I think it was summer last year when I decided to watch You Are My Glory before it started airing because I found Dilraba to be very beautiful and wanted to see what all the hype about Yang Yang was. I immediately fell in love with both of them and started looking for guzhuang (costume) dramas starring them. I had already finished The Long Ballad before, so I definitely wanted to see Yang Yang in the gorgeous historical robes, doing some wuxia stunts. That’s when I read about the upcoming drama Who Rules the World starring him and Zhao LuSi (who was also in The Long Ballad) and have been trying to keep updated with it’s promotions since. The initial posters and teaser were very compelling and it definitely looked very well made, so I was hoping that the end product would be equally interesting. When it finally started airing in April, I was so excited and I have not been so excited like this for any new Chinese show since the end of Word of Honor and maybe SDC4. I also found the complete translation of this book on wattpad at the same time the show was about to air, so I decided I had to read it as well. Let’s see below if I will be able to review both of them separately.
The first thing you’ll notice about this drama adaptation is the production spent quite a bit of money. The 1080p video on the WeTv website looks top quality, the costumes are very aesthetically pleasing and the most of the actors are very good looking and have a great screen presence. Undeniably, there’s also the magic of Yang Yang and Zhao LuSi together for the first time and their chemistry just lights up the screen. It might not get you hot and bothered like Yang Yang and Reba did in Glory, but here there is a very playful, bickering, flirtateous dynamic between the leads and it’s a delight to follow along. I have also not seen many shows which have the established friendship/relationship trope between the leads as the drama starts and I thought the script writers and actors did a great job portraying that comfort which comes with a person whom you’ve known and even trusted for ten years. Both Yang Yang and Zhao Lusi are spectacular – they are playful and fun when required, but bring out all their skills in the emotional scenes and it’s amazing to watch two equally powerful performances.
The plot is also quite interesting, initially starting off with some mystery solving and action sequences in the jianghu, and then pivoting to a very palace drama style court intrigue as well as a battle for the throne. I thought both the jianghu and the court elements were done well, especially all the manuevring that Feng Lanxi had to do to be named his father’s heir. Where I thought it slightly faltered was in the final arc – the battle for the throne – the war sequences were actually filmed quite satisfactorily, but I felt that whole subplot was crammed into very few episodes, including a six year timeskip, and I wish there was no 40 episode limit so that they could have maybe fleshed it all out a bit more. I was also expecting a much more powerful final fight and it just finished in a flash. It’s possible that my slight disappointments are due to my high expectations, and I have to agree that overall it was a very good drama. I really enjoyed both the leads performances – in both their identities – but I definitely wished we had some extra time with the side characters too. I was initially unsure about the dubbing but it slowly grew on me, but it will never not be unreal for me that Yang Yang’s voice actor here is the same person who voiced for Lan Zhan in The Untamed. I always look forward to OSTs in cdramas and this one had some great background score , but the highlight is undoubtedly the opening credits song by Liu Yuning. His vocals are exceptional and you can’t have a better opening for your episode.
Overall, I had great fun watching this drama, loved their chemistry, enjoyed the action sequences and even shed a few tears. On the whole, I’m quite satisfied and I’m already missing it. Hopefully Heroes next week will fill this cdrama void in my heart.
First things first, I can’t comment on the writing because I read a fan translation. I also don’t wanna go deep into the quality of the translation because I’m just glad someone spent their time doing it, and I was able to read it pretty quickly. There were times I was confused because both the main leads alter egos names are Feng Xi, and I sometimes I couldn’t differentiate whom the author was talking about. There were other such small hiccups but otherwise, I had an easy reading experience.
I liked that we get more of the history of the empire in the novel and also travel to more than the 3 kingdoms shown in the drama. There was also a lot of war in the book and the author does a good job depicting the strategic prowesses of each of the characters, as well as the heartbreak that comes with losing people while fighting. The book also had way less court intrigue and more of the war and I guess that was a drawback for me, because I’m not that much into reading about war and it’s immediate aftermath. But we also get deep into the heads of the characters and understand their feelings and motivations better, which is always a plus – especially Bai FengXi whom we get to know the best in the novel. The extensive cast of characters are also well fleshed out in the book and that’s one of it’s major strengths. Even if some of the characters have a small presence, they are very memorable and I fell in love with so many of them. I also enjoyed the little flashbacks into the relationship of BeiFengHeiXi in the past decade – it was a lovely insight into how they came to be so close to each other. But there is also a kind of tension in their relationship – it’s not always love and roses – and it adds so much drama to the story. The heartbreaking moments in the book also made me very emotional because I was attached to all the characters and and didn’t wanna lose any of them. Ultimately, I found it to have a much more satisfactory ending – not only because it was’t rushed but also because we got closure for most, if not all characters and I liked finishing off the story that way. However, the one thing I will takeway from this book is that despite not having any actual antagonist in the story, the author manages to create a plot which has tensions and conflicts and gives each character due respect.
General thoughts – Drama vs Book – Beware of Spoilers…!!!!!
I haven’t actually thought about what I’m gonna write here, so it may get very spoilery and rambling from here on. Be prepared…
The major difference that I found between the two formats is whose story each is telling. Yes, we have two main characters and they are very much equal in strength, skills, status and everything else, and this is well depicted in both. But while the book is more of Bai FengXi’s story, the drama is undoubtedly Hei FengXi’s. I’m pretty sure they did it because Yang Yang has top billing and they needed to make him the main protagonist, and they did succeed well in depicting his perspective and his strategic mind. But I felt this led to much less screen time for other supporting characters, with some from the book being completely absent.
There is a chapter after the end of the story in the translation that I read and in it, the translator shares another reader’s perspective about the story in the book and I resonated so much with their words. Their sentiment being that the book is all about Bai FengXi/Xiyun and the men in her life. This is absolutely correct and it’s an aspect of this story which I highly missed in the drama. Xiyun’s relationship (whichever form it might take) with the men she meets in her journey forms an essential part of her character and emotional development and it was the best part of the novel for me. The few moments that she shares with Yan Yingzhou are heartwrenching and I wept for what couldn’t be. I absolutely loved how Xiao Xuekong is described in the novel and his and Fengxi’s admiration for each other is palpable on the page, with their final encounter being extremely bittersweet. She even has this unspoken dynamic with Huang Chao which we saw traces of in the drama, but it wasn’t as intense as the final choices he makes in the book. Then comes Hei Fengxi with whom her relationship is much more fraught in the book, despite knowing each other for a decade, and it takes a bit more time for each of them to understand how much the other means to them.
Coming to the other men who are completely different or absent – the absent one being Jiu Wei who is someone she is extremely close to, he can be considered her major emotional support and I loved how immensely they trusted each other. On a personal level, I think she trusted him more than HFX and that was interesting, so I was quite upset that he wasn’t even in the drama. Next is Yu Wuyuan whose character arc in the drama definitely disappointed me. He is one character in the book BFX intensely admires and he is truly a man of integrity and extremely deserving of his First Gentry title, but making him an antagonist in the drama was something I never expected. I guess on screen adaptations need a villain to elevate the power of the hero even more, but we completely lost on the strength of the novel, which is that a compelling story of opposing sides can be told without making any of them bad, just different. And finally the one character who is present in the drama but is so completely different, that his presence is almost insignificant – Xiu Jiurong. His love and loyalty for BFX is absolute, he is a strong general of the military but innocent at heart, and because he is one of the more well fleshed out side characters, we fall in love with him very easily and his arc destroys our heart. His ending hit very hard, just like it did to BFX, and those were some of the most painful scenes in the book. I can say I probably missed him the most in the drama.
That’s not to say the drama didn’t have it’s own unique strong points. It’s just the strengths are more on HFX’s side. We get an indepth look into how Lanxi had to survive amidst danger since childhood, and how this shaped him as a person. We get to learn his skills at creating Fountain Abode and how capable he is of maintaining such an overarching intelligence network. I also liked seeing more of his relationships with those around him. While we get literally 1-2 chapters about his succession struggle and a few flashback tidbits about his life in the novel, the drama gives a much more three dimensional view of his life, and makes him a more sympathetic character. While the book shows his dynamic with his army generals, I think his conflicting relationships with his brothers and father in the drama were much more impactful. I had some very visceral reactions to his horrible father in the drama and how he justified his cruelty towards his sons in the name of familial harmony. He was utter trash and just wanted absolute power and control and frankly, I felt he deserved much more of a comeuppance in the drama. However, while I loved Lanxi as a character in the drama and Yang Yang is an unforgettable presence, he is pretty straighforward in the drama but more ruthless and complicated in the novel. I’m not sure which other characters I prefered in the drama in comparison to the novel, but I definitely liked Feng Chang being the one person from the family Lanxi could rely on and Feng Qiwu who was so loyal to Lanxi and spectacularly acted by my favorite Lulu. They are either absent or very different in the novel, so I’m glad they were changed for the adaptation.
And after going on so many tangents all this while – I have no conclusion to make here. I loved both the novel and the drama adaptation for their unique strengths but what I will most remember will be the excellent cast of characters from the book and the memorable performaces by the actors in the drama. I don’t know if the drama did justice to it’s source material but I feel both of them stand very well on their own and I would recommend both the formats – just pick up whichever you want to.
One highly anticipated drama of the summer is over but my cdrama obsession is not, and now I’m eagerly awaiting the airing of Heroes next week – I would never say no to some Liu Yuning presence in my life. And if rumors are true and An Le Zhuan is airing soon, I’m well prepared for a double dose of LYN but absolutely can’t fathom how I will handle the gorgeousness of Reba and Gong Jun together on screen. Just hoping it comes out soon….!!!!!