You know how I always talk about managing expectations and adjusting your viewing lens, in order to best enjoy your watch of any show?
Well, I tried with this one, you guys. I really did.
But, as you can tell from the title of this post, that didn’t work out at all the way I’d hoped. 😅
And so it is, that I’m tapping out of Unchained Love after just 10 episodes.
I’ll still tell you ALLL about it, though, so that you can decide whether you’d still like to give this one a try, even though it didn’t work for me.
WHY I WAS LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS SHOW
Basically, I loved – was completely smitten by! 🤩 – Dylan Wang in Love Between Fairy And Devil (review here!), and so, when I saw that he would be playing in a similar badass, intense, fierce sort of space in Unchained Love, I was beyond excited.
I mean, just look at him in this trailer! (Just be sure to enable cc. for English subs!)
Hey now. Isn’t that quite the badass, stylish trailer?? 🤩
I was sooo looking forward to the intensity, that I conveniently chose to ignore the comic tone that shows up riiiight at the end of the trailer, in like, the last couple of seconds.
Ha. Joke’s on me, folks, because that comic sort of tone that peeks through in the final seconds of the trailer? THAT is the tone we see in the show, more than the badass intensity that I was looking forward to. Oops.
I did attempt to adjust my viewing lens (because I was just so into the idea of Dylan Wang as a badass, powerful eunuch, that I really, really wanted to make this work), so I’ll talk about that next.
MY ATTEMPTED LENS ADJUSTMENTS
I actually sailed through episodes 1 & 2 without too much trouble, because there was a good amount of badass intensity coming from Dylan Wang, so much so that I was able to basically willfully ignore the stuff that didn’t work for me so well.
Such was my strong desire to enjoy Dylan Wang as a badass eunuch, heh.
However, by episodes 3 & 4, I found myself forced to reckon with my viewing lens.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in that, I generally go into a show without a fixed lens, and wait for Show to demonstrate to me what kind of creature it is, before I figure out a lens to best appreciate Show for what it wants to be.
In this case, however, I felt slightly wistful, because Show’s first trailer had been so stylishly badass, that I had hoped that that would be Show’s general vibe as well.
1. Show is more irreverent than I’d originally expected
Judging from this set of episodes, however, it’s starting to look like Show is more irreverent than I would have first guessed.
I wouldn’t exactly call this a black comedy, coz I think that’s a stretch, but Show does have a tendency to make light of serious things.
First, it was the hanging of the tribute ladies in episodes 1 & 2, and then, in episodes 3 & 4, it’s the sudden accidental death of young Prince Rong (Zhang Zi Han).
I think that’s just a thing, with this show, where it just is irreverent wherever and whenever it wants to be, and it’s on us as viewers, to be flexible and just roll with it.
Certainly, the musical cues are very informative, in terms of indicating when Show is not taking things too seriously, and I feel like, depending on what kind of viewer you are, or perhaps depending on your mood, you might find this helpful – or annoying. 😅
2. There’s a colloquial flavor going on
The other thing that strikes me about Show’s tone, that it’s got rather casual, almost colloquial feels, sometimes, in terms of how a character speaks.
For example, Xiao Duo (Dylan Wang) almost always speaks in measured, formal tones that I would expect of a palace setting sort of show.
But Yinlou (Yukee Chen), our female lead, almost always speaks in a more casual sort of manner. To quote Elaine, it almost sounds like she’s a “market auntie” sometimes.
I think it’s important to expect it, otherwise, you might find this jarring.
In Singapore we have Colloquial Singapore English, casually referred to as Singlish, which we speak casually to friends and family, but generally not in formal settings.
In a manner of speaking, this show reminds of that kind of irreverent version of Shakespeare, like Romeo and Juliet in Singlish. 😅
Our cast is decked out in rich costumes and our setting is grand and our cinematography is polished and beautiful, but y’know, our characters just have a habit of delivering their lines in Singlish.
It’s meant for entertainment and irony, so it’s on purpose, rather than an inability of the cast to speak proper English.
I decided to take a similar approach to the more colloquial way in which our characters – Yinlou in particular – often speak, and it helped – to a point.
3. There are lashings of dork around Dylan Wang’s character
Additionally, I also had to dial back my expectations for Xiao Duo’s badassery, because while he is given ample opportunity to display his intensity, there are also lashings of dork coming out from time to time.
I just.. hadn’t been expecting that.
Dylan Wang has proven in Love Between Fairy and Devil (review here!) that he’s perfectly capable of toggling both vibes in a single character, so he’s doing fine. I just needed to adjust my expectations around that little bit, is all.
4. Show’s been heavily edited
Last but not least, in terms of expectations management, I came across some viewer chatter, that Show had to be heavily edited, before it was given the go-ahead to air.
This means that there are likely big pieces of narrative that have ended up on the editing room floor, for various reasons.
Therefore, if Xiao Duo suddenly starts falling for Yinlou, for example, and we feel like we haven’t been given enough context for it, it’s more than likely that some of that context had existed, but had been cut out of the final version, for reasons that we’re not privy to.
I’m rather bummed by this, because in almost every instance, I would prefer to have the full story, rather than part of the story.
However, I’d rather know than not know, because, in my mind, if Show did display any weird lack of continuity in its storytelling, like in the last section of Love Like The Galaxy (review here!), I would at least know to give Show the benefit of the doubt.
Clearly, all these lens adjustments didn’t end up working all that well, for me, since I did end up dropping the show, but I’ll talk more about that later.
STUFF I LIKED
Dylan Wang, Dylan Wang, Dylan Wang
You’ve probably already guessed this by now (like I haven’t made it obvious enough 😂), but my main draw, with this show, was seeing Dylan Wang be a badass eunuch.
What can I say? I just really, really like badass, powerful Dylan Wang. 🤩😁
Does Show deliver on this point? Well, yes and no.
Like, YES, he gets to be badass and powerful, but NO, that’s not Show’s Main Event, and so there’s basically not enough badass and powerful Dylan Wang in this show, for my taste.
When he gets to play in that intense, glowery space, though, he’s fabulous. 😍
It blows my mind how WELL Dylan Wang wears badassery, since he’s so much more earnest and dorky in real life.
I love that even though he was also badass in Love Between Fairy and Devil, there’s a distinct difference between his badassery there, and his badassery here.
This way, it feels like I’m getting to see him explore his range, while still getting to enjoy him channel intensity and smolder, which, honestly, is how I like him best, on my screen. 🤩
If I had to narrow it down, I’d say that there’s a distinct layer of fabulosity in the way he plays Xiao Duo.
Perhaps it’s because Xiao Duo’s supposed to be a eunuch (key word being “supposed,” since we learn quite quickly, that he’s faking it); there’s a certain amount of coiffed flair that is part of Xiao Duo’s intensity, which I really dig.
He’s immaculately turned out, from top to toe; his eyebrows are on fleek, as they say (or do they still say that? 😅); his robes are beautiful, rich and intricate.
And above all, there’s a languid, sardonic sort of air about him, and the vibe that comes through, at least to me, is that he has a lot of power, and is simply choosing not to use it against you – for the time being.
Someone says of him, in episode 1-2, that he’s even more like a master than a master, and I have to agree with that, right off the bat.
He’s got an air about him like he owns the entire palace, even though he uses self-deprecating palace language, which dictates that he refer to himself as “slave” or “servant.”
And, to add to that master of masters sort of air, it seems like Xiao Duo is very well apprised of what goes on in the palace, and is watching and managing it all, from a chess master sort of perspective.
I kinda love that irony, because on the one hand, he’s saying that he’s a slave or servant, but everything else about him screams power and intensity. 🤩
Zeng Li as the Empress
I was pretty pleased to have Zeng Li play the Empress, coz she’s got a nice amount of screen presence and charisma, plus, I liked her a lot, when she played Shaoshang’s mom in Love Like The Galaxy. 🤩
And, because there’s a nice amount of chemistry between her and Dylan Wang, I had no problems with the fact that the Empress seems to be very drawn to Xiao Duo.
I mean, Xiao Duo’s so magnetic and attractive, that I wouldn’t be able to help myself either, in her shoes. 😁😅
I know that some viewers found it off-putting and quite gross, that the Empress seemed to have a thing for Xiao Duo, but I felt like I could understand her, because why wouldn’t she be, y’know? 😅
Honestly, I felt more potential chemistry between Xiao Duo and the Empress, than between him and Yinlou, our female lead. 🙈
I actually enjoyed the tension between the fact that the Empress wants to try to control Xiao Duo as part of her political power play, and the fact that she’s genuinely attracted to him, and wants his attention.
It’s like she likes him, but she also hates him.
That’s definitely rather interesting and complex, and I wouldn’t have minded at all, if we’d had more scenes between the Empress and Xiao Duo.
Guan Chang as Princess Hede
Princess Hede is a smaller supporting character (so far, anyway), but I do find myself much more interested in what’s going on, on my screen, when Princess Hede shows up.
Like during the football scene in episode 7-8. I was kind of zoning out, until Princess Hede came onto the scene, and decided to join the football challenge.
There’s just something about Guan Chang, the actress who plays her, that translates as sparky and dynamic, on my screen.
Looking at her popping so well on my screen, my fangirl heart couldn’t help but ask, why couldn’t we have had someone like her play our female lead? 😅
..Which I’ll talk about next.
STUFF THAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME
Yukee Chen as Yinlou
To put it bluntly, I didn’t care so much, for Yukee Chen as our female lead – BUT, she is not the reason I’m dropping this show, so there’s that?
I came into this without a lot of expectations of the female lead, because I’ve seen so many comments floating around the interwebs, about how most people don’t find Yukee Chen a very good actress.
And I think managing my expectations have helped, in the sense that I might not love Yinlou and how she’s being played, but I don’t hate her.
Basically, Yinlou appears to carry the more comedic tone of our story, and her general behavior is meant to lean unconventional and surprising. I get the idea, but the execution just doesn’t work for me.
Like how, when all the other concubines are crying that they don’t want to be tribute ladies, Yinlou only muses that she’s hungry, and should have paid the royal kitchen to give her more pickled cucumbers.
The line itself isn’t that out of place in a drama, I suppose, but I do think that Yukee Chen’s delivery of the line just lacks a little something; it’s just not popping for me. It’s not funny, and it’s not coming alive for me either.
Likewise, the way she reads people and situations, specifically Xiao Duo and his rescue of her, from being a tribute lady, is supposed to be offbeat and therefore amusing and entertaining, I think.
It just doesn’t work for me, unfortunately.
On the plus side of things, I do find myself warming to Yinlou more, when she’s allowed to be smart &/or serious. Which, from what I’ve seen, anyway, isn’t quite nearly often enough.
The OTP loveline
Like I mentioned earlier in this post, I had heard that Show went through some heavy editing before it was finalized to air, and so, I’d braced myself for the fact that there might not be much context to support the development of the OTP loveline.
Despite my adjusting my expectations, one of my main struggles during my watch, is the way Show is amping up the loveline between Xiao Duo and Yinlou.
I still flinched at the amping up of Xiao Duo’s attraction to Yinlou, in episodes 5-6.
I guess context really is very important to me, after all. 😅
Also, I have a confession to make.
You know the scene in episodes 5-6, where Yinlou seeks out Xiao Duo, and ends up body slamming that tree, in order to create showers of blossoms for him, and he looks at her with that soft gaze?
I think that’s supposed to help us understand Xiao Duo being so drawn to her, because she’s hurting herself, just to make him happy.
But, in this moment, all I can think of, is my reaction to Ji Chang Wook‘s character in The K2 (Dropped post here!), where he looked at Yoona’s character with a similar soft gaze, while she did that infamous ramyun dance around the kitchen.
Then, my reaction had been in the vein of, “What the heck, dude? Do you not have EYES??? How could you even conceive of this as remotely charming when it’s so darn cringey???”
Yes, I was mad at his character, for having such poor taste. 😅
I didn’t feel as mad at Xiao Duo here, but suffice to say, that I felt lashings of a very similar emotion. 😁
Like, dude, what’s wrong with you? Are you actually charmed by this..? 🙈
Sorry. Definitely not the effect Show was going for, I’m sure. 😅
My struggle to get on board with this loveline did turn out to be a major factor, in my decision to drop this show – which I’ll elaborate on, later.
The so-called comic relief
Someone decided that it would be a good idea to make Yinlou’s maid and Xiao Duo’s godson (He Nan and Wang Li Xin) a regular source of comic relief, both separately and together, and I just wanted to say, this did not work for me.
I cringed more than I laughed, because I just didn’t find them funny, sorry. 🤷🏻♀️
The more I watched this show, the more I wondered whether to drop it, honestly. I didn’t just drop this on a whim, is what I’m trying to say. 😅
But, as I got less and less badass Dylan on my screen, and as my feelings of perplexity increased around the loveline, I couldn’t help but finger the possibility of dropping this so that I could spend the drama hours on another, better show.
My eventual decision was powered by 2 main factors.
1, YouTube suggested AvenueX’s 24-episode impressions of the show to me.
Watching it, I realized that I would not be happy with the direction that Show was taking with the story.
As far as AvenueX had watched, anyway, it seemed that Xiao Duo was giving up his revenge for love.
In principle, I don’t have an issue with this narrative decision, but the problem here, was, I wasn’t really into the OTP loveline, for the reasons I mentioned above.
And so, to have the drama minimize or even do away with the intense, dramatic side of the story that grabbed my interest more, in favor of the loveline I didn’t care for very much, was not helpful.
2, I came across deleted OTP scenes from this show (like this one), and realized that Show had cut out A LOT of OTP skinship scenes.
So.. You make a show about a vengeful fake eunuch, and then decide that he will be more interested in love than revenge. BUT THEN, you cut away huge chunks of the OTP scenes?
The irony of it all, eh? What are we left with, then, right?
Like, I could watch an entire drama of just Xiao Duo manipulating and swishing his way around the palace, honestly, but that’s not what Show is serving up. 😅
And, despite my best efforts, the ramping up of the OTP loveline just looks forced and rushed, to my eyes. Plus, if I can’t squee at this OTP even with the bare-bones context in-show, then how could I squee over the deleted scenes, that don’t have any context?
Putting this all together, it became clear to me that there’s just not enough in this show, for me to keep watching.
Sorry to Dylan, as well as to his magnificent eyebrows. Next time, hopefully! 😅
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Unchained Love, is Meet Yourself [China]. I’ve taken an initial look, and I’m pleased to say that I’m enjoying it very well, so far! 😊 My E1-2, E3-4 notes on Meet Yourself can be found here.
Here’s an overview of what I’m covering on Patreon right now (Tier benefits are cumulative)!
Foundation Tier (US$1): Entertainment tidbits + the first set notes of all shows covered on Patreon (that’s 2 episodes for kdramas and 4 episodes for cdramas)
Early Access (US$5): Recipe For Farewell [Korea]
Early Access Plus (US$10): +The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House [Japan]
VIP (US$15): +Meet Yourself [China]
VVIP (US$20): +New Life Begins [China]
Ultimate (US$25): +Crash Course in Romance [Korea]