THE SHORT VERDICT:
Show is, for a good stretch, dark, stylish drama crack that I inhaled with glee.
I found the story and the story world fascinating, I felt invested in our main characters, and it felt like Show had a solid, smart grip on the story that it wanted to tell. I genuinely loved all the twists and turns that Show served up in each rollercoaster of an episode.
However, I do think that Show’s weaknesses become more apparent, when you get into the later episodes. Sometimes plot logic took a beating; sometimes details didn’t add up completely. Also, I feel like Show’s handling of the finale is likely to be divisive.
All that said, I found this to be a solid ride, overall, and don’t regret investing my drama hours – and my feelings! And my brain cells! – in this one.
THE LONG VERDICT:
It’s not a stretch to say that it was love at first sight, with me and this show.
I knew, within Show’s first 5 minutes, that I liked it a lot, just like the way I knew, within the first few minutes of Moving (review here!), that I was all in.
I’d written up episode notes for the first few episodes of Who Rules The World, ready to share on Patreon, and I literally cast that aside, without hesitation, in favor of this show.
This one just grabbed me that much, right away.
I will admit that my intense love for show did get eroded somewhat, by the time I got into Show’s later episodes, but.. let’s talk about that later. 😅
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
I thought Show used the music to great effect, particularly from the angle of amping up suspense, as Show guided us towards its next reveal or important face-off. In this aspect, the music definitely amplified my sense of immersion, in our story.
Aside from this, there are also some very melodious tracks on the OST, which I enjoyed very well also.
In terms of a favorite, I think I’d have to say Track 6, Distant Mountains Like Yesterday, stands out to me, with its plaintive, poignant tone.
Here it is as well, in case you’d prefer to just listen to it on repeat. Just right-click the video and select “Loop.”
HOW I’LL BE APPROACHING THIS REVIEW
First I’ll talk about how to manage your expectations going into this one, and what viewing lens would be most helpful.
After that, I talk about what I liked and liked less, in a pretty macro sort of fashion, followed by a section where I’ll put the spotlight on selected characters and relationships.
I also give a special spotlight to episodes 19-21, which make up our penultimate stretch, before I talk about my thoughts on the ending.
If you’re interested in my blow-by-blow reactions, &/or in all the various Patreon members’ comments during the course of our watch, you might like to check out my episode notes on Patreon here.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a few things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. This is not primarily a romance
It’s true that Show is marketed with a romance slant, given our main poster featuring the OTP, Show’s title, which alludes to the OTP relationship, both in English and Chinese.
However, I find that it’s helpful not to make your expectations all about the romance, because there are times when other arcs take centerstage, instead of the OTP relationship.
I feel that if you were in this primarily for the romance, you would likely feel frustrated.
2. Some suspension of disbelief is required
From the very premise of our story, to the details that we are served over the course of our story, I find that some suspension of disbelief is needed.
If you’re not willing to suspend disbelief and believe that this is just how this story world works, then this show might not be for you.
3. Use a slightly blurry logic lens
In conjunction with the need to suspend disbelief, sometimes, I also think it’s useful to not nitpick at the logic of things, too much.
I think that working too hard to see if and how everything matches up, would take away from your enjoyment, rather than add to it.
STUFF I LIKED
Show is immediately engaging
This show basically wasted no time in turning into crack, for me, and it remained cracky for a good, long stretch, such that even after I’d taken a break from my watch to, y’know, get surgery, coming back to it, I got absorbed right back into this story, as if I never went away.
It’s a rare thing for a show to bite me this good, and this show managed it.
When Show was at its best, I’d be inhaling episodes back to back, and then, when I was done with my episodes for the week, I’d be looking forward to more episodes of this show.
Not only that, when I wasn’t watching episodes of this show, I’d find myself thinking about this show.
At points, early in my watch, I even found myself thisclose, to actually cackling out loud, coz I was having that much fun. 🤭 Hey now. For someone who’s had a steady drama diet for, what, 16 years now, this was a Big Deal.
Of course, like I said, Show doesn’t quite manage to keep up this level of crack all the way through, but we’ll talk about that later in this review. 😉
Show is darkly stylish
One of the first things to catch my attention during my watch, is how everything is so beautiful and stylish to look at, in this drama world.
The cinematography is very polished and intentional, the sets and landscapes have a really nice sense of scale, the costumes are rich, detailed and textured (no flimsy cheap fabric here), and the writing feels detailed and tight.
One of the things that stood out to me extra, is how stylish yet intentional the fight scenes are.
There is a sense of flair about it, for sure, but there’s also a sense of restraint, like our director and fight choreographer know exactly what to play up, without playing it up too much.
Because, like I mentioned earlier, I’d checked out the first 4 episodes of Who Rules The World before checking out this show, I appreciated this acutely.
For comparison, I’d found the fight scenes in Who Rules The World to be chock-full of flair, to the point of excess, where I’d felt like it’s all just overly flashy. I’d honestly started to zone out a little bit, while the action was going on, on my screen.
That is not at all the case here.
Everything is stylish with intent, and, the fight choreography, used in combination with selective slo-mo, is gorgeous on the eyes. 😍 I love it, and it was one of the highlights of my watch.
I’ll admit that the flair did start to lean on the excessive side in our final stretch, but that doesn’t take away from the beauty of the fight scenes in all our episodes prior.
Also, all the scenes felt so intricately set-up, with lots of attention to detail in the costumes and props, which really helped to make this story world pop.
Our drama world is quite fascinating
Mainly, I was quite intrigued by the premise of our story – an assassin goes undercover into a mysterious family, and finds herself falling for her target – and I was quite captured by the way Show teased out the details of our narrative.
For example, in our early episodes, I found it quite mesmerizing, to watch the detailed training that Hanya Si (Omid) puts Weishan (Esther Yu) through, in order to prepare her for her role as a potential bride to the Gong family.
It’s thorough to the nth detail, even covering her gait and posture, and I was impressed at the extent of the preparation that they go to, to make this guise believable.
Episodes are written with cliffhangers in mind
One of the reasons Show was keeping me as absorbed as it was, particularly in its first third, is that, unlike most of the c-dramas that I’ve personally watched, this show does write for the cliffhanger, kinda like how most kdramas also seem to be written with the episode cliffhangers in mind.
Let me explain, in case you haven’t seen me mention this before.
When I first watched Nirvana in Fire (review here, Open Threads listed here), which was my gateway into c-dramas, I loved just about everything about it, but I was rather befuddled by the way episodes just.. cut off, sometimes right in the middle of a scene, when the episode run time was up.
I was so used to kdramas being written with episode cliffhangers in mind – which helped a lot with giving them that cracky flavor – that I was quite puzzled by how NIF just didn’t seem to care about that.
I then realized that this wasn’t really A Thing, in c-dramas, especially when many dramas would release up to 4 episodes in a single evening.
They didn’t really need to have cliffhangers to keep audiences coming back, because the momentum from having so many episodes on hand, kinda did the trick for them.
And so, I got used to c-dramas not really having cliffhangers.
While I do think that this has been evolving somewhat, I do think that this is the first show where I’ve become cognizant of the fact that each episode feels like it’s been crafted with a cliffhanger ending in mind, for each episode.
This probably does have to do with iQIYI’s strategy of releasing single episodes each day, on most days, with only select days seeing two episodes being released, and so, it makes sense that we’d have episode cliffhangers, to keep us coming back.
I do think the cliffhangers are effective, because while I watched this show in blocks of 3 episodes each sitting, I consistently ended each sitting on a cliffhanger, where I was very much left on the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next.
And, I did notice that as I looked forward to watching the next block of episodes, the cliffhangers would remain quite vivid in my mind, even though I was also watching 5 other shows at the same time.
I really did find this to be a highlight of my watch, because I do honestly enjoy the cliffhanger dynamic, even though there’s also a certain kind of charm to a show not being fussed about cliffhangers, because it’s that confident in its substance, to keep audiences coming back.
At the same time, I will say that by the time I got halfway(ish) through my watch, I’d started to be less gripped by the cliffhangers, coz I’d come to realize that, quite often, the cliffhangers would be resolved by using a bit of fakeoutery.
Here’s one example to illustrate what I mean.
E10-12. Halfway through this show, I’m coming to the conclusion that Show’s cliffhangers are, more often than not, fakeouts.
Meaning, even though each episode tends to end on a cliffhanger that’s got our characters in a tight spot, it’s more than likely that Show will find a way to twist things enough, to make it such that the cliffhanger doesn’t turn into as big of a situation as one might imagine.
BUT, I will also say that, despite this, Show still manages to keep me on my toes, because I know in my head that the cliffhanger can’t possibly always be a fakeout.
So the question of when the cliffhanger might actually turn into a legitimately dangerous situation, definitely continues to add spice to the equation, even though the cliffhangers are mostly turning out to be red herrings, in manner of speaking.
For example, the cliffhanger at the end of episode 9 has Weishan more or less concluding out loud, that Lady Wuji is none other than Anonymous, the mysterious long-term Wufeng assassin hiding in the midst of the Gong sect.
But at the beginning of episode 10, Weishan defuses the situation by correcting herself, saying that Lady Wuji has no evidence that she’s stolen the item, using words that sound almost identical to when she’d breathed, “Anonymous.”
This is lost in translation, but let me try to explain.
Anonymous = 无名 (wúmíng)
No evidence = 无凭无据 (wú píng wú jù)
Because the first two syllables of these two phrases sound very similar, Weishan is able to take back her pronouncement of Lady Wuji as Anonymous, which successfully diverts the conversation away from anything Wufeng.
I thought this was clever writing, because in Lady Wuji’s shoes, I would buy that I’d heard wrong the first time – particularly since Weishan’s throught is being held in a bit of a stranglehold, thus plausibly interfering with her ability to speak properly.
When the writing feels smart
While it’s true that Show didn’t grab me as tightly in its final stretch, I do think it’s impressive that Show manages to keep up its rollercoaster quality for at least two thirds of its run – at least, in my personal experience.
That’s hard to do in a consistent manner, so props to Show for managing an impressive first two thirds, where I found every episode’s twists and turns highly engaging; spellbinding, almost.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the highlights that I enjoyed, from episodes 10-12.
E10-12. I do love the double twist that Show serves up, that Lady Wuji (Wen Zheng Rong) is not only playing double agent with Shangjue (Ryan Cheng), but that Weishan is in on it.
Of course, we have no idea while this is building up, and I found it agonizing to watch what had looked like a trainwreck in slow motion.
First, there’s Qian (Lu Yu Xiao) offering to help Shangjue steal the other half of the medical record from Jin Fan (Sun Chen Jun), and then forcing Weishan to do the stealing for her, and then there’s Shangjue and Yuanzhi (Tian Jia Rui) smirking over the fact they now have evidence to take away the Sword Wielder position from Ziyu (Zhang Ling He).
And then, I felt so bad for Weishan, being forced into stealing the medical record from Jin Fan – and quickly getting pinned for it, which gets her locked up in the guest room, while Ziyu’s still at the back mountain.
I’m relieved, though, that Weishan manages to help Ziyu clear his first trial, before this last bit happens.
I guess I knew that Ziyu would clear the trial, since he’s the hero-in-the-making of our story, and my gut says that he will definitely rise up to become the Sword Wielder that we all want him to be.
But, I couldn’t figure out how he would possibly manage to dive down to the depths of the Ice Pool, when he didn’t have the internal strength needed for the task.
Yes, it’s convenient that Weishan swoops in to save him right as he’s losing breath, but I’m willing to roll with it, because Weishan already has permission to be in the back mountain with him, as his Green Jade Guardian.
And, I also like the twist, that she dives in there, gives him the air in her own mouth via an underwater kiss, then hands him the end of the rope that she’s tied around her own waist, so that he’d be able to pull her now unconscious self up to the surface, once he gets there.
Big phew. And also, very smart!
Also. I must say that while I normally chafe, big time, whenever a drama tries to pass off CPR as something romantic, I somehow didn’t mind it so much, when we get it in this show.
I think the reason is perhaps because the music isn’t obviously romantic while he’s trying revive her by breathing into her mouth, and then, when she regains consciousness, he does actually kiss her, tenderly and with feeling, which is when the music becomes more overtly romantic.
I thought that this was nicely managed, in terms of the “resuscitation as romantic” trope, even though I’m not sure I buy that the resuscitation method employed was actually sufficient, but whatever; I’m ok to roll with it. 😁
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Show’s sense of humor
The reason I’ve got Show’s sense of humor in this neutral section, is because it took me a while to get used to the levity that Show was injecting into our narrative.
So, while I didn’t take to it right away, I did grow more used to it after a few episodes, and even began to enjoy it, in a low-key sort of way.
What I struggled with
Mainly, I find it really quite weird, that Ziyu’s elder sister, Zishang (Jolin Jin), is made a main source of comic relief.
For example, in our introduction to her, she’s made out to be so flamboyantly lusty and flirtatious, such that she’s always ogling the fit young men training, and then we even see her get all dressed up in that exotic outfit, to go to the seedier part of town.
I felt that this was all very OTT, and not flattering to her as a character, at all.
However, I did get used to Zishang’s comical, outlandish ways, and it’s thanks in large part to Jolin Jin’s comic timing and her knack for physical comedy.
What I liked better
Show did have other bits of humor as well, which I found myself more naturally tickled by.
Here’s an example of a pun which I found quite unexpected and therefore extra funny.
E10-12. I enjoy the camaraderie between Zishang and Xiaohei (Liang Xue Feng), who keeps seeking her out in her in her experimentation room.
There’s a pun there that gets lost in translation when Zishang laments that things are really difficult, which I found quite amusing.
When Xiaohei comes upon her, her first words are, “好难” (hǎo nán), which means “really difficult.”
But Xiaohei purposely hears it as “好男” (hǎo nán) which sounds exactly the same, but means “good man.”
Which is how we have that scene where Zishang keeps going “好难” and Xiaohei asks her in jest why she keeps praising him.
It’s a little throwaway beat, but it made me giggle out loud, which is why I wanted to share it. 😁
When Show toys with our feelings, sometimes
In a twisty-turny story like this, it’s not that surprising that there are times when Show toys with our feelings, as viewers.
The reason that this is in this section, is because, in principle, I’m ok with this, but also, there was one specific time when I felt, well, less ok with it, coz it felt like Show had cheated me of my feelings, kinda.
Here are my thoughts on that one specific time, which still has me side-eyeing Show, just a little bit. 😒😅
E13-15. I was totally on an emotional rollercoaster, especially with that scene of all the medical folks kneeling around Yuanzhi, as he lay there in the clinic.
I legit thought that Show had gone and killed him, and my brain was whirling at the implications that this would have on Shangjue, who’d opened his heart to accept Yuanzhi as his brother, after his own brother had died.
I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of terrible blow it would be to Shangjue, if it turned out that he’d killed Yuanzhi, by his own hand.
I felt so sorry for Shangjue, as Show gives us scenes of him brooding, while thinking of Yuanzhi, as well as his own brother, who’d died.
And I even began to feel sorry for Yuanzhi, because he’d (as I’d believed) died while trying to protect Shangjue.
..Which is when Show reveals that Yuanzhi is, in fact, alive, and being saved by Shangjue giving him his internal strength.
In response, I did feel a sense of relief, because somehow I felt bad for both Shangjue and Yuanzhi, if this tragedy had really happened – even though they’ve pretty much occupied the antagonist sort of space, in our story.
So, credit to Show for making me feel unexpected feelings for both of them, but also, I have to admit that I think Show having the medical folks kneel around Yuanzhi was an intentional misdirect, where Show was purposely misleading us to think that Yuanzhi had died.
I’m slightly peeved at having my feelings toyed with on purpose, not gonna lie.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
When weaknesses in the writing become more apparent
I’ve alluded to the fact that as I got deeper into my watch, I found that I felt more perplexed by what appeared to be weaknesses in the writing.
To Show’s credit, it does provide explanations for quite a few of the perceived inconsistencies, by the time we get to the finale.
At the same time, this does mean that you go through a good stretch of wondering if Show will actually provide an explanation for something, which can be frustrating, and generally unhelpful, to your enjoyment of your watch.
If you were to carefully stack up the things that strike you as inconsistencies over the course of your watch, the ones that don’t get eventually explanations would ultimately point to weaknesses in the writing.
Overall, I do think that Show’s writing could have been more robust, which is why I suggested that a slightly blurry logic lens would be helpful, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch.
For the record, here’s one foundational example of when I felt like things didn’t quite add up.
E7-9. It’s very poignant to see that Weishan had actually been prepared to die, to get out of the living hell that she was in, but Hanya Si had correctly stated that she wouldn’t dare to die, because she still had her sister, Yun Que (Ai Mi), to think about; that she wouldn’t dare to die, as long as there was someone she loved, in the world.
Of course, this does beg the question of why Weishan hadn’t proceeded to kill herself after Yun Que’s death, since, at that point, she did, in fact, become all alone in the world, and she was still at Wufeng’s mercy and utterly miserable.
I do think that this is a weak point, in Show’s logic.
SPOTLIGHT ON CHARACTERS / RELATIONSHIPS
With such a large cast of characters, it’s not realistic for me to talk about all of them, and all the various relationships in our drama world.
Instead, I will be highlighting a selection of characters and relationships, in this section.
Again, if you’re interested in my blow-by-blow reactions while watching this show, including my reactions to various characters and relationships, you might like to check out my episode notes on Patreon here.
Esther Yu as Weishan
Overall, I enjoyed Esther Yu very well, in this role.
I’d thought she was adorable in Love Between Fairy and Devil (review here!), and I found it refreshing and quite novel, that she’s not at all playing adorable here.
Here, she’s a serious, focused assassin, and I love how she comes across as serious and fearless, yet with definite shades of vulnerability.
E1-3. I do very much enjoy watching Weishan do her thing, because, to my eyes anyway, her actions can sometimes land as quite unexpected – and it’s only after the fact, that I realize that her choices had been much more shrewd than I’d imagined.
She does make mistakes, of course, like how she’d tapped the poison from her nail paint into the tea meant for Miss Jiang, when Qian had already created a bulletproof plan to make Miss Jiang go mad, without leaving any traces behind.
But, she’s also quick to figure out solutions, like how, when she hides in Qian’s room in her black assassin garb, she strips down before hiding under the blanket, so that the guards, when checking her, would be quick to back off, seeing that she’s unclothed.
E4-6. Weishan is such a great mix of badass and guileless.
Sometimes she’s incredibly shrewd, but then at other times, she’s too trusting, and therefore creates problems for herself.
While she might be too trusting in speaking of her identity to Qian, we do see that there are several occasions, this set of episodes, when Weishan had a better outcome trusting her own instincts, than in Qian’s urging.
Like when Qian urges Weishan to take her hostage if her identity is compromised, and practically thrusts herself into Weishan’s hands, it’s Weishan’s prudence to wait and see, that actually saves her.
Plus, there’s the beat, when Housekeeper Jia throws that smoke bomb, and both Qian and Weishan instinctively get into a defensive position. It’s Weishan who alerts Qian that they shouldn’t do that, and that’s why they both pretend to faint – which is much more believable behavior for a pair of noble brides-to-be.
And of course, every time Weishan proves herself to be possibly smarter than Qian, I do an internal cheer. 😁
E7-9. I’d really wondered how Weishan would explain her sword technique to Jin Fan, who’s quick to pinpoint that her technique is closely associate with Wufeng.
I thought, surely our girl Weishan was being backed into a difficult corner, but no, she’s got a ready story to explain it all, and even taps on common knowledge of events that had happened in the martial arts world, to corroborate her story.
And it makes me wonder, all over again, just how much of Weishan’s stories are based on fact, and how much is complete fiction.
She’s so convincing in telling her stories, from the details, to the sense of pathos driving those stories, that I can’t help but think that there’s a good chunk of truth in her stories, but because we know nothing about Weishan at this point, except for the fact that she had a younger sister, who’d died on a Wufeng mission, it’s just impossible to know for sure.
And that sure keeps me in a very mentally tantalizing sort of space, coz I am so emotionally taken in by the poignance inherent in her stories, but I’m also questioning whether it’s all just very carefully woven fiction.
Zhang Ling He as Ziyu
Y’know, I hadn’t realized, until I was several episodes into my watch, and looked him up, that Zhang Ling He is the same actor who’d played Chang Heng, in Love Between Fairy and Devil (review here!).
And I have to say, overall, I found Zhang Ling He much more interesting as Ziyu, than as Chang Heng.
Admittedly, I found Ziyu more interesting in the first half of our story than in the second half, but my statement – that I find Zhang Ling He more interesting as Ziyu than as Cheng Heng – still holds true.
I feel that Zhang Ling He gets more room to explore his acting range in this role, generally speaking.
E1-3. I find Ziyu tenderhearted yet full of hidden angst; upright and compassionate, yet also full of feelings of rejection and inadequacy.
Beyond the happy-go-lucky persona that he puts on, I’m drawn to the thoughtful, tenderhearted sort of personality that we see from Ziyu, in his moments alone.
And then, everything changes, when his father and brother (Ren Shan and Ji Ling Chen) are suddenly killed, and he gets made Sword Wielder (the actual phrase is “执刃” which translates as “hold the blade,” ie, this is the position of the one who is in charge of all matters of the Gong sect).
I really sat up and took notice of the completely different vibe Ziyu gives us, from the moment that he realizes that his father and brother have died, leaving him to be the Sword Wielder, which is a position that he’d never felt worthy of, nor ever coveted for himself.
Gone is the more carefree younger brother persona, and in its place is a pained, burdened, troubled mien. It honestly felt like I was looking at a different person, almost.
I thought that was really well done, by Zhang Ling He.
Additionally, there’s just something about his features, that adds a very interesting, very sensuous sort of layer, to his character. I like this effect a lot, so far; it makes him come across completely different than Huanyu, who had seemed more like a stern, unbending sort of character.
My gut tells me that Ziyu’s going to be a very different Sword Wielder than his brother would’ve been, and I’m really quite curious to see how that pans out.
E4-6. I am really enjoying Ziyu as a character.
Not only is he tenderhearted, like I just mentioned, he’s not dumb either.
Even though he’s young and inexperienced, he does show flashes of sharpness and shrewdness, and I do like that.
Like when he excuses Weishan from drinking the tea, but insists on questioning Qian, because Weishan had mentioned that Qian had given her ointment for her rashes, and no one is allowed to bring medicine into the valley.
This makes me think that with some experience, Ziyu could definitely grow into the role of Sword Wielder, even though there are people who don’t believe that he could ever be a good Sword Wielder.
Right now, though, I do appreciate his self-awareness, in terms of his inadequacy, and I also like how he doesn’t try to blame anyone for it.
There’s also a streak of stubbornness in Ziyu, since he says that the more Shangjue doesn’t want him to be Sword Wielder, the more he wants to prove Shangjue wrong.
Additionally, as he mentions, he really wants to solve the mystery of his father’s and brother’s deaths.
I do have a thing for underdogs, and in this situation, Ziyu is absolutely an underdog; I really do want him to prevail, against the odds, and shock everyone.
E7-9. I really like how Ziyu is so full of heart, and is led by the heart.
When he receives news of Elder Yue’s (Shen Bao Ping) passing, I love the thought process that he goes through, in his voiceover, to explain his decision to leave the trial, to return to the Gong residence, even though, according to the strict rules of the trial, this would mean that he would be counted as having failed the trial.
“The Gong family’s Sword Wielder’s existence is to protect the family. A family member passed away, yet I’m supposed to focus on the trial. I’m unable to do that. Even if I succeed, what’s the point?
If I don’t care about the life and death of my people, there’s no need for me to be this Sword Wielder.”
I love that he’s fully cognizant of the price that he has to pay, for leaving in the middle of his trial, and I love that he’s weighed the price, and found it worthwhile.
To him, it is worth the price of risking the position of Sword Wielder, in order to return to the Gong residence, at a time of emergency, and I absolutely respect him for that.
E10-12. One of the big takeaways that Ziyu gains from his time in the back mountain, is the realization that his father hadn’t disdained him at all, but had had high hopes for him, and had gone to great lengths to keep him safe.
I’d been wondering at how the various characters in our drama world have been saying that Jin Fan can’t be an ordinary Green Jade Guardian, because of how powerful and skilled he really is, and it’s really poignant to learn that he’d actually been a legendary Red Jade Guardian, and had given it up, to become Ziyu’s personal guard, on Ziyu’s father’s request.
That’s very touching, on two levels.
One, that Ziyu’s father had regarded him as being so precious that he would dedicate a precious Red Jade Guardian to be his protector.
And two, that Jin Fan would make that personal sacrifice without complaint, out of gratitude to the Gong family. 🥲
Although Ziyu laments that he’s learned about his father’s love and regard too late, I do feel that this has been a deep and precious lesson to Ziyu, and that he does feel differently, and approach his duty as Sword Wielder differently, now that he knows that his father had placed so much hope in him.
It’s one thing to approach your duty with the idea that you have to do it, but that your father never thought you worthy nor able, and it’s a completely different thing, to approach that same duty, knowing that your father had believed in you even before you knew enough to even try to believe in yourself. 🥲
I feel like there’s more strength and purpose in Ziyu’s steps, as he walks away from his first trial, to go back to the Gong residence.
And, it strikes me that Ziyu is someone who holds connections very close to his heart.
He still remembers the promise that he’d made to Xue Chongzi, back when they’d been children, and, after the time that he’s spent with him and Xue Gongzi now, he seems more determined than ever, to one day fulfill the promise.
It very much feels like a personal sort of thing, for Ziyu, and I do like that about him.
And I’m glad to see that this thing about his character, is reaping fruit, like how Xue Chongzi (Lester Lin) tosses him the only copy of the refinement notes that he’s made, on the Xue family’s saber technique.
My gut says that this is going to become important at some point in our story, and I’m already feeling a sense of gratification, that it’s Ziyu’s natural tendency to form connections with others, that has brought this precious book into his possession.
E10-12. I’m glad that Show decides to allow Ziyu to also learn about his mother, to understand her better, now that he’s learned about how his father had truly felt about him.
Her story is sad, and I find the relationship between her and Ziyu’s father really quite tragic.
I mean, he’d fallen for her at first sight, and then had been so overjoyed when she’d been sent to the Gong household as his potential bride. But, this thing that had brought him so much joy, had actually brought her so much pain, that she’d be depressed until her dying breath.
Ack. It’s so heartbreaking that Dad had loved her, but hadn’t known how to approach her, and that’s why their marriage had grown so distant. 😭
That’s so sad for her, and for him, and for Ziyu as well.
I do feel sorry for Ziyu in all of this, because he’d grown up thinking that his mother hadn’t cared about him; that perhaps he was disappointing her, somehow, when the truth was, she was so depressed that nothing and no one could truly make her happy.
I’m hopeful that knowing that his mother had suffered from depression, and that it hadn’t been his fault, will help to set Ziyu free from the weight that’s been on his heart, that he’d been a source of unhappiness, for his mother.
Ziyu and Weishan
First of all, I am quite amused at the fact that this is a reunion between Zhang Ling He and Esther Yu, because they’d worked together in Love Between Fairy and Devil (review is here!), and that this time, he’s much more likely to get his girl – just by virtue of the fact that he’s the male lead in this show. 😁
I think viewer feelings towards this OTP are divided, in that some people are very much on board for this loveline, while others find this loveline rather stodgy and boring, and prefer the other main loveline in this story, between Shangjue and Qian, which I’ll talk about later.
Personally, I liked this loveline, though I will admit that I was more invested, in Show’s first half versus its second.
I found that space, where we’re not sure whether they’ll grow feelings for each other, much more exciting to watch than later, when we’re more sure of their feelings for each other.
Of course, by the time we get to that stage, the excitement comes from whether their love can survive the obstacles before them, but that’s a different kind of excitement, if you know what I mean. 😅
E1-3. I’m very much invested in the interactions that Ziyu and Weishan have had, so far.
There’s just so much going on, there.
Up until Ziyu is made Sword Wielder, there are already a number of occasions when the two of them have opportunity to interact, and I can’t help wondering how much of it was a calculated move on Weishan’s part, and how much of it was just a natural unfolding of events.
Like that moment when she turns to run a different way than the others, when Ziyu goes to free all the brides-in-waiting from the holding cells.
If Ziyu had been the groom in question, I would have definitely concluded that Weishan deliberately turned in a different direction, in order to get his attention. But since he wasn’t the groom in question, I’m not sure what to think.
The end result of that interaction, however, is that he definitely notices her. Plus, he lends her his precious personal mask, in order to shield her from being noticed by the guards, which naturally leads to another opportunity for them to interact, when he goes to her room, to get the mask back, later on.
I suppose whatever isn’t part of Weishan’s calculation, I should put down to Fate, because it’s pretty clear that Weishan and Ziyu are our OTP.
As we close out episode 3, I’m very much intrigued by Weishan’s actions, because she’s clearly now made Ziyu her new target, since he’s the new Sword Wielder, and the way she gains his sympathy and attention is so effective.
When he reads the letters that she’s placed in the river lanterns, that are supposedly meant for her father, he can’t help but feel sorry for her, because of the sentiments that she’s expressed in the letter.
The feelings of disappointing her parents, and being rejected; of not being the kind of child that her father had desired; these are exactly the kind of feelings that Ziyu’s very familiar with as well.
Very shrewd and very smartly played, I must say. I can already imagine Ziyu’s heart going out to her.
Plus, Huanyu had already noticed that Ziyu seemed to have an interest in Weishan, so I can totally see Ziyu choosing Weishan to be his bride, especially since Weishan apologizes in her letter, that she wasn’t chosen by the Sword Wielder.
I am so, so invested in this burgeoning connection between Ziyu and Weishan.
On the one hand, they are enemies, because she’s an assassin sent to kill him (I think?), and she’s manipulating her way into his good graces. Once he finds out, that’s going to complicate their relationship for sure.
On the other hand, though, I can totally see these two people, who both have sadness shining out of their eyes, coming to find solace, solidarity and comfort with each other.
The complications and angst are going to be quite delicious, aren’t they, as all of these things mesh together into one OTP relationship?
Augh. This is all proving to be very tantalizing, and I am so ready, for more. Chomp. 😋
E4-6. One of my favorite things in this show, is the interactions between Weishan and Ziyu, where their connection appears to keep growing, despite the fact that she’s an assassin and he’s her target.
This duality messes with my mind in the best way, and I find it all kinds of delicious, to see them being drawn to each other, and building on their connection, over and above Weishan’s efforts to gain traction on her mission.
This set of episodes, I loved that conversation between them, at the top of episode 4, which is when he’s “caught” her trying to run away, after setting those river lanterns made of letters addressed to her father.
Weishan’s personal stories are so detailed, and her emotional reactions feel so real, that I have to wonder if she’s just a really skilled actress, or if there’s some truth mixed into the lies that she’s telling.
She looks so sad as she talks about her father’s death, that I have to wonder if she’d really lost her father in the manner that she describes, y’know?
And then there’s Ziyu, who’s really showing himself to be a tenderhearted, compassionate good egg, with the way he offers his handkerchief to Weishan for her to wipe her tears, and comforts her, with gentleness in his voice, about how there’s no father who’d be disappointed in his own daughter, and then apologizes, for having hurt her.
That’s honestly so sincere and sweet, that I immediately want these two sad souls to be together, so that they can bring comfort to each other. 🥲
I’m honestly quite thrilled by the fact that he asks her to address him as Master Yu rather than as Sword Wielder, because this proves that he’s connecting with her in a very personal capacity, and not in his official role as Sword Wielder.
And Weishan is just SO GOOD at playing the innocent girl with sorrowful eyes, that Ziyu can’t help but soften towards her.
It’s so great that with one look of worried alarm from her, he’s apologizing that he has to take her back to the side residence.
ALSO. What about that tender tone in his voice, when he asks her if she really dislikes the idea of being seen with him??
Guh. There is a definite note of possible disappointment in his voice, as he asks the question, and I’m SO gleeful at the idea that he already has this big soft spot for her – not because I want her to succeed at her mission, but because I want this OTP to fall for each other, thus complicating the mission. 😁
I love any and every indication that Ziyu’s growing an attachment towards Weishan, like when Qian mentions hoping to be chosen by him as his bride.
The way his gaze immediately and nervously flicks to Weishan, to see how she’s reacting to the idea of him marrying another woman, is pretty darn great. 😁
I’m sure that the reason Ziyu chooses Weishan as his bride, is basically informed by his feelings for Weishan, which have been growing before our eyes.
E4-6. I’m actually pretty excited at the idea of Weishan going with Ziyu, as his guard, into the Trial of the Three Realms, so that she can help him and protect him.
We know that the reason Weishan’s so determined to go with Ziyu, is so that she can gain information about the mysterious back mountain, so that she’ll have something to report at her half-monthly meeting with her raven, and thus gain the antidote that she needs, for the poison she’s taken, but the cover story she comes up with is very convincing, to me.
Of course anyone should believe that she’d want to protect her husband-to-be, so that she won’t end up being a widow.
E7-9. I do like that Weishan’s story remains so consistent, in that, whenever she’s challenged, she seems to build on the story that’s already been told; there appear to be zero inconsistencies.
She’s either really fast thinking on her feet, or has put a lot of thought into this prior, or is telling large chunks of truth, amid the lies.
Whatever it is, it’s really working, because, this set of episodes, Ziyu’s clearly falling for her, in what feels like a head-over-heels sort of fashion.
First, of course he’s glad to see her, because this means that he won’t be alone during his trial, and second, of course he’s touched that she would go through so much trouble and danger, just to join him on his trial.
And then, there’s the homely vibes that he gets, when he watches her stir that porridge over the fire. For someone who’s been as lonely as he’s been, I can see why this would feel new and precious.
The thing that really makes this work for me, so well, though, is the fact that we can see that Weishan is feeling things too.
That beat, where she can’t stop her tears from springing to her eyes, and streaming down her face, when she realizes that what she has in this moment with Ziyu, is exactly the dream life she’d once described to her sister, when her sister had asked what her dream was.
And then, there’s the way Ziyu asks her if the porridge is bitter, and she answers that it isn’t, and then he replies that he won’t let her suffer, in the future.
This is a pun that isn’t apparent in the subs, but basically the phrase for suffer, 吃苦 (chīkǔ) translates literally to mean “eat bitter.”
And so, in saying that he won’t let her eat anything bitter in the future, he’s actually saying that he won’t let her suffer, in the future.
Which must be such a touching thing for Weishan to hear, since her life, up to this point, has been so full of suffering. 🥲
I also really like how Ziyu’s always so pleased to see her.
Like when he wakes up to her holding his hand, in episode 9, he is so tender towards her, both in terms of his voice, and his gaze.
Also, I really dig these little nuggets of hyper-awareness between them, like when he asks hurriedly if she saw everything when she came upon him in the bath, and she answers yes – but she only saw his chest and it shouldn’t matter, since they are to be husband and wife.
Tee hee. I find it all rather delicious, honestly. 😁
I do like the fact that Ziyu feels able to tell Weishan honestly about his growing up years, struggling to train under his father’s tutelage.
Besides Weishan coming up with a strategy for him to quickly increase his internal strength, it also creates a sense of closeness between them, as Weishan empathizes about his father’s harsh treatment of him, and shares about her own mother’s harsh treatment of her, and the sentiment driving that behavior.
This feels like a very personal sharing, and even though we don’t know how much of this is true on Weishan’s part, this feels like an important bonding moment between them.
E7-9. While I seriously dislike the smug, superior, holier-than-thou manner that Yuanzhi has about him, as he corners and questions Weishan at the clinic where she’s making the Supreme Yin poison for Ziyu (and also, herself), I do like how Weishan remains calm and unruffled, and is able to provide answers to the questions that he asks.
The fact that she isn’t intimidated by him, pleases me greatly.
And, I also like how Ziyu comes to her rescue, so that Yuanzhi is left fuming in their wake, ha.
ALSO, isn’t it sweet of Ziyu to quickly offer Weishan the Herb Elixir, once he hears that she’d ingested poison because of Yuanzhi forcing her hand?
He has no idea that the poison is actually helping Weishan, of course, and somehow, I still feel a stab of satisfaction, when he’s touched by Weishan’s refusal to take the Herb Elixir, because it’s too precious, and he shouldn’t waste it on her.
The way he says that there is nothing that could be wasted on her, is quite melty, honestly.
Weishan is quickly becoming very precious to him, and I dig it. 😁
It also feels very significant, when, as they walk hand in hand back to the main residence, Weishan says that Ziyu is cold (in terms of literal body temperature) but has a warm heart, but she is the opposite, implying that she herself has a cold heart.
The way he then looks at her and tells her that he’ll warm her up, feels meaningful and significant. I feel like this is exactly what Ziyu will be doing.
E10-12. At this point, I’m still not sure whether Weishan has developed real feelings for Ziyu, but he’s definitely feelin’ feelings for her, and that’s what’s making it work, for me.
The way he blushes, thinking about her lips, is quite endearing, I have to say. 😁
After such a great personal note on the back mountain, I’m actually kind of bummed for Ziyu, to come back to situation where Lady Wuji AND Weishan are being suspected of betrayal.
I really do love how Ziyu is so expressive, in telling Weishan that he’s got so many things that he wants to tell her, and wants to tell them to her, face to face.
He’s so earnest, and everything that comes out of his lips is so heartfelt, that I desperately wanted him to enter the room to see Weishan, in spite of what had happened.
But, I can understand why he doesn’t do that; to Ziyu, Jin Fan is important too, particularly in the light of the fresh revelation that he’s had, about how Jin Fan had willingly given up his Red Jade Guardian position, in order to serve him.
And, if Jin Fan has reason to doubt Weishan, I’m sure Ziyu feels that he should give Jin Fan’s opinion due respect, even if he doesn’t want to doubt Weishan himself.
I also kind of wish that Weishan had told Ziyu the truth at this point, but I can understand why she would choose not to. Just like Lady Wuji says, Ziyu’s face is a direct reflection of what’s in his heart and mind. And if he knew the truth, he wouldn’t be able to support the ruse that Lady Wuji’s put in place, to dupe Shangjue.
It’s so plaintive, the way Weishan asks Ziyu if he can choose to trust her just this one time, and it’s also so plaintive, the way Ziyu asks Weishan what Shangjue has promised her, and if he can’t give that to her instead.
Augh. This moment hurt to watch, but it hurt so good, y’know?
Later, when Jin Fan escorts Weishan to leave the Gong compound, it feels significant, that she wouldn’t leave the room even though Ziyu had unlocked it, and that she would ask Jin Fan if it was Ziyu who had sent him.
Of course, this could be coming from Weishan’s desire to be in Ziyu’s good graces for the purpose of her mission, but I would like to think that it’s also personal; that she wants to know that Ziyu is the one allowing and inviting her out of that room.
I’m so glad that Ziyu runs over to catch her before she actually leaves the Gong grounds, and takes back his order to leave.
Importantly, it looks like he’s happy, relieved and just plain overjoyed that he gets to take back that order, because this shows that he’d never wanted Weishan to leave, in the first place.
And I do like the detail, that he’s so unabashed about wanting to hug Weishan, even though Jin Fan’s right there. 😁
E10-12. I’m glad that Ziyu feels able to talk with Weishan about all of these new revelations, as he processes them.
I find it very appealing, that he’s able to lay his heart open in such an unguarded way, now that he’s decided to trust her.
And how about the way he praises her indirectly, by referring to her as a flower, when Weishan asks how one should talk to a flower, to help it bloom?
“We should praise her for her beauty, praise her for being thoughtful, praise her for being lovable, praise her for being sensitive, and praise her for having eyes which are like stars.”
If he didn’t look so sincere and genuine, I might’ve thought he was a player, with how romantic those words are. 😁
E13-15. The scene where Weishan blocks Ziyu with her own body, because she knows that Hanya Si is standing by, at the ready to take Ziyu out with a single shot, if Ms. Ziyi gives the signal, was so tense.
Even though I knew in my head that it was highly unlikely that anything would happen to Ziyu, I was still in the thick of the tension, and holding my breath, waiting for them both to be in the clear.
Well-played, Show. Well-played.
Honestly, it’s beats like this that convince me that Weishan really does have feelings for Ziyu, because why else would she shield him with her own body, right? If Wufeng takes him out, then that’s out of her hands, right, it’s not like she’d failed the mission, right?
I keep coming back to this thought, that if she didn’t feel anything for him, she wouldn’t care as much as she does, about his survival.
E13-15. I’m gratified to see that Ziyu’s actually a lot smarter and shrewder than most people give him credit for.
With the limited information available to him, he’s actually able to make pretty good deductions, to start him on his task of decoding the poison.
Of course, it’s helpful that Weishan’s able to tell him the secret ingredient in the poison, which speeds up Ziyu’s analytical process.
Jin Fan really is right; Ziyu’s a foolishly good person.
The way he would rather poison himself and test the antidote on himself, so as not to subject Weishan to any unnecessary suffering, says so much about his heart for Weishan.
He would literally die for her, and that is really so touching. 🥲 How could one not waver in the face of such selfless devotion, yes?
E16-18. I probably should have anticipated the swopping of the antidotes, where both Ziyu and Weishan try to give up the single available antidote to each other, but I didn’t, and it landed for me as a nice twist.
Because, even though Ziyu appears to be brokenhearted from hearing that Weishan doesn’t like him, he still chooses to, 1, honor his promise to protect her, and 2, believe that she does like him, even though she has said, under the influence of the Truth Grass, that she doesn’t.
This is really quite touching, honestly, particularly since Ziyu 100% believes that in giving her the antidote, he is dooming himself to die.
Likewise, Weishan is similarly decisive, to give Ziyu what she believes to be the antidote, because she doesn’t want him to die.
What she says is true; if Ziyu dies, it’s unlikely that she would survive the wrath of the Gong family that would result, but I don’t buy that that is her true reason.
Her true reason for doing this, is because – as Ziyu rightly gambles – she does care about him a lot, and is willing to die, if it means that he might live.
E16-18. I’m actually pretty blown away that Ziyu’s realization that Weishan is, in fact, a Wufeng spy, doesn’t deter his feelings for her.
Honestly, I’d been dreading the moment that Ziyu found out about Weishan’s secret, because I was convinced that this would break his trust in her, in a big way.
And so, to have him still steadfastly striving to protect her, despite this new revelation, is quite the surprise to me.
And, because Ziyu is so determined to protect Weishan, I found myself rooting for him even as he attempts to wrangle his way out of the tight spot that he and Weishan find themselves in.
I rooted for every lie that he told, and felt anxious each time Shangjue seemed to make any progress, in uncovering the truth. 😅
In a similar vein, I actually cheered internally, with more and more people joining Ziyu in the lie, so that it actually seemed completely plausible that Ziyu had told the truth, when he said that he’d asked Weishan to go to the back mountain, in order to bring back the snow lotuses.
(Also, that was a nice callback, to have Weishan be able to discern which weapon Yuanzhi had used against her, because she’d studied the information that Qian had once passed her.)
Ryan Cheng as Shangjue
This was my introduction to Ryan Cheng, and I have to confess that about 7 episodes into my watch, it occurred to me that Ryan Cheng as Shangjue, reminds me of Park Seo Joon, a fair bit.
After I got this in my head, I kinda couldn’t get it out of my head, and every time I saw Shangjue on my screen, my brain reached for Park Seo Joon associations. 😅
I do have to say that Ryan Cheng’s got a nice amount of screen presence; I found Shangjue quite charismatic, particularly when he’s giving us his signature glower.
As a character, I found Shangjue quite interesting to watch, even though I did feel, at times, that Show was forcing the antagonist label on him, a little too hard.
What I mean is, sometimes Shangjue came across as a bit too aggressive than the situation called for, and it felt to me like Show was doing that, mainly to create dramatic tension, and to give Ziyu a challenge – for the sake of itself (rather than, say, for growth).
E1-3. Shangjue is widely regarded as being the rightful Sword Wielder, because he’s the most capable of his generation, in the Gong family. Even Ziyu’s father says so, in episode 2.
I’m curious as to how Shangjue’s going to react, now that he has to submit himself to Ziyu, as the newly appointed Sword Wielder.
Shangjue appears unbendingly loyal to the Gong name, and refuses each time someone mentions that he should’ve been the Sword Wielder, but I can’t help wondering how much of that is true, and how much of that is perhaps a front?
E7-9. Shangjue’s stance, which is to stick to the rules, and pronounce that Ziyu’s failed his trial, is so different from Ziyu’s.
It’s becoming clear to me, that even though Shangjue might have a lot of experience and skills in the operations of the Gong clan, he doesn’t have the heart and vision, and compassion for his people, to truly lead it.
And, I have to say, I recoiled from the way both Shangjue and Yuanzhi jump on the way the Elders make an exception for Ziyu to continue the trial, to insist on other exceptions for themselves too.
In particular, I feel quite repulsed by the way Shangjue insists that they can now make exception to the rule that the Sword Wielder can’t be changed.
In the beginning of our story, Shangjue’s apparent loyalty to the Gong clan, and the rules that are enforced within it, had appeared to be unwavering and without personal interest.
But now, I don’t get the same vibe from him anymore. The way he’s pressing to have Ziyu replaced – with himself – definitely feels like he’s coming from a place of personal interest, and I no longer feel any real interest from him, in the good of the Gong clan.
Also, instead of focusing his energies on actually cracking the case, he seems to be expending his energies on discrediting Ziyu based on Ziyu’s birth records.
This feels like a cheat move on his part; like, is he not going to solve the case, and just insist that Ziyu’s disqualified, based on his birth records?
E13-15. I found it pleasantly surprising, that while Yuanzhi seems intent on seeing Ziyu fail the trial, Shangjue is actually much more neutral.
He tells Yuanzhi that if Ziyu really is useless, then there’s nothing to worry about; and if Ziyu really is that capable, then there is also nothing to worry about.
Oooh. That’s the fairest thing we’ve heard Shangjue say in a while, with regard to Ziyu, and it gives me some degree of assurance, that Shangjue really is opposing Ziyu out of concern for the Gong sect, and not because he’s against Ziyu per se.
Lu Yu Xiao as Qian
This was also my introduction to Lu Yu Xiao, and while Ryan Cheng gave me Park Seo Joon, Lu Yu Xiao, as Qian, occasionally gave me Han Hyo Joo vibes, especially her smile, from a slight angle.
I do love Han Hyo Joo, so I mean that in the best way possible.
I thought Lu Yu Xiao was very good as Qian; it’s just that I found myself emotionally holding Qian at arm’s length (at least), coz I couldn’t decide whether I could trust her, in any given moment.
Certainly, I do think that this is by design, rather than by accident; Qian is meant to be an ambiguous character who confuses – and I was confused indeed. 😅
E4-6. I am very intrigued by Qian’s story, where she tells Weishan how she’s actually from a noble family, but has been secretly training at Wufeng, while under the guise of being sickly and therefore mostly homebound.
At first, I bought her story, but then, on reflection, in the context of what Yasi had kept saying to Weishan – to insist on her identity, no matter what, and to not trust anyone – it occurs to me that this is exactly what Qian is doing.
She’s not trusting Weishan with the truth, and is insisting on her identity as a nobleman’s daughter, no matter what.
This thought made me go, Ohhh. Coz I’d totally bought her story at first. It’s just, on hindsight, it doesn’t make any sense.
Like, why would ANY noble family send their daughter to be trained as an assassin? Like, seriously?
And so now, I’ve convinced myself that Qian’s story to Weishan is just that – a story, to allow her to cling to the identity that she’s supposed to own, exactly like what Weishan was instructed to do, but then failed to do, at least with Qian.
E4-6. I find Qian quite fascinating, and that’s probably because she doesn’t seem to trust anyone – including us, as an audience.
And so, I feel like I don’t really know anything about her, except that she’s a Wufeng assassin, who happens to have some personal backstory with Shangjue.
..Or does she??
As in, it occurs to me, that it’s not impossible, that in preparing Qian for her mission, Wufeng had set up that encounter, hoping to create a useful situation, and had lucked out, when Shangjue dropped his jade pendant? Hrrmm. 🤔
Shangjue and Qian
Lots of viewers found this pairing to be more grabby than the pairing of Ziyu and Weishan, and it’s not hard to see why.
With both of them being slightly antagonistic personalities, who tend to play a bit coy, there’s lots of room for them to (metaphorically) circle each other, while the tension builds between them.
And yes, I have to admit that the sparks between Shangjue and Qian are much more noticeable than the sparks between Ziyu and Weishan.
One of the things that really captured my imagination, was the question of whether these two people were actually growing real feelings for each other, or if all the things they were saying and doing, were just carefully calculated chess moves, chosen to further their personal agendas.
There were definitely times when I thought I’d figured it out, only for Show to demonstrate otherwise, so that definitely kept things interesting.
At the same time, it was because of this very thing, that I found myself not actually feeling invested in this loveline.
I found it fascinating to observe, but I also found myself holding back my emotions, because I wasn’t sure how much to believe either of them, in this apparent dance of nerves.
E4-6. I do find Qian’s arc with Shangjue interesting, so far.
I find it intriguing, that Qian actually has a real personal backstory with Shangjue, where he’d saved her from being attacked by rogues.
This make me wonder if her expressed interest in Shangjue is actually real. If so, then it’s something that appears to be real, but is supposed to be pretend – but is actually real, underneath the supposed pretense.
That possibility sounds very delicious to me, because of the multiple layers that could be at play.
And this makes all of Qian’s efforts to gain Shangjue’s favor extra interesting, because I can’t help wondering how much of it is “just business” and how much of it comes from a place of sincerity.
E4-6. It looks like Shangjue’s choosing Qian, more to find out why she has his jade pendant, than out of any real interest in her.
All of Qian’s efforts to win Shangjue’s favor feel like a curious mix of scheming and sincerity, and I can’t figure out how much of either is at work in Qian’s heart, with regards to Shangjue.
When she tearfully tells Shangjue about their previous encounter, I find her very believable in her apparent sincerity, and it messes with my mind, because I can’t figure out how much to trust her.
Shangjue doesn’t yet have the same problem, however, because he appears to be keeping her at arm’s length with a good amount of determination.
Even though he tells Yuanzhi to apologize to Qian for accusing her of stealing his personal weapon, it’s clear from his subsequent conversation with Yuanzhi, that he doesn’t actually believe that Qian had nothing to do with Yuanzhi losing his weapon.
Looks like Shangjue’s going to be a tough nut to crack, and Qian’s got her work cut out for her.
I’m actually really curious to see if she’ll be able to win him over, the way Weishan seems to be winning over Ziyu.
So far, the fact that she manages to get Shangjue to request soup ladled by her, seems like a tiny bit of progress, yes?
E7-9. I find that I am actually becoming more interested in how Qian is slowly inching her way into Shangjue’s good graces.
Even though she’s the assassin in this picture, I somehow find myself rooting for her to gain his favor, perhaps because he’s presented as such a hard nut to crack, and also, very likely because he’s set himself against Ziyu, which makes him something of the enemy, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend..? Something like that? 😅
All things considered, Qian makes considerable progress, this set of episodes.
From having Shangjue not reject completely the azaleas that she plants in the flower beds, to him offering her his handkerchief to wipe her face, it definitely feels like he’s softening towards her.
I mean, yes, he’s still giving her those penetrating stares, and being mysterious and hard to read, and he’s definitely still holding her at arm’s length, but it also feels like he’s starting to look at her with a more affectionate light, and that definitely feels like progress.
Her earnest-yet-fragile sort of act – which, similar to Weishan’s chosen persona – leaves me wondering how much is real and how much is pretend.
I do see her as more overtly scheming than Weishan, but I also feel like there is quite possibly some real attraction and admiration for Shangjue in her heart, and that intrigues me a lot.
And, the way Shangjue appears to be starting to open up to her, also intrigues me. It makes me wonder how real he’s being with her, and if any of his softness, is actually just an act, to test her.
I somehow find myself wanting to believe that he’s being real with her, like when he explains to her why he likes the bay flower, when she brings that bay flower oil to mix with his ink.
Also, it feels pretty significant, that when she starts to excuse herself, he actually asks her to stay a little longer with him. Surely that must mean something..?
E10-12. It seems like Qian’s making good progress in drawing closer to Shangjue, this set of episodes, even though the stealing of the medical records backfires on Shangjue.
I do think that that’s because she focuses on showing that she empathizes with him, and is on his side, and is useful to him.
And so, even though the medical records don’t give Shangjue the result he’d expected and hoped for, Qian’s empathy for Shangjue continues to be apparent, in the way she shows concern for him.
There’s something about the way she pitches herself, as being dainty, vulnerable and scared of him, but yet, not scared enough to stay away from him, partly because she cares that much about him, and partly because she genuinely believes that he’s a good person, that I can see as being quite appealing, to him.
E10-12. This set of episodes, I do find myself starting to feel somewhat sorry for Shangjue, even though he’s our antagonist, and is actively trying to negate Ziyu’s appointment as Sword Wielder.
It makes a lot of difference, understanding his backstory, which Show helpfully fills us in on, this set of episodes.
I realize that, despite his smug smirks that we see a lot, he’s actually not evil, underneath it all.
Using his own analogy, he’s like a hurt animal, who’s learned the hard way, that the world is a cruel place, particularly with the death of his mother and brother – whom we learn were killed by Wufeng.
Eep. Now that’s definitely a solid personal reason for him to hate all things Wufeng. This isn’t just about the Gong family at large; this is about his own mother and brother, both of whom he’d loved dearly.
So of course it feels dangerously complicated to see that Shangjue does appear to care about Qian, in his own dysfunctional way?
That scene where he grabs her by the cut on her finger, causing her to wince, is definitely not romantic in the conventional sense of the word, but there’s something about it that is quite mesmerizing?
It’s like he’s daring her to like him, and he is more pleased with her response, than he’d expected to be?
And yet, underneath it all, we know that Qian’s on a mission and he’s her target, so I’m still wondering how much of this is her true heart; like, is she purely acting, or is part of her sincere, in her expressed feelings and loyalty towards him?
This tussle between Shangjue’s twisted magnetism, and Qian’s secret mission, is quite gripping, I have to say.
E13-15. I was rather gratified to see Shangjue showing concern for Qian, even though I know in my head that it’s all pretty messed up.
After all, he’s the one threatening to torture and kill her, and yet, she looks so grateful, when he shows up in her room and feeds her the medicine in the bowl that she’s struggling to hold steady.
AND YET. Somehow, every time Shangjue looks like he’s softening towards Qian, I can’t help but feel gratified.
It’s so weird, I know. 🙈
E16-18. It does look like Qian is making good progress is gaining Shangjue’s trust, and possibly even his affection.
There’s the way he tells her that she could have asked him directly for the herbs that she needed, instead of lowering herself to compromise with Lady Wuji, and there’s also the fact that he orders new clothes for her (which sends Yuanzhi into a tamped-down jealous fit, ha).
And of course, there’s also the way he invites Qian to join him in the bath, when she asks if he’d like to see how her skin has healed, with minimal scarring.
It’s true that he says that it’s because the bath water has healing properties that would help heal her skin, but I’m convinced that he absolutely wouldn’t invite her to join him in the bath, if he didn’t actually have feelings for her.
ALSO. From the intent gaze that he wears while looking at her as she’s in the water before him, I’m definitely getting sexy vibes. Ahem. 🔥
Weishan and Qian
I have to say that I found the connection between Weishan and Shangguan Qian to be very interesting.
As fellow assassins, they are technically on the same side – but also, not.
This means that they aren’t friends, but neither are they enemies, and it’s a tricky thing for each of them, to decide whether to trust the other person.
Although Qian is the more senior assassin, being a Mei, even she has to admit that Weishan is very clever – much smarter than she’d expected her to be.
This was one of my favorite things in the show.
Every time Weishan proves herself to be smarter and more shrewd than Qian had expected, I couldn’t help but do a silent cheer. 🤭
E4-6. One of the key things that’s really making this watch cracky for me, is the tension between Weishan and Shangguan Qian, the other Wufeng assassin.
This murky relationship between them, where they are neither allies nor enemies, really makes for some excellent narrative tension.
Sometimes, we see them helping each other, and yet at other times, we see them take turns throwing each other under the bus.
I feel like they’ve taken the definition of “frenemy” to new heights. 😁
Like how Weishan acts all innocent when Ziyu asks her about being poisoned.
The way she denies it, pretending to not even know that her rash had been a reaction to poison, is pretty genius.
And then, the way there’s consternation playing at her features, as she tells Ziyu that all she’d had was tea, and that she and Miss Jiang had worried that they’d be unable to sleep if they drank tea, but Qian had insisted on making it for them, is genius as well.
This way, Ziyu’s suspicions are all directed towards Qian, while Weishan comes out looking like an innocent, injured flower who’d been poisoned against her will.
But then, we also see that because of her conversation with Qian, Weishan actually plants the incriminating evidence of the powdered nail paint, in the room of one of the brides-in-waiting, thus deflecting attention away from herself. Muahaha.
First – I also do get a stab of satisfaction, from seeing Weishan and Qian working together, somehow.
And, I find it very interesting, that this set of episodes, they’ve decided that the best way forward, is for them to act as enemies, because their respective targets are enemies.
That’s very smart, and also, I feel like it’s going to take our story in interesting directions, because our two assassins are supposed to be enemies, but will also need to help each other, in order to keep the ruse alive and thus protect themselves.
Second, somehow I don’t mind that Weishan’s devious enough to frame someone else in cold blood, in order to save herself.
Somehow, I find myself reveling in Weishan’s ability to be a shrewd undercover assassin, while playing the pure-hearted, innocent maiden, and winning Ziyu’s heart. 😁
Like, how shrewd is she, to offer to test the tea herself, when Ziyu says that he’d actually wanted Qian to test the tea, but she’s not there.
This way, she comes across even more noble and trusting and pure, doesn’t she? And that’s totally stirring protective feelings in Ziyu, I can just smell it. 😁
It’s absolutely dysfunctional, and somehow, I’m lapping it up like it’s crack-laced candy. 🤭
I also love every indication that other people are noticing too, so I felt a definite stab of satisfaction, even at the fact that one of the other brides-in-waiting asks why Weishan would be in Ziyu’s company, in returning to the side residence. Muahaha. Yes, I’m gleeful. 😁
E7-9. In terms of the frenemy sort of connection between Qian and Weishan, it’s still in full force, and this set of episodes, it feels like we’re seeing some solidarity between them, as the Fortnight Flies in their bodies start to make their presence felt.
I thought it was really good of Qian, really, to bring Weishan that tea, to help with the pain.
Even though Weishan does appear to give her a tip on improving the formula, I don’t think Qian had gone in with that expectation, so I still look upon her gesture favorably.
E10-12. I must say, the scene where Qian coerces Weishan into stealing the medical record for her, hits differently on hindsight.
When I first watched it, I was so concerned that Weishan would end up betraying Ziyu, and breaking his trust, and I was completely with her, as she protests that stealing the medical record would hurt Ziyu and her mission.
Now, on hindsight, it’s the complete opposite; instead of Qian being the one to manipulate her, she’s the one manipulating Qian, to fortify the idea that Lady Wuji has planted, that the medical records would harm Ziyu.
Very sneaky and clever of Show, I must say.
E10-12. I am enjoying the tussle that’s on-going, between Qian and Weishan.
Qian always likes to act like she’s got the upper hand between them, like when she coerces Weishan into stealing the medical record, and also, when she has Shangjue’s personal token and is therefore able to access the herbs at the clinic.
But in the end, it’s Weishan who finds a way to leave the Gong compound, in order to get the antidote that they both need – by getting Zishang to initiate a trip out on the town, in order that they might enjoy the lanterns during the festival.
Jolin Jin as Zishang
Zishang is a character who grew on me a lot more than I’d originally expected to.
At first, I was very bemused by her theatrical, hammy tendencies, and her overtly flirty, lusty manner.
But once Show gave me a glimpse of her inner vulnerabilities, I couldn’t help but grow a soft spot for her.
Kudos to Jolin Jin, whose comic timing made the OTT stuff pop, and whose ability to switch on a dime, to more serious, vulnerable layers, is just impeccable. 🤩
E7-9. I have to say, Zishang’s growing on me. I actually find myself starting to enjoy her quite well, this set of episodes.
I do think that a lot of it has to do with how we get to glimpse the real and raw emotion that she’s hiding behind the happy, flirty persona that she wears as a matter of habit.
When Jin Fan tells her without hesitation, that Ziyu is more important than she is, the tears in her eyes feel so present and so real; without any need for lines of dialogue, I can feel her sadness, her sense of rejection, and her feelings of despair.
It’s really quite affecting, really. 🥺
With this, I’m beginning to see that her happy-flirty mask, is more of a shell, which she uses to protect herself. Because, if she doesn’t appear to be serious, then the rejection that she experiences, can be brushed off as pretend, too.
That thought really makes my heart go out to her, honestly.
I actually really appreciate that Lady Wuji goes to talk with Zishang, to encourage her to think differently, that she essentially shouldn’t force it, and, given some time and space, it’s quite possible that Jin Fan might come around to his feelings for Zishang.
E7-9. I am appreciating Zishang’s determination to make a difference, with all the time she puts into experimenting with gunpowder, even though it is an uphill task where she’s not actually experiencing a lot of positive progress.
It’s just endearing that she keeps working hard at it, even though she’s not getting any encouragement or affirmation from anyone, at this point.
Sun Chen Jun as Jin Fan
I had a big soft spot for Jin Fan throughout my watch.
Not only was he so loyal and dependable as Ziyu’s personal Green Jade Guardian, he was also adorkably hapless, in the face of Zishang’s flirty affections.
The thing that got to me the most, though, was Jin Fan’s backstory, where he willingly gave up his Red Jade Guardian status, to be Ziyu’s lower-ranked Green Jade Guardian, out of gratitude to the Gong family.
I was really moved that he took that role so seriously, that he would literally be willing to die for Ziyu’s sake. 🥲
Such a treasure, truly.
I can understand why Ziyu cared for him so much, that he’d risk his own life to save Jin Fan, during our finale.
Zishang and Jin Fan
I started out not caring a great deal about this loveline, because it’d been introduced to us as a running gag, pretty much, with Zishang hitting on Jin Fan on the daily, and Jin Fan being all deadpan bemused and perplexed by her behavior.
Over time, this did become a little more amusing to me, as I got into the groove of this particular strand of funny.
However, once we start to see some real emotion showing between these two, I found myself growing a big soft spot for this potential couple, and I couldn’t help rooting for Zishang to finally win her Jin Fan. 🥰
E13-15. I was low-key amused at Zishang’s antics to get Jin Fan’s attention during the lantern outing, and I have to say, getting glimpses of Jin Fan’s true heart for her, is really quite melty.
He does care; he’s just trying not to show it.
We see it in the way he watches over her from a distance away, as she creates a ruckus calling for him, and we also see it in the way he gets her that little lantern, lit by fireflies.
Aw.. Knowing that Jin Fan is fond of Zishang definitely gives a fresh new flavor to Zishang’s crush on him.
I’m guessing that he’s holding himself back because of the fact that he’s a Jade Guardian while she’s a member of the Gong family; he probably can’t see a future for them, given the difference in their stations.
I do wonder how well Zishang knows his feelings for her, because although she teases him for not showing his true feelings, I’ve actually seen that as her being in denial, all this time. 😅
I’d had no idea that Zishang had actually been on the money, and I can’t help wondering if she herself knows that she’s on the money.
Ziyu and Jin Fan
Like I mentioned earlier, interactions between Ziyu and Jin Fan do often add to the moments of levity in our story.
I do low-key enjoy their bickering and banter, because there is clearly affection between them, even though Jin Fan’s always complaining that he has to look after Ziyu and make sure he doesn’t get in trouble.
Beyond that, though, I’m most taken by the loyalty that these two men have towards each other.
E10-12. After Ziyu finds out the truth about Jin Fan’s true background, I like that he doesn’t seem to even think about keeping this a secret, and instead, talks with Jin Fan about it, the first chance he gets.
It feels important that they talk about it, so that this piece of information gets incorporated into their existing connection, and there are no secrets between them, going forward.
I like that; it feels healthy and honest, and full of trust, and I like the idea that this is th essence of their relationship.
Tian Jia Rui as Yuanzhi
I have to say, I thought Tian Jia Rui was very good in the role of Yuanzhi.
I spent much of my watch feeling aggravated by every smug smirk he wore, and yet, when the occasion called for it, he did just as well, showing us more poignant facets of Yuanzhi’s character.
Considering how I loved to hate him, and then turned on a dime to feel for him, whenever he replaced the smirk with more vulnerability, I’d say that’s some pretty darn good skillz.
Shangjue and Yuanzhi
Show establishes the strong brotherly bond between Shangjue and Yuanzhi from very early in our story, so much so that there was never any doubt in my mind, that there’s a great deal of loyalty between them.
I have to admit that because they often wore the smug smirk together, I found it doubly aggravating, compared to when it was just Yuanzhi smugly smirking on his own. 😅
However, I appreciate that Show takes the time to peel back the layers, to help us understand the context of this relationship, and the strong emotions driving that mutual loyalty.
When I came to understand their relationship better, I could better appreciate the fierce protectiveness that they each demonstrated for the other.
Wen Zheng Rong as Lady Wuji
I wanted to give Wen Zheng Rong a shout-out, because she did a fantastic job as Lady Wuji, who turns to be.. not quite a straightforward character, to put it mildly.
I’d say that Lady Wuji sure brings some unsettling energy to the table.
When she’s showing us her darker, more intimidating side, she often has this snake-like vibe going on, that immediately makes me feel like she’s not to be trifled with.
Yet, when she’s all good-hearted, sincere concern for our other characters, I completely believe her too.
I feel like Wen Zheng Rong brought a great duality to the character of Lady Wuji.
Omid as Hanya Si [SPOILERS]
I wanted to give a shout-out to Omid, because I found myself feeling for him, even though he’s Weishan’s raven, and is enforcing her Wufeng mission.
He’s just got these really sad eyes, and those sad eyes indicate that he’s got a big soft spot for Weishan, and that he isn’t actually happy to be a Wufeng raven, enforcing Wufeng rules and punishments.
Considering that he doesn’t have that many lines in the great scheme of things, I thought Omid did a really nice job of giving us a sense of Hanya Si’s emotional landscape.
Ji Ling Chen as Huanyu [SPOILERS]
This is a character that surprised me several times, during my watch.
In the first place, I didn’t see his death coming, at the beginning of our story, and then, I totally didn’t foresee the twist – that he’s actually not dead at all – at the tail end of our story.
Elaine tells me that this un-deading of characters is actually a bit of a wuxia trope, which I totally hadn’t realized, not having seen all that many wuxias, to date.
HOWEVER. Upon revisiting my episode notes for this review, I was honestly kind of chuffed to realize that upon watching our initial episodes, I’d actually found Huanyu to be such a perfect and helpful character, that I’d wondered whether this was all a cover, to hide a possibly more nefarious true nature.
I’d then dismissed this as completely misguided, because I’d believed his death, and that the other reason that characters tend to be presented as quite perfect in dramas – because they’re going to die – had proved true instead. 😅
BUT HEY. I’d kind of placed him correctly, until he threw me off the scent..? 😁
SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE STRETCH [SPOILERS]
E19-21. Show ramps up the drama in this penultimate stretch, and I’m still reeling from it all, as I type this. 😅
I have very mixed feelings about this set of episodes, not gonna lie.
Mainly, I feel like there’s a greater need for suspension of disbelief, and that makes me feel like the writing is less assured than I would have liked.
For example, the way Show leans into its comedic side, in order to place Xue Chongzi and Xue Gongzi at the front hill, just when Ziyu needs help to break Weishan out of prison, feels a bit like a cheap shot, to me. 😅
The way they also rope in “Xiaohei” who turns out to be Young Master Hua from the backhill, is also on the comedic, convenient side of things.
And, I acknowledge that Show’s comedic side does help to provide some levity in an otherwise heavy-leaning story.
However, I do find that I instinctively chafe when this comedic, not-so-logical side is called upon to create an important development in our main story.
Like, was there no other way to bring Xue Chongzi and Xue Gongzi to the front hill, but to suddenly make Xue Chongzi give in to his playful, curious side? 😅
This was definitely something I felt I needed to adjust my viewing lens for.
I also found it a bit of a stretch, that Ziyu’s side would be able to keep Weishan in that room, without anyone trying to force her back into prison. I mean, they stormed the prison to get her out, and then just keep her in a room that still looks to be within the Gong premises?
Surely it’d be too easy for Shangjue, or the elders, to storm the room right back, and put her back in prison..? 😅 Especially since, right at this point, Ziyu’s off doing his third trial on the backhill?
But ok, Show has Jin Fan raise the same question to Ziyu, so hopefully Show will provide an explanation for this, in our finale stretch.
On a tangent, I have to say, I’d felt completely perplexed at the plot point where Ziyu’s trial requires him to sacrifice Jin Fan, in order to forge the saber.
I kept thinking that surely this part of the trial couldn’t have remained a secret, if every trial taker had returned without their green jade guardian, after the third trial?
Yes, Show does give an explanation for what had happened to the various green jade guardians, in saying that they’d been kept on the backhill for further training, but that doesn’t explain how this trial could have been kept a secret for so long, if every green jade guardian who’d gone with his master, hadn’t returned.
I definitely thought that was a weak point in the writing – which, again, requires some suspension of disbelief.
ALSO. I was just as perplexed to see Weishan speaking with Lady Wuji as if Lady Wuji hadn’t sold her out in front of everyone, causing Weishan’s identity as a Wufeng assassin to be revealed.
How is that logical, that Weishan would continue to have any measure of trust in Lady Wuji, to have this very calm, collaborative sort of conversation, and even persuade Lady Wuji to tell Ziyu the truth about being Anonymous??
I found this very, very bizarre.
Just as bizarre – perhaps even more so – is the twist that Show serves up, that Lady Wuji is killed by none other than Ziyu’s brother, who turns out to be very much alive.
Honestly, I rolled my eyes at this, because, in my head, the whole “he’s alive!” sort of trope, of undead-ing characters, is very much a makjang sort of thing.
And, the explanation that Show provides, that the body that everyone had seen, hadn’t actually been Huanyu’s body, but some kind of trickery by Lady Wuji. Well that’s conveniently vague, isn’t it?
I’m also very perplexed as to why Huanyu would (almost) kill Lady Wuji, and then pretend to be completely weakened, when he’s strong enough to almost kill Lady Wuji with a single hand to her throat, and claim that Lady Wuji had destroyed all his martial arts ability.
Of course, at this point, Show hasn’t given us the explanation yet, but I kinda also rolled my eyes at the additional reveal, that Huanyu isn’t actually Ziyu’s biological brother, but had been adopted by Ziyu’s dad, when his own parents had died.
Am I supposed to believe that Huanyu had spent his entire life pretending to be a model son, when all along, he’d been plotting to destroy everyone, by using the Infinite Heat?
It just doesn’t make sense to me right now, but I’m willing to wait and see what explanation Show provides, for this.
I do appreciate that Show gives us some backstory for Lady Wuji, so that we can understand how she’d managed to make a connection with Ziyu’s mom, and eventually entered the Gong premises.
And, I appreciate that she’d actually switched loyalties to the late Sword Wielder, when he’d revealed the truth behind her family’s disappearance. This means that her affection for Ziyu had been real, all these years.
It also makes sense to me, that with Wufeng telling her to kill the late Sword Wielder, while holding her brother’s safety as hostage, she’d make the extreme decision to kill the very man who had shown her mercy and given her safety.
In the end, I have complicated feelings towards Lady Wuji, because while I do feel sorry for how horribly she dies, and how her hand had been forced, in killing the late Sword Wielder, but I also can’t forget how wily and cunning we’ve seen her be, in outing Weishan.
I do agree with Weishan’s estimation, that Lady Wuji would regard her death both as punishment and release.
On another note, I must say, I was rather dismayed to find that Qian is not as attached to Shangjue as I’d allowed myself to believe.
I mean, yes, she’s never struck me as being trustworthy, certainly, but I honestly thought that she was growing some true feelings for Shangjue, and therefore wouldn’t kill him.
But we see that she’s more than open to the idea, when Lady Wuji brings it up, and then again, later, when she suggests to her raven, that Wufeng storm the Gong sect, when Shangjue is at his most vulnerable.
Yikes. She is ruthless indeed – AND, quite a consummate actress, for that matter, since I’d completely believed her attachment towards Shangjue. 🙈😅
Plus, Qian also sells out Weishan, this set of episodes, with the map that she gets from her, which absolutely reinforces the fact that I should never, ever trust her.
As for Weishan and Ziyu, I’m glad that they finally have that moment where they confirm their feelings for each other.
I mean, of course, Weishan’s already demonstrated how she really does care for Ziyu, but I do feel that Ziyu’s been waiting for a long time, to hear Weishan admit, with her own lips, that she does like him.
It’s just too bad that Weishan feels compelled to leave, though I can totally see why she would feel that that’s the most realistic way forward.
After all, it’s clear that Ziyu’s bent on protecting her, even if it means going against literally every other person in the Gong sect, and I can totally see why Weishan wouldn’t want to burden Ziyu like that, particularly on a long-term basis.
I have to say, I was pretty taken aback at the way Yuanzhi emerges from the secret tunnel like that, when Weishan opens the door, intending to make her exit from the Gong residence.
It really did feel a little bit like that iconic scene from The Ring, where the zombie(?) crawls out of the TV. 😂
I did find it touching that in the end, when Weishan does finally leave, Ziyu’s able to look upon it as him fulfilling the wish that she’d once articulated; that she wished for freedom.
It’s true that it’s only now, as he officially passes his third trial, that he’s able to ensure her freedom, by forbidding any of his people to go after her. How very poignant, yes? 🥲
When Weishan comes across the Wufeng elites hanging around town and preparing to attack the Gong residence, she does manage to send that letter to Ziyu, which I’d assuming will alert him to the impending danger.
At the same time, I’m also slightly confused, because it looks like Weishan had actually placed the idea in Elder Yue’s head, to set the date of Ziyu’s ascension to the position of Sword Wielder, to be the date when Shangjue is at his weakest.
That suggests that Weishan is actually helping the mission to take down the Gong sect, and.. that doesn’t mesh with what we know about Weishan and her love for Ziyu, so I’m officially confused, until Show clears this up – hopefully, in our finale stretch.
At this point, I wanted to quickly highlight the scene where Weishan says her goodbye to Hanya Si.
On the logical side of things, I don’t actually see how he’d be able to let her go free, when the rest of the elites – many of whom outrank him – are set on the idea of Weishan attacking the Gong residence with them.
Just because he lets her walk free now, doesn’t mean a whole lot?
On the emotional side of things, though, I really have to give a big shout-out to Omid, who plays Hanya Si.
The sadness in Hanya Si’s eyes is so deep with such raw, wistful pathos, that I find it quite arresting.
And, in his words, you can just feel the self-loathing and shame that he feels, for all the things that he’s done, while in Wufeng’s service.
I think that he stays with Wufeng, not because he feels that he has to, but because he feels that he doesn’t deserve anything better, and that’s really sad, especially when I look at that sorrow shining out of his eyes.
As for Jin Fan and Zishang, I’m kind of glad that Jin Fan finally feels compelled to tell Zishang how he feels, even if that’s only because she’s in a coma and he’s worried sick that she’ll never wake up.
But of course she does wake up, and basically proposes marriage right away, because she’d heard him say that he’d promise her anything, if she wakes up.
Heh. I’m kinda amused by the whole idea of this, even though Show doesn’t play it for comedy, for once.
Also, I’m reaching for the tentative conclusion that Zishang’s injuries have something to do with Huanyu, and that’s because he knows that she saw him kill Lady Wuji?
That’s why it feels so ominous, that when Zishang tells Jin Fan to alert Ziyu that she’s awake, without letting anyone else know, Jin Fan goes ahead and tells Ziyu the news, with Huanyu within earshot.
Sigh. I don’t think that Jin Fan’s stupid or anything; I think that he trusts Huanyu so fully, that he doesn’t consider Huanyu to be “anyone else” who shouldn’t know about Zishang waking up from her coma.
Now, though, I’m concerned for Zishang’s safety, because Huanyu definitely knows, and I don’t think he’s just going to just sit back and do nothing about it.
HOWEVER. As we close out episode 21, we have Ziyu and Shangjue bowing to the elders together, like they’re about to make some kind of joint announcement. We haven’t had anything like that before.
I’m guessing that this must have something to do with the letter that Weishan sent to Ziyu.. Hopefully this means that Ziyu and Shangjue have a Solid Plan to protect the Gong sect from Wufeng’s impending attack.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Hrm. I feel like this finale is potentially very divisive, in the sense that I think that some people would like it quite well, for the most part, while others might not like it so much.
And.. I have to confess that I am not a fan of this finale, you guys. 😅
But first, let me acknowledge some upsides to this finale.
I appreciate the fact that we do get some answers to things that I’d actually given up hope on actually getting answers for.
For example, I’d wondered about Weishan’s and Qian’s names, because they were taking on identities of brides who had been earmarked from various families, and yet, everyone – including Wufeng – addressed them by these names.
At least now, Show gives us an indication that Wufeng had chosen them for this mission from a young age, such that their ravens had addressed them by these names from ever since they can remember.
Yes it’s a bit of a stretch to think that Wufeng would know, so many years in advance, which daughters of which families would be selected to be bridal candidates of the Gong family, but at least it’s an explanation.
I also liked that we finally get an explanation for why Xue Chongzi has the appearance of a young boy, when he’s actually similar in age to Ziyu.
I just generally appreciated that various questions I had in my head, as I’d watched the episodes prior, do get some kind of explanation, during this finale.
That said, I have to go back to the fact that I really didn’t find this finale as satisfying as I’d originally hoped.
Thinking about it, there are three main things that I’d like to talk about, in terms of my not liking this finale as much as I’d hoped to.
1. All the twisty reveals
This is the key thing that I imagine would divide viewers, because I think that there would likely be a camp of people who actually like the multiple reveals that Show gives us, in our final three episodes.
I wasn’t feeling it, however, and let me try to explain using an analogy.
You know how some people are so absorbed in their own brilliance that they start to alienate the people around them?
Well, that’s a large part of how I felt about this finale, honestly.
Starting from episode 22, and through much of our final three episodes, Show starts to give us reveal after reveal, where it turns out that a lot of what we’ve been seeing on our screens, was only a big act that our characters were putting on, when in fact, there were many other things that had happened off-screen, that we as an audience weren’t privy to.
In a way, it’s clever, sure, but I have to confess that the more reveals Show gave us – while, I imagine, happily reveling in the flourish of it all – the more alienated I felt, as a viewer.
I just felt like, “Hey, I thought I was your friend; I followed you on your journey and felt for you in all of the ups and downs I saw you experience. And now, you’re telling me that you were keeping SO MANY THINGS from me, all this time? That a lot of what I saw was all fake..?
Were we ever friends at all..? If we were, then how could you keep SO MANY THINGS from me, for SUCH a long time?”
In planning so many things and executing them in secret, I felt like Show, in wanting to wow me with its brilliance, instead ended up making me feel distant and alienated instead.
Like, I felt kinda cheated of the feelings that I felt, during the time when Show was just, well, putting on a show, y’know? 😅
2. The long expositions
Another reason that I didn’t like the multiple reveals so much, is because this meant that we often got served long stretches of dialogue, meant solely to give us explanations about what had really happened, rather than what we’d thought had happened.
Not only did I start to find the stretches of expositions lengthy and therefore kind of boring (it felt like nothing was actually happening on my screen, except people talking 😅), I also felt like these long stretches eroded any semblance of believability that we still had.
For example, in the scene where Elder Hua dies, Young Master Hua rushes to his side and we get a pretty long conversation between the two of them, where Daddy Hua assures Sonny Hua, with his dying breaths, that he really had been proud of sonny-boy, all this time.
I found this unrealistic, because there’s an actual Wufeng assassin there, who doesn’t care about humanistic things like giving his victims time to say their goodbyes.
Why would High-Level Wufeng Assassin Extraordinaire, who’s established that he’s cruel, heartless and impatient, just stand there and wait for Daddy to pass, so that Sonny Boy would finally turn his attention to Assassin Extraordinaire..?
I found this very, very hard to believe, and this kind of dynamic, where people spend way more time talking than is actually believable, given the urgency of the circumstances, also took away from my enjoyment of the finale.
3. Where and how we end the story
I thought I’d also talk a little bit about our characters, before talking about the ending.
I was bummed that we lose several of our good guys, in this finale, like Xue Gongzi, Elder Hua and Young Master Hua.
And these are just the characters that we know. Apart from them, there are also lots of casualties from the Gong household, with all the fighting that ensues.
This just felt rather cruel to me, in the sense that Ziyu had hatched this big plan and kept it a huge secret – but this plan would cost many lives from within the Gong household.
It feels.. sad and rather cruel, to me, that he would hatch this plan with such determination, despite knowing that many people would die as a result of the plan.
However, I rationalize that with this premise, we were always going to have a big showdown at the end of our story, no buts about it.
How else could Show resolve this big thing, right, where Wufeng wants to take down the Gong household, and has embedded their assassins within the household?
I’m just relieved that Jin Fan doesn’t end up dying, even though Show makes us believe that he dies, at the end of episode 22.
I feel that it’s stretch that he survives, but I like Jin Fan a lot, so I’ll take it. 😅
Also, I’m quite glad that Show alludes to the fact that Jin Fan and Zishang do get married, and it’s pretty cute how Jin Fan literally won’t let her out of his sight. 😁
I also appreciated the beat where we see that Xue Chongzi has given up his pursuit of his sutra training, in order to remember Xue Gongzi.
It was poignant, and an affirmation of the bond that they’d had, from spending so many years together, on the back hill.
As for Shangjue and Qian, I don’t like that Qian goes back to claiming that she’d cared about Shangjue all along.
I mean, excuse me, didn’t she very recently plot to have him killed?? This.. does not compute, for me.
This inconsistency niggled at me, and made me feel that her eventual claim of sincerity didn’t ring true.
Her tendency to lie also makes me doubt her claim that she’s pregnant with Shangjue’s child.
And I feel bad for Shangjue, that he feels genuinely sad about letting her go, because, as we’ve learned, SHE IS NOT TO BE TRUSTED. 😬
I feel like Show is conveniently glossing over the fact that Qian is not to be trusted, in the way it frames her as missing Shangjue, which we can gather from the way she waters the white azaleas, in that snippet of her that we see.
That said, I’m actually glad to see Ziyu, Shangjue and Yuanzhi finally all on the same side, and getting along, albeit a little awkwardly at times.
I’d been wondering how Show would resolve the tension between them, given how much animosity Shangjue and Yuanzhi have shown Ziyu over the course of our story, and this, I think, is a reasonably good balance between warm and feel-good, and believable in the context of their situation.
As for Huanyu, I’m actually rather surprised that he doesn’t die, but I realize that Show probably didn’t want Ziyu to have to deal with the guilt that he would inevitably feel, if he were to kill Huanyu, even if it was to protect everyone in the Gong household.
While we were getting all these scenes indicating closure to our story and our characters’ relationships, I did have a niggling feeling that Wufeng hadn’t truly been eradicated, even though our Gong side prevailed, during the attack.
After all, Wufeng hadn’t sent all their people to this attack, right?
And so, I get what Show is saying, in having Weishan go back to Lixi Town, and finding that Dianzhu, the head of Wufeng, is there waiting for her in her twin sister’s room, along with an armed raven.
This also indicates to us that our story isn’t over, and there is more story to be explored, possibly in a Season 2?
To me, this is a problem, though.
First of all, I don’t believe we are getting a Season 2, so this means that our story has an open ending, where Ziyu and Weishan are separated, and, from the way Ziyu looks so crestfallen after looking up at the sound of the gate, it’s clear that Weishan does not actually make her way back to the Gong premises.
Secondly, I don’t see how this story could continue, in a way that makes sense.
Because, what would Dianzhu do, now that she’s got Weishan trapped?
Obviously, Dianzhu would kill Weishan for betraying Wufeng, right? After all, that’s what happened to Yun Que, for betraying Wufeng.
And, if I were Dianzhu, what I would then do, is train Weishan’s twin, and then force Twin Sister to enter the Gong household, as Weishan, in order to – yes, you guessed it – infiltrate the Gong household all over again, in order to find the Infinite Heat.
Just, how could this possibly end well??? 🙈
I would have much preferred it, if Show had allowed Weishan to remain in the Gong household, with Ziyu by her side – and then showed us that there’s still something brewing, over at Wufeng.
At least this way, we have the assurance that whatever Wufeng’s cooking up, Ziyu and Weishan would be able to face it, together. 🥲
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Darkly stylish and absorbing – but wobbles, in the end stretch.
FINAL GRADE: B+
BONUS: STYLE EDIT
This isn’t a track from the OST, but wow, this video really captures the best style moments of the show, into one fabulous edit, showcasing Show’s dark, polished flair, when Show was at its best. 🤩
Many thanks to my friend Paroma for sharing this on Twitter, which is how I found it.
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of My Journey To You, is Daily Dose of Sunshine [Korea]. I’ve taken an initial look at Daily Dose of Sunshine and I’m happy to say that I’m finding it to be a very worthwhile watch, so far.
You can check out my E1-2 notes on Daily Dose of Sunshine 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): +Daily Dose of Sunshine [Korea]
VIP (US$15): +Twinkling Watermelon [Korea]
VVIP (US$20): +The Worst Of Evil [Korea]
Ultimate (US$25): +Castaway Diva [Korea]