What a ride, truly. This drama had it all. Epic sweep, a heart ‘n’ soul-rendering romance, gorgeous places and gorgeous faces, ancient mythology wrought with suspense and high-stakes and some more.
It started off slowly for me, I’ll be honest. I couldn’t see its charm initially (thanks to mookie’s recommendation I persevered) but then, it happened. Somewhere around the mid-teen or so episodes it became such an addictive, heart-thumping, delicious rush and I couldn’t stop myself from binge-watching.
This drama was very beautiful to look at, so many beautiful sets and costumes but amidst all the visual amazement I was also completely lost. This isn’t a genre I’m accustomed to. It’s probably the most difficult thing to write about considering I’m so used to more… dare I say more depth to my choice of dramas and films and this was a very shallow kind of drama. No, it’s not a code I always have to live by, it certainly doesn’t have to be ‘deep’ all the time. it’s just the kind of fare I have a tendency to watch. This was also very obviously geared with female oestrogen levels in mind — but it doesn’t mean it can only ever be brimming with ”soft and fluffy” elements either (I’m really digging myself deeeep into this one aren’t I??). It packed some hard-edged pathos and suffering by the truckload. This poor OTP got torn apart by every obstacle imaginable, literally and laughably. But it worked, in spite of it all, I found myself very affected and invested.
The drama was an adaptation based off a novel of the same name (add to that some brouhaha over it plagiarising another novel). I’m not familiar with the novel nor have I paid attention to the xanxia/wuxia genre of cdramas. Chinese-language movies, probably, if you’re talking Chinese Oddyssey and some of of Tsui Hark’s fantasy/mythology-based movies but I’ve never really ventured too far into the genre in terms of cdramas so for me the whole universe it was set in was a bit of a cultural experience and took a whole lot of getting used to. I mean, there were a whole host of dieties and immortals and their realms — possibly replacing what would be monarchs and their kingdoms in a standard historical.
It was one of the biggest drama bandwagons du jour (like, back when I originally drafted this review — a good couple of months ago el-oh-el) and I’m sure everyone had similar reasons to have watched this show with as much fervor as they did. My biggest reason to watch this actually became Mark Chao’s impressive turn as Ye Hua, the crown prince of the celestial palace.
I can’t quite describe how hard I fell for him. My experience discovering him wasn’t all too unfamiliar, I’ve been down this rabbit-hole before with almost all the hotties in my massive man-rem. I’d say his Ye Hua was that kind of beautiful, unearthly kind of figment not even the wildest of my imaginations could have conjured up. The kind that is so enticing yet cruelly unreal and intangible, you’re left aching in his wake. Kind of like, say Kang Dong-won’s character in Duelist. No matter how many times you try and rewatch the film you’re still left parched, thirsty as ever and you’re still unsuccessful in capturing him for yourself, not even a little, but the experience in itself is still sublime. You get me? Eh, you likely won’t. But that’s who Ye Hua is for me and it’s all credit to Mark Chao for being such a disarmingly gorgeous man.
His character did have moments of being really, really morose and infuriating, also there was the whole noble sacrifice thing so commonplace in Asian entertainment but hey, it’s Mark Chao, so…
That’s not to discredit Yang Mi who was, as most viewers have dubbed her, ‘flawless’. It’s absolutely true her acting was faultless. And it was lovely seeing her marked improvement from previous projects I’ve seen her in. I came across a lot of praise for her acting in The Interpreter, but I’ll be honest I disliked it. I found it jarring. Not to mention the same commenters also pegged Huang Xuan as a brilliant actor in the same show. He was, but he severely lacked screen presence and just seemed to y’know, blend into the background after a while, but I digress. Thankfully Yang Mi isn’t lacking in screen presence, she has it in spades. She was exquisite and ethereal in this drama, with all the mannerisms, expressions, cadence requisite for her characters in this show. Yes, in the plural, as the same character had three separate identities in this show.
I personally preferred her as her base character Bai Qian the fox goddess, especially when she was wrought with episodes of jealousy and (quite justified) vengeance. Through these she became so much more multidimensional. Her Su Su identity actually chafed at me. She was cute at the outset but her having amnesia made me nervous the entire time, but hey, points for suspense? Gah!
On a positive spin however it was refreshing that she retained some of Bai Qian’s frank and curt openness, which helped accelerate things romantically when it came to her encounter with an initially shy Ye Hua.
Si Yin annoyed me probably more than Su Su and her constantly being a liability and causing trouble to her mentor Mo Yuan wasn’t cute nor fun in the least. Though I would probably be lying if I didn’t enjoy a couple of the Mulan-like tropes and her fondness for peach liquors but that wasn’t enough to sell me her character. Her short-lived fling with ghost lord Li Jing after its brief initial sparks died a paltry death and became one of the most meandering parts of the script later. So yes, I was quite relieved her Si Yin arc didn’t last too long.
Saying that, I don’t think I will ever be able to connect with Yang Mi as an actress. Objectively she did a sound job in this drama but she was missing something I personally look for in performances; an element of warmth. Yang Mi is on the colder end of the spectrum. Kind of like Go Soo, he can pull out all the stops in his projects but something still feels amiss every time. It’s that warmth that radiates and translates into that attractive pull and magnetism on screen. Ahem. Something that Mark Chao had in abundance (heart, be still).
I don’t think anyone in the show was particularly bad in terms of acting, yes there were a whole slew of new and green actors (cough/from Yang Mi’s studio) but they all managed to pull it off from tolerable to decent in terms of performances and among those was the probably least newest to the scene, Vengo Gao. He was another poor performer in The Interpreter. No scratch that, I’m being way too kind, his performance there was brutal. I was in physical pain even while hitting that FF button. He was kind of OK here. Far from a revelation, but surprisingly believable at best as the diety Dijun with a soft spot for our nine-tailed fox princess Feng Jiu (Dilreba Dilmurat).
Dilreba remains true to the reputation of beautiful Uyghur women. Her, Guli Nazha and Tong Liya remain absolute stunners. Doesn’t she have one of the prettiest pair of peepers in c-ent? Her waif-like wide-eyed portrayal of Feng Jiu was borderline lovable had it not been for her line delivery. Maybe it’s not Dilreba herself to blame but a cdrama norm for their heroines to speak in such an infantile tone.
But alas, this review wasn’t solely to nitpick at everyone’s acting. There was so much more that I had a difficult time picking apart.
Again, I felt quite lost and overwhelmed at first. And it was right of the very opening of the show where it most required its viewers to take a huge leap of faith, especially in accepting a very feminine Yang Mi as a man-boy taken under the wings of the god of war Mo Yuan (Mark Chao’s initial role in the film) as his disciple. To confuse us further we’re also expecting something romantic from this pairing as they’re both the leads, right?
Yeah, you thought.
I adored this twist in the tale with the golden lotus motif and how it connected Mo Yuan to Ye Hua and in turn our leading lady Bai Qian.
Yang Mi as an actress is a natural flirt and quite playful and she was in her element in this show. Whether her acting worked its magic for me or not her chemistry with the leading man was undeniable. I would say ultimately it was their chemistry that kept me readily invested throughout and seeing these stills again are now whetting my appetite for a rewatch. Haha!