Curiouser and curiouser. Who in the world is Ling Buyi? It’s an odd question to be asking so late in the drama but in truth it’s one that has bothered me for a little while now. Whatever doubts I may have already had about the man, took shape when he entered the rebel Peng Kun’s bedroom with a sword in his hand. Peng Kun immediately identified him as Huo Chong which gave me goosebumps and an “aha” moment which led me to join a few different dots. Is it a spoiler for me to say that he might not be who he claims to be? Random disparate facts begin to make sense. And Huo Junhua might not be as nutty as she seems.
While it might be a crucial piece in a very large jigsaw puzzle, whether Ling Buyi is really Ling Buyi doesn’t ultimately matter all that much to me because a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. Whether he denies his father and/or refuses his name, Ling Zisheng is still a rather pitiful and ultimately sympathetic figure for whom the deaths of thousands have weighed heavily on his shoulders for far too long. The responsibility for revenge has plagued him for entirety of his young life and it’s been slow acting poison in his soul.
It seems unfair then that a young man should be burdened by something he cannot undo and that only the shedding of blood can settle this debt. As the only male survivor from that catastrophe at Gu City, the mantle for avenger of those wandering souls who according to tradition cannot be at peace while their murderers are at large. Justice has to be done and the truth must come to light. But at what cost to Zisheng?
In the affair of Shouchun, it’s not hard to see why Zisheng inspires such incredible loyalty from his men. By their fervour on the battlefield or any mission, his leadership skills are a given. They’re a disciplined lot — a lean, mean fighting force who are one with their leader. He would never ask from them what he’s not willing to do himself. Their safety is paramount to him because they’re not underlings but brothers in arms. Even A’Fei who talks too much and gets punished for his troubles, is steadfast to the uttermost.
Whoever Ling Buyi is, he is a type of Gu Long wuxia hero — chivalrous, popular with the ladies, shrewd, something of a detective. Broad strokes of the Dark Knight I might add. A battle-weary figure who strikes fear in the hearts of those on the other side of the fence. He’s the one they bring in when no one can or will. He can be relied on to take out the trash one way way or another and bring closure. Despite his gifts and fighting prowess, he is also depicted as a pitiful creature because he is a man with secrets that cast a darkness in his soul. It’s a lonely existence and the light and warmth of love might be the only panacea for it — if he’s not too far gone. That’s why in his most vulnerable moment with Niaoniao in his embrace, he says to the woman he loves with a quiet desperation “I really need you”.
There’s a moment before this where his adversary Peng Kun strikes with his blade into Zisheng while he’s busy with a drawbridge lever. It cuts through the cloth but Niaoniao’s copper armour saves his life within inches. It’s a moment in the story that’s ripe with symbolism. While he’s busy saving his men and impatient to rush to her side, the love of his beloved shields him from sneak attacks. Alas Ling Buyi is not a man of steel but of flesh and blood. He too needs a little lovin’ just like the rest of us mere mortals.
As expected Niaoniao heads off to Tongniu County on her own with mixed results. When the lovers finally reunite, all of her bravado collapses into a heap. As she recounts the hard road taken, he’s visibly amused at her exploits much to her expressive indignation. When she rebukes him he reminds her that her family problems are now his. He’s not one to stand by and not lift a finger. When he promises to help her uncover the mysteries surrounding her father’s disappearance, she complains about the fact that it’s a little too late. What’s the point of saying that now, she whines, when he wasn’t around when she was covered in excrement. Not only it is chuckle worthy to see the almighty Ling Zisheng get pushed around by a woman, but it’s clear that Niaoniao is begging to be babied. It’s the only explanation for her making such an illogical statement. She’s shell shocked, in need of pampering after all that she’s gone through and it’s fortunate that Zisheng knows how her mind works by playing along dutifully. Moreover when she comes face to face with the seemingly affable Lou Ben brimming with hostility, Zisheng’s ability to read her like a book quickly prevents her from letting the cat out of the bag.
Throughout the investigation of the crimes at Tongniu County, the young lovers continue to show themselves more united than ever, evolving into a budding investigative team with plenty of potential. I’m reminded nostalgically of another favourite The Imperial Coroner, and would be ecstatic if we had another 10 episodes of the Zisheng-Niaoniao pairing playing sleuths with no threat of separation in sight. Regrettably this is not that drama.
There’s a lot at stake for the Cheng family and as Yuanyi’s words echo in Niaoniao’s ears, it is no wonder that she goes a bit hysterical at the thought that she could be the only one of the family left if they can’t get to the truth and find Dad. However, no news is good news. The fact that Cheng Shi’s body can’t be found in a mass grave should give her hope but she’s completely gripped with fear that her sense of urgency goes into overdrive.
Perhaps I am a contrarian and a Ling Buyi apologist but I can’t for the life of me accept the fact that Zisheng is wrong to want some normality in his life even if he’s resisted it over the years. A little light shining into the darkness must make even a man like that a bit coveteous. From his perspective it’s not hard to see why a young resourceful woman like Shaoshang is so hard to resist. They have common ground and common cause on several fronts. Can we demand that a single man who wants so desperately to protect a woman that he sees so much of himself in that he should not be allowed to fall for her? In fact where would she be at this point without him? Quite dead most probably and six foot under. There is no one else. Not Yuan Shen and certainly not A’Yao. Both of whom are sign posts rather than suitors. Her trip to Hua County is not something that we can ever attribute to Ling Buyi. Neither can the breaking of her engagement with A’Yao. As a matter of fact it wasn’t something he discouraged or encouraged. Would Niaoniao be happier with another man? Maybe. Maybe not. There can be no certainty in life to guarantee that life outside of Ling Buyi would be better considering the conditions for ordinary folk in those times. Until recently I imagine she’s never been happier. Being with him hasn’t been the gilded cage she thought it was. The fact that she can grumble with a straight face that he wasn’t around when she needed him most is indicative that she’s come to rely on him without a second thought. For him it’s a matter of joy that there’s someone he can be defenceless with.
The message is clear — fortune favours the brave. This is largely what this romance happens to be about. Taking risks (within reason) is a part of life. There’s no guarantee that one scenario or another will bring lifelong nuptial bliss because of the unpredictability of life. Ling Buyi and Cheng Shaoshang are heroic not because they are perfect but because they fight for what they want. They aren’t content to sit and outsource their thinking to others. They live their lives from one day to the next taking responsibility for whatever the outcomes.
I love your reference to Gu Long’s wuxia heroes, because I was thinking the same too with some of Jin Yong’s.
You’re spot on about how LBY really is the general one brings in because of brilliance in both combat and strategy.
There was some weird ambiguity that I didn’t care for about the general they captured (the whole fiasco with the chicken vs mandarin duck wings was hilarious)…did he switch sides to LBY’s and betray Peng Kun? I was a bit lost there because it seemed so odd especially when there’s one-man LBY going in like the Trojan horse and didn’t quite think things through. I can sorta understand on his part though, given that he wants to do what he can ASAP to head out and find CSS. It was heartfelt seeing the symbolism as well too, and how it was Shaosheng’s armour that saved LBY’s life. In her defense, it was DEFINITELY a rabbit embroidered on there.
Thank goodness there’s someone (you) who has a good head on her shoulders in understanding LBY’s desire to have normalcy in some semblance of his life, and it so happens that the greatest emotion of love is what captured him in the form of NN. I truly don’t think she’d have been happy with anyone else other than LBY. (biasness talking, maybe!)
Thank you for posting! I see you’ve posted for 45-46 too, so I’ll see you over there in a bit!