better than the first (which also rocked). In this prequel, the younger Shen Lian stumbles upon a larger political conspiracy in the middle of an assignment to eliminate a controversial artist. The plot falls more along the lines of a mystery with just the right number of plot twists and betrayals. While the action scenes are still bloody, intense and masterfully choreographed, there is a better balance between close up lethal swordplay, suspenseful cat and mouse evasions and gripping high speed chases.
The plot in the prequel is easier to follow and more interesting to me. The cast is stronger and the characters are deeper and have to grapple with more inner conflicts. The three main characters - Shen Lian (Chang Chen), Lu Wen Zhao (Zhang Yi) and Pei Lun (Lie Jia Yin) have agendas, loyalties and morals that are at times in outright conflict, making them alternately allies and adversaries. Yet they are bound by a certain code of conduct and mutual empathy shared by those who are ultimately just expendable chess pieces. Chang Chen's Shen Lian silently brimmed with intensity from barely suppressed defiance, to lethal violence, to cold calculation and to longing and desire in this movie. Lie Jia Yin as Pei Lun was his perfect foil with his nonchalant mocking insolence and casually deadly innuendo. Their chemistry as both friends and foes was spot on - I could not get enough of them. In the first movie, the third male lead, his sappy love interest and the female lead were insipid superfluous characters. This second movie doesn't have any notable weak links in the cast. In fact all of the supporting characters were exceptionally well acted.
Also two thumbs up for the strong, yet paradoxical female lead character - a brave and independent woman with a voice that will not be suppressed but who yet loves not that wisely. Ever at fault with a damsel in distress, Shen Lian's reluctant yet burning infatuation with her had me squealing with delight. I was shocked however to discover Yang Mi's truly awful real voice - it is thin, reedy and at odds with the strong character she portrayed. She pretty much owes all her success to her voice dubbers and undoubtedly this is why she hasn't graduated to the big screen despite her popularity and success. Still there is something inexplicable about her that connects with all her leading men and Chang Chen was no exception here.
Overall a fantastic movie to revisit, one that is hugely satisfying for any Chang Chen and/or Lie Jia Yin fan suffering from withdrawal after 2019's top dramas.
ClosureWhile NIF2 works as a superb standalone story, it is best appreciated if watched after NIF. Also be aware some of my comments may be spoilers for NIF so best not to read this if you haven't watched it.
NIF2 is the story of the changing fortunes of the Changlin family as together with the Liang empire, they navigate a changing of the guard. While the story skips a generation, the ghost of Lin Shu "haunts" the drama. After all, the powerful Changlin Army is the legacy Prince Jing created in Mei Changsu/Lin Shu's memory. Xiao Tingsheng, the now elderly Prince of Changlin instills in his family the same moral values, duty, honor and loyalty that were innate to Prince Jing and Lin Shu. His sons Xiao Pingzhang and Xiao Pingjing grow up with and share a deep bond beyond blood ties with their imperial peers, especially the Crown Prince and their cousin Xiao Yuanqi. Their proximity to the throne and unbalanced power in the court and is feared and envied by many. This sets the stage for political plots and intrigue at the highest levels of the court that pose many challenges for the Changlin family. This brings the free spirited and fun loving Pingjing back from the famed Langya hall to aid his more responsible elder brother Pingzhang, the heir who already shares their father's duties.
In NIF, we can only imagine what young Lin Shu's life was like. NIF2 invites us to experience being in the bosom of a close and loving family at the epicenter of power in the empire. We laugh and we cry with them, their friends are our friends, their foes our enemies, their hopes our hopes and we feel the pain of their losses in an acute and very real way. The script-writing and plot in this drama is deep and masterful in a way that rivals that of NIF. While political plotting, revenge, justice, loyalty, morality, duty and envy are still strong themes, it dives more deeply into relationships between sovereign and subject, parent and child, husband and wife and siblings and cousins while exploring the fine line between good and evil and nature vs nurture. Unlike NIF, the story does not revolve around one core character but a number of key characters. Like NIF there are many grey characters and even the good characters are very realistically written with their own strengths and flaws. These lead characters evolve over time as the story-line spans a generation shift and explores how these characters deal with change. The second half of the drama focuses on the younger generation and this is where weakness in the acting emerged as these demanding transitions are played out by younger and less experienced actors. That said, overall the cast was very strong and well populated with many veteran actors.
Newcomer Liu Haoran's Xiao Pingjing was stellarly portrayed from start to finish. He managed to "grow up" from the immature, playful, outspoken, impetuous and slightly irresponsible younger son to be a skilled pugilist, brilliant general and military tactician, the rising star of the Changlin family. This actor immediately conveyed that Pingjing must be what a young Lin Shu (whom we never met in NIF) would have been like. He is the young actor to watch coming out of NIF2. Sadly his love interest Lin Xi was played by a limited and forgettable young actress. Lin Xi's father was killed before she was born so she is an aloof character, a talented and capable lady doctor. She had to make a terrible, controversial and life altering decision in this drama. This is an awesome part that a better actress could have killed. This one wore a perpetually tragic expression and when pressed to defend her decision she overacted, wailing in a completely out of character way. There was no chemistry between Pingjing and Lin Xi and as a couple, they were not convincing. Pingzhang and his wife Meng Qianxue on the other hand were touchingly in sync with each other. Fortunately this is not a love story although there is more romance than NIF. Both female leads were strong and well written characters but only Meng Qianxue's role was well acted.
In the second half of the drama, cousin Xiao Yuanqi also comes of age, clawing his way up despite the disgrace his father (the youngest son of Prince JIng) brought on to their branch of the family. Yuanqi is a chameleon and the most interesting, complex and empathetic character in the entire drama. To be fair it is a challenging role, one that actor Wu Haochen was not up to. While his performance was technically good, it was also pedestrian and boring. He simply lacks onscreen presence and charisma. I didn't want to watch him and would either tune out or tune into whoever he was sharing the screen with. This was too critical a role for them to have miscast so badly. The character itself was exceedingly well developed, it just didn't come to life in the right way. It is why for me this drama is not a perfect 10 even though the script, plot and story-line can hold its own against NIF.
NIF broke my heart because even though Lin Shu/Mei Changsu got his justice, it was his final act. What he lost could never be recovered. I was inconsolable for a long time. Watching NIF2 was cathartic because NIF2 shows us that his legacy and everything he stood for lives on in all the lives he touched. And despite its own tragic moments, in NIF2 we get to imagine that maybe Lin Shu came back to fulfill his final promise. That gave me the closure I badly needed.
The curious case of Bambi in the headlights.The short mini-series format is fantastic for mystery and intrigue. I have been meaning to explore this promising genre for while. I chose Day and Night due to its strong international reception. Although it delivered in terms of an intriguing plot and decent script, the overall execution was poor. It starts out as a mystery/suspense but ends up like just another cop drama.
The plot is built around former lead investigator Guan Hongfeng's secret mission to clear his fugitive twin brother Guan Hongyu, who was wrongly accused of brutally murdering an entire family. Hongfeng conceals Hongyu, who covers for him at night while he wrestles with his fear of the dark. That they are identical twins gives wide scope for multiple fun plot twists, something the writers took advantage of. Back at the crime investigation department, the twins alternate as Hongfeng to secretly try to solve Hongyu's case while assisting with ongoing investigations. There is only one conspiracy to uncover; all the other cases are presented as police procedurals so we only have to keep track of one set of clues for the one big whodunit. There were too many side cases - the drama ended up morphing into an action oriented police thriller with great high speed chases and fist slugging action. The one good, meaty suspenseful, whodunit conspiracy I was so looking forward to ended up taking a back seat. The many other excellent cop thrillers out there sets a high bar, relative to which this is at best a mediocre effort.
Where this drama crashed was with the uninspired acting by a B-list cast. The lead actor (Pan Yue Ming) only did a decent job playing twins - this is hard to do but it can be a fun, challenging role for a more versatile actor to shine in. He was good at conveying a barely discernible difference in mannerisms between each twin. But while his Hongyu was engaging as the more outgoing and charismatic twin, his portrayal of the introverted, cerebral Hongfeng fell far short. This character should have more intensity and quiet gravitas; an intellectually intimidating veteran detective with a giant secret instead of a lethargic, sleep deprived, monotonic and mostly expressionless character. Zhouxun (Wang Long Zheng), Hongfeng's ex-partner and successor as head of the department was well acted. He came across as a politically savvy, mercurial, cunning and suspicious friendemy of Hongfeng but tended to over-act, notably the temper tantrums. The critical casting error was Liang Yuan as Zhou Shutong, Hongfeng's rookie newbie mentee. This actress thinks rookie is synonymous with vacuous and that best describers both her performance and her favorite facial expression. This destroyed the chemistry of the entire cast - they couldn't interact with her nauseating deer in the headlights Bambi routine. Consequently, there was no convincing team dynamic between the cast. This rapport did eventually emerge and feel natural in the last 10 episodes, notably in scenes with no Shutong. Unfortunately Shutong got a lot of airtime as her role closely touched all of the lead characters. They should have just cut their losses by turning her into the victim of a serial killer.
The final episode was excellent, ending the show on a high note although only part of the conspiracy is revealed. There is no hard air date for the sequel and few details. Given the mediocre execution, I would not be surprised if it never eventuates. I am only mildly curious to find out what really happened so I won't be crying if it never happens. Overall this is an ok watch, it didn't live up to the hype for me although I will watch a few more in this genre.
Wuxia at its best!!!This is one I had heard about years ago but somehow never got around to. So thrilled to have changed that. This is what a good, old fashioned Wuxia movie is all about in terms of honest to goodness kick ass action. None of that flying on roof top, slow motion improbable and technology assisted acrobatics that we are routinely served up with these days. Nothing but extremely well choreographed, intensive, nail bitingly lethal swordplay up close and personal. Wow - they really don't make it like this anymore.
The plot isn't complicated - it is about how three highly skilled Imperial Assassins get caught up in a gripping yet relatively straightforward political conspiracy that puts them in mortal danger. They are a bit of a Chinese Three Musketeers with a dark side as they risk their lives for a pittance and are unable to fulfill their deepest personal desires. They are not your traditional virtuous wuxia heroes but they live by their own moral code. Shen Lian (Chang Chen) is the most deadly and most morally ambiguous of the three. Chang Chen pulls off this complex role exceptionally well, subtly conveying deep and varied emotions underneath an intense, brooding and taciturn demeanour. Zhou Yi Wei also brilliantly pulls off another grey character. In fact, many of the cast have delivered wonderful performances in key roles in many recent hit dramas. The only exception is Ethan Li's rather unmemorable performance as the more care free youngest brother Jin Yi Chuan. This actor has since regressed and gone on to weigh down a few otherwise very strong dramas for me. (Why does he still get work?). I also was under impressed by the romance element of the story - this role was not well written and not well acted. That made Shen Lian's infatuation with her not relate-able and one reason I haven't rated this more highly. That said, this is not really a romance and I thoroughly enjoyed this so definitely if like me you never got round to this, now is the time.
The gorgeous, scary, fierce and utterly bewitching she-demon in a red dress.Zhao Yao is a fun fantasy love xanxia drama where both leads belong to the dark or demon sect. The unconventional "good vs evil" plot challenges the idea of what is "good" and what is "evil" as the good guys are really the bad guys in this drama. The best thing about this drama is the sizzling chemistry between the two leads. What totally really drags it down is that it is littered with fillers - it should at best a 30-40 episode drama. That made me grumpy and is the main reason for the less high rating.
Zhaoyao (Bai Lu) the female lead is an unapologetic bad-ass she devil who falls for the Demon King's son Moqing/Li Chenlan (Xu Kai). Li Chenlan is imprisoned by his father until he can free him from the powerful evil demon force within him. Zhaoyao is raised in solitude by her grandfather; it is their sacred duty to guard Chenlan until the Demon King returns. Led by the powerful immortal Luo Mingxuan, the righteous sects decide to preemptively kill Chenlan before he can wreak devastation on the world. Instead, they accidentally free Chenlan and an injured Mingxuan is rescued by Zhaoyao, who becomes infatuated by his chivalry and righteousness. She is outraged when she discovers his plans to kill Chenlan and boldly rescues him, earning his undying love in the process. She is captured and tortured by the thwarted Mingxuan and her freedom comes at a devastating personal price. Enraged and disillusioned, Zhaoyao forms and builds up her own formidable Wanlu Sect that wreaks havoc on Mingxuan and his "righteous" sects and protects those persecuted by them.
While recovering a legendary sword, Chenlan accidentally releases a deadly force that kills Zhaoyao. Boy is she pissed!!! She returns as an angry, vengeful but much weakened spirit that is hell bent on killing Chenlan dead. By then, Chenlan is practically invincible and it further incenses her to discover he has taken over as the leader of the Wanlu sect. This man enjoys living dangerously - he is so besotted with Zhaoyao that he is amused by and even welcomes her efforts to alternately kill and/or seduce him. The best moments are all centered around their occasionally funny and wholly adorable interactions. He is totally putty in her hands and cannot deny even her most dangerous requests. The sparks literally fly between them and their body language and obvious affection for each other is mesmerizing. All the early to middle episodes of them falling in love were the best and totally re-watchable. Bai Lu's Zhaoyao is just simply phenomenal - she is fiery, fearless, impetuous, occasionally wicked and completely bewitching. She also really brings out the best in all of her co-stars. However, outside of Bai Lu and Xu Kai, the cast is rather dull and didn't to engage me. Two of the other main female characters have a tendency to wail, which always has me scrambling for the fast forward/mute button. Sigh! When will they get it that wailing, whiny and noisy female characters are a nuisance?
The second female lead in this drama plays Qin Zhiyan (Yan Xiao), whose body Zhaoyao shares in the first half of the show while she tries to reclaim her own. The two are polar opposites yet form a strong and cute friendship. I wasn't wowed by Yan Xiao's overall performance, she got too much airtime in the first 20+ episodes that her cuteness turned into boring/whiny. The editing is sloppy - it jumps ahead, flashes back and in some cases explains what happens much later. I would rewind thinking I missed something that gets explained much later on - like how Mingxuan was out of the blue in a sealed state by Zhaoyao. I have FOMO so I hate fast forwarding but there were too many flashbacks and boring conversations between the righteous sects. Both the female and male love rivals were total cliches - they each sought to win Chenlan/Zhaoyao's love by killing off their rival. Wow -such a time tested losing and deranged strategy. The other main antagonist Jiangwu was an immature and swaggering pest until he redeemed himself slightly at the end. There are also a bunch of forgettable side love stories. The pace overall is painfully slow.
This drama went downhill toward the end. It didn't help that they randomly (and unnecessarily) killed off secondary characters. The ending was a bit rushed, garbled, messily executed and a bit wishy-washy when it could have and should have finished very strong. What is truly baffling is the countless wasted filler moments that could have been cut so that the ending could have been done properly.
I still recommend this but wouldn't bother to watch the whole thing. It wouldn't be a bad idea to drop it after Zhaoyao and Chenlan get together somewhere in the early 40s. Fast forward with impunity every time one of the two excellent main leads is not on. I will be looking out for more dramas with them (together would be great) and especially Bai Lu.
Cinderella and an unlikely fairy godfatherThis is not my usual type of movie, I picked it up out of curiousity on a plane and was pleasantly surprised. The plot is simple - it is about the relationship that develops between a disabled middle aged divorcee Leung (Anthony Wong) and his caregiver Evelyn (Crisel Consunji), a Filipino domesetic helper. Leung is initally harsh to Evelyn; he is embittered by the random accident that led to the loss of his wife and son to another marriage that took them far away to the US. But her kindness and dedication eventually moves him to empathize with her plight, which is sadly all to common to the large Fillipino domestic helper community in Hong Kong. They come to care deeply for each other and find joy in each other's company in an otherwise bleak existence. Although they are so very different in terms of culture and background they even had to learn each others' language to communicate, what they both have in common is a kind and generous spirit. As a person who no longer has dreams, Leung rediscovers joy and meaning in life in making Evelyn's dreams come true even at great cost to himself. This is a very simple and humble production but the acting by both lead actors as well as the small supporting cast was really strong. And the script was well done, with a lot of humor that brightened up the mood along the way. It is both a sad and happy movie although the plot was somewhat fairy tale like or improbable but that is all I would say to avoid giving it away.