After a long drought, I'm watching Chinese dramas again—and a TV addiction is no fun if it’s not shared, right? So here are 3 dramas you should check out!
*Warning: This post has mild spoilers for the shows I’m describing. Tread carefully!*
1- Nirvana in Fire (琅琊榜)
Nirvana in Fire is a 54-episode, critically-acclaimed, and wildly popular drama. I started watching it after seeing people on the Internet—even people who never watched an Asian drama—rave about it. I had to know what the fuss was about, and I wasn’t disappointed.
There are many articles about the drama's cinematic elements, high-quality costume design, and its actors' (Liu Tao, Wang Kai, and Hu Ge) nuanced acting styles. But what hooked me was the cleverly written and utterly compelling story. Quality content perfectly matched by aesthetic pleasure, what isn’t there to love?
As for the story, it all starts with betrayal. The Lin family and their 70,000 soldiers allegedly betrayed the Emperor. This treasonous act caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people during the war and its aftermath.
Twelve years later, our hero, Mei Changsu, becomes the political adviser to a prince that nobody thinks can become Emperor. However, Mei Changsu is determined to make this unpopular prince the ultimate ruler in the kingdom.
Nirvana in Fire is at heart a story of revenge and secret identities. But what satisfies me the most is to watch very smart people try to outmaneuver each other while safe in the knowledge that our favorite smart person is WAY smarter than all the other smart people … so he’s sure to win? Right?!?
A Count of Monte Cristo story set in Liang dynasty China, Nirvana in Fire is a do-not-miss!
2- Love O2O (微微一笑很倾城)
My next recommendation is much more lighthearted!
Love O2O is a 30-episode contemporary romantic drama about a college student who plays an online wuxia (武侠)-themed RPG. Wuxia is basically swords & sorcery fantasy, but in the Chinese tradition (with lots of martial arts). Her character “marries” another to access “couples”-only perks in the game. Little does she know, her new online “husband” is played by none other than the most attractive guy at her school! Hijinks ensue, of course.
Love O2O is like cotton candy. It's not particularly substantial, a little flimsy on plot, and a bit too syrupy sweet towards the end. Yet, it's also pleasant and enjoyable and sometimes that’s all it takes!
What's my favorite thing about the show? Its the scenes between the wuxia game (putting aside the bad CGI) and real life. You get to enjoy the wuxia action with none of the angst- safe in the knowledge that it’s a game, so there are no real stakes. Unlike real wuxia, nobody’s going to die.
3- Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略)
My last recommendation is Story of Yanxi Palace. It's a 70-episode gongdou (宫斗) (harem fight drama) loosely based on historical events.
The story follows our heroine, Wei Yingluo. As the drama goes on, Wei Yingluo becomes the Imperial Noble Consort Ling or Empress Xiaoyichun.
Ling-fei (令妃) was an interesting historical figure. She started out as the palace's lady-in-waiting, then became one of the Emperor’s concubines, and finally rose through the ranks to Imperial Noble Consort and de facto Empress (after the real Empress was placed under house arrest and died). After Ling-fei’s death, her son became the next Emperor and he posthumously crowned her an Empress.
The drama gives her an unusual motivation— she enters the palace to discover who murdered her older sister. It also gives her a personality that I can best describe as a Slytherin with the misfortune to end up deeply loyal to a series of Hufflepuffs whose lives she continually tries (and sometimes fails) to save.
Unlike your usual shabaitian (傻白甜), the innocent naïf who usually stars in Chinese dramas, Yingluo is ruthless and cunning. At the same time, she is fiercely protective of her friends and has a deep sense of justice. Maybe she has some Gryffindor in her? That’s up to you to decide!
The real reason I recommend this drama, however, is that the plot moves quickly. I usually don’t like gongdou dramas because they tend to drag on and on. Yet with Yanxi Palace, the 70 episodes flew by quickly because each subplot is resolved within 2-3 episodes at most. Even if there is a subplot you dislike, or a misunderstanding you find tedious, two hours later and it’s done and you can move on.
What drama are you watching next?