Normally when I drop a show, I just move on with my life. Especially if, exactly like with Moonshine and Valentine, I drop said show out of boredom and indifference (the blasphemy!). But since this SARFT-certified contemporary “sci-fi” romance is actually subbed *gasps* and quite popular, I figured I could contribute to fandom discussion and maybe actually rack up some views, y’know?
In all seriousness, dropping this 12 episodes into the show’s 25, I feel that having not experienced the anger and frustration of the final episodes, my indifference is beneficial objectivity that helps me dissect what didn’t work, personally, and perhaps grasp what drew in its fanbase. Which, of course, makes this post of my personal opinions in reality awfully subjective in nature.
Unfortunately, though, for me this was generally Not Good, despite at least the first half’s critical acclaim. I acknowledge the behind-the-scenes drama, the screenwriter apologizing for the show’s ending, among other complications, but we as viewers have only the final product to judge. And from what I’ve seen of the beginning, I can’t say I was surprised to hear of the mess Show wrote itself into.
After some deliberation (and mostly
completely unbiased comparing), I’ve surmised that the show suffers from concrete, structural limitations. As is follows:
1. A peculiar narrative focus, resulting in a mostly sporadic watch. From what I’ve gathered, this decision was ultimately inevitable: the show was filmed behind schedule, but as Popular Celebrities™ our leads Victoria Song and Huang Jingyu already had other commitments—they weren’t there to film a lot of the second half. That said, having just watched precisely the first half (which contains more than enough of our leads), just how the writer decided to interweave the various storylines into this contemporary fantasy, personally, leaves much to be desired.
The two I suppose “relevant” threads involve the roughly 900-year romance between fox
spirit alien prince Helan Xi (courtesy name Jingting, as he is more often referred to in the show) and the cursed reincarnations of his tragic human bride Huiyan, as well a smattering of underlying fox clan politics and elaborate mythology, mostly derived from the Tang Dynasty anthology 广异记 (roughly Great Book of Marvels, essentially an ancient Chinese encyclopedia of the supernatural). The narrative highlights the socially out-of-touch Helan Xi, who under the guise of a wealthy antique collector attempts to continue the love story with Huiyan’s modern reincarnation, the underprivileged and insecure tabloid reporter Guan Pipi.
Sounds about decent, right? But mixing in a bunch of unrelated, at best peripheral, plotlines, significantly upsets the already half-hearted (okay, so this part might be a bit subjective) central narrative’s tenuous balance between the romance and the background mythological machinations. Several times throughout skimming the drama, I stopped in the middle of episodes, just because I felt like it. When you’d rather mindlessly scroll through Tumblr or write academic essays than actually watch the show, there might be a bit of a problem.
Rather sporadically, scenes of interest would pop up, only to leave us hanging. Immediately following, the show would then shift its focus to a narratively irrelevant—I mean, peripheral—side plot, contributing to a most incohesive and unengaging watch. At best, the sporadically built-up tension would dissipate in lieu of the sudden shift, but oftentimes the otherwise potentially endearing side plots would suffer the brunt of my frustration.
Certain scenes or action sequences were also unnecessarily stretched out, despite Show’s relatively short length; the initially exhilarating car chase with the pocket-picker in episode 1 dragged until I literally needed to take a break, right in the middle of all that.
Everything probably sounds overgeneralized (because it is), so specifically:
- The show spends too much of its energy on irrelevant/peripheral mortals. I’m talking about Guan Pipi’s ex-boyfriend Tao Jialin (Xu Kaicheng), who cheated on her with her ex-BFF Tian Xin (Xu Fangyi)…*rolls eyes*. Yes, it really is as bad as it sounds.
The point of the arc is, I guess, establishing Guan Pipi as a character—she was born into a low-income family with frazzled parents, she’s “dumb”/mediocre compared to these two self-centered “friends,” and as a result of everything, starts off as a doormat that’s constantly stepped over. We see how Tao Jialin and Tian Xin hang out with her really to boost their own egos. Along with the whole potential ~swoony romance~ her fateful encounter with fox prince Helan Jingting (who still regards her as just Huiyan’s reincarnation) potentially allows her to build a backbone, and learn to not just accept her mediocrity/inferiority that’s really only a result of her low socioeconomic background.
But do we really need to experience Tao Jialin and Tian Xin’s emotional guilt, see their relationship develop, and even watch them go to America together, in the context of a supernatural romance NOT about them? The show especially tries to flesh them out as sympathetic characters, I think out of obligation to seem “well-written.” *snorts*
And this is coming from someone who skipped more than half their scenes—I find it kind of sad that I know this much.
(And, subjectively…*small voice*…don’t you think Pipi’s character arc is somewhat overly contrived?)
- Fluffy coffee shop AUs are cute, but work only in the context of an emotionally engaging plot outside the coffee shop. I, too, was enamored by the totally polyamorous trio (love triangle who?) that was fox aliens Kuan Yong (Li Jiaming) and Xiu Xian (Li Shen), and human coffee shop owner Xin Xiaoju (Liu Yongxi), but their scenes weren’t enough to justify disrupting the flow of the struggling narrative.
Basically, 1) the main narrative was at best mildly interesting to me on its own, therefore 2) fluffy coffee shop scenes with only marginal relation to the story still easily came off as obvious filler. At least of what I’ve seen, the show focuses on the mundane, never quite raising the stakes with these three. Interspersed in a more engaging show, laid-back coffee shop interactions can serve as a needed respite, even catharsis, but here, it only heightened how unengaging and draggy the show felt.
- The background mythology and fox clan politics don’t quite hold up. Much more so than the central romance, I was watching out of interest for the mystery the show was teasing in terms of what exactly happens to Huiyan, and the ensuing curse each of her reincarnations are subject to. I am far more versed and comfortable in the land of period c-shows, after all. (Though I think I hung in for so long out of sheer FOMO.) I complain about this show’s execution, but this aspect was effectively teased.
That said, the writer(s) keeping these key plot points a tease for so long made the narrative take too long to introduce and raise the stakes. Which, when they did, did so in a way that felt uncannily laid back. Here our female protagonist is in danger of dying an inevitable death, and there I was, scrolling through my social media, decidedly not caring.
There was also, of course, some rudimentary fox clan politics, though that quickly established itself as cliched, ridiculous filler.
2. The show’s insistence on following the same episodic format. In theory, the show’s episodic format sounds great: the first few minutes uncover more of the characters’ backstories in the past lives, starting from when the young Huiyan married Helan Xi (portrayed by He Landou and Liu Qi, respectively), the modern narrative happens, then each episode concludes with a heartfelt narrative from our female protagonist Guan Pipi.
But it’s precisely this set format that constrains the narrative. Not so much starting each episode with scenes of the immortal fox aliens’/the OTP’s past, but mostly that the ending monologue highlights how the events of each episode are unnecessarily shoehorned into adhering to a specific theme. Unlike most monologues/narration, Guan Pipi’s thoughts are rather nicely written and appreciatively introspective, allowing us audiences to further get her as a character when the other parts of the show couldn’t. But when the connection between the episode and the ending monologue is rather weak, the monologue becomes kind of pointless, and, well, pretentious.
The way I see it, the show itself is what actually happens in reality, and Pipi’s monologues are what you would ideally write on your resume or college essay.
The monologues themselves are great, but these themes are, in practice, supposed to arise naturally, as a result of where the show goes, but more often than not they limited the plot to creating more character parallels and wasted time.
It’s also rather strange that we’re getting these monologues from Pipi only, when the show doesn’t exactly focus on her the most or anything. I haven’t read Shi Dingrou’s The Love Knot 结爱 trilogy, but I highly suspect the source material was written from Pipi’s point of view.
3. That weird combination of acting ability and characterization. Most of the main characters are fairly impressionable, with clear personalities—Kuan Yong is the goofball, Xiu Xian is uber serious, Helan Jingting is awkward/clueless about modern-day convention but devoted, Qianhua (Zhang Baijia) is a Goddess, etc.—but all rather one-dimensionally written. And while I enjoyed Jiang Qilin as the “Left High Priest”/the other fox prince (I’m guessing that’s the closest to what 祭祀大人 translates to—I watched this unsubbed, so I don’t know how DramaFever translates stuff) Zhao Song (although reading spoilers, his character—anyway) and absolutely adored the child actors He Landou and Liu Qi, most of the acting was just in the serviceable territory.
Victoria Song deserves a special shoutout for significantly improving from notoriously hideous to actually quite natural (officially leaving Bilibili troll videos once and for all), but with her rather bland character, she came off as generally bland, too.
Huang Jingyu on the other hand…has definitely regressed from Addicted, here. Yeah, you might argue that as a millennia-old fox alien, he’s seen so much that he’s unfazed by the lot of it, but his portrayal was still way too subdued. Several times when Guan Pipi’s life was literally on the line, he looked mildly concerned at most. Mildly concerned. Which is the most that I as a viewer felt, fine, but…it’s like he didn’t even bother trying.
The biggest irony, though, is that I still think that the writing, up to episode 12, went most in-depth on the ex-boyfriend and ex-BFF. What a mess.
THE SENTIMENTAL STUFF
After watching me complain and complain and complain about what went wrong, I guess I’ll try to at least end this on a more positive note. Stuff like, FOMO aside, why did I even bother all the way ‘til Pipi and Jingting’s first kiss, which ended in her fainting in his arms? (I mean, I found that scene hilarious, but it was really through that that I realized how much I didn’t care for this show.)
Many audiences have stepped out and compared this to, say, k-drama Goblin or My Love From Another Star, but as a non-kdrama fan, this personally really reminded of the old supernatural Western fandoms that were part of my childhood. Stuff like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where these mythological beings took the form of humans and (somewhat) blended into modern society. (I guess with the romance and all, this show specifically is closer to Twilight, but I
have real taste and haven’t seen that. And also, now I know I really wouldn’t care for Twilight, I guess.) Watching xianxias including Condor Heroes and Chinese Paladin around the same time, I would make up stories where snake spirits, fox spirits, demigods, and semi-devils would, too, experience modern society—though of course not in high school!
That was all so many years ago, but the premise itself really felt so nostalgic to me. And yeah, these fox aliens are reasonable beings who obviously know to avoid not just high school, but education in China in general. I’m so stoked by that.
It is disheartening to see the rest of the show decidedly not hold up, but I do think it is fate that I hung in for twelve episodes; at the end of episode 11, Song Binyang’s《朱雀街》(“Vermilion Bird Street”) comes up, and it almost made everything else worth it, just to hear that song.
My advice to you? Don’t watch the show; listen to《朱雀街》instead. The lyrics, arrangement, and simply the essence of the song conveys so much more emotion, romanticism, you name it than the show could ever dream of doing. Here, the MV below is subbed: