Discover more from The Urban Lily Talks Tropes
The Blood of Youth (2023) First Impressions
So I got suckered into watching another C drama by someone on Janghaven Forums who innocently asked me if I was watching The Blood of Youth. I said, no, I hadn’t heard of it and then went to do some research. Turns out it’s a bad idea. It’s a wuxia story. Check. The trailers look good. Check. A high score on a popular drama platform. Check. I then thought… what’s the harm in having a look?
Two days later… I’ve watched all the available episodes. With some regret of course because it’s a very binge-worthy drama which has genuine stakes that escalates with every episode. At times it’s wuxia meets the X-men (or name your favourite superhero franchise) and other times I’m reminded of popular manga/anime series of the shonen variety. Such as the long-running One Piece. Or even the already completed Meiji era story Rurouni Kenshin. Hence it isn’t all that surprising to discover that this show is based on a popular webtoon and ongoing animated series. The comic booky vibes are never far away. I imagine too that the writer is a huge fan of the original Nirvana in Fire because there are multiple *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* references to it. Not to mention the actor who plays the emperor of Beili was the emperor in Nirvana.
The show begins with a narrated prologue about events that occurred years earlier in the kingdom of Beili. The emperor’s well-regarded brother, Lord Langya who helped his brother quell an uprising staged by the Demon Sect 12 years earlier himself becomes the subject of treason accusations. The emperor’s sixth son, the prodigious Prince Xiao Chuhe, tipped to be the monarch’s successor, strenuously defends his uncle but to no avail. For his troubles he is stripped of his title and later goes missing, presumed dead. These events provide the backdrop for what transpires in the present-day storyline.
The mysterious death of the elderly abbot of Hanshin Temple Wangyou sets the stage for a scramble among the various clans and sects of jianghu (the martial arts world) who are on the prowl for a golden coffin that’s being transported to Xueyue, a prosperous martial arts city. It’s escort is Tang Lian, one of the rising stars of jianghu, and his arduous mission is to fend off interested parties who covet said coffin. Some believe it to contain unimaginable wealth while others say that it the receptacle for much sought after martial arts secrets.
Attention soon shifts to a young proprietor of an out-of-the-way inn he calls Snowfall Mountain Villa. He is Xiao Se (Li Hongyi). Along comes Johnny-come-lately, Lei Wujie from the Jiangnan Thunderbolt Sect for a pit stop. He is a simple-minded lad who is far too eager to prove himself. Like a child in a sweet shop, he wanders around starry-eyed about this new world he is traversing having read far too many tales of valour than is healthy for an idealist. In a well-intentioned altercation with bandits, Lei Wujie tears up Xiao Se’s inn so in its aftermath the proprietor demands 500 taels of silver as compensation for the damages. Finding out the lad has no money, Xiao Se insists on following Lei Wujie to Xueyue City where his stated intention is to be recompensed by Lei Wujie.
Lei Wujie is your typical wet-behind-the-ears aspiring jianghu protagonist who is recognizably on a hero’s journey where his various encounters with pugilistic experts are inextricably tied to his growth arc. His antics are amusing to watch and so are Xiao Se’s reactions to them. But as the show progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that he isn’t the story’s primary protagonist despite the screen time allocated to him. It isn’t clear at first who that is until the jostle for the throne becomes a driving force for the strife that eventually rears its ugly head in martial arts arena.
Though he claims to be just your friendly neighbourhood inn-keeper, it’s obvious that there’s more to Xiao Se than meets the eye especially when he proves to be a veritable walking encyclopaedia of jianghu’s who’s who. The only person in a wuxia story who claims not to have any martial arts ability (except for a bit of useful qinggong (flying ability) has got to be a person of far more significance in the larger scheme of things.
Both Lei Wujie and Xiao Se are inadvertently embroiled in the golden coffin incident and soon become reluctant companions of Abbott Wangyou’s acolyte, Wuxin. In the aftermath of a skirmish with a member of the Tianwaitian sect, Wuxin whisks them off to a remote location with him. Wuxin, who has his own undeclared reasons to visit Dafanyin Temple keeps his intentions to himself. They wonder why he needs them when he’s so highly skilled but it’s clear that Wuxin, who is pursued by everyone, has his own agenda that he’s pursuing.
Clearly this action-adventure story is first and foremost about male camaraderie and loyalty forged in the fires of near-death experiences. That said the drama takes time out to put the spotlight on the odd romance here and there. Afterall superheroes also have to procreate somehow. Still, I wouldn’t be watching this for any kind of substantial romantic development of any pairing. Especially in a universe that’s decidedly operating on a zero sum game. Like Fox Volant, it very much holds to a Buddhist worldview
The show is also host to a cast of a thousand. There are a myriad of characters that would bamboozle the master himself Jing Yong. It is a dizzying experience. Just when you think that you’ve got a handle of who belongs where with what ability, they trot out more players with different names and abilities. Not only are there sectarian and clan affiliations but family connections to contend with as well.
Overall The Blood of Youth is a good-looking special effects fest with great cinematography. But thankfully it isn’t just that. There’s a decent script that underpins all the interactions revolving around a group of youngsters who are most likely set-up to inherit the mantle of their elders. The show does a really good job of blending genres — it’s a coming-of-age, male myth, fantasy, succession, passing of the torch and probably redemption story all rolled into one. Of course it can’t be denied that much of the show is derivative but even with the colossal juggling act, it manages to keep it together… for now.