Chinese Dramas, Drama Reviews

Drama Review: Prince of Lan Ling (Lan Ling Wang, 兰陵王)

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So, so, so many mixed feelings about this drama. On the one hand, there are some really stellar characters, beautiful costumes and scenery, and epic romance and bromance relationships. On the other hand, there is just so much tragic drama that seems to drag on and on. It started out great, tanked around episode 28, made me wonder why I was still watching around episode 35, recovered around episode 41, then ended in a way that leaves me with very mixed feelings, including the thought do I still care?

Lan Ling Wang is a fictional bit of dramatized history that takes a lot of creative license. It’s based around the story of the Prince of Lan Ling and the fall of the Northern Qi Empire to Northern Zhou. The Prince of Lan Ling, Gao Chang Gong is a fierce and strategic, but benevolent warrior famed for wearing a mask in battle. He is said to be very beautiful, and that is why he wears a mask (according to legend.) He’s also the subject of a song written in his name about his exploits in war, specifically his legendary defeat of an army of 100,000 Zhou soldiers with only 500 men.

In this drama, we take some looks at politics and romance, but mainly how the two become inexorably entangled in this fictional version of history. Yang Xue Wu comes from the Wu clan, a clan of people who once possessed divination skills and who have hidden from society for centuries. She is the next in line to be Tian Nu, which I’ve seen translated as Divine Sorceress, or Celestial Maiden, or something along those lines. Basically, she’s supposed to be magical and divine and a very special person. Her grandmother sees that her fate is intertwined with that of Lan Ling Wang, who is destined to have a tragic end, and also sees that her granddaughter’s destiny is also to experience a lot of struggle and pain. She tries to protect Xue Wu by forbidding her from leaving their village, but Xue Wu accidentally meets Lan Ling Wang one day and seals her fate.

Xue Wu and Lan Ling Wang fall in love, but many other people also fall in love with her along the way. This is the story of the struggle of their relationship, which includes a love triangle with Emperor Wu of Zhou (aka Yuwen Yong), and another one with the psychotic former palace maid Zheng Er. It is also a tale of political intrigue, including the conflict between Qi and Zhou as well as Qi’s internal conflict between Lan Ling Wang and his jealous, less talented cousin, the Crown Prince Gao Wei.

The drama starts out great, but near episode 30 is when all the Qi politics start dragging on. We get episode after episode of horrible, evil plots happening and nothing good. Then around episode 38 everyone starts dying and it starts to feel like we don’t have a drama anymore, because there are no characters left, but there are still 8 episodes left to go.

The last few episodes redeem the drama a bit, as do some of the characters and the cinematography, but I’m not sure all of that combined can save my opinion of this roller coaster ride drama.

(Warning: possible spoilers below.)

The Characters & Actors

I loved Ariel Lin in In Time With You, but this drama really secured my appreciation of her as an actress. I mostly know Ariel from her ISWAK days, which is a whole other genre and mess of drama, but she’s great here as Yang Xue Wu. Xue Wu is one of those characters that I appreciate seeing in dramas, a strong female character who can be so very much in love and willing to sacrifice for love, but who is by no means a damsel in distress. She’s intelligent, not afraid to take action, and doesn’t try to wait for men to swoop in to save her. The character is great, and Ariel Lin is great as her.

William Feng as Lan Ling Wang felt a bit stiff at times for me. His scenes with Xue Wu are cute, and I believe that they love each other. He does angst and war well, but the happy scenes feel forced. I also attribute this to some of the voice dubbing that is so common to ancient dramas. (Speaking of which, I love that Ariel Lin dubbed her own voice.)

Zheng Er and Gao Wei are the two most tragic characters. Zheng Er is one of those complex villains you hate to love, or love to hate. You have to admire her will to live and survive through everything, and her cunning abilities and perception. Both she and Gao Wei become so twisted and obsessed and consumed in their love that they grow blind to the world and the consequences of their actions. They both grow to be so complex in their development and characters that they definitely outshine the main couple in depth.

I also really loved our little side/best friend type characters: Shen Ju, An De Wang, Xiao Cui, Han Xiao Dong. It’s these loyal best friend protector types who really make the mood and steal the scenes sometimes. They added the bright spots of happiness and light in all the sadness.

But to be honest, Ah Guai/Yuwen Yong is my fave. He’s that bad boy that everyone thinks is hot as a love interest, but in this case, he’s actually not so horrible a person. His cruelty as a ruler is pretty much the norm of someone of his status in those times. He is one of the best characters because he has honor, which is his redeeming quality. He respects Lan Ling Wang as both a romantic and strategic rival and always acts honorably whenever we run into that love triangle. He and Lan Ling Wang are the best bromance brothers that never were. Unlike so many second leads that we see, he never tries to force his way with the girl, and always lets her choose and respects her choice. He is the one who makes it most obvious that there is no black and white good or bad. He is neither and he is both. It’s all about perspective. At times he is the emperor of Zhou, Qi’s enemy, remorseless and cunning, or Lan Ling Wang’s rival. At times he is kind, honorable, and shows his justice, unwavering morals, and benevolence as a ruler.

The Tragedy

In the end, for lack of more eloquent language, we got some Hamlet shit going on. Everyone dies. It’s tragic. I also can’t really bring myself to care that much anymore. The middle stretch of endless political drama and evil plotting numbed me to the drama. It broke my heart to see Lan Ling Wang  become some sort of Iljimae and reunite with Xue Wu, and then everyone died. Some according to history, some with some creative revisions to history, and some just because.

I’m not sure if all the death and tragedy was necessary: why can’t we just have a happy ending? But like one of my friends said about Chuck‘s ending, they probably got the ending they deserved.

Yuwen Yong is my personal tragic hero. He was willing to sacrifice so much for Xue Wu, and he ended up sacrificing his life for her. It took him 3 years to die, but in the end, it was because of her. He gave so much, asked for nothing in return, and respected her when she said no. The tragedy is that she didn’t even outlive him. No one ends up with the girl, because she dies.

Zheng Er and Gao Wei definitely have the most tragic ending, but also the one they deserved. For all the horrible things they’d done to each other and other people, they deserved to die, but not at the hands of the innocent Xue Wu or righteous Lan Ling Wang. It’s fitting that they die by their own hands, forever lost and consumed by their twisted love.

Overall, this drama was a very interesting fictional account of history. All the war and conflict and politics were so centered around the love, relationships, and romantic entanglement of these historical factual and fictional figures. It’s an interesting take on history that could have been much stronger of a drama than it ended up being.

I’ll choose to pretend that all the bad parts didn’t happen and come away with the bright moments: that invincible love between Xue Wu and Lan Ling Wang, Yuwen Yong and Han Xiao Dong’s selfless love for Xue Wu, and the best bromance that never was between Lan Ling Wang and Yuwen Yong.

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