So, after only two dramas, Hu Ge is officially on Hwang Jung Eum level with me (if you’re wondering, it took about three dramas for HJE to reach James Franco, Emma Watson, and Jennifer Aniston level, which is my tip-top, as in, I’m an uber-fan of theirs, and not altogether just because of their acting ability; because, let’s face it, James Franco is only okay). Like, if Hu Ge somehow became fluent in Korean or if HJE suddenly became fluent in Mandarin and they did a drama together, I would probably die from happiness. I just love Hu Ge so much now, you guys don’t even know. Now, on to the drama.
Initially, I started watching this drama because he was in it, and because I’d heard nothing but good things about it, but I didn’t expect to find so many other great Chinese drama actors. Not only was I surprised because of how good this drama was, I was completely blown away by the quality of everything in it. From the music to the production to the acting to the story–everything was fantastic. This drama got so close to a perfect score that it makes me sad I couldn’t give it a perfect score, but there were some minor things about the story that shouldn’t have been overlooked.
Even so, this was some quality stuff that doesn’t often come in dramas. I’ve never seen a drama (Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, etc.) that had as high production value as this one did. I’ve also never watched a drama of over 30 episodes (Giant included) that I didn’t want to fast forward through at least one of the scenes. This drama was seriously that good, and unlike all the other historical dramas I’ve seen, it lost no momentum. The last ten episodes were just as good and exciting as all the episodes before them. I cannot do this drama justice with just my praise, so why don’t you just go watch it yourself? Forget about all the dramas I’ve been telling you are “must-watches” (well, don’t forget them completely. . .) and go watch this one. It is definitely the best Asian drama I’ve seen to date and ten times better than Giant, which was the drama I thought no other dramas could beat. Well, Nirvana in Fire, or Lang Ya Bang, has proven me wrong, and I hold no grudge against it for doing so.
Ratings out of 10:
Plot Development: 9.5
ACTING AND CHARACTERS
All the acting was very good. I honestly can’t pick out an actor in this drama that didn’t play their role well or was “weak.” There were so many of them, however, that I’m just going to highlight a few of the ones that made the deepest impressions.
Hu Ge played the main character who went by many names. When I first started watching, I thought his character was just another character like the one in Sound of the Desert. Although he wasn’t in a wheelchair, Mei Changsu was weak and sickly and he seemed to be timid. However, as the drama progressed, there were other aspects of his character that could be seen, and I especially loved whenever he would get desperate or lose his temper ever so slightly. Hu Ge’s facial expressions were on point throughout this whole drama. The way his character would look at Nihuang or Jingyan was heart wrenching, and the way he would glare or look conceited in front of everyone else made me feel like his character had so many more dimensions than it appeared in the beginning of the drama. It seemed that Hu Ge truly understood his character and his character’s motivations, which was why his acting job was well executed.
Ding Yong Dai played the emperor, and he was definitely one of the best actors in this drama. He played the role of a suspicious, yet mostly kind emperor very well. His character was one that you disliked, but at the same time found it hard to completely hate, and even at some times, you liked him. In the beginning, it made me angry how much he ignored Jingyan, but when he remedied that, I felt better about him. I also loved how his character, though easily manipulated by officials in whom he trusted, was not stupid. There were times when he knew exactly what his sons were doing in accusing each other just so they could get the throne. He knew what his consorts and the empress were doing when they would try to lie about each other and suck up to him. Even though he made poor decisions sometimes, this emperor was not an idiot. Ding Yong Dai did a fantastic job at showing all the sides of the emperor–the benevolent side, the suspicious side, the cold side, the loving side, the proud side–and when the emperor lost control in the end, it was an accurate portrayal of how someone like him would react to being forced to admit to his past mistakes. I’ve watched many actors portray emperors in lots of dramas, and Ding Yong Dai is an actor that I felt best understood and was suited for the role.
Another fantastic actor in this drama was Victor Huang, who played Jinghuan, Prince of Yu. In the beginning, his character is cold and calculating but still easily trusting of Mei Changsu. The way he and the crown prince would bicker with each other using flowery speech in front of the emperor or Mei Changsu was a treat to watch. I was impressed by Victor Huang all through the drama, but it wasn’t until his character started to go crazy that I knew this guy was a good actor. The scene where he’s locked in a wooden cage/prison is one of my favorites, and how he just started screaming at his father, as if releasing all the emotions he had pent up over all the years just so he could get on his father’s good side, was disturbing and pitiful at the same time.
Liu Tao played a duchess/princess (the translation was iffy on this) character that was Lin Shu’s childhood friend and a person he was engaged to when they were young. Before I start talking about her acting, I just want to say that Liu Tao is incredibly beautiful. Her high cheekbones and the bone structure of her face are divine, and her speaking voice is lovely (her singing voice too). I also love that she looks like an older, Chinese version of Aileen Quinn when she played in Annie and The Frog Prince. Whenever she smiled or smirked with her mouth closed, I couldn’t help but think of Aileen Quinn. Anyway, her character was one of my favorites, even though she wasn’t in very much of the drama. I liked to think of her as a warrior princess, because she was a general, I believe, and looked awesome in her armor, while at the same time she could put on a pretty dress/robe and look as womanly as ever. She tried to protect Mei Changsu no matter what, and I loved the scenes she shared with him. Overall, a very good acting job on the part of Liu Tao, and I will definitely try and watch some other dramas of hers.
Wang Kai played the righteous and unyielding Prince Jingyan. I thought Wang Kai did a very good job with portraying this type of character. I also liked how whenever he was suspicious of his mother or Mei Changsu, the expression on his face was always enough to let the audience know he was suspicious. There were a couple of scenes where he broke down and cried in front of his mother, and seeing such a strong-willed character break down like that definitely tugged on the heartstrings. So, Wang Kai is also an actor whom I will look out for new stuff in the future. Also, like Liu Tao, I couldn’t get over the bone structure of his face. It was absolutely perfect, and his really big eyes just added to the beauty of it.
Liu Min Tao played Consort Jing, and while in the beginning of the drama, I had the same thoughts about her character as I did Hu Ge’s character, she also showed more than one dimension. Most of the time, she was very kind, almost timid, in the things she would say and things she would do, but ever so often, we would see other emotions. The scene where she checks Mei Changsu’s pulse and then can’t gain control of her emotions is another one of my favorites. Liu Min Tao cries so well! There were also a few scenes where she became agitated and raised her voice, and I just loved seeing her normally calm and collected character act like this. All in all, Liu Min Tao did a great job with acting as a concubine of the emperor whom she cared for, but also for whom she didn’t agree with on the Chiyan case in the past.
The big baddie, Xia Jiang, was expertly played by Wang Yong Quan. He was a character that, to me, seemed to come out of nowhere (but not in a bad way) and one that became more despicable as the series progressed. I thought Wang Yong Quan did a fabulous job with portraying a character who had an incredibly skewed moral compass. The scenes where he lost control of his emotions and was desperate were especially interesting to watch.
Although his character was largely one-dimensional, I still thought Chen Long did a good job with General Meng Zhi. I don’t really have any other thoughts about his acting, but I will say that I really liked his character. His devotion not only to Mei Changsu but also to the emperor was touching.
Fei Liu was a cutie and a good fighter too! He only had a few one or two or three word lines throughout the whole drama, but his character was essential if only for the fact that the audience needed some comic relief. Fei Liu was played by young actor, Wu Lei.
Wang Ou played Prince Yu’s adviser, Qin Ban Ruo. Her character one-dimensional, also, but I thought that Wang Ou played the role of a cunning adviser well.
Oh goodness, was this guy slimy! From the way he looked to the way he spoke to everything he did–it was all very snake-like. Liu Yi Jun played Xie Yu, a noble who supported the crown prince and was one of the ones responsible for the annihilation of the Chiyan army. Even though his role was finished by the mid-point of the drama, I thought Liu Yi Jun did a fine job of depicting a character such as this. In the end, he had a few regrets, but largely, he was still a man that only cared about power.
I loved Cheng Hao Feng’s character, Jing Rui. He started out so innocent, and then when he found out what his father was doing, he was never tempted to go over to his side. He was a character that struggled with balancing family devotion and righteousness. Cheng Hao Feng acted this character in a believable way.
Aw! Yu Jin! He was the most adorable character ever. Sure, he could get annoying and be a bit childish a times, but he was adorable nonetheless and a delight to watch whenever he walked into the room. Guo Xiao Ran acted this youthful and playful role very well.
Ah, the eunuchs. Rarely have I seen a main eunuch in a drama that I didn’t like or who didn’t act well, and Tan Xi He’s portrayal of the emperor’s chief eunuch, Gao Zhan was no exception. He was fun to watch whenever he came on the screen and was always full of teasing for the emperor. When he would become serious about something (namely Consort Jing and Jingyan), it was heartwarming to see him standing up for them or encouraging the emperor to bestow more favor upon them.
Jin Dong played Lin Chen, Mei Changsu’s eccentric doctor and friend. His character was only in a few episodes, but he was fun to watch. Lin Chen never sugar-coated things when it came to talking about Mei Changsu’s illness, and his scenes with Fei Liu are among some of my favorite in the show. Overall, a solid acting job from Jing Dong and quite impressive since he was in so few episodes but his character remains so memorable.
Zhang Lin Xin played Xia Dong, a character who was tough and always pining for the husband she lost in the war. I don’t really have anything specific to say about her, but I liked her character, and her acting was equal to that of her costars.
PLOT, PLOT DEVELOPMENT, AND ENDING
The plot was very exciting and engaging. There was never a moment where I wanted to skip a scene, and every single major arc was interesting and resolved. Although it seemed to be a story about revenge, and although it seemed like Mei Changsu wanted revenge against the evil men who brought about the deaths of his whole family, the drama was much more about closure and loyalty. It focused a lot on friendships, and Jingyan got as much screen time as Mei Changsu did. I loved all the fight scenes and battles, and I loved that they looked mostly realistic. There were a couple of flying scenes, but even these had more of a “movie” quality to them than what is found in a typical Wuxia drama.
Other things that I loved about this drama was that there were women who were in powerful positions and who could fight equal to, and sometimes even better than, men. The bromance was also probably the best part of the drama. I was only disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of it between Jingyan and Mei Changsu when Jingyan finally discovers who he is. Still another aspect of the story that I found quite creative was the “Poison of the Bitter Flame” (at least I think that’s its name). Although improbable, when you think about it, being able to survive flames by being covered in snow and having your charred skin eaten by bugs isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. The ways it could be healed were where things got a bit unrealistic, but I did enjoy the plot device of the poison, as it was creative and not wholly stupid or unrealistic, especially in a fictional universe.
The development of the plot was mostly very good also. If you do decide to watch this drama, I will warn you that you will have no idea what is going on in the first episode. You’ll watch it, be interested, and then when it ends, you’ll be wondering what the heck just happened. The second episode clears a little bit of this up, and by the third and fourth episodes, you’ll have a clearer idea of the direction of the story. Just don’t let the confusing first episode influence your decision to finish the show because it is so good! Now, I mentioned that the plot development was mostly good. The drama showed us over 50 episodes just how skillful a strategist Mei Changsu was, and it gave us a clear view on just how Jingyan was able to go from being ignored and disliked by the emperor to becoming the emperor’s most trusted son. But there were some aspects of the plot that either never got explained or simply disappeared, like the writers thought we wouldn’t notice. For example, where did Fei Liu come from and how is he such a great fighter? The closest we get to solving this mystery is when Lin Chen makes a comment saying that he was the one who “found” Fei Liu. Other than that, we never learn Fei Liu’s origin and why he and Mei Changsu are so dependent on one another.
The Hua plot was one that just fizzled out with no real conclusion. They made it seem significant, since the emperor fooled around with a Hua princess then betrayed her, but nothing is ever resolved, and nobody seems to care. Ban Ruo’s character just fades out too. I would have liked to know more about the Hua dynasty, and why it was important and just what happened to make it fall, but I guess the director decided to focus on other things, as I’m sure all these forgotten sub-plots were explained in the book. Also, how did Lin Shu actually survive? We saw how Nie Feng survived, but Lin Shu was dropped over a cliff. How did he survive the fall? It would have been nice to see how he survived the fall, the fire, the snow, the bugs, and came to be the well-respected and well-feared leader of the Jiangzuo Alliance, even though he was no longer able to fight.
These few things can easily be overlooked and the main action still progress, and once you watch the drama, you’ll be able to understand why I say that, but since I actually noticed these things and questioned them, it is not wholly unreasonable for me to want these questions to be answered in the drama even if I know there is a book out there that explains it all. So the .5 point deduction was because of the unexplained occurrences in the drama; otherwise, I would have given this drama a perfect score.
I won’t say much about the ending because I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll just say that it was a proper ending. No type of “revenge” plot is going to have a perfectly happy ending, and I knew that from the beginning. Although I might have wanted it to end in a different way, it ended predictably (though not in a bad way), and it ended, really, the only way it could have. Everything was brought together and concluded neatly.
I absolutely loved the music. It was the best soundtrack I’ve heard in any drama to date. It only had a few instances where it played vocal tracks, and even these were gorgeous. The background music, though, was the true shining gem, and it was amazing. I’ve never watched a drama with such a skillfully composed score. This score was something I could see in a movie, and it’s really rare for any television to have an original score that could be compared to film scores. But that’s just how good the music in this drama was–beautiful, full of emotion, and completely immersive–all the qualities a good musical score should possess.
Overall Score out of 10: 9.9 (OMG! Nearly perfect)
Rewatchability Chance: 100%