I know this comes a bit late but I wanted to at least finish or try to finish some stuff before I give suggestions. I have avoided doing this in the past since I don’t really like ranking dramas. I find that my opinion of them changes depending on what I am feeling like but I also realize that people try to read these posts as reference for what to watch. Therefore, these are relatively “ranked” by my personal level of enjoyment… which may be inaccurate sometimes since I do click through dramas if I get impatient and may miss something good or critical…
Murder Mystery/Of Monks and Masters (侠僧探案传奇)
This film series crept up on me but after watching it, I could not be happier. Of course the costuming may not be the most glamorous but it makes sense since this is mostly set out in the “normal” or “jianghu” world as opposed to the world of aristocrats and palaces. Set in the Northern Song dynasty, this has wuxia hand-to-hand action that I have started to feel like is a lost art especially in the modern days of “let’s just CGI everything” and it’s good and intricately done. I was actually debating between this and Nirvana in Fire on which to put on top but decided on this one since it seems like it has been such a long time. Of course, there may be a bit of “gore,” not in the sense of Final Destination sort of way but when it is called for aka. when arms break, you will see it happen and it won’t just be an actor pretending to be in pain. Also, the story and mystery in each case is done in a way that keeps the story interesting and not weird or outrageous to me. Fans of wuxia and mystery will probably like this although the characters here didn’t really fit the stereotypical Wuxia archetypes that I have seen which was a major plus for me.
Nirvana in Fire (琅琊榜)
This one is a major winner this year in terms of costuming, set design, production, etc. and it does all this without appearing gaudy or unrealistic in a historical context. I did have some gripes with the way the story rolled every here and there but it was still strong on a whole. This drama and the hype speak for itself and are well-deserved.
Wu Xin: The Monster Killer (无心法师)
This was a Tangren success in the sense of BuBu JingXin in that the comedy was balanced and the story kept its pace. Chuckle-nonsense is kept on a leash and not left to roam free. Also, the CGI was pretty tasteful for the most part. The drama is short (20 episodes) and keeps the ball rolling. One of the main successes seems to be that the main characters are refreshing without trying too hard to be so. I believe this sets a milestone for web-dramas.
Hua Xu Yin: City of Hopeless Love (华胥引之绝爱之城)
I will admit that I ended up clicking through up until a certain person meets a life-changing (literally) experience and recovers a couple but possible not all of the lobes of her brain but the rest seemed was able to keep me intrigued. Sure there is the costuming and modifications (for better or for worse) from the original novel that I keep hearing about, cuts that may have helped clarify some parts or bring closure that ended up being cut out and released “unofficially” but as soon as we start exploring the meat of the plot and the multiple lives that it was supposed to weave together. Root root for the Chinese fantasy genre.
Go Princess Go (太子妃升職記)
You know what you are getting yourself into if you are watching this. This is crude humor and definitely not a watch if you are a stickler for copyright or quickly find things to be misogynistic. I don’t usually find myself able to stand dramas on low budgets for very long but when there are other options available now but hey, they made it work. This definitely shows that while a high budget is nice, working on the script and characters to make them entertaining still holds value in making a run-away success.
Monster Hunt (捉妖記)
Chinese demons, now available in the less-terrifying, multi-formed, multi-colored, reptile/fish-like/plant-based animations. The story may be a bit slow at times, at least to me, but the humor and predictable movie story-lines are there and try at something new for the movie industry. Success and the movie ending call for round 2.
Qin’s Moon (秦時明月)
I have not watched the original so I might be missing something here but I ended up watching this for the supporting characters. Tangren’s humor and exaggerations just rubbed me wrong sometimes. Although there is some nicer CGI and great improvements in production and costume design, the story really was not able to give me that intensity or get me into it. Oh wells and focus on the positives. I do feel that the costuming was a success in terms of animation/video game based media being translated to a drama. Trying to replicate the costuming in the originals usually just does not work but the costuming in this series nicely mixes modern historical knowledge with creativity.
The Legend of Miyue (芈月传)
Unfortunately this was a bit like Zhen Huan Zhuan had an accident with Red Sorghum and the successes of each rubbed each other in all the wrong ways. True, actors from both make appearances but the roles they are cast in just did not work. Maybe it’s just me but after seeing certain actors successfully act like they are “Republican era country bumpkins,” it takes a bit more convincing for me to believe they can act as royalty or be an official.
The costuming and sets didn’t really complement each other for me and, aside from prior voiced gripes, some of the characters and the story was not smoothed out enough so changes to personality seemed to take place a bit too quickly or decisions were made a bit illogically to me. Also, it seems to be a bit miss-promoted as a harem drama while it was a bit more of about trying to mesh historical record with a story about inter-kingdom politics while being about enduring but ultimately failing sisterhood. True, lots of things could be explained off with the fate/destiny part of the drama but it happened a bit too often in my opinion. The acting talent is obviously there but something seems to have fallen through in terms of story and script. The presence of thick eye-liner did seem to indicate the presence of a more interesting story, though.
The Empress of China (武媚娘傳奇)
I felt like more people ended up watching this for the glamour, hype, budget, modernized Tang dynasty costuming, or to see what all the fuss was about with boobs but not really for the story line. This is Fan Bingbing in all her typical glorious-ness and we will have to agree to disagree if you insist that this is without any flaws. The story tries to be “the innocent and loved-by-
all-most-of-the-opposite-gender sprite that cannot do anything even remotely ‘wrong’ and is hated by all of the same gender” while being “the cunning and righteous temptress who seeks revenge on all who have wronged her” with a side of “Tang dynasty China was just the best at everything and we WILL flaunt it” and “the omni-talented and love-ably hard-headed heroine” with “the fated to change the world but resistant to the job” kind of person without showing anything in between and what felt like a bit of concepts like love and loyalty anachronistically laced all around. I would be writing a prescription for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia if I weren’t so busy gawking. I guess I can only say I “try” to watch for story since I was so busy staring that I forgot to click through this one.
Ban Shu Legend (班淑传奇)
This one caught me at the wrong time and the sense of humor just rubbed me the wrong way. Sadly, I clicked through most of it and wasn’t able to catch much but from what I did catch, it has the humor and exaggerations of characters necessary for a romantic comedy. Although, since Yu Zheng has quieted down a bit, I have to admit that his costuming, productions standards, and style is missed now that he has quieted down, just not with the rest of the baggage that usually comes with it.
The Legend of the Song Dynasty: Zhao Kuangyin (大宋传奇之赵匡胤)
The talent is there. It’s just that the plot, philosophy, and lack of personally acceptable pretty to look at did it for me. I would have probably stayed tuned more and clicked less if they thrown in some more faithful imitations of Song dynasty clothing since we don’t seem to have seen much of that lately. Most of the clothing looked a bit more Tang dynasty if anything, which isn’t to say it isn’t possible since clothing styles tend to bleed across dynastic periods and the “Tang dynasty-like look” definitely seems to have persisted in some of the other dynasties and kingdoms around the Song dynasty at the time from what we see in murals… but things looking a bit more Song dynasty in a Song dynasty drama might have been nice. It’s a pity that China does not yet have filming studios with places that imitate architecture from dynasties outside of the Qing dynasty, Ming Dynasty, and Han dynasty so there are stretches of history still waiting for good representation.
Lady of the Dynasty (王朝的女人·楊貴妃)
I was originally mortified when I found out I had mixed up stills of this with The Empress of China. Sadly, it turns out it might not have mattered much. From what I saw, this is Fan Bingbing re-packaged in movie form with English voice-over from what seems like a Catholic priest from the Holy Roman Empire fan-boy-ing over the openness and liberalness of the Tang dynasty to set in stone the awkwardness.
The Legend of S (蜀山战纪之剑侠传奇)
I’ll be honest. I clicked through this one so quickly I have little knowledge of what actually happened. It got to a point where I simply ran my mouse over the “time bar” on the bottom of the video to make it go by more quickly. The CGI seemed a bit tacky and some of the costuming was okay while others were a bit odd.
I envy this guy for being able to remove his eyes. Despite the successes this drama has made, even clicking through this was hard for me. I simply could not stand some of the characters. At least Chinese dramas have begun to expand more into Xianxia/Fantasy in terms of dramas so maybe some good can come out of this.
War of Resistance: Qi Jiguang (抗倭英雄戚继光)
I clicked through this one so quickly that I don’t really know what happened. XD
Song in the Clouds (大漢情緣之雲中歌)
This is back to old Yu Zheng… and you know what that means. By now, with trailers for more recent productions, everything comes off as a bit tacky in terms of production which shows how quickly the industry has moved in China. I couldn’t really stay invested.
Royal Romance (多情江山)
From the bit I actually watched there seemed to be a lot of overused drama story lines, character devices, plot motifs, etc. twisted in a fashion that made it kind of a parody of Chinese drama plot tropes for me… which is kind of sad since I think they were being serious…