Let me preface this review by saying for the record, that The Longest Day in Chang’an is widely praised and loved, and is a bona fide hit with audiences in and out of China.
In fact, a number of you have shared with me how much you love this show. And with good reason; Show is very, very solid, which I’ll talk about shortly.
Let me also say, that personally, my experience of watching this show felt akin to a very ordinary girl trying to date, understand, and make a relationship work with, an intellectual, aloof, highbrow, take-me-or-leave-me sort of guy.
It’s the kind of thing that I’ve seen work out lots of times on my rom-com drama screen, but.. this didn’t quite pan out the same way for me, unfortunately.
From start to finish, it felt like a fair amount of work to me, spending quality time with this show, and try as I might, this never blossomed into true love, sadly.
Still, this might blossom into true love for you?
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here are some tracks from the OST, in case you’d like to listen to them as you read the review.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
The city of Chang’an is under threat of a terrorist attack on the day of the Lantern Festival, and Taoist priest Li Bi (Jackson Yee), who is chief of the city’s Peacekeeper Corp, enlists the help of death-row prisoner Zhang Xiaojing (Lei Jiayin) to investigate and stop the attack.
Show can get very action-packed, with lots of killing and fighting and injuries. Also, there are so many characters that it can be hard to keep track. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that this is an excellent production, but it’s also not a show for everyone.
STUFF I LIKED
Show is pretty sprawling, at 48 episodes, so it would be a pretty big undertaking, to try to talk about everything and every character.
Given my pretty neutral feelings about the show as a whole, and because our story is so convoluted, I’m deliberately opting to highlight only a few characters in this review.
This will make things simpler for me, and also, ensure that we avoid having too many spoilers in this review. So if I missed out any of your favorites, I apologize. Do feel free to share your favorites in the comments though, to help round out this review. 🙂
The technical excellence is exceptional
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Show’s technical excellence is its biggest strength; every episode feels like a mini movie, both in terms of quality and execution.
And with good reason too, since this is reportedly the most expensive Chinese drama made to-date, with an extensive amount of attention to detail, in reproducing makeup, costuming and architecture true to the era.
The production also spent 7 months building the drama set, which is so large-scale, intricate and detailed that it’s quite a sight to behold.
In terms of execution, Show totally lives up to its cinematic reputation. Right away in episode 1, you can see that it’s very well made, and every little detail has been given a lot of thought; every camera angle, every transition, carefully mapped out and seamlessly executed.
The use of the crane shot throughout an action scene made me feel like I was right there in the thick of the action, just barely avoiding getting dragged into the fray.
I’m no expert on cinematography, but to my eyes, everything in this drama looks deliberate and thoughtful in its angles, framing, lighting and composition. In particular, the lighting is done very artfully, I thought.
In episode 7, the scene where Li Bi goes to see the Right Counsellor (Yin Zhusheng), is an example. His face is shown, half in the shadow, and half bathed in light.
The contrast is very beautiful, but there’s also a moodiness to the shot, and it made me wonder if Show was saying something about Li Bi standing in a position to make a choice between darkness and light, in that moment.
Last but not least, I wanted to mention that the action sequences in this show are very to-the-point and efficient. No flourishes or fancy poseur stuff; only quick and deadly moves. It feels very movie-like to my eyes in that way, too.
Overall, the handling and execution is top-notch and very impressive, and is worthy of a look, all on its own merit.
The acting is very solid
The entire cast does a sound job of delivering their various characters.
From key characters to supporting characters to side characters, every one is deftly portrayed, which is always an excellent thing, in any ensemble cast.
There were admittedly a couple of occasions where I felt certain characters were delivered a smidge more theatrical and OTT than necessary, but this wasn’t a big damper on my watch.
In particular, I wanted to mention that I didn’t even realize that Jackson Yee is technically an idol-actor, hailing from popular boy band TFBoys.
That’s very impressive, because to my eyes, Jackson Yee held his own, even when sharing the screen with co-star Lei Jiayin, who is much more experienced and mature.
Yet, it didn’t feel like Jackson was being overshadowed by Lei Jiayin’s screen presence; he pulled his own weight and then some, and I’m suitably impressed.
Lei Jiayin as Zhang Xiaojing
My hairdresser Ah Wei, who’s from China, tells me that Lei Jiayin’s always been the manly man type, but I’ve only ever seen Lei Jiayin play beta males, in C-drama The First Half Of My Life and C-movie How Long Will I Love U, so seeing him play alpha male Zhang Xiaojing was quite the mind-bender, for me.
Lei Jiayin is, in a word, spectacular as Zhang Xiaojing.
From jaded and weary, to determined and stubborn, to powerful and aggressive, Lei Jiayin portrays all of Zhang Xiaojing’s facets so well.
When Zhang Xiaojing is urgently barking out orders, and growling at the people around him, he looks formidable, and is so commanding and riveting that I couldn’t look anywhere else on my screen.
And when he’s speaking kindly to someone, he feels like the most gentle, warm-hearted person you could imagine. Lei Jiayin is completely believable at any point of the spectrum, and it’s quite remarkable.
Additionally, it looks to me like Lei Jiayin did a lot of his own stunts, none of which look at all easy. So much respect.
I honestly don’t think I will ever look at Lei Jiayin the same way again. Wow.
E2. Even though our antihero is a convicted criminal, and professes not to follow any rules when he does things, we get indications of his respect for humanity.
The way he bows to the dead man and tell him that he’s worked hard; the way he drags the bystander out from under the horse to save his life; these little moments give me a sense that our antihero is someone with compassion.
E6. The unwavering, to-the-death loyalty that Zhang Xiaojing’s men have for him, even after he’s spent so much time in jail and is, legally, a dead man walking, is completely moving, and also, very intriguing.
I want to see how he led them, before he ended up in jail. Is he really the bad man that he makes himself out to be? I find that hard to believe, for the kind of loyalty and sacrifice that he inspires.
E10. Lei Jiayin is showing more range than I’ve ever seen from him, and it’s impressive. When Zhang Xiaojing is rampaging with fury, it feels like there might be literal fire coming out of his eyes.
But when Zhang Xiaojing speaks kindly, he looks like the most trustworthy person in the world.
When he spoke to Commander Cui (Cai Lu) to ask him the details of the runaways, I was impressed with how he managed to get Commander Cui to trust him, even though they are far from being on good terms.
E12. It’s interesting that Zhang Xiaojing can just make people talk, by asking them questions. In the beginning of the episode, he asks Commander Cui why he stayed in Chang’an, and Commander Cui grudgingly tells him the whole story.
Then later, when the failed beggar assassin comes to, and is leading Zhang Xiaojing to the place he believes his client is, he tells Zhang Xiaojing all about himself, just because Zhang Xiaojing asked.
E13. Zhang Xiaojing is impressive.
First, he’s so skilled that he’s managed to pin down woman warrior Yu Chang (Li Yuan), who’s been shown to be lightning fast and ruthlessly lethal.
Second, in the midst of their breakneck-speed sparring, he’s able to notice the coins hanging on her wrist, and connect that to the woman that he saw on Huaiyuan Street, taking the map off the body of the suspect.
Quite spectacular, all around.
E25. You reap what you sow. Zhang Xiaojing’s long history of being a good and admirable leader comes into play often, to help him.
This episode, the sleuth-hounds who are supposed to treat him as an enemy make an exception and bow to salute him instead. And when they receive the order to kill him on sight, they look the other way instead.
That speaks of just how much Zhang Xiaojing has affected them before this point.
E26. Wow. The sleuth-hounds, who are supposed to treat Zhang Xiaojing as an enemy, not only acknowledge him and look the other way, they spring into action to save him, when they realize he’s in danger.
I’m trying to wrap my brain around the fact that they gathered their resources to help him escape, persuade him not to trade his life for his work, and then promptly die for him, while buying him time.
This basically means that they see his life as more worthy than their own, literally. They love and respect him so much, in spite of what’s happened in terms of him betraying one of their own, that they readily give up their lives in order to preserve his.
That’s mind-bogglingly profound. What an impact he must have had, on each of them.
E28. Once again, Zhang Xiaojing’s casual kindness saves him. His by-the-way conversations with the prostitute from before, where he shows interest in her life and future as a person, end up saving him.
Ge Lao (Djimon Hounsou) happens to give her the power to decide Zhang Xiaojing’s fate, and she spares him, while giving him what he needs, to get the information he wants.
E29. Zhang Xiaojing is a man who values friendship. When he hears that Xu Bin (Zhao Wei) is dead, he asks Xu Hezi (Qu Shanshan), the performer who rescues him, to light a lantern in Xu Bin’s name. This, when he’s on the run and has an entire city to save. I find that touching.
The investigation squad
This isn’t a big part of the story, and it also doesn’t remain a constant through our narrative because of changing circumstances, but for a season, Zhang Xiaojing, Li Bi, Xu Bin and Tan Qi (Reyizha Alimjan) work together as a team to solve the case.
I really liked watching them work together, each bringing their strengths to the table and sharing clues, information and insights.
They feel a bit like a ragtag team that’s been hastily formed under dire circumstances, and yet, their strengths and intellects mesh so well, that I couldn’t help wishing for more scenes of them together.
There are surprise lashings of romance
I fully expected this show to be devoid of romance, because who has time for romance when the entire city is at stake, right? But, at around the episode 10 mark, Show starts amping up the sparks between Zhang Xiaojing and Tan Qi, and I have to admit, it’s a heady addition to the mix.
For a loveline that spans all of one day, I have to say that Show does a nice job making the feelings between Zhang Xiaojing and Tan Qi feel real and important, even in the midst of much more pressing, life-and-death matters.
Importantly, I didn’t feel like this loveline overshadowed the main narrative arc, nor did I feel like it took up too much real estate in our story. In this sense, I felt that Show managed a very good balance.
I have to admit, I didn’t see this loveline coming at all, but once it was on my screen, I found that Lei Jiayin and Reyizha Alimjan share a solid amount of sparky chemistry, and I enjoyed their loveline very much indeed.
Here’s a quick spotlight on my favorite highlights of this almost-couple.
E10. Zhang Xiaojing’s offhanded remarks to Tan Qi.. are those considered flirtatious, I wonder? He doesn’t seem like the flirtatious sort. Maybe more like, he understands people, and he knows that this is one way to provoke her into talking?
E13. It’s interesting how Tan Qi can’t even figure out for herself, why she would agree to carry out the errand that Zhang Xiaojing requested of her. I guess he’s getting to her, in spite of her reservations.
E18. Zhang Xiaojing recognizes Tan Qi in disguise immediately, which is quite impressive, considering she’s wearing a ton of makeup and a veil, and dressed in clothes that she usually never wears.
And to think that in the moment, he’d still have the wherewithal to tease her flirtatiously that she looks good. Ha. He’s such an unfaltering rascal.
E19. The simmering chemistry between Zhang Xiaojing and Tan Qi is becoming more and more apparent. Zhang Xiaojing believes she was speaking the truth, when she claimed that she’d fallen in love with him and wanted to run away with him.
Honestly though, Zhang Xiaojing does have a kind of arrogant melty sort of effect. And the way he picked up Tan Qi to carry her, because she had danced on hot coals to save him, was quite gallant.
His remark, that bad-tempered women with a soft heart were the best, was just cheeky icing on the cake.
E20. The forced proximity in the confession booth; the murmured exchange; Zhang Xiaojing leaning in to Tan Qi and finally kissing her, quickly and decisively.
It’s a bit unexpected and also, a bit dizzying, because his lips leave hers as swiftly as they touch, and then he’s pinning the head priest against the wall. Woah.
E21. I’m surprised at the way the mutual feelings between Zhang Xiaojing and Tan Qi are given time and spotlight.
I mean, in a life-or-death situation like this, where assassins could leap through your window at any time, they actually have pockets of time where they talk about meaningful things.
This episode, their feelings for each other come out into the open and are finally acknowledged by both sides. When Zhang Xiaojing remarked that Tan Qi would become a grumpy old lady, because the man she loved was only able to spend a day with her, I felt that.
It was such a piercing statement, because it’s true. After this day, Zhang Xiaojing is due back on death row, and that sucks.
Tan Qi’s quiet confession, with the hint of tears in her eyes, that after meeting Zhang Xiaojing, Chang’an looked to her to be a better and more interesting place, is a big deal.
She’d found life to be increasingly meaningless, and here appears a man who makes her believe in the good of humanity again.
When she said that she simply wanted the good person to have a good outcome, I felt that too. And so did Zhang Xiaojing. The way he gazed at her in that moment, transfixed, said so much.
It felt like the first time in a long time, that he’d heard someone refer to him as a good person, and it moved him so much, that he could only express his wonder at her as, “you looked pretty.”
I don’t know where this burgeoning relationship will go, or if it even has a place to go, given Zhang Xiaojing’s death sentence, but I already feel like these two people’s lives would be made so much better, with the other person in it.
It’s like they’re able to read and feed each other’s souls.
E25. The feelings between Zhang Xiaojing and Tan Qi are becoming more apparent. When faced with danger, Zhang Xiaojing sends her on a mission to get to Li Bi, to get her to leave.
She leaves, but instead of looking for Li Bi, she seeks help for Zhang Xiaojing. Zhang Xiaojing is right; he is more important to her than Li Bi.
And, the way he mumble-growls it, from the back of his throat, for her ears only, as he leans in towards her, is sexy, I have to admit.
Li Yuan as Yu Chang
No disrespect to the other characters in our ensemble, but I just had to give a shout-out to Li Yuan as badass warrior Yu Chang.
I have never seen another character like her in a drama. I couldn’t help but admire her toughness, her swag, and her ninja-like lethal fight skillz.
Yu Chang is alarmingly relentless when it comes to fighting, but she’s also endlessly tenderhearted towards Long Bo (Zhou Yiwei).
Too fierce for words, and yet, so soft and vulnerable, at the same time. Simply fascinating. Plus, she rocks that buzz cut, so gloriously.
STUFF I LIKED LESS: THE STORYTELLING
I’ve come to realize that the way a show is written is really important to me, and no amount of shiny production values or fantastic acting can make up for perceived weaknesses in the writing.
I say perceived, because my beefs with the writing could be entirely personal.
For the record, there are legions of fans of this show, who are of the opinion that the writing in this show is stellar. This is just my opinion, for what it’s worth.
What I liked better
First, let’s start with what I did like about the writing.
I like that things get exciting pretty early in the watch, and everything feels immediately intriguing. I felt engaged quite quickly, and that’s definitely a plus.
I mean, I didn’t know what was going on half the time, because everything felt fast-paced and fragmented, but given that this was early in my watch, I felt content to let Show tell me its story.
I also appreciate that throughout our story, no single character is written to be completely good or evil. Even the best characters are flawed, and even the so-called baddies have their own logic, reasoning and principles.
Because of this, our characters come across as real people, rather than angels or monsters. I liked that.
What I didn’t like so much
Here’s a quickish look at the ways I felt the writing dragged the show down. Some had more overall impact than others, but essentially, these things came together to make this show a harder watch than I’d hoped for.
1. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up
I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a show best watched as a marathon, when you’re not feeling mentally fatigued.
I found that it was hard to keep up with the details of the story, particularly if I didn’t watch this show regularly.
Even at an episode a day, I often found myself confused over who had done what, and where we were in the story, because we would sometimes spend large chunks of screen time in flashback.
When it was earlier in my watch, I also found myself confused over who was who, because of the large number of characters, most of whom were nameless in the beginning.
I also found that when I was tired, it was extra hard to keep track of the happenings within our story because everything seemed fragmented and mysterious and serious.
And even when I wasn’t tired, in Show’s late stretch, I found myself struggling somewhat, to keep track of who was behind what.
For example, in episode 44, I just had to assume that the men pretending to be acting under the crown prince’s orders to assassinate the emperor, were sent by the Right Counsellor, because the various groups of soldiers looked similar in their armor, and I couldn’t really tell who was who.
That said, maybe it’s just me. I admittedly didn’t watch this with a hawk-eyed lens, and maybe if I had, I might’ve had a better handle on everything.
2. Commander Yao’s characterization [SPOILERS]
At the episode 14 mark, Commander Yao (Lu Fangsheng) is shown to be a duplicitous character, which I felt suitably blindsided by. I didn’t have a problem with this, however.
My problem was, after this point, we see Commander Yao basically flip-flopping between being one of the good guys and one of the bad guys. On paper, that sounds interesting, but in execution, I found it odd and inconsistent.
Basically, one minute, Commander Yao would seem like his previous good, normal self, and another minute, he would appear evil again.
He seems good-hearted at his core, like when he risks his life to save Tan Qi, but he also vacillates in his expressed loyalties. And sometimes, weirdly, when he’s alone, he shows dark, nefarious expressions.
I found this all quite jarring and strange, possibly because Commander Yao always looked like he was either of an extreme: really good and honest, or really dark and evil.
There didn’t seem to be a middle, conflicted ground with him, which made him feel more like a split-personality caricature, than a genuinely struggling individual. I didn’t like that very much.
3. Context is withheld for a long time
This one’s a biggie, for me.
Y’all know how I always say that context is everything, right? Well, Show withholds context from its viewers, for a longgg time. Basically, character motivations remain unclear until around the episode 39 point.
Given that our story lasts for 48 episodes, that’s an extremely long time to keep one’s audience guessing.
Overall, it did feel like Show knew what it wanted to do, it’s just that it wanted to take its own sweet time doing it.
As a viewer, I felt like Show was keeping a heckuva lot from me, which felt fine in the beginning, but by the episode 30 or so mark, where I was already approaching Show’s final stretch, I felt like there was still so much Show was keeping from me, that I kind of resented it.
Once Show revealed more about the motivations of various characters and their backstories, at around episode 39, I found my interest perk up significantly.
If you’re ok to be kept in the dark about character motivations until very late in the game, though, then this won’t be a problem for you like it was for me.
4. Not enough payoff, for a good portion of the time
In my personal opinion, Show served up way more dramatic tension than actual thrills, and this was a drag, for me. This, to me, was Show’s biggest shortcoming.
I think this show’s main problem is a great deal of tension and build-up, but with very little payoff, as a general rule. I feel like this show just isn’t exciting enough, for what it’s supposed to be.
Instead of feeling tautly paced and thrilling, it feels dragged down by too many detours into flashbacks.
I found myself losing interest in the middle-to-late stretch, and having to will myself into continuing with my watch, while constantly having to remind myself of where we are in the main story, outside of the flashbacks.
With the sometimes lengthy flashbacks and the relatively short episodes, it sometimes feels like not a lot happens in real time, in an episode. That feels weird, for a show with this premise.
In terms of actual progress on the case, most of the time, it feels like we are inching forward at best, and going in circles at worst. Each episode, quite often, it feels like nothing much happens.
It simply felt like Show was stretching the tension thinner and thinner, over longer and longer periods of time, without that tension actually resulting in actual onscreen excitement. I found this tiring and frustrating.
As an aside, it didn’t help that Show also feels a bit high-brow, in its pitching. Sometimes, when I lost interest or zoned out at political conversations, I felt as if Show would’ve mocked me for my inferior taste, ha.
Again, if your appetite for dramatic tension is greater than mine, you might not have the same issues as I did.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
To be brutally honest, this ending was just ok, for me.
I guess after so much long drawn-out dramatic tension, the ending just didn’t live up to the mental hype that the tension created in my head.
I mean, after all that teasing and atmospheric strain spanning so many episodes, it would’ve taken something quite spectacular to meet my expectations.
And what we get is much more understated, which I’m.. ok with, but which doesn’t blow me away so much so that I’d write home about it.
Let’s back up a bit.
I am rather underwhelmed by how Xiao Gui dies, in episode 46. He doesn’t achieve what he set out to achieve, which was revenge for his Eighth Squad brothers; he doesn’t kill the emperor; he does cause the emperor and Zhang Xiaojing to see more of the dirty underside to the politics and ways of the so-called Great Tang, but honestly, I don’t get why he decided to go out to meet the soldiers in a sure suicide mission.
He didn’t even really fight. He just stood there and yelled, and they were on him with all their weapons, when he’d barely drawn his swords.
Also, the reason that he gave for saving the emperor, is because the emperor was to be a good ruler and therefore the people out there aren’t worthy of killing him?
That feels like a fairly sudden change of mind, since he’d been talking about killing the emperor himself, just minutes before.
And then, we learn that the person behind it all, was Xu Bin; that unlike his humble persona, he really did have ambition, and came up with this meticulous scheme, in order to prove his worth, and also, to open the emperor’s eyes to how awfully dirty the ways of the Great Tang were.
Hm. I’m honestly not sure how well this would sit, narratively, if I were to rewatch this show and stack up all of Xu Bin’s actions versus his hidden mission.
I mean, this would mean that in episode 16, he’d allowed himself to be almost killed by the messenger who was a mole of the wolven squad.
Flip that over, and it means that the mole almost killed – and he really did intend to kill Xu Bin – the mastermind orchestrating everything. That seems rather messed up, to me.
I don’t enjoy this show enough to want to rewatch it, but I have a niggling suspicion that if I were to rewatch it knowing what I know about Xu Bin being the overall mastermind, that I would struggle to accept more than a few plot points.
In the end, the emperor is saved, Zhang Xiaojing declines any reward, and the crown prince makes peace with his father, pledging to assist him to achieve his vision for the Great Tang.
Apparent time-skip later, Li Bi leaves the city for the mountain for some reflection, discipline and meditation, in hopes that he will be as firm in his resolve, and as doubt-free as Zhang Xiaojing, while Zhang Xiaojing leaves despite being given the position of vice commander-in-chief. He pledges to return if Chang’an is ever in danger again.
And just when we think that Tan Qi will leave with Zhang Xiaojing, since she declines to leave with Li Bi, she informs them both, that she is planning to enter the palace to serve Yan Tai Zhen, in hopes that with that proximity to the emperor will afford her the opportunity to offer the emperor advice.
Zhang Xiaojing gruffly says a quick goodbye, “后会有期,” which, directly translated, indicates that they will have a chance to meet again.
The parting shot also implies a degree of comfort and hope. Tan Qi gazes on his departing figure, and muses, “Chang’an’s sun is truly beautiful.”
So much for any small hope that I might have had, for Tan Qi and Zhang Xiaojing to actually begin a new life together.
But their mutual love, appreciation, and respect for the path that the other person has chosen, is clear – and quite beautiful – to see. Plus, Show does leave things open for a possible future, so there’s that.
Overall, it’s a rather bittersweet, poignant, understated ending for a story that was fraught with conspiracy, scheming and subterfuge. Was this the kind of ending that I’d expected? No, not really.
I guess I’d expected something a lot more explosive, given the nature of most of our story. But, Show does give me several things that I’d wanted:
Zhang Xiaojing is pardoned for his crime and is able to walk away a free man; the case is solved and Show tells us exactly who did what; the longest day in Chang’an is finally over, and there is peace again, for the people of Chang’an.
That’s not bad at all, when you put it that way.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Magnificent in scale and production values; a bit less magnificent on the storytelling front.
FINAL GRADE: B+
WHERE TO WATCH:
You can check out this show on Viki here.
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I agree, love it all.
But the production values are enough to keep me riveted. What a gorgeously shot show. Beautifully lit and framed. Rightly put that every episode is like a mini movie. Watching the recent slew of C-dramas like Chang’an and Yanxi Palace, I think they have really upped their game. Weirdly enough, for me the bloom has fallen off the K-drama rose. In its place is the C-drama. Hoping for more good ones.
This drama is a cinematographic masterpiece, but I found it to be f*cking boring. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters at all no matter how hard I tried. Honestly, it took three weeks before I could get through half the drama run, cause I kept falling asleep, and then I decided to cut my losses and drop it. I did skip to the end for closure. My two cents is- if you love it, you love it. But if you don’t – then learn from my experience and don’t force yourself to watch it like I did.
Well said, Adal! 😀 I agree that this is one of those shows that you either love, or don’t. I didn’t love it on sight, though I appreciated the cinematic quality of it all, and ended up liking it only in a moderate fashion. Maybe I should have followed your lead and dropped out partway through my watch. But then again, I was so curious as to why people raved about it, and I was also curious as to who was behind the terrorist plans and why, that it was enough to keep me going. Of course, my curiosity was only mildly satisfied, so it wasn’t that worthy an investment, for me! 😅
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it but wanted to find something after the Joy of Life and The Story of Minglan. It’s not the type of series I normally like but I ended up loving the series. I loved the characters and how even the villains have the capacity for good and heroes are flawed. It was quite gritty and heartbreaking in some places but despite this they still found hope. I thought plot was good and stayed on point. I agree that the ending while good should have tied things up better and been more thorough. Maybe they left room for a sequel? The ending leaves things open for suggestion but wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped considering time invested but either way I really enjoyed this series.
Hi Fangurl! Another design project on hold until I post this (while playing this OST in the background)
Really enjoyed this review. You have the ability to to dissect a huge production and get right to its heart. With beautiful, flowing yet concise language no less.
For me, the real beauty of this drama were the visuals, the music and the acting. The end of episode previews as well as the first few minutes of each episode were so, so cleverly done.
Visuals: This is my kind of eye candy! What can I say – I found them breathtaking! I believe I mentioned in a past post that for me I always look at the horses being used to judge a production. Within the first few seconds of episode 1 the beautiful black horse being led through the square told me that I was in for a treat. I think the use of lighting and the care the crew went through to get it right was praiseworthy. It was a gauge as to where they were throughout the course of the *day. As SKF stated above – I felt as if I was standing in the middle of the scene myself. Cannot wait to buy the 4K version to appreciate it even more. It was a veritable feast for the eyes – an artist’s paradise. What I would have done to be on that set with my Canons!
Music: I bought the OST full album which is not something I usually do. It is mesmerizing and hauntingly gorgeous. This was also one drama I watched the ending credits all the way through just so that I could hear the music. Time of Si Zheng: Da Huang Luo being my favorite instrumental pieces and the beautiful Tanka sung by Liu Mei is both simply and thoroughly stunning.
All the acting was so good – ditto on everything you state above on Lei Jiayin’s mature and seasoned performance. He was truly superb in this role.
I enjoyed the political intrigue and the ‘database’ concept. Loved the timekeeper until I could not – ’nuff said. I was intrigued enough to do research on this period and the characters and found it fascinating.
For me the most memorable scene was episode 9 and the stage performance of ‘Xu He Zi’. That late *afternoon lighting, the stage decoration, the song itself and the costumes – oh my! In fact all the materials used in the costumes in this scene were beautiful.
I did watch as episodes were released but I had to go back sometimes to the previous episode because the story was so detailed that I had to refresh my memory on who was who. There are a complex group of people coming in and out of the story. No doubt that this drama is a meal best served hot with all courses in one sitting and in 4K. I fully intend to binge re-watch this over the Christmas holidays with my family. I agree with you that it may be hard to do so with the same mind-set as the first watch as I know the end result. However, I can feast again on this stunning visual masterpiece.
As I said in a previous post this moved to my number 2 most loved CDrama: #1 NIF, #2 Longest Day in Chang’an and #3 The Story of Minglan. Three excellent dramas, all for three different reasons.
Happy, happy Holidays and numerous blessings to you and yours Fangurl – can’t wait for your Year in Review!
Aw, thanks so much for your kind words, phl. <3 You are so very sweet, and I am suitably encouraged and lifted up – thank you! 😘😘
Yes, the lighting is quite special in this show.. I think Avenue X mentioned that this was a first, that the crew basically filmed through the day as usual, and adjusted the lighting to reflect the time of day in the story, in post-production. Given how realistic that turned out to be, I'm very impressed with the technical excellence of this production. It truly raises the bar for future productions coming out of China, I'd imagine! 🙂
Also, YAY that I've watched and enjoyed all 3 of your top C-dramas! I feel like I've finished my required reading for a course or something, because as you rightly pointed out, all 3 of these are special and unique in their own ways. 🙂
I loved those you mentioned as well. You should try Joy of Life. It, Story of Minglan and Longest Day in Chang’an are in my top three. I enjoyed The Untamed as well.
I gave this one a hesitant pass bc after trying the first ep, I could already tell it would be incredibly hard to keep up with the nuances and poetic language. For every phrase, there felt like there were a million things unsaid in context, and it would require a much higher level of skill in the Chinese language in terms of knowledge of classic literature, poetry, and context for me to fully appreciate. And it bugged me bc if I wanted to just understand the main general plot that was fine, but I was at the cusp of knowing there was a lot I wasn’t grasping, yet being unable to grasp that still. It bothered me, so I never started.
I know Untamed is on my list bc everyone loved it. But I think I mentioned earlier, this summer wasn’t a good time for me to watch that bc I was so tired of the fandom, the original story, all the audiobooks and audio dramas surrounding this one story. I feel like I’ll prob watch it soon tho.
Joy of Life is really freaking good. Some ppl say the pace is slow, but it finding it ok. It’s just so unexpectedly hilarious. The comedic timing is so well handled and so offbeat with the setting and mood that I find it really freaking entertaining and incredibly well done. The beginning, ending themes, and the overall plot sets the tone for a fantasy epic, but the actual tone of the story, heheh it’s great.
On the other hand, Royal Nirvana is incredibly depressing and oppressive and without relief. I don’t think I could handle watching it without skipping to the end frequently, hence i refuse to watch it in full before t has been completely released.
Wow. I know for a fact that your grasp of the Chinese language is way better than mine, so reading your comment makes me feel like I must’ve missed a ton, in my own viewing of the show! 😅 Also, lots of international viewers seem to love the show, despite not knowing the Chinese language, so I feel like you’re possibly setting unreasonably high expectations for yourself, with this show? 😅
Gosh, I’ve been hearing so many good things about Joy of Life, like it’s funny and entertaining and fresh, and I’m suitably intrigued. I will give it a try, once I’ve cleared some space on my drama plate. For now, I’ve decided to give Love and Destiny another try, and so far, I’m liking it more than I did at first, so that’s a positive! Plus, I do recall how much you enjoyed Chang Chen in particular, in the role of Jiu Chen. 😉 I must agree that I’m digging his mature male lead, which I find a nice change from all the younger male leads that tend to feature in love stories. 🙂
Royal Nirvana is on my list, but I’m not actively looking for a depressing story, so I’ll probably approach it with caution, when I do get to it. Thanks for the heads-up! 🙂
Well, we all know I found it absolutely mesmerising and I felt like I was there. The detail was culturally and historically accurate except for a couple of, what I think are, minor points when it comes to portraying a quality drama. After all, they served the story well e.g. the Emperor and the Crown Prince in the same location. This did not happen in real life as a general rule.
The event in Chang’an itself marked the turning point for the Tang Dynasty and this is probably the underlying theme of the show. Li Bi was very real and every bit as talented as the show points out. Zhang Xiaojing did exist too, although probably not as he is portrayed in this show. You could almost put a supersized S on his chest and that would be fine by me.
The politics was handled exceedingly well. By that I mean that is how it actually is: second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour as you count down and check your strategy with those around you. Boy oh boy, yes you do sweat the small stuff (imagine if they had Twitter back then: tweets going off left, right and centre – wait a minute they did! The watchtowers – simply amazing technology for the time).
As for our couple – yes, well, fabulous. They moved heaven and earth, sparked off one another and finished with “well, you know where I am. Sure, I will catch you soon.”
So, despite feeling Chang’an may have put a dampener on my watching of other cdramas (and dramas in general) – not so. I have found Royal Nirvana, Joy of Life and Ming Dynasty all very different and all very enjoyable. However, I know the Untamed and a couple of others are not for me.
Now back to Stove League, Crash Landing on You, Chocolate and Queen: Love and War. Then I must finish putting up the Christmas Lights…
Merry Christmas to you Sean, She Who Must Be Obeyed and the gorgeous redhead LOL! (I still have my Rumpole VHS tapes – Ha!) Big blessings to you and yours!
Merry Christmas to you too phl and thank you for your blessings 🎄🎅🏻🎄
The War Office put on a stunning Christmas at home for two days. Good to see you still have the Rumpole VHS tapes. A wonderfully written and acted show.
The gorgeous redhead is sitting behind me at the moment working on the next design phase for Before Dawn. There’s some muttering going on re the compiling of the master prop list 😂
LOL – Sounds like big fun! Enjoy!
I do think that you’re better positioned to enjoy this story, despite my being the one who’s actually Chinese, Sean! 😅 I feel like you know more about history and politics, and probably that’s why you were able to appreciate details and nuances that I probably missed. Happily, I was still able to enjoy the show as a whole, even though I probably missed a lot, in terms of the finer details. 😛
Also, I’m happy to hear that despite your high level of enjoyment of this drama, that it didn’t end up ruining you for other dramas, like NIF did to me for a good while! I suspect The Untamed is also not for me, but so many people have recommended it, that I feel like I ought to at least give it a try, on the off chance that I will actually like it. 😅
I’m still enjoying Crash Landing very well, and I’ve also been recommended Chocolate and Queen: Love and War. I wish I had your ability to bend time and space, coz I am currently so behind that Crash Landing is the only current drama that I’m watching. The others, like VIP and Camellia, and all catch-up dramas from 2019 that I don’t want to miss. I feel like I’m playing a neverending game of catch-up, ha! 😆
I am thoroughly enjoying every minute of Crash Landing. The story is like a modern fairytale. I am also watching our OTP in The Negotiation – a movie they did together a couple of years ago.
For me history and politics go hand in hand. Understand both and you understand how the world works. That aside, I will even pay attention to what is displayed in bookcases, on desks and a set for a scene in general. It’s interesting what you notice – well it is for me 😂
Yes, bending time and space is something I do well! I have managed to close out a number of shows including Chocolate and commenced Touch (Ignore the negativity re the age gap. It’s a good show). Hot Stove League and Diary of a Prosecutor are firm favourites and Joy of Life is an all round winner (despite some episodes waffling on a bit) 😊
Sean – You are ‘Da Man! A veritable Drama-eating machine.
I am loving Crash Landing on You (not the sometimes two week wait for a new episode though). It is written by the same writer as My Love from another Star. I roared with laughter at the clever pop up by Kim Soo-Hyun (Secretly Greatly). This is the KDrama at its finest.
Just wrapped Joy of Life (writer Mao Ni), Chocolate and working on Love and Destiny which I am really enjoying. At 60 episodes not sure if it can stay as good as it is now at episode 21. Ever Night Season 2 (another Mao Ni story) is out and I am not missing a beat as it is a personal favorite (having read all 1,118 chapters).
Also watching Dr. Qin Medical Examiner Season 2 but I may drop it as it does not have the three lead chemistry of season 1 (which was uber-incredible). I still have 2 CDramas you recommended plus Hot Stove League cued up waiting for time…. I also dropped Untamed Full Edition, Untamed Special Edition, Untamed Manga series and Untamed the actual novel – so dropped 4 different ways. Sigh, I really did try.
Hello phl – thank you for the accolade 😂 I have been chewing my way through a few books too!
I can watch a show like Crash Landing on You all day long, year in year out 😊 It’s back on track with the next lot of episodes this weekend. I see the writer also wrote Legend of the Blue Sea. Yes, the pop up with Kim Soo-Hyun was fabulous, so much so, I did track down Secretly Greatly. I also watched our leads in their movie: The Negotiation. It was a decent thriller with Hyun Bin playing the baddie.
I have thought about looking at Love and Destiny. I will give it a try along with Ever Night. I was happy with where Joy of Life as a drama ended up at the end of season one. It looks like there will be three seasons in all to reflect the breadth of Mao Ni’s web novel.
I also thought about taking a look at Dr Qin, but noticed a lot of comments out there similar to your own. Yes, I can see that the Untamed is not my cup of tea. Well done on trying to stick with it though – four ways 😂😂😂
For me, Hot Stove League is a little gem and I consider NGM’s role as the General Manager his best to date. I liked Chocolate well enough, but felt it fell away in the latter episodes.
I just tried The Game: Towards Zero, but dropped it after 6(or 3) episodes. It has a good cast, some very good elements and concepts, but the story is too derivative. I have Forest on my list – it looks kind of magical and speaking of My Love From Another Star, has Park Hae Jin in it. There are a number of other Cdramas that look interesting, but I did drop Once Upon A Time in Lingtian Mountain quickly – although the opening segments were promising.
Anyway, I’m about to take a look at The Ghost Bride 😊
Hi Sean – I am so disappointed in Evernight 2 I may drop it. The screenwriting lost the soul of the novel and the male lead lost his mojo. The story is not for the faint of heart. I also dropped Dr. Qin S2.
Stove League rocks! Plus there are more delicious bits coming in CLOY and I cannot wait! It is so cleverly written. I finished L&D and it gets a big thumbs up. I am a fan of Chang Chen.
Big thanks and hugs Fangurl for letting us share your space LOL!
Wow, you even notice what’s displayed in bookcases when you watch dramas?! That is some next level drama appreciation, Sean! 😱 I am so impressed. Let me see if I will have the presence of mind to notice the contents of the next bookcase I see on my drama screen! 😆😅
I need to learn your secret skill of bending time and space!! I’ve got Joy of Life on my list, though I haven’t started. I’ve heard mixed reactions to Chocolate, and tried E1. I didn’t love E1, to be honest. The childhood portion smacked a lot of classic Hallyu Hyper Melos, where everything goes wrong and everyone suffers a lot. And then the adult portion that we did see, I didn’t take to very much. I didn’t find Ha Ji Won cute or charming, even though that was clearly what Show was aiming for. My question is, does this mean Show is not for me, or does it get better going forward? 😅
Chocolate is like a row of books with bookends. It could have done without the illusive first love scenario at either end. The real star is the stories at the hospice in between. It’s tough watching at times because it’s dealing with people facing their last journey in life, but very heartfelt with good doses of humanity. Also, the cooking in it is truly amazing along with the delight it brings to our characters. It could have also done without the chaebol elements as well. Chocolate is not everyone’s cup of tea. So, it’s something you might want to look at one day, because it does get better going forward – just ignore the OTP, the ding dong with the half brother (although he has some heartfelt side stories), the chaebol grandmother, uncle and aunty 😜
What a great analogy, Sean! A row of books with bookends!! I love it! 😀 I don’t know if I have the fortitude for a hospice drama.. I still haven’t finished Dear My Friends because my gut tells me that someone is going to die. 😭 Also, that’s quite a lot of characters to ignore, in order to enjoy the drama..! 😆😆 I will hold off on Chocolate for a while, and see if I find myself in the right mood to embrace the hospice scenario. Thanks for the drama insight, that was super helpful! <3
Funny, this is my favorite time/place period of poetry, and Tu Fu is my great hero poet whose writing about this era must have produced some of the most moving poetry ever written, and yet I could not get out of the second episode and with forty six outstanding, a bit too daunting. I have always felt Tu Fu’s escape out of the capital, his skirting around the battlefield where a million died, and return to his family would make for a great movie.
And here is a working from the Hung prose translation of a TU Fu piece written earlier on for you:
Working and sampling from William Hung’s Prose Translation of Tu Fu’s Poem, “Five Hundred Words [traveling] From Ch’ang An [the capital where he against one misfortune after another tried to get appointed to office] to Feng-Hsien [where his family was living at the time, this written just before Tu Fu heard the An Lu Shan rebellion, which led to years of warfare and carnage on a scale of millions, had begun]”
A poor, obscure man,
the older he grows, the more impractical.
A fool, his deepest desire
to serve his country in the old way.
Disappointment the only upshot,
hair gone grey, hardships pile up;
facing frustration, he wished to persist
to the day he would be buried in a coffin.
Endlessly riddled by anxiety for the people,
he sighs, and his heart burns with worry.
His old schoolmates may laugh,
but he passionately keeps on writing poems.
He has not forgotten his dream of sailing off on rivers and seas
to while away his days and years, easy and without care.
But simply because he lives in the time of a visionary prince,
he hates leaving everything behind forever.
He knows there is already enough building material:
no new wood really necessary for the palace of governance.
But the sunflower cannot keep from turning toward the sun.
Nonetheless, he tries to remind himself of an ant’s destiny.
Each seeking its small spot in the earth,
why would it try to become a whale
or wish to float upon the ocean’s great and wild churn?
He understands the fundamental principles of being
and shies away from imploring others to his cause.
Failure upon failure mount into the present,
and he will ultimately have to confront the dust of his days,
regretting in the end he lacked the courage of ancient sages
who could not be moved from their hermitage.
Let him drink down his heartache;
let him break the spell of his sadness with poetry.
Near year’s end, the grasses have all turned grey;
a fierce wind keens through the high ridges.
Midnight, the highway leading out of the capital is hard to see
when I, a traveler, take my leave.
Biting frost snaps the belt holding my clothes together,
and my fingers are so stiff with cold I cannot retie it with another knot.
By dawn, I pass the Li hills,
My prince in repose at his palace.
Here military banners unfurl in the cold wind,
rocks on the hilly pathways worn smooth, troops tramping.
Steam, a fog rising above jade green hot springs,
Imperial guards stand shoulder to shoulder.
His majesty entertains ministers,
music echoing through the ravines.
High dignitaries are allowed to bathe,
regular folk deprived of the feasting.
But the silk passed around among the Imperial harems
were woven by poor women,
and the officers beat their men
to extort tribute funding the court.
Though His Majesty’s lavish gifts
were meant to benefit the country and the people,
his corrupt ministers have ignored the most vital principles of government.
He is not the cause of this tragic waste,
and among the talented who serve him,
the most benevolent take fright.
We all hear that the palace’s golden platters
are cosseted off to the royal family’s greedy relations.
Their halls, the air itself there,
perfume each fair and charming goddess.
They robe their entourage in sable,
entertain them with the most famous musical virtuosos,
feed them camel foot broth, exotic tangerines, and oranges ripened by frost.
Behind their walls, the leftover wine turns sour,
the leftover meat left to rot.
Beyond their gates, bones of those frozen to death or died from starvation.
Opulent elites, the poor, withered and gaunt,
cheek by jowl, it tears my mind apart to think on it.
I turn north at the confluence of the Ching and the Wei
only to find the ferry there has been moved somewhere else.
Torrents pour down from the west.
The farther I look in every direction, the higher the waters seem to be.
The many others here may have come from K’ung T’ung regions;
maybe they were among the ones who flattened the Hill of Heaven’s Pillars.
Fortunately, we find a bridge although its infirm
supports crackle and buckle in the wind.
I want to curse this river for being so wide.
We grip each other’s hand and with all our effort, slowly crawl across.
I left my darling wife in a strange district;
disastrous times have broken up our tenfold household.
I cannot abandon them any longer for life in the capital,
so I have come home to share their hunger and thirst.
Wails greet me when I enter the door;
I am informed my infant son has died of hunger.
And why would I suppress this natural grief
when all our neighbors are weeping and crying out.
I am ashamed of being a father, so poor, so useless
that my son had to die for the lack of food.
I was stupid, unaware, our autumn harvests
could not take care, being so poverty stricken.
I am a privileged man, free from taxation,
exempt from being drafted into the army.
If my lot is this bitter,
What of the commoner people?
When I think of those whose property has been seized,
those garrisoned on the far frontiers of empire,
my horror and dread rises, a flood inundating Southern mountains
with the madness of swells impossible to abate.
755AD, Late T’ang Dynasty
Hello BE, thank you for sharing such wonderful prose by Tu Fu. It means a lot and I am truly appreciative. The translation here flows so smoothly. The imagery is truly masterful.
Ah, I am so sorry you are stuck not going beyond the second episode, because much of what Tu Fu writes above is reflected and interwoven very clearly in the remaining episodes of Chang’an.
Tu Fu’s escape as you describe would make, in my view, an awesome movie. It has all the hallmarks of what the audience would desire, and his writings alone, if followed would guarantee such an outcome.
My closing thought: as a privileged man, I wish I was free from taxation 😊
I never got further than couple of episodes with Chang’an, more or less for the same reasons you ‘struggled’ with. Yes, it was technically grand and looked absolutely gorgeous but I was never able to feel anything for the characters. That, along with not feeling the writing either, were the main reasons I never continued with Show once I put it on hold. I started watching The Untamed around the same time and it worked for me way, WAY better, so I stuck with it. No regerets on that account. 😀
That’s one of the things I always admire about you, Timescout. You’re very clear on what works for you and what doesn’t, and you’re quick on figuring it out too. I often spend hours on a show, before I reach a conclusion that it’s not for me. I think if I could acquire some of your skill, I’d be able to enjoy more dramas as a general rule! 😆 Overall, I’m glad I finished Chang’an, but it did feel more like a meaningful homework assignment rather than a passion project, for me. 😅
At the very beginning of this very detailed review you said “It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Show’s technical excellence is its biggest strength; every episode feels like a mini movie, both in terms of quality and execution. And with good reason too, since this is reportedly the most expensive Chinese drama made to-date, with an extensive amount of attention to detail, in reproducing makeup, costuming and architecture true to the era. The production also spent 7 months building the drama set, which is so large-scale, intricate and detailed that it’s quite a sight to behold…..”
On the strength of this alone I will certainly commit to at east 12 episodes. My pet peeve is historical style dramas which have glaring inconsistencies.
Mr. Sunshine, which I love had several.
The American flag which was shown seemed to have too many stars for the time.
Captain Choi carried a weapon which would not have been issued to an American officer He had [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauser_C96#Federal_Ordnance_M713_and_M714] and were widely produced in China. His foes could likely have used this, but not Captain Choi.while officers and some non commissioned officers carried a colt revolver and usually a sabre.
There was a scene of young Eugen peering from near a chain link fence. While chain link was being produced at that time it is very unlikely that it was in wide use.
I did find the candy which was produced at the French bakery
It is made by YumJunkie.
I appreciated the fact that the festival that Princess Go was supposed to use for covering the noise of her shots was an awa odori festival but I am uncertain the time of year for this festival coincided with the story line.
Ah, if historical accuracy is high on your list, then I do think The Longest Day in Chang’an would likely feel like a solid watch for you. 🙂 I hope that you’ll enjoy your watch, and that Show won’t let you down! 😉
I’m definitely with you on this one. Show had gotten such good buzz that I thought it was for sure going to be a slam dunk great watch. Technically it was amazing, and Lei Jia Yin was so good (such a different kind of character from First Half Of My Life!). But I didn’t even end up finishing it. I think I made it to the late 30s episode or so, got distracted by another drama (likely The Untamed 😛) and just never made it back. Watching it became kind of a chore… and I felt like I *should* be liking it instead of actually enjoying it (much like reading classic literature 😅). Even now I’m not motivated enough to find out how it ended… I guess I should officially move it to my dropped list heh.
Hi there Owl Star! Your experience with this show truly is so much like mine! There were time when I certainly felt like I *should* be liking it, even while I was scratching my head over who was who and what was what, and why it all ought to matter. 😅 In the end, I managed to enjoy it reasonably well, but I also think that it was more effortful getting to the finish line, than I generally feel is reasonable for a show. 😅 I guess this is where we reassure each other that it’s perfectly ok not to be drawn to technically excellent dramas, and it’s completely fine to enjoy dramas that are more “shallow” but which we find more entertaining! 😉