Love and Redemption (琉璃), a 2020 Chinese xianxia drama, is the first historical/fantasy drama I’ve completed in a very long time. I usually shy away from longer dramas (anything with more than 20ish episodes) since they seem like so much commitment, but there’s a certain sense of affection that comes from sticking with a show for so long. There are so many episodes for characters to worm their way into my heart! And that’s exactly what happened with Love and Redemption. It took me several episodes to get into it, but I’m glad I decided to stick with Love and Redemption, despite its 59 episodes, because it has everything I want in a fantasy drama: magic, monsters, life and death stakes, and epic true love.
The English title (which really has nothing to do with the literal translation of the Chinese one) is apt because love is really at the root of everything with this show, starting with our lead couple and star-crossed lovers, Xuan Ji and Si Feng.
Our main character, Chu Xuan Ji (Crystal Yuan) is the daughter of the leader of the Shaoyang sect. She’s born without her senses and said to be wuxin, which literally means heartless, but for Xuan Ji, it just means that she goes about her life in a very simple, happy-go-lucky way. On paper, she seems like the classic clueless, bumbling female lead of a cliche romance. Despite being the daughter of a sect leader, she’s never developed any magical abilities. But in reality, her naivete means that she has a very simple, refreshing way of viewing the world. She may not know a lot, but she’s still observant — perhaps more so than people with all their senses — and her lack of filter means that she’s straightforward and earnest.
Yu Si Feng (Cheng Yi), is the head disciple of the Lize Palace sect. He’s extremely talented for his young age, but also standoffish to start, partly because Lize Palace disciples are forbidden from forming connections with the outside world. Xuan Ji and Si Feng have a classic meet-cute moment, where she literally falls from the sky into his arms. She has a puppy-like persistence when it comes to trying to be his friend, while he tries to hold her at a distance. But eventually, she manages to melt his tough exterior and the two of them form a close friendship, along with Xuan Ji’s sister, Ling Long (Zhang Yu Xi), and their childhood friend, Min Yan (Li Jun Yi).
Outside of the love stories, there is a separate, ongoing prophecy-like mystery with evil sects wanting to resurrect demon leaders and reignite an old war between the heavenly and devil realms. Si Feng and Xuan Ji eventually end up right in the thick of things.
There are plenty of cliche misunderstandings and cheesy encounters and tragedy, but what makes all of Xuan Ji and Si Feng’s pain bearable is their love and their faith in each other — or more specifically, Si Feng’s unwavering and sometimes very blind trust in Xuan Ji. What I love most about Si Feng’s love is how much he accepts and loves Xuan Ji for who she is. Everyone else wants to throw in identity and status and societal expectations, but for Si Feng, love is love.
Amid all the love story is also some nice messaging about the dangers of moral absolutism and what it really means to be “good” versus “evil.” All the usual tough problems that the fantasy genre always tries to tackle. But what I like is that Love and Redemption shows that good and evil can exist within the same person. It’s not a binary, but a spectrum and also a choice. And the beautiful thing about life in these stories is that life is a cycle. You live, you die, and you start anew, no matter what happened in your previous life.
There are too many characters and love stories and plotlines and identity reveals for me to get to them all, so I’m just going to call out a few parts of the show that stood out to me, with the acknowledgement that there’s a lot that I’m missing.
Warning: There may be some spoilers below!
I really appreciated the portrayal and acknowledgement of Ling Long’s psychological trauma. It felt really significant to me that Ling Long didn’t have to be physically traumatized to feel unsafe and that the psychological and emotional trauma she experienced because of Wu Tong is just as valid.
Everything about Hao Chen/Bai Lin and his relationship with Luohou Jidu, the God of War, and Xuan Ji was so fascinating to me once we had the final big reveals because I wanted to psychoanalyze him so much. He’s the biggest villain, but he’s not just pure evil. In retrospect, I find his story so fascinating because of the depth to which he managed to lie to himself and try to rationalize to himself that what he was doing was right. He was so frustrating because I wanted to believe in his good intentions, but he was just so misguided and blinded by his belief that he was good and right. Yet because of that, he’s also the character I pity the most. I could write a whole post ranting about Bai Lin and everything he’s done. But I won’t.
Another topic I could write a whole post about but won’t is Xuan Ji and Luohou Jidu and all their identities. Xuan Ji, Luohou Jidu, the God of War, and Mosha Star, are both/and personified. It’s ironic that Bai Lin, who operated under a false dichotomy (or either/or thinking), had a hand in creating a personification of both/and thinking. Or is that just an example of both/and in itself?
I think there’s something beautiful about how for both Xuan Ji and Luohou Jidu, they didn’t let society and other people dictate their identities and who they were. They were who they viewed themselves as and who they wanted to be. There’s beauty, too, in how Si Feng was entirely willing to love Luohou Jidu and Xuan Ji when they shared a body and an identity, and he didn’t care what they looked like or who they were. He loved Xuan Ji in Luohou Jidu’s body, Luohou Jidu in the God of War’s body. He could recognize that they were different, yet also the same.
When I finished this show, I felt like the end was almost too neat. But in the end, I also realized that this is one of those shows where the journey itself is the most beautiful part. I didn’t care what the actual ending was. Honestly, Si Feng could have died, and I would have been devastated, but eventually accepted it for what it was, because what I really cared about was Xuan Ji and everyone else’s journey to figuring themselves out. The real story had already finished by the time we got to the last episode. But for the record, I’m happy that everyone got their happy — or at least deserved — ending.