Not only are the lunatics trying to take over the asylum but it’s also down to the lunatics to help the leads see sense because nobody else in their circle seems prepared to lift a finger to help things along. But they’re not just your garden variety fruit loops either. Indeed they are women of a type and hell hath known no fury like one who has lost a man and wants vengeance for his untimely demise. It doesn’t matter to her that said man killed innocent people and spearheaded a conspiracy to deceive the emperor. It also doesn’t seem to matter that he took his own life to escape justice. Nah. The lady is angry and looking for someone to blame. What’s more she means to go out with a bang and take a few people down with her. It’s usually tiring trying to reason with such rabidly morbid types but it’s not a bad way to stall for time because crazy people have a habit of bragging about The Plan. Let the villain speak and speechify for as long as possible while we all wait for the cavalry to arrive. If we’re lucky they might divulge something of importance. Still, couldn’t Zisheng just have plunged a sword into a vital organ and be done with it? It’s not exactly his first outing with lunatics. Nevertheless if he had, then Niaoniao wouldn’t have heard his inner rumblings of regret said out loud and then where would we all be indeed?
There’s a pattern of late. Batty women in this franchise are consistently good at one thing — to remind supposedly saner people that life is short and posturing indifference is an utter waste of everybody’s time. Including the audience’s. From among all the chatter a message emerges: It takes a near death experience to loosen tongues and melt icy hearts.
It’s hard to know what the writers are thinking at this point. One can only speculate with impunity. The so-called good guys have all gone eerily silent because… what? Nobody wants to take sides in an ugly divorce? Everyone’s waiting for a sign from heaven to fall from the sky? Perhaps words have been said off screen but we haven’t been privy to any. If so, why not? So it’s left to deranged third rate villains to stoke the flames of passion for an unhappy pair of lovers. Let’s not of course forget A’Yao and He Zhaojun who despite a rocky start has managed to get the jump on the leads and are expecting their first child. Yay for them doing their bit to perpetuate the next generation that is if Wang Yanji doesn’t kill He Zhaojun first. A’Yao’s transformation into a decisive husband is one of the bright lights in this mishmash of episodes. The lad’s moved on and built a life for himself. He’s flourishing and genuine happiness on the marriage front might even be within his grasp.
Though a bit torn initially, I don’t entirely object to the old near death experience trope at this point. Almost anything would be fine at this stage in the story because I just want the leads to get back together before the last 10 minutes of the show. But it does feel a bit like cheating when with a few strokes of a pen Zisheng could have bared his soul long before without the instigation of the maniacal Wang Yanji. No doubt Wang Yanji would be ecstatic to know that she has been deployed for a higher cosmic purpose in her revenge when she finds her way to the underworld. She does have her uses in this plot doing a fairly adequate impersonation of a psychopath. It is somewhat amusing to hear Niaoniao’s cavalier words thrown back at her with real cynicism rather than her pretend one. “Who cares about He Zhaojun? He can have children with anyone.”
One gets a feeling that the writers are mocking their own lead character for digging her heels in but what to do… the director likes sword fights and blowing things up. It’s theatre baby and he’s determined to go the whole hog. If Niaoniao can’t be persuaded out of her obstinacy, let’s scare the living daylights out of her.
The truth is that Zisheng never betrayed her in the way that Niaoniao thinks. He may have made it look like he did but he could never do so. He once promised to protect her and that’s what he’s always done in every situation whether under the guise of noble idiocy… or not. Protecting her has always been his modus operandi from Day 1. That’s doubly clear when he jumps into Wang Yanji’s trap knowing full well that it’s a trap, all because her safety has always been paramount to him. This is a consistent thread of thinking all through their romance from the day he fell in love with her at the lantern festival. The first thing he does there is to save her from her own silliness. The tavern’s blazing away and she’s got to get what’s owing to her. Ever since then she’s been free to make her choices and his job as a man who loves her with all his heart is to protect her even from her worst choices. Of course that has been something of a double-edge sword for both. His only real “crime” as it were was believing that she could be happy without him or that he was detrimental to her long-term happiness. He truly believed that if she could move on from A’Yao to a relationship with him, she could in turn find her happiness with Yuan Shanjian once he’s out of the picture. The question then is why would such an absurd notion even enter his consciousness? Well, sad to say, it’s because he’s been taking stock of what she’s been saying over the months. No one can say that our boy hasn’t been paying attention. No one is allowed to forget as it reverberates right through the whole show: I have to be free. I can’t be under anyone’s thumb. I can never change. That’s who I am. I didn’t have a say in whether I wanted to marry Ling Buyi. I’m not like Yangyang who will go along with whatever the elders decide. Think too about all the arguments they had about him dragging her into palace intrigue against her will. Right? Remember all that? He must have and vividly too. Also consider all the times when she did things against his advice, when she accused him of being a control freak, doing things behind her back, manipulating things. This has always been a bone of contention between them. I imagine that all of these things were foremost in his mind especially after his big revenge. So it is hilariously tragic that just when she was ready to follow him unto death, he decides to let her go.
From my early ramblings you’ll know that I seldom took Niaoniao’s rantings seriously because what does a relatively sheltered 15 year old girl know about what she wants from life? The deterministic thinking that followed her everywhere was always disconcerting and should never have been taken as gospel. I’ve raised girls myself with enough regrets on that front to say that no matter how intelligent children are, maturity is something that comes over time with the right kind of input from people of good will. Wisdom, you might have heard it said, is not the same thing as intelligence. This is why I find the adults in her life perplexing. She was left to fend for herself for 15 years and then she was left to brood for another 5. It’s utterly bewildering. However spending time cooped up in the palace for 5 long years could be a valid explanation as to why she allowed herself to be caught unawares by the likes of Luo Jitong and Lou Li. The rust has obviously set in.
What Zisheng didn’t take into account was that she was so devoted to him to the point where she would lose her spark and will without him. That is what I suspect he really regrets the most. He loved her independence and assumed that she would be headstrong enough that she could go on living life without him. The realisation that she could be so devastated by him walking away has hit him really hard. That said, I can’t entirely fault him for thinking the way he did. Even more recently Niaoniao continues her pretence of indifference. “He’s just one man. There are plenty of men around.” “Isn’t it just about having babies?” The cynicism is an affectation that’s for public consumption not words from the heart. It’s obvious that there’s plenty of things she says about herself that’s not reliable. She’s never been a completely reliable perspective to begin with. It’s always been left up to the audience to sift through all noise and look at the context for what’s actually going on. I have enough respect for the creative team to believe that this has always been purposeful.
The word “psychopath” has been thrown around with regards to Ling Buyi but in all frankness it seems a bit of a stretch to me. As far as the drama is concerned, Zisheng is the quintessential tsundere. He seems aloof and arrogant to those who don’t know him well but in truth he is a man who says little but feels deeply. Much more deeply than the god of war exterior might suggest. This is where the survivor’s guilt, the need to avenge the dead of Gu City all come from. He cares far too much and it is the height of absurdity that it’s the nutty women who can see through him enough to exploit it for their own purposes when the woman he loves can’t see it. I think the empress who raised him, and the Third Prince who grew up with him, know it too. His unswerving loyalty to the emperor and the rest of the royal family is proof of that. When he kills Ling Yi, the impulse comes from his inner anguish for A’Li and all the other casualties in this senseless slaughter. This is what Yuan Shanjian means when he gives his little speech at the end about Zisheng and Niaoniao being of a particular tribe — two people of a kind who love deeply. Shanjian’s insight into Niaoniao as usual is right on the money: She pretends that love doesn’t mean all that much to her but in actual fact she is someone who craves deep affection and wholeheartedly wants to give it. In other words, she longs to be in a love match like her parents.
In the supposedly major confrontation with Wang Yanji, Zisheng tells her that Lou Ben was not worth her killing four people and herself over. Not to mention committing treason. She’s immediately indignant and brings up the spectre of his own mistakes with Shaoshang. His response is everything. At the very least it’s enough to inch towards a reconciliation.
I know. After killing Ling Yi I immediately began to regret it after setting eyes on her. A husband and a wife should be of one mind and move in one accord. All these years, there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t regretted it. Even if the road to revenge is difficult, I should have married her first. (Turns to Shaoshang) I should have transparently walked the right path together with you.
He knows it’s not the revenge that she objected to but the fact that he left her out of the loop. He also understands that it’s not that she’s stopped loving him but she’s been hurt by decisions that he made for both of them without considering her perspective. This is always the problem with noble idiocy. Even if decisions are made with the best of intentions, they take away the other party’s agency — to object or to affirm. Even if he wanted to protect her from the consequences of his own actions, she should have been given the choice to be a part of it or not be a part of it. After all, they were both serious about marriage to each other.
To convince the rest of us that he’s finally got it and she’s really forgiven him, the pair come to some sort of agreement to work cooperatively for a change. She says to him in Casablanca style that their petty love issues don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world so it’s up to them in a show of unity to stop the baddies from wreaking more havoc on the civilian populace.
Hey, better late than never.
Although I’m quite fond of clashing steel and of things to go boom in dark/bright places, it does seem a bit of a waste of beloved support characters not to have them play a far more pivotal role in bringing the leads together. Why are the friendlies so complacently morose and passive in the post-5-year period only for the Cheng family to all front up on the battlefield at the 11th hour so that we can get a nice family portrait against the night sky at the end? Is that what the Cheng family have been relegated to? Cattle to be herded around to cheerlead the leads after they get together? Perhaps they’ve merely fallen victim to the director’s penchant for dramatic action set pieces and he is rather good at staging them. Dishevelled and sooty, Shaoshang looks rather out of place brandishing a sword in that smoky hellhole but at least she’s got A’Qi and half the black armoured army shielding her from the worst that the enemy has to offer.
Huo Buyi is elsewhere protecting the Third Prince now Crown Prince from the dastardly Tian Shuo and his minions, remnants of those loyal to the previous dynasty. It’s never entirely clear to me what Tian Shuo is trying to achieve apart from bloodshed and anarchy. Emperor Li is dead, right? So, is he trying to install a new regime? Or is it just revenge? Seems to be such a waste of kerosene just to cause trouble to the incumbent ruler, not to mention all that spilling of blood, sweat and tears.
At it’s best the drama’s visual storytelling reminds me of my favourite British adaptations of 19th century novels. North and South (2004) is the one that spring to mind straightaway. Even the background music reminds me of it. The lovely family portrait at the end as the camera focuses on each member with a visibly elated Huo Buyi embracing the warmth of a family he hasn’t had for the longest time is calculated to put a smile on one’s face. The filter used here flatters the women but especially Zhao Lusi who is absolutely stunning. The Cheng family drama has come full circle. It is apropos that Zisheng reserves his best and brightest smile in the whole drama for the Cheng family at the end of a long torturous road. They have oddly enough (even with Grandma in tow) become the model family of the show even if they are still far from being a perfect one. Zisheng must feel privileged to be a part of that.
As far as finales and resolutions go, it’s certainly nowhere near being the worst I’ve seen. The Autumn Ballad is still the frontrunner in a year where the quality of C dramas have been unusually decent. But when a show has a had a good run, it’s always a little disappointing that the conclusion does not reflect the quality of what came before. It’s terrible habit with Asian dramas that you can never be sure about the resolution and one has to brace oneself for that inevitable drop in quality at the end or some nutty last minute development that postpones that happily-ever-after for no apparent reason.
I’m one of those people who don’t need weddings even at the end of a long journey with the leads and I seldom expect one. This is a show, however that probably should have had one because of the missed opportunity all that time ago. Wen Di’s righteous indignation is adorable in that regard and comically expresses exactly what most are thinking. We too have been fretting for the leads, praying and hoping for their eventual union and yet we are not going to be witnesses of that. Gee. How rude. Honestly, I’m not too greedy — just a little peek into the bridal chamber would be fine with me.
This review is so much refreshing compared to the chorus of comments saying that HBY is a psychopath, they shouldn't have gotten back together, HBY shouldn't have pursued SS when he knew he had a revenge agenda. But love is not something we usually plan, it happens and for someone who had lost that star in his life quite early, I don't blame him for pursuing it. Even spies on the job do fall in love, it happens.
The writers did drop the ball from the time the RED birthday happened till the end. Everything happened because the writers wanted it that way.
Instead of the big fight scene and the incessant murderous female, how lovely would it have been if HBY and SS sat down to discuss, with SS asking questions about his life, his journey and his thought process. Things said when emotions are heightened are always exaggerated. Having a heart to heart, baring their soul, being honesty with his other would have solved their noble idiocy. Even if they still decide to part at least it would have made more sense.
Did SS learn anything at all, honestly I don't think so. Saying she's stubborn and she can't change is not a good thing. She's 15 right but a 15 year old at that time is massively more matured to one of even of 20 years ago. Most girls marry at that age, build their home and their family. I think this is the one point I disagree with you. Age is not an excuse but her character is one of righteous indignation. She is upset because HBY abandoned her, didn't tell her his plan and honestly got that but at the end of the day she didn't only punish HBY but also herself for 5 years. Their reunion would have made so much sense if she learnt to forgive him during the 5 years exile, encourage him to forgive himself and probably do a QiQi during that period, make vows to themselves under the stars.
Sorry for the long post.
Hi Lily! Ah, I feel kinda sad that this is your last post for LLTG. All stories come to an end though.
I just…have so much to say about the ending of the drama, that I think I’ve exhausted all the words I could even think in writing my love/hate letter jumble-of-review regarding the show. There were so many problems in the later parts of the show, and I hated the cheap tropes the writers fell into with the near-death experience actually, though I think you mentioned basically being fine with it, or anything to get the leads back together. RELATE. LOL. I couldn’t stop laughing when you said “No doubt Wang Yanji would be ecstatic to know that she has been deployed for a higher cosmic purpose in her revenge when she finds her way to the underworld.”
My friend and I talked about how being isolated for 5 years and depressed probably did dull her mind a bit, but boy was it frustrating one after the other.
I don’t understand how it came about that Ling Buyi was a psychopath either, when countless other shows have stories with characters whose sole purpose is to exact revenge. Even more frustrating are comments of how HBY should not have fallen for Shaoshang and so forth. Are people watching different dramas that have never had these storylines before? Couldn’t agree more with you about Zisheng being tsundere.
The theatrics of clashing steel and booming explosions were a waste of time in my opinion too. I fast forwarded through the scene where HBY was being ambushed before being lured into the trap. And cracked up when they threw the last villain in at the end with the pathetic conversation Tian Shuo had with HBY. Not to mention, our capable 3rd prince looked like a complete dude-in-distress until HBY came to save the day.
High five! I loved NORTH AND SOUTH too. LOL! Oh gosh, AUTUMN BALLAD was an absolute disaster. True that LLTG did not have a bad ending, but that’s where my heart hurts, because of the potential we were given and shown, that it could have ended just as splendid the way it began.
I spent over a month hanging out on your posts, and I am going to miss these ramblings. Thank you for taking such precious time writing out your thoughts with wonderful insights and references. You truly are a wordsmith. I hope that our paths will cross again in a shared drama.