Chinese Dramas, Drama Recaps

Recap: Love and Redemption (Ep. 1)

Let’s try something different this time! Growing up I always really enjoyed Chinese fantasy, martial arts, and period dramas, but it’s been years since I last tried watching one. (They’re usually so long and I often have so many nitpicks… like voice dubbing and bad CGI.) Love and Redemption (琉璃, lit. Colored Glaze) is a 2020 Chinese xianxia drama that has been getting a lot of hype, so I’m giving it a try!

This first episode is a lot of set up to introduce the circumstances under which our lead characters, Yu Si Feng (Cheng Yi) and Chu Xuan Ji (Crystal Yuan), meet.

(Side note: Expect some fluctuation in stylization and translation of names, monsters, and magic. Still trying to figure it out…)


Recap

A thousand years ago, the King of the Asuras tried to rise against the gods with his army of demons and devils. The gods didn’t consider him a threat, but the Mosha Star, Luohou Jidu, helped bring the war straight to the heavenly gates. The Mosha Star disappeared after the God of War appeared and defeated the demon army, saving the gods. Legend has it that his star soul is trapped in a crystal (“colored glaze”) lamp, but his spirit was never found.

A thousand years later, the shadowy sect leader of Tianxu Hall, who wants to revive the power of the demonic world using the Mosha Star, learns that Luohou Jidu and the God of War are being sent to the mortal realm at the same time. Immortals who commit wrongs have their memories wiped and are sent to the mortal world, where they are born as mortals. Luohou Jidu and the God of War will be born on the same day. The Tianxu leader tells his masked crony to find out who the two immortals will be born as. He’s also in search of Juntian Cehai, the Mosha Star’s weapon that the God of War used to defeat him.

The crony interferes with the process of the immortals entering the mortal realm. In the process, one of the immortals gets knocked into the water before her spirit is able to go through the portal.

Chu Lei, the leader of the Shaoyang sect, paces nervously, waiting for his wife to give birth during a long and difficult labor. The immortal spirit shows up and a child is born.

Sixteen years later, the disciples of the Shaoyang sect gossip about Chu Xuan Ji (Crystal Yuan), the second daughter of the sect leader. She was overdue and stillborn, but while her coffin was being buried, she made a sound and was discovered, alive. Unfortunately, she seems to have been born without her six senses. Basically, she’s a fool, unable to feel, smell, taste, or learn any basic cultivation techniques. (“Cultivation” means acquiring skills and other abilities in an attempt to become immortal. Basically, cultivate techniques are magic spells and abilities.)

The disciples find Xuan Ji sleeping in a tree and tease her. She catches the fire that the leader of the pack, Chen Min Jue, throws at her, seeming to not feel the flames on her hand. When she throws it back, she accidentally sets off a bunch of firecrackers. Xuan Ji doesn’t seem to mind the teasing, but tells Min Jue he should try to switch it up sometimes. Her older sister, Chu Ling Long (Zhang Yuxi), arrives and scolds Min Jue for messing with her sister. Xuan Ji tries to calm her down — she can’t feel pain or anger, so it’s fine.

The real reason Ling Long is here is because she and Xuan Ji have been assigned the task of welcoming all the representatives from the different sects that are here for the Flower Crown Contest. Xuan Ji doesn’t want to participate, but Ling Long drags her away.

The leader of the Lize Palace sect tests his disciples with a tough wolf demon challenge. His personal disciple, Yu Si Feng (Cheng Yi), stands out by single-handedly defeating the demon. The disciples who fail are stripped of their abilities and banished.

The Lize Palace leader has high hopes for Si Feng despite his young age. If Si Feng does well at Shaoyang’s Flower Crown Contest, then he’ll be named the head disciple and given more responsibilities. Yuan Lang, the Palace leader’s second-in-command, doesn’t look happy about it. The Palace disciples are sent off to Shaoyang with a reminder to never take off their masks in front of other people. They know the consequences if they do.

The Tianxu leader finds out from his crony that Juntian and Cehai have been discovered, but getting it won’t be easy. Wu Zhi Qi, an “old friend” of the Tianxu leader’s, might be able to help. The Tianxu leader decides to pay him a visit, and orders his crony to figure out which mortals are Luohou Jidu and God of War. They should be stand-out disciples at the Flower Crown Contest.

Xuan Ji is incredibly bored by her and her sister’s receptionist duties and tries to nap. Her sister takes pity on her and lets her leave, giving her some dog blood to bring to their father. But before Xuan Ji can leave, they’re distracted by a commotion. Wu Tong, a belligerent disciple from the Dianjing Valley sect claims that he’s lost his nameplate but still demands to be let in. Wu Tong seems to be attracted to Ling Long at first sight, but she won’t let him in, refusing to back down even when he tries to bully her by casting a spell. She claims that anyone at Shaoyang could defeat him.

Ling Long and Wu Tong continue to butt heads. Xuan Ji tries to be a peacemaker, but then the Wu Tong decides to pick on her. He grabs her and flies off, intending to fight. Xuan Ji protests and tries to explain that she really has zero abilities. She doesn’t even know how to draw her spirit sword. He doesn’t care and instead taunts her by forcing her to ride his sword. She can’t control it. He makes it disappear and she falls from the sky while he laughs and flies off.

Xuan Ji falls straight into Si Feng’s arms. They stare at each other for a moment, then he drops her unceremoniously, flustered. Xuan Ji’s dog blood has spilled over his robes. She tries to dab it away, but he’s uncomfortable with her being so close and tells her to stay away. He speaks in a stiff, stilted way that makes Xuan Ji think he has a stutter.

Xuan Ji begs Si Feng to fly her to Shaoyang, clinging to his legs when he first refuses. Si Feng mutters that he’s never met a cultivator as lazy as her, but eventually agrees to fly her back.

Ling Long is yelling at Wu Tong when Xuan Ji gets back with Si Feng. Ling Long is relieved to see her sister and immediately recognized Si Feng as a member of the Lize Palace sect. Si Feng doesn’t bother with formalities and instead pulls out his nameplate and asks to be allowed in. Wu Tong grabs his nameplate and tries to taunt him about his mask, but Si Feng just takes it back, refusing to take the bait. Wu Tong disciple notices his stilted way of talking and gloats that it’s so fitting a stutterer rescued a fool. He continues to taunt Si Feng about not having any experience with women.

Ling Long seems ready to start another fight with him, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of her and Xuan Ji’s aunt and Wu Tong’s master. Wu Tong’s master makes him apologize to Ling Long and Xuan Ji and then they head in. Ling Long is unhappy that Wu Tong was let off so easily, but then realizes that Si Feng has disappeared. She tells Xuan Ji that Si Feng is one of Lize’s standout disciples, and even though he has to wear a mask all the time, she’s sure that he’s handsome.

Xuan Ji notices that Si Feng dropped his nameplate on the ground. She picks it up and is surprised to discover that they share the same birthdate.

Chu Lei scolds Xuan Ji for not even being able to summon her spirit sword. Ling Long starts crying loudly and saying that their deceased mother would be so disappointed to see Xuan Ji treated this way, and manages to get their father to stop scolding Xuan Ji. After he leaves, exasperated, Ling Long tells Xuan Ji that crying can be a useful tool — it can be a way to see if a person you like cares about you. But Xuan Ji has never cried in her life and doesn’t think she’s capable.

Zhong Min Yan, also known as Xiao Liu Zi (the Sixth Disciple), one of the Shaoyang disciples, delivers Xuan Ji and Ling Long some cakes from their father. Xuan Ji can’t taste it, but eats it happily, knowing that Ling Long thinks it tastes good.

She tries to bring Si Feng a cake to celebrate their shared birthday and returns his nameplate. He takes the nameplate but stiffly rejects the offer of cake, shutting the door in her face.

The next morning, Si Feng finds a peach blossom tree. He collects its dew to brew tea. He doesn’t notice Xuan Ji, who is napping in the tree. Xuan Ji wakes up and notices a small snake eyeing a bird’s nest with eggs inside. She grabs the snake before it can reach the nest. The snake opens its mouth and hisses at her. She screams, dropping the snake and falling out of the tree. She knocks over Si Feng’s teapot in the process.

Si Feng is doubly angry because of his lost morning dew tea and because the snake is his spirit beast, Xiao Yin Hua. He’s worried that she’s injured and now they can’t find her. Xuan Ji follows Si Feng through the peach blossom grove, searching for Yin Hua. Xuan Ji wonders why they can’t find the snake — her father’s spirit beast is very obedient and always comes when called. Si Feng defensively says that she’s still young and immature, then adds that he senses she’s being drawn in by something.

They look around and find that the peach blossom grove is very strange and gives off weird vibes. Suddenly, they get swept up in a whirlwind of flower petals. They’re thrown together and Si Feng catches Xuan Ji. They freeze for a moment, then Xuan Ji asks if he feels hot. He claims he doesn’t and drops her. She stares up from the ground while he tries to break the powerful spell around them.

When Si Feng breaks the spell, he and Xuan Ji suddenly find themselves hovering over the surface of a lake. Si Feng can tell that what looks like a lake is actually an enchantment. Xuan Ji realizes where they are: a secret place belonging to the Shaoyang sect that disciples are forbidden from entering. Xuan Ji tries to reason with him, saying they can go find her father and ask for permission to be let in, but Si Feng needs to go in now, otherwise there’s no hope for Yin Hua.

Xuan Ji says there’s no way to break the enchantment. She can’t even cast a basic spell. She waves her hand, but then to both of their surprise, the surface of the water ripples. She tries again — the water opens. Si Feng hops in.

He lands in a cavern, where a zhulong (torch dragon) attacks him. Xuan Ji hears the sounds of struggle and decides to hop in as well to help. But she can’t actually do anything and instead ends up distracting Si Feng while he tries to hold off the dragon.

The dragon breaks through Si Feng’s magical shield and throws him roughly to the side. He falls to the ground, bleeding from his head, and doesn’t move. Xuan Ji rushes over and strips off Si Feng’s mask to check if he’s okay. She gets distracted by his handsome face.

Si Feng’s eyes flutter open and she smiles, relieved that he’s alive. Si Feng is distraught to realize that his mask isn’t on and asks where it is. Xuan Ji tries to explain herself. Before they can find the mask, the dragon attacks again, sending them both flying.

Xuan Ji cuts her hand on a piece of broken pottery. She frowns and rubs at the blood, which suddenly coalesces and starts flying away.


Commentary

Watching fantasy dramas after watching so many modern dramas is a tough transition. I love the world and magic and stories of Chinese fantasy (wuxia, xianxia, etc.), but these dramas also have sooo many of my pet peeves, like voice dubbing (I can’t stand when visuals don’t match audio) and so-so CGI (no Game of Thrones budget here). Though to be fair, other than when there are monsters, the CGI is fine. I haven’t watched a martial arts drama in forever, but is it the new thing to have a million cuts during action scenes? I get a headache watching these action scenes because they jump around so much and it’s so hard to focus on what’s happening. A sloppy way to make up for having mediocre fight choreography?

Nitpicks aside — I’ll get over them if the rest of the show shapes up to be interesting enough — I’m not quite sure what to make of this show yet. I’ll reserve my real judgment for now and give it a few more episodes before I make any firm opinions on how I feel.

For now, I’m finding it just fine. This episode was a lot of set-up. Our lead characters should be interesting. Xuan Ji is a bit slower than I’d like, though pleasantly happy-go-lucky. She’s eventually supposed to be the God of War or something, so she should shape up, right? I like that Si Feng isn’t perfect, but this is where the voice dubbing really bothers me. I feel like his character would feel more natural if not for the voice…

Chinese fantasy dramas tend to be long and dense and take a lot of mental energy to translate, so I don’t know if I’ll do play-by-play recaps for all the episodes. (I don’t even know if I’ll last all the episodes of this show.) But we shall see.

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