Let me just state upfront, that there are a lot – like, seriously, A LOT – of people who love this drama.
This show was hugely buzzy and popular when it aired – so buzzy, in fact, that FOMO was the whole reason I checked out this show in the first place 😅 – and I don’t want you to think that just because I’m calling it quits on this show, that this drama isn’t any good.
There’s quite a chunk of good stuff in here, honestly. It’s just not for me, I think.
MY TRAJECTORY WITH THIS ONE
I.. basically ran out of steam, with this one, you guys. 😅
I’d surprised myself by really enjoying this one very well, when I first checked it out.
I’d found the story interesting, the characters quite fascinating, and each time I sat down to watch my weekly dose of 4 episodes, I came away still interested to know what would happen next.
Unfortunately, for reasons that I will elaborate on, in this post, I found myself losing interest in Show’s final stretch, and I’m tapping out, after watching 35 episodes (yes, of 39!). 🙈
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Although I didn’t make it to the end myself, I do think that keeping these few things in mind could help maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. This isn’t a straightforward story
I don’t even actually know how to describe what type of story this is, in a few words. 😅
Like, it’s not a straightforward romance, and it’s not a straightforward story of personal journey, either, I don’t think.
It just feels like our story is one big sprawling octopus, with many different tentacles of varying sizes and lengths – and I don’t even know, at the end of the day, if I really like this octopus, after all. 😅
2. Our key characters are pretty gray
All of our main characters aren’t straightforwardly good or bad; they’re all varying shades of gray.
This meant that I often found myself thinking of a character differently, or feeling differently about them, at different points in our story.
I do think this is one of my personal points of discomfort, while watching this show, but this could very well be your favorite thing?
STUFF I LIKED
I found the story world interesting
From the very start of my watch, the story felt new and different – at least to my eyes.
For context, I haven’t actually watched all that many c-dramas, nor have I read any of the famous online novels, which have spawned many a drama adaptation, so I have no point of comparison.
I just found this story world interesting, from where I was sitting.
I was intrigued by the idea that in this drama world, humans, immortals (deities) and sprites all live together in one ecosystem. In other c-fantasies that I’ve watched, there’s always been a clear distinction between the mortal world and the world of the immortals.
This sense of novelty was definitely a plus point, at least for the first stretch of my watch.
I was curious about the reverse harem set-up
I came into this already knowing that our female lead, Xiao Yao, played by Yang Zi, would have 3 potential suitors, and that each suitor has his own appeal, such that it’s really hard to decide who you actually want to root for.
I was definitely pretty curious to see how that would play out, since I usually seem to be naturally wired to root for the designated male lead.
And y’know, Show did keep me very much on my toes for a good while with this hook, because my feelings towards each of our three male leads vacillated and evolved and then vacillated again, as I progressed through the episodes.
It was interesting to me, how my feelings towards each character, could change so much, from episode to episode.
I will talk more about each male lead in other sections of this post.
Show can feel like a rollercoaster
Partly because of my ever-changing feelings towards our male leads, partly because of my changing feelings towards other characters, and also partly because sometimes our story went to surprising places, watching this show often felt akin to being on a rollercoaster.
I rather liked this, for the most part, except for when I felt Show was rather too indulgent, which I’ll touch on later, in this post.
For now, here’s an example of how my feelings changed towards a character who wasn’t one of our male leads.
E9-12. Last week, I’d expressed my distaste for A Nian (Dai Lu Wa) as a character, but this week, I find that I don’t feel so strongly put off by her.
This is mostly because of how she cries in quite a childlike way, when she’s being held hostage by Xiao Yao.
I feel like perhaps that childlike quality has helped me to adjust the way I look at her.
Like, if she’s actually still in many ways a child, then perhaps I shouldn’t judge her so harshly, for her immature behavior – is what I’m thinking.
Also, there’s something about the way she just sits there and starts bawling, that vibes innocent, to me, and I find that I can’t quite hate her, anymore. How mysterious. 😅
I found Show emotionally gripping – at least for a good stretch
The reason I lasted as long as I did, with this watch, is because Show is often emotionally gripping.
Sometimes, the story beats were so poignant, and delivered with such depth by our actors, that I legit got tears in my eyes, while watching. I will be highlighting some of the best moments, in character-specific sections, coming up in this post.
Unfortunately for me, I found Show’s first two-thirds much more emotionally gripping than Show’s final third, which I’ll talk more about later.
Yang Zi acting as a character who presents themselves as male
There are two main things that I’d like to say about Yang Zi as our protagonist Xiao Yao.
1, She does a pretty amazing job acting as a character who presents themselves as male, which is the case for a good stretch, in Show’s first third.
It’s honestly quite trippy to see Yang Zi, whom I’ve only seen play dainty, ladylike types, act like a rough, uncouth man, all casual swagger and streetwise smirk.
I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it for myself, but my goodness, she pulls it off very nicely. I really do believe that she’s been living like this for the past 20 years, and plans to continue living like this, for as long as possible.
2, She does an excellent job of some of the more emotionally difficult scenes.
Prior to this show, I’d watched Yang Zi in a couple of shows (Go Go Squid and Ashes of Love), and had felt rather underwhelmed in general, to be brutally honest. And so, it’s really cool to see her flex her acting chops in this show.
Overall, I have to admit that I found Xiao Yao more interesting and likable in Show’s first two-thirds. I’ll talk more about this later, but I found my interest in and goodwill towards Xiao Yao fading, by the time I hit the final third.
Here are some Xiao Yao-related highlights from my watch.
E1-4. Show’s doing a good job of making Xiao Yao a faceted character, instead of simply making her a long-suffering heroine who’s all good.
Instead, we see some of the darker streaks of her character, when Princess A Nian gets her maidservant to torture her found family, because Ma Zi’s wife accidentally spills pig’s blood on Princess A Nian’s clothes.
When Xiao Yao poisons the maidservant as revenge, I can understand why she would do so.
She even tells Shiqi that she’s not a good person, and wants to kill them for what they’ve done.
E5-8. I think one of the things that Show does really well (so far, anyway), is make Xiao Yao imperfect and flawed, yet still sympathetic and interesting, despite her imperfections.
When she says that she’s not a nice person, we do see that play out, in how she behaves. Like how she is sometimes petty and vengeful, and how she can hold a grudge.
At the same time, though, she is clearly, in spite of her flaws, fiercely loyal towards those whom she’s decided to call her own. The way she would put herself on the line, in order to protect her found family, is touching, and makes me want to root for her.
On top of that, there’s a deep streak of pathos about her, with how lonely she clearly is, even though she’s gone to great lengths to find herself a human family to call her own.
This makes me sympathize with her, even though her loneliness does seem to drive her to unhealthy behaviors.
Overall, I find her flawed and complicated, yet likable and sympathetic, and I know that that’s definitely one of the things that’s captured my interest, as I watch this show.
E5-8. Xiao Yao’s compassionate to a fault, and can’t stand by and watch, when she knows that there’s something she can do to help the sick or wounded.
This is how she’d ended up saving Shiqi (Deng Wei) in the first place, after all; she’d been unable to look the other way, despite telling Ma Zi and Chuan Zi (Sun Kai and Gao Xuan Ming) to mind their own business, in order to stay out of trouble.
E5-8. I actually feel pretty bad for Xiao Yao, because she’d withdrawn her affection from Shiqi, after he’d betrayed her trust the first time, but she’d eventually relented and allowed him back into her inner circle, only for that trust to be eventually betrayed again, when his big secret comes to light, and he has to return to his family.
But that’s the thing, with Xiao Yao.
It feels like she actually understands the dangers of allowing other people into her inner circle, and yet, she does it anyway, because she is that lonely and that hungry for connection.
E9-12. It really says something about Xiao Yao, that she’s prepared to deal with the consequences of kidnapping A Nian, all by herself, even though Xiang Liu (Tan Jian Ci) offers his protection.
This, even though she knows that there is likely a lot of torture and pain in store, for having the audacity to kidnap A Nian.
I gotta say, I found it hard to watch the torture, not because it was very graphic or anything, but just the idea of them setting maggots on her hands, so that the maggots would eat the flesh off her hands, is just horrible to imagine. 🙈
E9-12. I do like how generous Xiao Yao is, in sharing her knowledge, when she finds a suitable student.
The way she trains Tian’er (Pu Tao) to take over the physician duties at Rejuvenation Hall says a lot.
Not only does she not hold anything back, she even tells Tian’er that this way, no matter where she and Chuan Zi go, they will never have to go hungry.
This means that she’s not training Tian’er just for the sake of keeping Rejuvenation Hall running; she’s giving Tian’er a life skill that will help her, wherever she happens to be.
That’s very generous, I feel. And I’m glad that Tian’er is able to appreciate just how much Xiao Yao is doing for her.
E13-16. Of course, there’s the thing where we hear Xiao Yao talking to an unconscious Shiqi, in the prisoner’s cart, where she expresses that while some women prefer to put their trust in a man, so that they won’t be tortured by the pain of life, she herself prefers to suffer in life, because that way, she can at least try to save herself.
The reason she says this, is because she doesn’t want to be hurt anymore, after all that she’s been through in life, and I do think that tells us a lot about what makes Xiao Yao tick.
I feel like this means she will hesitate to give her heart fully to any of her suitors, even though she may actually feel something for each of them.
And yet, in spite of her saying that she doesn’t want to be hurt anymore, she also consistently doesn’t hesitate to help and save each of her suitors. We’ve seen her save Xiang Liu with her blood, and we’ve seen her save Cang Xuan (Zhang Wan Yi), and now, she saves Shiqi yet again, by giving him her blood, and then offering more, even after he wakes up.
I think Xiao Yao is more giving and tenderhearted than she’d like to admit.
E13-16. The scene that gutted me the most in this entire set of episodes, is the one where Xiao Yao’s being bound and beaten by A Nian’s servants, and then sets eyes on A Nian’s mother, who looks just like her own mother.
The desperation in Xiao Yao, as she screams and cries for her mother, through the gag in her mouth, and as she crawls towards “Mom” on all fours, in a frantic effort to grab the edges of her robe, is so utterly arresting.
And then the way Cang Xuan comes in there and wrests her into his arms, shouting over and over, trying to get through to her, that the woman she just saw, isn’t her mother.
The way Xiao Yao starts blubbering and crying, about how she just wants to ask why Mom had abandoned her, is so childlike and innocent; it really feels like her inner child, who’d felt so abandoned all this time, is finally free to express herself.
It’s such an emotionally overwhelming moment; I couldn’t stop the tears from leaking out of my eyes.
E17-20. I was quite entertained with how Xiao Yao marches over to A Nian’s quarters, and has it out with A Nian.
And, I do love how smart Xiao Yao is, about negotiating an agreement with A Nian for them to live peaceably henceforth, even though she has to physically battle it out with A Nian first.
I do love that we can see that A Nian is legitimately intimidated by Xiao Yao, and, on a softer note, I also love that Xiao Yao is able to read A Nian so clearly, to realize that A Nian’s feeling insecure and inadequate, more than anything else.
Even though their sisterly relationship’s had a rocky start, I can kind of imagine them becoming more bonded, over time, and I’m actually looking forward to that.
E17-20. I find myself liking Xiao Yao more, as our story progresses.
First, there’s how brave she is, even in a situation that’s dangerous, and how she doesn’t hesitate to also take care of A Nian, even though A Nian’s been nothing but trouble to her, thus far.
And then, there’s how sharp she is, to analyze that there’s likely more to Yiying’s attack, than her simply avenging Xin Yue, which, as we know, is completely on the money.
And then, underneath it all, the fact that she does still occasionally desire to wear a pretty dress, like she tells Cang Xuan, makes her feel kind of delicate and vulnerable.
In that conversation, the thing that strikes me most, is how Xiao Yao is afraid that she’ll disappoint Cang Xuan and her father, and thus, feel disappointed herself, because of their disappointment.
This part of Xiao Yao, which we see surface with a kind of regularity, does hint at how she’s gotten used to isolating herself, and why.
It’s her deep fear of hurting and being hurt, that’s caused her to learn to be such a loner, in all the years that she’d been away from Haoling, despite her great need for connection.
And then there’s her great need and desire for freedom; that’s why she’d rather not stay at Jade Mountain, even though the Queen Mother tells her that this is the way that she can repair her spirit power.
That definitely says a lot, about how important freedom is, to Xiao Yao. She’d rather give up on her spirit power, than be curbed, in order to recover it.
The thing that strikes me most about Xiao Yao, this set of episodes, is how refreshing she is as a female character, when she regains her appearance.
Instead of being a dainty, ladylike sort of princess, she’s still very much Xiao Liu, on the inside, and this makes for a very forthright princess who’s sharp to see beneath the surface for what’s really going on, and who has a loose grip on pretty much everything, including romantic feelings.
She’s quite unlike any other princess I’ve personally watched, I think, and I like it.
And yet, she’s arresting when she wants to be, like during that officiating ceremony, where she makes her official grand entrance as princess.
She’s absolutely regal, as she walks in there, and I can totally buy why everyone more or less has their jaw on the floor, in response to the sight of her.
On that note, I have to say that her styling in this scene low-key gives me Star Wars Princess Amidala vibes – in a good way. 😁
E21-24. Before, we’d seen Xiao Yao kind of divide her time between the various potential love interests, and that had worked nicely for me, because I rather enjoyed Show teasing me with the various strengths and weaknesses of each potential pairing.
At this juncture of our story, it feels like the focus is largely on Cang Xuan, at the moment.
Meaning, yes, Xiao Yao does like Jing, and misses him and looks forward to his gifts of green plum wine, but we also see that her loyalties are strongly with Cang Xuan.
It makes me feel like if she ever had to choose between them, that she would be quite quick to choose Cang Xuan, even if meant forsaking Jing.
Not that she doesn’t like Jing; it’s just that her loyalty to Cang Xuan runs that deep, and means that much to her.
In comparison, like she tells her grandfather this set of episodes, she holds the idea of romance and love with a pretty loose grip; even though she has thoughts of it, she doesn’t see it as a true necessity in her life; that she would be happy too, enjoying everything else that life has to offer.
E21-24. I think one of the things that I found difficult to watch, was how Xiao Yao goes around town with Fangfeng Bei, to the extent that rumors have started circulating about how close they are.
I know in my head that she’s doing this in order to protect Cang Xuan, and is waiting for a chance to catch him with his guard down, and then kill him, but I still found it hard to watch their apparent growing closeness. 😅
Hmm. I don’t know, maybe I should rephrase that.
I don’t think it’s the time she spends with Bei that gets to me; after all, I’ve long accepted that Xiao Yao will have a number of suitors in the course of our story.
I think it’s the act she puts on, where she’s not only happy to spend time with him, but is also in a rather.. shallow sort of space(?), that I find not enjoyable to watch.
In my head, I know it’s an act, but she’s so convincing in putting on that act, that I get confused as to what’s real and what’s pretend, I think.
E21-24. I have to confess that the extent that Cang Xuan and Xiao Yao would go to, in order to protect each other, is really quite profound.
They would each put themselves in real danger, in order to protect the other, and they’d do it without hesitation.
That’s why Xiao Yao throws herself at Cang Xuan, to shield him with her own body, when Bei tries to assassinate him, and that’s also why Cang Xuan is so distraught, because he cannot bear the thought of Xiao Yao possibly dying, in his stead.
I also see this as the reason Xiao Yao readily agrees to Fangfeng Bei’s proposition, that she leave with him to wander the world – as long as he gives up everything.
I feel that in this, she’s also coming from a place of wanting to protect Cang Xuan. I honestly do think that if Bei had taken her up on her offer, and really given up everything, she would have gone with him, if only to get him away from Cang Xuan.
I liked watching Zhang Wan Yi on my screen
I’ve had a huge soft spot for Zhang Wan Yi since watching him play Er Qiang in The Bond, so I was beyond thrilled to have him on my screen, in this show.
There are two main things I’d like to say about Zhang Wan Yi as Cang Xuan.
1, Cang Xuan is an extremely complicated character, and Zhang Wan Yi does a fantastic job delivering all of Cang Xuan’s many different facets, which I will elaborate on, in the spoiler section.
2, Overall, I just find Zhang Wan Yi mesmerizing to watch.
There is a lot to enjoy; his expressive yet restrained delivery; his beautiful features, especially those eyes and those lips.
I realize that my most favorite thing about him – and this is true ever since I watched him in The Bond – is his voice.
He has a beautiful way of enunciating his words, such that Mandarin sounds even more melodious than average, coming from his lips. I don’t know how to explain it; it’s like, yes, he’s hitting the tones just like everyone else, but there is a mix of precision and poetry, in the way the words come forth from his lips.
It’s gorgeous on the ears, and he’s quite literally in possession of my favorite voice in c-ent, I think. Or least, one of my favorite voices, because there are some others who have beautiful diction too, like Wu Lei. But I digress.
My point is, Zhang Wan Yi’s delivery of Cang Xuan is beautifully enhanced by his beautiful diction and enunciation, and my ears are in love. 🥰
E5-8. I find Cang Xuan interesting, because, like Xiao Yao, he strikes me as a pretty complicated character.
He can be ruthless and shrewd, when it comes to wanting to achieve his goals, but at the same time, there’s a humanity about him that comes out, from time to time, like when he goes to apologize to Mu personally, and brings all that good liquor with him, as a token of sincerity.
He seems so sincere in the scene with Mu, but then, later, when his assistant questions why he’s being so humble to a nobody like Mu, his expression turns shrewd, as he explains there could be more to Xiao Liu than meets the eye, and that this is the best way not to complicate matters.
And, during Chuan Zi’s wedding, Cang Xuan seems like a genuinely supportive guest, despite the humble setting – unlike A Nian, who is horribly rude, especially with how she declares that their food isn’t clean.
Also, despite him sometimes showing some ruthlessness, he does also show a sense of compassion as well, like how he tells his assistant that he can’t leave the interests of the people behind, even if he wanted the throne for himself.
This thing with Cang Xuan makes me think two things.
1, Cang Xuan and Xiao Yao are actually pretty similar, in how they can be not very nice to the people whom they see as their enemies, but they are deeply loyal, towards those whom they’ve decided to care about, and
2, Perhaps Cang Xuan’s shrewd, rather ruthless persona isn’t really who he is? Perhaps this is the persona he’s adopted, in order to fulfill the duties that he has, as hostage prince to Haoling? Hrm. 🤔
Right now, the vibe between Cang Xuan and Xiao Yao is mostly of guarded pretense; on the surface, they pretend to be friendly and cordial with each other, but in actual fact, they each harbor suspicions about the other person.
And, when the opportunity presents itself, Cang Xuan doesn’t hesitate to poke around for information on Xiao Yao, like how he tries to get Chuan Zi to give him information on Xiao Yao, while he’s drunk.
Yet, there are moments that feel real, raw and authentic too, like when Xiao Yao goes to him to ask for him to release Tian’er from the brothel, and expresses that all she wants is to live a tranquil life with her family.
In that moment, when Cang Xuan muses that he, too, would like to live a tranquil life with his family, he looks sad and wistful, and I feel like we’re getting a glimpse of the real Cang Xuan, in a manner of speaking.
E9-12. I have to concede that the emotional heft inherent in this situation between Cang Xuan and Xiao Yao, is very much present.
Like when Xiao Yao sits down for wine with Cang Xuan, and he tells her about his little sister (ie, her), and she has to fight to hide the tears that start streaming down her face.
Augh. So much pathos in this situation, where the one he longs for is right there in front of him, but she has to hide her true identity, most likely in order to protect herself. This way, he can’t acknowledge her, and neither can she acknowledge him, even though they both miss each other so much. 💔
Plus, I also find Cang Xuan pretty fascinating, all on his own.
Most of the time, he comes across as so pleasant and cordial, but then there are times when there’s a cold hardness in his eyes, that’s quite chilling to witness. And then there are times when he looks so wistful and tender, as well, particularly when he thinks about Xiao Yao, from his childhood.
It makes me wonder about his duality; which is more the real him?
E13-16. I feel we’re really getting to see more of Cang Xuan’s true nature, which has been pushing more clearly to the surface, in recent episodes.
Last week, I’d said that he toggles between being all polite, decorous and cordial, and being cruel and fierce, and this week, we see that more than ever.
In fact, I was quite startled, when, after cordially receiving the Haoling King’s request to meet Xiao Liu, Cang Xuan approaches the mission with a pretty aggressive kind of fierceness, where he’s faster to use force and intimidation than I’d expected.
Because he’d been mostly cordial while living in Qingshui village, I’d expected that he would be pretty much the same, even when coming back as himself, to carry out the King of Haoling’s request, to bring Xiao Liu to see him.
Instead, I found that when Cang Xuan’s in prince mode, he’s actually noticeably colder and more aloof, and more prone to order the use of force and intimidation. In this mode, I find that he comes across as a lot less humanistic.
I rationalize that it’s possible that he’s this way because he feels the pressure to prove himself, in his role of prince.
Thanks to Zhang Wan Yi’s fantastic delivery, even when Cang Xuan’s being hard and cruel, I just can’t hate him. Well, that, and the fact that so far, his gaze hasn’t actually been that hard, even when he’s being his more intimidating self.
With Xiao Yao being as slippery as possible, to avoid being taken to Haoling, I can see why Cang Xuan would take stronger measures against her, but it’s still hard to see him be unknowingly cruel to the one person whom he’s been longing for, for the last 300 years.
The thing that gets me most, in these kinds of interactions, is how Xiao Yao’s eyes are always sheening with tears, even as she laughs off Cang Xuan’s harsh treatment of her.
It really shows how much this is hurting her on the inside, and it really gives this connection serious heartwrenching vibes. 💔
I felt so relieved, really, when Cang Xuan realizes that Xiao Liu is actually his beloved Xiao Yao.
It’s a painful realization for Cang Xuan, where he blames himself for not realizing earlier, that Xiao Yao had been telling him who she was, in various ways, but he’d been too blinded by cruelty to notice, but it’s beautifully played by Zhang Wan Yi, and I so appreciate the tears that immediately fall from Cang Xuan’s eyes, as he processes that his beloved Xiao Yao is right before him.
I like that the first thing he does, is go straight to Xiao Yao, to heal her leg with his powers.
I feel the feels so much, as he asks her, tears leaking from his eyes, if it hurts and she answers nonchalantly – but also with a tear escaping her eye – that it doesn’t hurt.
Augh. So much emotion and angst – all swept under the rug of casual pretense. 💔
E13-16. In terms of Xiao Yao’s relationship with Cang Xuan, I’m intrigued by the shifting tone of it, because the truth is, they haven’t seen each other in a really long time, and in that time, they’ve both evolved and changed.
The way Cang Xuan comes to her and talks to her about it, and talks about being able to his true self around her, because they’ve both seen the dark parts of the world, feels honest, and yet slightly dysfunctional, at the same time.
I like the honesty, because I do think it’s important that he’s able to be his true self around her, but because his true self involves a measure of cruelty, that lands as slightly disturbing, for me. 😅
It’s like, love me, love my cruelty..?
At the same time, it’s also true that Xiao Yao professes to not be a nice person, and so, Cang Xuan’s not completely wrong either, when he declares that they are able to understand each other, because they are very similar.
Also, the way Xiao Yao talks about sadness always being present in the midst of happiness, and peace, in the midst of loss, is very full of pathos, I feel. And the thing is, Cang Xuan understands this too, because this is also how he lives.
They are very similar in their sensibilities, and this does make me waver a bit, because it makes me wonder if perhaps Cang Xuan and Xiao Yao should be together because they understand each other so well.
And, they do care about each other very much, in their own ways.
The whole reason Cang Xuan says that he needs to return to Xiyan, is so that he will have the chance to gather the power that he feels is necessary, in order to effectively protect Xiao Yao.
And the whole reason Xiao Yao says that she will become a Princess of Haoling, is so that she will be able to help Cang Xuan, if necessary.
That tearful hug that they share, both cognizant of the challenges and hardships ahead of them, is quite affecting, not gonna lie. 🥲
E17-20. It’s kind of poignant, the way Cang Xuan tells Xiao Yao, that he’s fully aware that the only reason Xin Yue (Wang Zhen) is so into him, is because of his identity as Prince of Xiyan; that if he’d really been a regular person like he’d first told her, she wouldn’t be as swayed by him, by far.
I like this self-awareness in Cang Xuan, even as I find it rather poignant, that he realizes that, in almost the entire world’s eyes, his worth is more in his position, than in his person.
E17-20. This set of episodes, we see that Xiao Yao is very comfortable with and supportive of Cang Xuan, but she definitely doesn’t have that hyper-awareness vibe with him, that she has with Jing.
They really do have a dynamic that reflects that they see each other as equals.
At the same time, we definitely see that Cang Xuan is harboring feelings for her, in the way he keeps showing concern for her, and especially in that moment when he alludes to the fact that he’s not allowed to like her.
Aw. Is that so? Is that because he’s supposed to be her brother, even though he’s not really her brother?
For now, it seems like he feels like his hands are tied when it comes to Xiao Yao and his feelings for her, but it’s clear that he’s very jealous of the connection that Xiao Yao shares with Jing.
He does manages to maintain an unruffled, pleasant disposition through it all, but there are definite barbs in his words, like when he tells Jing to stay away from Xiao Yao, if he cannot guarantee that he will not hurt her at all.
And then there’s also how he is very reluctant to pass on the message from Jing, to Xiao Yao, that Jing would like to meet her – and then proceeds to get drunk by himself, while Xiao Yao goes out to keep that appointment.
They really care about each other, but right now, the kind of care that they each have for the other, isn’t quite the same.
E21-24. It was hard to watch Cang Xuan be the loud, immature, irresponsible type, and it was also hard to see him accept and ingest drugs that are meant to harm him.
Even though I knew that this was supposed to be an act, I still found it difficult to watch.
And part of the reason, I think, is because Zhang Wan Yi does such a good job making Cang Xuan look unrepentantly bloodshot and ill from all the debauchery. 🙈
I hate that he’s hurting himself so much, in order to reach for his goal of becoming the King of Xiyan – so that he can protect Xiao Yao.
E25-28. I spent a good chunk of this set of episodes admiring Zhang Wan Yi’s delivery.
It was really, really, REALLY hard to watch Cang Xuan sink into addiction like that, but that’s really a lot to do with how Zhang Wan Yi nails that drug-fueled stupor, so well.
Even though I know in my head that this is all part of his effort to get himself sent to the Central Plains, it was still really hard to see him like this.
Plus, Show makes sure to inform us that he’s addicted, almost to the point of no return, which did nothing to soothe my anxiety over whether Cang Xuan would really be able to quit this addiction fully, once the time came for him to get off those drugs.
I think the thing that really gets to me, is that Cang Xuan isn’t pretend addicted, he’s really – like reallyreally – addicted, and that’s just so much to wrap my brain around.
The fact that his whole reason for wanting to gain the throne, is so that he can protect Xiao Yao – and that, in turn, is his reason for risking his health AND his life like this, is truly heartpinching stuff.
Add on the frustration and futility in Cang Xuan, when it comes to his feelings for Xiao Yao, and I found my heart going out to Cang Xuan too.
It’s clear to see that he does absolutely have feelings for Xiao Yao, but at the same time, he’s also very clear that he cannot act on those feelings.
I think that it’s partly because Xiao Yao already likes Jing, but I also think that there are reasons related to their circumstances, that are driving his decision on this.
I don’t think that it’s because they’re related, because as far as I can tell, it’s perfectly acceptable for cousins to marry, in stories like this.
I do believe that the main reason is that Cang Xuan sees himself as powerless, and therefore in no position to protect Xiao Yao. And I do think that, it kills him a little bit, each time she protects him from harm.
I think that’s why Cang Xuan makes it his life’s mission to gain the throne, so that he’ll be able to protect Xiao Yao – even if it means that he has to form a marriage alliance with someone else, along the way.
That’s how much Xiao Yao means to him; she’s more important to him than his own happiness, and that’s honestly quite moving, when you think about it like that.
E25-28. How about that moment when Cang Xuan wakes up lucid on his bed (months later, we’re told), and then almost kisses a sleeping Xiao Yao?
This is the most overt expression of romantic feelings that we’ve seen from Cang Xuan, I think, and the tenderness in his gaze is unmistakable.
There’s this look that Cang Xuan wears, when he’s being gentle with Xiao Yao, but putting himself firmly in the brother space, that gets to me.
You can see the slight smile on his lips, but you can also see the traces of sadness in his eyes, which you can see he’s girding himself to ignore. 💔
It’s tragic and beautiful, at the same time.
But of course, there’s also that streak of hardness and cruelty about Cang Xuan, which Show makes sure that I don’t ever forget for too long.
And it’s extra heartbreaking, when he directs that hardness and cruelty at himself, like when he chooses to accept Xinyue’s feelings for him despite him not having feelings for her, because he knows that this would likely lead to a beneficial marriage alliance.
Beyond that, I do believe that Cang Xuan’s sincere when he advises Xiao Yao to consider Fenglong as a suitor, because he doesn’t believe Jing nor Bei to be good choices.
E29-32. I realize that I’m finding Cang Xuan most interesting among our male leads at the moment, even though he literally does the least, when it comes to saving Xiao Yao. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. 😅
I think part of it is that I find Zhang Wan Yi interesting to watch, and Cang Xuan does get into an intense, glowery sort of space, this set of episodes, as he determines to find a way to save Xiao Yao, as well as track and punish the ones who’ve dared to attack her.
Also, Zhang Wan Yi gives Cang Xuan a lot of interesting layers, like that wistful sorrow that is written all over his face, when Cang Xuan realizes that he has to say goodbye to Xiao Yao and put her in Xiang Liu’s hands for a really long time, because that is her last chance of survival.
That wistful sorrow contrasts with his fierce intensity in an interesting way, and I think Zhang Wan Yi does a fantastic job of delivering all of Cang Xuan’s complicated feelings for Xiao Yao, in the context of all the responsibilities and duties that he feels, as someone who’s aspiring to the Xiyan throne.
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Ye Shiqi / Jing as a character
I’ve got Jing / Shiqi in this section because I found that my feelings towards him as a character fluctuated the most wildly.
One minute I’d be utterly convinced that he was the right match for Xiao Yao, and then the next, I’d be thinking the complete opposite. 😅
For the first two-thirds of this show, I feel like I reverted, quite consistently, to feeling like he was right for Xiao Yao.
However, by the time I got to Show’s final third, I have to admit that I was pretty underwhelmed by him as a character, and that opinion wasn’t actually showing signs of swinging back in his favor.
Here’s a peek at my changing feelings towards Jing, and why.
E1-4. I have to say, I was totally gravitating towards Shiqi, because he shows, over and over again, how completely he trusts Xiao Yao. I mean, when she casually tells him to drink poison, he drinks it without hesitation, because the instruction comes from her.
How does one not wobble in the face of such devotion, right?
And when she gets into danger from entering the territory of Chenrong army remnants, and is being tortured by Xiang Liu (aka Suitor #3), he flies in there without any hesitation, and uses his deity powers, to protect her.
Devoted AND powerful?
I felt like I was totally going to be rooting for him, at this point.
E1-4. It’s sad that Shiqi’s disappointed Xiao Yao so much, because he’s otherwise been extremely devoted and trustworthy.
Remember how I’d said that I’d been naturally gravitating towards rooting for Shiqi, for how he’s shown, time and again, that Xiao Yao can depend on him?
Well, I felt that waver, at this point, because it turns out that not only wasn’t he there, he’d evaded Princess A Nian on purpose, because she’s from a powerful deity family – because he’d been afraid she’d recognize him, and also because he felt it was safer for Xiao Liu not to provoke them.
Given how much emphasis we see Xiao Liu put on her relationships with others, it feels acutely disappointing, that the one person who had seemed to be unfailingly dependable, lets her down, just when she felt she needed him most.
E5-8. I find myself gravitating towards Shiqi most of the time, because of his steadfastness towards Xiao Yao – until we find out that he’s been keeping his big secret from her, despite pledging himself as hers.
It just.. doesn’t add up, y’know?
I would expect that if he’s serious about pledging himself to her, then that should come with transparency and honesty, as a natural byproduct, right? At least, that’s what my gut says.
And yet, despite all of his concern for her, and his desire to protect her, and be by her side, he doesn’t tell her the most important thing of all, and that is, that he’s part of the powerful Tushan family.
And so, it comes as a huge shock to Xiao Yao – and to me too! – when Shiqi agrees to go with her to see Mr. Yu, to negotiate the taking back of Rejuvenation Hall, and gets recognized by the maid as the household’s Young Master.
I totally didn’t see that coming, as I’m sure Xiao Yao didn’t see it coming either.
I can see why Xiao Yao would let him go without a moment’s hesitation; after all, she’s never struck me as the clingy type.
But, I can see why she would miss him, and instinctively reach for him, even when he’s not there.
He’s been such a devoted, constant presence in her life for the past six years, after all.
At the same time, I can also see why she would instinctively put distance between them, now that he’s back to being the young master of the Tushan family.
Aside from his inconvenient secret, though, Shiqi really does seem to be all-in, in his devotion to Xiao Yao.
E9-12. I have to say that my feelings towards Shiqi’s devotion to Xiao Yao have changed somewhat.
Where at first, I’d been touched by his unquestioning, undying devotion towards her, I’m now getting to the point where it’s really starting to land as obsessive and unhealthy, to my eyes.
Which is why I’m not really that opposed to the way Xiao Yao’s regularly trying to put distance between them, and make their relationship a more businesslike one, where she doesn’t owe him anything, and neither does he owe her anything.
But of course Shiqi is gutted every time she says something like that, and he’s absolutely not changing his feelings for her, which.. actually turn out to be a good thing, since Xiao Yao actually does need to turn to Shiqi for help, later on, when she’s desperate to save Cang Xuan.
Also, it becomes clear, this set of episodes, that even though Xiao Yao is resolute in keeping a distance between her and Shiqi, she does miss him.
In the rare moments when she is able to forget that he is Tushan Jing, there is a contented sort of joy in her eyes, as she looks at him.
That embrace that they share, when she fully recovers under Shiqi’s care, feels like a precious moment, suspended in time.
And then, each time she remembers that he’s actually Tushan Jing, and not Shiqi, there’s a wistfulness in her eyes, even as she quickly puts the wall back up, between them.
E13-16. Last week, I’d felt that Shiqi’s devotion to Xiao Yao was bordering on obsessive and unhealthy, but this week, I find myself being quite touched by Shiqi’s complete and unyielding devotion to Xiao Yao.
Even when she makes it clear that helping her would put his life in danger, he agrees to help her, unconditionally and without hesitation. He wasn’t kidding his life belonging to her, and that is moving, in and of itself.
I’m actually glad that Shiqi goes with Xiao Yao, to Haoling.
This way, they are away from his identity as Tushan Jing, and can converse more freely, and I really enjoyed their conversations.
It feels important that he tells her about how his brother had tormented him, and how he’d been rejected, not just by his brother, but by the people who’d professed to love and admire him, like that lady who’d sworn to wait for him, but who then kicked him aside, when she’d thought he was a beggar.
Oof. It’s a lot to endure, and all because of the dysfunction in his family, where his mother had disdained his brother, to the point of making his brother take out all of his pent up pain and rejection on him instead.
It’s a wonder that Shiqi still has such a gentle and tender temperament, after all that he’s been through.
This puts everything in context for Xiao Yao (and for us as well), and it feels like she’s allowing herself to speak from her heart again, when she takes his hand and assures him that with her around, no one will ever hurt him like that again.
Augh. Such a gentle, tearful reunion, where I feel like the bond between Xiao Yao and Shiqi, is finally properly restored.
And then there’s the moment when Cang Xuan and his guards surround the inn, and Shiqi tells Xiao Yao to leave without him.
It’s mindboggling, how devoted Shiqi is, even though he has no idea what Xiao Yao’s true face looks like.
You could say it’s blind devotion, but the truth is, Shiqi is so enamored of Xiao Yao’s soul, that he has no care for her outward appearance. That is very, very melty stuff, and I am now totally back in Shiqi’s corner, rooting for him to be the one to finally win Xiao Yao’s heart.
E13-16. Even though it’s a weird thing to say, I actually really enjoyed the scenes of Xiao Yao and Shiqi in the Dragon Bone Dungeon.
This is where they have their most open and vulnerable conversations to date, and I’m glad, because we learn a few things too.
Like how Shiqi had figured out that Xiao Yao was a woman; it hadn’t been anything magical after all – it had been when she’d blushed at seeing his bare body, when she’d been getting him ready for his first bath, after his treatment.
How poignant that is, in context, though, given how sharply he’d been rejected by everyone else in his life.
It feels very personal, how he tells her that the fact that she could feel that way about him, made him come alive again, in a way that he hadn’t thought possible.
The fact that he says all this haltingly, with tears flowing down his face, makes it all the more poignant, make it all the more raw.
I am completely moved by the fact that he chose to love her, and be with her always, even when she was in the body of a man.
In this moment, he holds her to himself and tearfully declares that he just wants to be with her – even as she’s still in the body of a man.
This complete and utter devotion, that takes no notice of her outer appearance, or anything else, really, is so guttingly beautiful. 🥲
Even though Xiao Yao says that she’s just being astute, the truth is, she can understand why Shiqi doesn’t attempt to take revenge on his older brother, even though his brother had tormented him so badly.
I do think that she’s kinder than she’d like to let on, and that that kindness and humanity is part of the reason she is able to understand Shiqi’s decision not to kill his brother.
And I’m pretty sure that I spy tears in her eyes, as Shiqi promises to break off his engagement and come back to her, in 15 years. She is moved by him, even though she says that she won’t put her trust in a man.
AND SHE AGREES TO HIS REQUEST, albeit in a slightly roundabout way.
I do love how this doesn’t deter Shiqi in the least, and he’s so tearfully happy when he realizes that she’s saying that she will wait for him, as he’s requested. Aw. 🥲
I also really like how Shiqi understands Xiao Yao’s heart, in such a true, fundamental sort of way.
He’s able to articulate that if even if she has someone in her heart, that if that person doesn’t cherish her, she will not hesitate to abandon him. That is.. pretty accurate, I feel, especially in terms of how Xiao Yao sees herself.
I feel like this is important; this shows that Shiqi has no illusions about what Xiao Yao is like – and yet, he still loves her for who she is. And the fact that he’s willing to live like this with her, even if she never feels ready to give her heart to him, is quite beautiful. 🥲
E17-20. I’m intrigued by Xiao Yao’s feelings for Shiqi / Jing, because sometimes, it feels like she genuinely likes and misses him, and at other times, it feels like she could give him up, and without too much fuss, if she deemed it to be the right thing to do.
Like when Cang Xuan had asked her what she’d do, if she had to choose between him and Jing, and she answers without hesitation, that Cang Xuan is different, and if the Tushan family were to come against him, then they would be her enemies too.
That indicates that she would give up Jing for Cang Xuan, and without regrets, right?
But then, at other times, she really does seem wistful for Jing.
Like when she sits alone in the town square, and muses to herself, that even if she were to call out for Shiqi, there’d be no one who would appear in response.
..Which is exactly when Jing appears, which makes her smile.
And, even though they don’t talk about anything especially significant, you can see that Xiao Yao’s fidgeting in a manner that very much reflects that she’s extra aware of Jing, and extra self-conscious, in front of him.
Plus, there’s also how they habitually exchange small knowing smiles, each time they encounter each other in a group setting, like when Xiao Yao attends the banquet at Chenrong mansion with Cang Xuan, and then later on as well, when she encounters them in the street, while she’s out shopping on her own.
This tells me that she’s definitely happy to see him.
And then, when it comes to meeting by the Dragon Bone dungeon, as per Jing’s invitation, I really can’t help but notice how much they each go through, in order to meet each other.
Jing literally stands in place for a whole night, while the tide washes up to cover half his body, just waiting for Xiao Yao to show up.
He’s so unwavering in his determination to wait for her, even though he’s not certain that she will actually show up.
And then she swims all night, through the deep sea, just to get to him.
Of course, like she tells him, she does wonder whether it’s worth it, when she gets to the point of exhaustion, but I do think that’s perfectly understandable, given that she’s swum for hours on end, in an effort to reach him.
And there’s also how she says that the moment she sees him, the doubts melted away, and she didn’t wonder anymore, about whether it was worth it.
I also really appreciate the conversation that they share, particularly the part where she expresses surprise at the fact that Yiying disdains Jing because of his scars.
This really shows how different Xiao Yao is, because to Xiao Yao, Jing’s scars mean nothing.
And while everyone else values Jing for his position as the young master of the Tushan family, Xiao Yao prefers him as Shiqi, without the trappings of his position.
She likes him for himself, and it’s no wonder Jing is so drawn to her.
I’m surprised that Xiao Yao initiates a kiss, this set of episodes, because I hadn’t figured that she liked anyone enough, to kiss them, at this point.
But perhaps it’s that, after having lived as a man for so many years, she’s become a lot less precious about what a kiss means?
After all, at this point, Jing himself feels that Xiao Yao doesn’t truly love him yet.
Despite this, we still do see the little petty jealousies that one would expect to see between any courting couple, like the way Xiao Yao feels jealous when Yiying tries to feed Jing wine on the boat, and the way Jing feels jealous in return, because Fenglong is paying so much attention to Xiao Yao.
I’m glad that they get some alone time on the boat (since everyone else has randomly decided to go for a swim), and they get to clear up some of the muddled up feelings, and signals, particularly in terms of what Jing means by the gift of green plum wine; that he misses her, rather than to remind her of their promise.
It’s really quite cute how hearing this makes Xiao Yao so happy, that she can’t contain the smile that leaps to her lips, and they have a little gentle moment where she beams about this, while he puts his arm around her. Sweet. 🥰
E21-24. This set of episodes, I do still appreciate Jing’s enduring, unwavering feelings for Xiao Yao, and I also appreciate the things that he’s doing, in order to help Cang Xuan, because he sees that helping Cang Xuan is helping Xiao Yao.
But I do also feel – and this is me vacillating again, about Xiao Yao’s various potential love interests – like he’s too soft for Xiao Yao?
As in, yes, his softness and his unhesitating instinct to say agree to all her requests without question, is probably something that would complement her quite well, because her personality is stronger and more assertive.
At the same time, though, I can’t help thinking that this wouldn’t make for a very healthy relationship?
How could a healthy relationship be built on unquestioning obedience, all of the time, right?
And, we’re not even taking into account the fact that Jing’s still kinda-sorta being terrorized by his brother Hou (Ye Xiao Wei), who’s still giving him a hard time, even though Jing’s no longer literally imprisoned by him.
Also, I’m not sure how much I believe that Grandmother has given him permission to break off his engagement with Yiying (Huang Can Can).
I feel like maybe Gran is tricking him into being nicer to Yiying, in the hopes that he will soften towards her enough, to want to marry her.
But, I can see why Xiao Yao would like him; who wouldn’t waver in the face of such unwavering devotion, right?
E25-28. I find myself having mixed feelings about Jing.
It’s true that he’s completely devoted to Xiao Yao, but it’s also true that he seems stuck, in terms of canceling his engagement with Yiying.
And, this set of episodes, Jing does a lot of helpless mild glowering, as he watches Xiao Yao have moments of closeness with our various other men.
I think it’s Jing’s helplessness that’s kind of turning me off, somewhat, because “argh can you do anything besides look upset and helpless??” BUT I also understand that his hands are tied because he’s engaged to Yiying.
I also think that I’m slightly thrown by how Jing is apparently very wise and shrewd when it comes to business and strategy, because he appears to be so not wise and not shrewd, when it comes to managing his love life. 😅
I can see why Xiao Yao would get upset and ignore him, though I do think it wasn’t cool for her to use Xiang Liu to make Jing jealous.
But of course, when the news of Jing’s apparent assassination reaches Xiao Yao, her true feelings come back to the fore, as she rushes to the secluded house, to see him.
And, she even tells him to put aside his efforts to cancel the engagement, and focus on keeping himself safe, because there’s someone who’s after his life.
This tells me that Xiao Yao really does care about Jing, even though she also gets peevish about him being wishy-washy and weak.
We do get some couple time between Jing and Xiao Yao, this set of episodes, and even though my brain was really anxious that someone would walk in on them while they spent time alone together in his chamber, the scene really is quite sweet and touching.
Mainly, I like that when Jing asks her if she minds that his leg is compromised, she legit kisses his leg, before smiling and asking him if he thinks she minds.
Uh, for a show that’s been quite chaste on the skinship front, this definitely feels like it’s pushing the envelope. 😅
And then we have kisses, as Jing and Xiao Yao affirm their feelings for each other, all over again.
I wish I could say that I found these kisses melty, but I can’t shake off two thoughts:
1, that I’m still not sure that Jing’s going to be able to make it possible for the two of them to get married, and
2, that this is some kind of lull before the storm; that something’s going to happen to tear Jing and Xiao Yao apart, and soon. 😬
E29-32. Jing is literally willing to die with Xiao Yao, and is unhesitating in laying down his life, for Xiao Yao.
I have to admit that that is literally the highest form of love, in a manner of speaking; he’s literally willing to give up his life for Xiao Yao.
And yet, oddly, I find myself feeling kind of meh about Jing at this point, even though he literally gave everything he had while trying to save Xiao Yao, and is willing to follow her into death, if that’s what it came down to.
I find my reaction very strange, because my brain protests that this should be very touching and should put him at the top of the list of “deserving” suitors.
I don’t know what it is, but I do have to confess that my meh-leaning reaction is likely something to do with the fact that I’ve been finding Jing quite wishy-washy and uninteresting of late. 🙊
For the record, I do feel bad for feeling this way about him, because he’s the one whom Xiao Yao’s chosen to give her heart to. 😅
Xiang Liu as a character
I had a lot of mixed feelings towards Xiang Liu as a character, which is why he’s in this section.
Sometimes, I would feel extremely repulsed by his cruelty, and then at other times, I would actually feel sympathy for him.
I found Xiao Yao’s connection with him to be deeply dysfunctional, even though, at some level, and in some way, I could kind of understand the bond between them.
I guess you could say that I was fascinated by Xiang Liu and his connection with Xiao Yao, and that my fascination regularly was of the morbid variety. 😅
Here’s a collection of Xiang Liu-related thoughts and observations.
E5-8. Xiao Yao’s connection with Xiang Liu strikes me as being pretty darn dysfunctional.
For a good stretch, I’d thought that she was just biding her time, before she would make her move and try to kill him, for how he’s treated not only her, but her found family as well.
I mean, the guy sucks her blood, literally, in order to heal, strengthen, and generally fortify himself.
I feel like I could understand her initial approach, of allowing him to do as he pleases, while she waits for an opportunity to kill him, since Xiang Liu’s a powerful demon who could easily kill her, if he wanted to.
As our story progresses, Xiao Yao starts to sympathize with him, it seems, and is now even voluntarily offering her neck to him, in order to help him when he’s wounded, and this plot point is making my head spin, somewhat, because of how dysfunctional it is.
On the other hand, though, they do have some pretty open conversations, and I can believe that as she starts to understand him better, she’d start to see him in a different light and sympathize with him, and that’s why she’s now taking risks and offering her own blood to him.
Y’know what, though, despite this way of framing it, and despite the fact that Xiang Liu does look kinda edgy-cool with the silver mane of glory, it messes with my mind every single time he takes his fangs to her neck. 😬
Plus, even though he does seem to start to have some degree of fondness for her, it feels like this is still not a lot, in the grand scheme of things, and he’d still be very capable of killing her, if he wanted to.
I mean, look at how he throws her down from the tree top, which breaks her leg – just because he’s displeased with the reason that she’d asked to see him.
That doesn’t make me feel very comfortable when Xiao Yao’s with him, and I’m even more uncomfortable with how she seems to be getting comfortable around him. 😅
E5-8. Xiang Liu does stop Xiao Yao from dripping her blood into the medicine for the sick soldiers, and that’s good, but.. he doesn’t stop drinking her blood himself, so it feels a bit like a double standard, in a manner of speaking?
E9-12. My gosh, the rollercoaster always seems to intensify, whenever Xiang Liu is part of the equation. 😅
My goodness, my brain was whirling, when I realized that he’d actually used Xiao Yao as bait, to lure Cang Xuan out, so that he’d be able to kill Cang Xuan.
There’s something so cold and heartless about the idea of him hatching this plan, while Xiao Yao is recovering, I feel like, coz he’s not just taking advantage of Xiao Yao, he’s taking advantage of her, while she’s in pain.
And he doesn’t even give her a heads-up about it, even though his plan involves Cang Xuan charging the place and aiming to kill her.
But, even though he’s clearly angry with her for foiling his chance to kill Cang Xuan, he does expend a lot of personal spiritual energy towards her healing.
I really found it upsetting that Xiang Liu would use Xiao Yao AGAIN, to try to kill Cang Xuan. And this time, he’s not just using her as bait; he’s literally trying to drown her, so that, with Cang Xuan feeling the effects via the poisonous bug, Fangfeng Yiying would be able to get her shot at Cang Xuan.
That’s so low, honestly. It’s not fair play towards Cang Xuan, although, I guess as a demon maybe that doesn’t matter to him; it’s also not fair to Xiao Yao.
AND YET. Xiang Liu definitely seems to cherish Xiao Yao, in his own weird, twisted way.
The way he tells Xiao Yao that she’s never held contempt in her heart towards him, even though her mouth is full of insults, he comes across as distinctly vulnerable.
AND THEN. When Xiao Yao begs Xiang Liu to help her remove the poisonous bug from Cang Xuan, he agrees to let her move the bug to him – thus confirming that he absolutely does have feelings for her, since the old man who’d told him about the bugs, had specifically said that to move the bugs out of a recipient, it had to go to someone else who had affection in his heart, for the sender.
Even without that context, though, the entire manner in which Xiang Liu sits there and looks at Xiao Yao, as he anticipates the planting of the bug in his body, is that of a person getting ready for the moment that he would offer himself to his beloved.
It’s really quite mesmerizing, in spite of (and possibly also because of?) the dysfunction inherent in this relationship.
E17-20. I’d thought that we wouldn’t see Xiang Liu for a while, since Xiao Yao had last instructed him to leave Wushen Mountain, even though he’d gone there to rescue her.
But he shows up again, this set of episodes, and even shares a boat ride with Xiao Yao, without her knowledge.
It’s interesting to me that he chooses to take on the form of a young woman, instead of revealing himself, and then proceeds to test Xiao Yao in a number of ways.
Clearly, he’s trying to find out what she feels towards him, and I can’t help but clock how pleased he looks, when Xiao Yao talks about him, and says that he’s a good person.
Also, he’s clearly craving her closeness, from the way he purposely creates so many little incidents – from the rain, to the repeated rocking of the boat – to force Xiao Yao closer to himself.
And, at the end of it all, it’s clear that Xiang Liu feels the sting of the distance between him and Xiao Yao.
That quick shot of his face, burgeoning with tearful angst, as he leaves Xiao Yao by the water, says so much.
And then there’s how he goes to so much trouble, to convince A Nian to teach Xiao Yao a lesson – so that he’ll get the chance to spend some time alone with her.
I have to say, I just don’t know what to think, when it comes to Xiang Liu, a lot of the time.
He definitely maintains a prickly outer shell, but there are also so many times when he seems to want affirmation and acceptance from Xiao Yao.
And sometimes, he does leak a satisfied smile, like when she says, this set of episodes, that he’s a good person.
But, when she doesn’t act in the way he wants, like when she refuses to kiss him while under the water, even if it means that she might die, he gets extremely offended – and then proceeds to hurt her, &/or leave her in the lurch, like how he abandons her on that island, to swim her way back to Dragon Bone dungeon.
It messes with my mind, because when he’s being vulnerable, my heart goes out to him, but then, when things don’t go his way, he acts in ways that a person shouldn’t act, towards the person whom they like.
But then.. there’s also how he struggles with actual pains in his heart, because of the poisonous bug that he’s accepted from Xiao Yao, and that makes me feel a bit sorry for him all over again.
Because of this, I find myself vacillating between thinking he’s pretty alright, to wanting Xiao Yao to have nothing to do with him, whether or not he looks ethereal with the silver mane of glory.
E25-28. Tan Jian Ci’s delivery this set of episodes, has my heart going out to Xiang Liu, even though my brain protests that Xiang Liu is not a healthy romantic choice for, well, anybody, really.
Like I’d suspected, Fangfeng Bei really is Xiang Liu, but y’know, I hadn’t been expecting the poignance of emotion, around this point.
Show doesn’t give us an explicit reason for Xiang Liu not revealing his true identity to Xiao Yao for a pretty long stretch, but it’s not hard to guess that he just wanted to spend time with her, without the baggage of his nine-headed demon identity.
The scene in an earlier episode, on the boat, where he’d hidden his identity and assumed the form of a female demon in order to interact with Xiao Yao, tells us a lot about where Xiang Liu is, in terms of his feelings towards Xiao Yao.
Clearly, he’s developed feelings for her, and it feels like, over time, these feelings have been growing stronger and more intense.
And as those feelings grow more intense, so does his sense of inadequacy, rejection and hopelessness, because Xiao Yao’s already pronounced clearly, that she doesn’t consider him in a romantic manner, at all.
In fact, he’s seen that she would rather risk death, than risk having him slip into her dreams, by accident. And, we can see that that’s hurt him a lot, even though he’d never admit it.
Pretending to be a brand new person – just with the same face – in Fangfeng Bei, has given Xiang Liu the chance to get close to Xiao Yao, without the burden of already having been rejected by her.
It’s a fresh slate, and I think that the sense of that fresh slate, helps him to forget, at least for a while, how Xiao Yao would never consider him in a romantic manner.
And so, this set of episodes, when he has no choice but to reveal himself, because he needs her blood to heal himself, there’s such a intense sense of self-consciousness and.. shame, in his gaze.
The look in his eyes is so flecked with hurt, rejection and.. self-hatred, almost, that I can’t help but sympathize with him. (So, SO well done, by Tan Jian Ci, seriously.)
E25-28. I find it very interesting to hear about how Xiang Liu really had lived as Fangfeng Bei for a period of time, and even nursed Bei’s sick mother until her death.
With the way Xiang Liu talks about being thankful that he’d had a chance to have a mother for a while, it really brings home to me, that Xiang Liu very much longs to be accepted.
I feel like there’s a lot of pathos in the fact that he’s regularly rejected because of who he is, when all he wants is to be accepted. 💔
E29-32. I also find myself feeling a little meh about Xiang Liu and his mournful efforts to save Xiao Yao, this set of episodes.
It is true that Xiang Liu sacrifices a lot in order to save Xiao Yao; if I understand it correctly, he gave up one of his lives, in order to save hers?
And he also gave her blood from his heart, which, according to Xiao Yao, could actually put him in mortal danger, even though he’s a nine-headed demon.
At the same time, there’s something so mournful about Xiang Liu as he goes about saving Xiao Yao, that I also find myself losing interest in him, oops.
I definitely found him more interesting when he was being all smoldery and intense, and he’s neither, right now.
I do feel sorry for him but it’s in a rather detached, theoretical sort of way. Like, oh, that is sad for him, that he’s giving up so much of himself in order to save her, but feels that he has to excuse himself from Xiao Yao’s life.
At least, that’s the impression I get, from the way he sends her off without even speaking with her face to face.
It’s not like Xiao Yao doesn’t want to see him; she literally calls for him, hoping to see him.
And I don’t get the impression that Cang Xuan doesn’t want Xiang Liu talking with Xiao Yao; that wasn’t part of the bargain that they agreed to.
So to my mind, Xiang Liu can absolutely meet Xiao Yao face to face, if he wishes to. But he doesn’t, even though it’s clear to see that he’s given his heart to her completely – in the metaphorical sense of the word.
It’s interesting to me that Xiang Liu would deny himself that chance to see her and talk to her face to face, when he’s just spent literal decades nursing her back to life.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Show’s thread of dysfunction
I realize that I have a limited appetite for dysfunction on my screen, which is why this is in this section.
When I started my watch, I’d found the dysfunction in our key characters and relationships quite fascinating, and considered that a good thing, because my fascination kept me interested in coming back for more.
By the time I got to Show’s final third, though, I realized that I had tired of this dysfunction, and no longer found it all that interesting or compelling.
Of course, your appetite for dysfunction could be completely different from mine, so this might not be a negative thing for you at all.
Here are just a few examples to illustrate what I mean when I say that Show’s got a thread of dysfunction running through it.
E9-12. I have to say, my mind is kind of boggled in terms of how the relationship between Xiao Yao and Cang Xuan evolves, this set of episodes.
I mean, he literally sics those interrogators on her, so he’s responsible for her hands being eaten by maggots to the bone, but the moment she realizes that he’s her long-lost Cang Xuan gege, she’s literally taking a death blow, for him.
I can understand why she would do this for him, since she’d promised to protect him, but he doesn’t know this, and he goes from being extremely antagonistic towards her, to becoming much more cordial and welcoming.
Which makes sense, in the sense that of course you would most likely be cordial to the person who saved your life.
It’s just that I found it a very odd and dysfunctional sight, to see them actually sitting together and drinking wine, and having conversation, when not so long ago, he’d been ready to torture her to the brink of death.
In my head, it’s really hard to heal that kind of rift, but in this world, characters seem to get over this kind of rift or betrayal quite easily?
Coz, aside from Cang Xuan and Xiao Yao, there’s also how Xiang Liu vacillates between hurting or using Xiao Yao, and helping her.
When you stack it together, it makes for a pretty deep thread of dysfunction, always running undercurrent, in our story.
And, it’s a dysfunction that’s hard to look away from, because I do find it all quite fascinating.
E25-28. This set of episodes, I’m feeling, more than ever, that there’s a lot of dysfunction going on, in our drama world, and it’s starting to register in my head as being akin to makjang. 😅
All the hidden, forbidden feelings running crisscross all over our drama world, and likewise, all the animosity running undercurrent, among our characters, for various reasons, AND all the various kinds of dysfunction, altogether makes me feel like I’ve wandered onto the set of a makjang drama, without realizing it. 😅
Show leaning indulgent, sometimes
This isn’t really a dealbreaker, but there were times when I felt that Show was being rather too indulgent, and that made me roll my eyes somewhat.
Here are just two examples of when I felt that way.
E25-28. For the record, I am very relieved that we get to see Cang Xuan overcome his addiction, this set of episodes, because that means that this dark period is finally behind him (and us).
But, I did feel that the scene where Xiao Yao goes to him, after refusing to use the rope to tie him up for their safety, was rather.. indulgent?
What I mean is, it was all very melodramatic, with the way she’s screaming his name, while he’s throwing stuff around, and I couldn’t help but think that this could have been avoided, if she’d just agreed to use the rope.
I rationalize that perhaps she felt that using the rope to tie him up would rob him of his dignity, but the contrast between her firmly declining the rope, with the scenes of her promptly screaming Cang Xuan’s name, over and over, as she hangs on to him helplessly, makes me feel like it was dumb of her to decline. 🙈
By extension, it therefore felt to me like Show had had her decline on purpose, in order to amp up the melodrama, which, like I said, lands with me as a rather indulgent &/or stupid decision. 🙊😅
E29-32. As we close out episode 32, Xiao Yao’s at Jing’s bedside, and is starting to nurse him back to health, and.. I have to confess that I felt like Xiao Yao was being rather too laidback about it?
Like, Jing’s supposedly at death’s door, literally, with his attendants crying in desperation, and Xiao Yao comes in, and passes a single mouthful of medicine to him, which contains her blood, and.. that’s it?
Then it’s all talking and laying her head on his chest, murmuring about how she misses when he’s like a wolf (ie, with the kisses)??
This felt like a very strange choice to me; I figured she’d at least try harder to give him drops of her blood, for example, to hasten the saving and reviving, y’know? 😅
Xiao Yao regaining her identity
The reason I titled this section as such, is because I feel that my favorite part of the show, was the initial stretch, when Xiao Yao was still living as a man.
Later, when she regained her identity, I still enjoyed Show quite well, although we’d definitely moved into a different Act.
However, I do feel like Xiao Yao regaining her identity was the beginning of the end, for me personally, because over time, I felt like the Xiao Yao whom I’d come to sympathize with and root for, had changed sufficiently, that I felt like I barely knew her anymore? 😅
Simply put, I found myself liking her less in our later stretch than in our earlier episodes, and I found this to be a pity.
E21-24. I have to admit that I actually found myself enjoying Xiao Yao less, this set of episodes.
Last week, I’d talked about how refreshing it was, that Xiao Yao’s got a grounded, rather male sort of sensibility.
I guess she must be getting used to spending time in her true form, because this set of episodes, we see behavior from her that I would consider as more traditionally female, like how she punishes Jing, when he shows up at Cang Xuan’s residence to see her.
The way she makes sure that her appearance is pretty, before going out there, not to see him per se, but to rub his face in the fact that she’s got plans with another man, is a very jealous action that I believe is traditionally more associated with women than men.
This was the thing that made me do a bit of a double-take, because this isn’t at all the kind of behavior that I’d come to expect from Xiao Yao, given the more easygoing, relaxed sort of vibe we’d gotten used to from her, particularly as Xiao Liu.
In that sense, I felt somewhat alienated from Xiao Yao, this set of episodes, because she now feels kind of unfamiliar to me, compared to before. 😅
But to be fair to her, she’s spent hundreds of years not really allowing herself to figure out who she was; she just lived as Xiao Liu, and did what Xiao Liu needed to do.
And so, I suppose she needs to figure out who she really is, now that she’s regained her true form and no longer has to live as a man.
I guess.. this is the new her..?
Cang Xuan’s quest for the throne
I have to confess that as Show ramped up the arc of Cang Xuan’s quest for the Xiyan throne in our final third of the story, my interest in Show’s goings-on, dropped accordingly. 😅
I understood in principle why Cang Xuan felt it was so important for him to gain the throne, but I had little interest in the specifics around that.
And so, as Show brought more and more plot points to the forefront that were related to his quest, I found myself feeling disengaged and zoning out quite a bit. Oops.
With Show ramping up the quest for the throne and all the politics and power-play around that in the last third, and with my appetite and tolerance for dysfunction faltering in a big way, I found myself dragging my feet through this show, several weeks in a row.
It wasn’t that Show had changed so very much, I suppose, even though its narrative focus had admittedly shifted noticeably as it got into Act III.
Mainly, I just found that I no longer responded the same way to what Show was serving up.
I found my attention wandering during episodes, and I sometimes even – gasp – fell asleep during episodes. 🙈😅
After episode 35, I decided that there was very little point dragging myself to the finish line, if I had become this disinterested in these characters and this story, which is why I ended up tapping out so late in my watch.
Sorry to everyone who loves this show with a passion; I realize that this one just isn’t for me, after all.
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Lost You Forever, is Castaway Diva [Korea]. I’ve taken an initial look at Castaway Diva and I’m happy to say that I really like it so far.
You can check out my E1-2 notes on Castaway Diva on Patreon 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): +A Time Called You [Korea]
Early Access Plus (US$10): +My Journey To You [China]
VIP (US$15): +Twinkling Watermelon [Korea]
VVIP (US$20): +The Worst Of Evil [Korea]
Ultimate (US$25): +Castaway Diva [Korea]