Mini-Recap: The Rise of Phoenixes Episodes 1-2

A one-off recap of Episodes 1 and 2 of The Rise of Phoenixes. The drama is currently airing on Hunan TV (7:30~8pm CN time) and iQiyi (10pm).

No news of English subs yet.

The Cheng Dynasty collapses after a successful rebellion by then Duke of Minhai, Ning Shizheng (Ni Dahong). He then founds the Tiansheng Dynasty, and instates his eldest legitimate son Ning Chuan (later played by Hai Yitian) as Crown Prince after killing the ninth prince(ss) of Cheng.

L-R: Ning Shizheng (emperor), Chang Hai, the crown prince’s supporter

Fast forward eighteen years, the Tiansheng court is splintered into various factions – the powerful Chang clan led by Chang Hai, the Duke of Min, supports the Crown Prince, while Assistant Minister Ge supports the simple-minded fifth prince. To maintain a balance of power, the emperor releases Ning Yi (Chen Kun) after eight years of house arrest, describing him as a painful ‘nail’ that will keep the different factions in line.

L-R: Crown prince Ning Chuan, fifth prince Ning Yan, second prince Ning Sheng

Ning Yi appears to be an ignorant prince who is uninterested in politics, swearing that he only wants to spend the rest of his life drinking and weaving brocade (for which he is well known for). However, we already know that he’s no fool, and is only biding time before he strikes back against the people that caused the third prince’s death. The emperor and the princes know this too, though the former decides to turn a blind eye, while the princes have no choice but to accept their brother with welcome arms.

Sixth prince Ning Yi, Prince of Chu

To ensure that Ning Yi and the other princes are evenly matched, the emperor arranges a marriage between Ning Yi and the daughter of the Qiu family. However the Qiu family firmly believes that the Chang family and the Crown Prince will be the ultimate victors, and Madam Qiu sends her niece Feng Zhiwei’s (Ni Ni) engagement card back to the palace instead of her daughter’s. Given Feng Zhiwei’s true identity as a descendant of the Cheng Dynasty, her ‘mother’ Qiu Mingying (Liu Mintao) is understandably conflicted when she hears the news.

Feng Zhiwei cross-dresses as a man to attend school in place of her good-for-nothing brother.

At a popular textile shop that sells brocade woven by Ning Yi, court official Xin Ziyan (Zhao Lixin) is waiting for his measurements to be taken. Surprisingly, the tailor that walks in is Ning Yi himself, the prince he had earlier criticised for being useless and lacking filial piety and loyalty. It’s explained that he initially worked for the third prince, and was entrusted by him to assist Ning Yi in his endeavours. Currently a double agent who acts as the crown prince’s guardian, Xin Ziyan secretly discusses plans with the Prince of Chu to further estrange the crown prince from his followers.

Xin Ziyan

Ning Yi’s secret network also includes Zhuyin, a popular courtesan who inadvertently befriended Zhiwei after the latter helps break up an altercation between her and the Qiu household’s fifth concubine (Deng Sha). While returning a hairpin to her new friend, Feng Zhiwei meets Ning Yi, and is introduced as a ‘weaver’ who works for the Prince of Chu.

Zhuyin, Feng Zhiwei, and the ‘weaver’.

The second prince (Shi An) is clearly a more seasoned politician than his fifth brother, and in an attempt to destabilise the Crown Prince, spreads a rumour that the ninth prince of the Cheng Dynasty is still alive and well in his principality Yanzhou. He also fabricates a murder case that suggests the Bloody Pagoda, an organisation loyal to the previous dynasty, is back for revenge. However, Xin Ziyan tells the Crown Prince that the rumours may be man-made, sowing the first seeds of suspicion in his mind.

The next day, Ning Yi is preparing a banquet for his brothers, and Feng Zhiwei, wanting to meet her husband-to-be, sneaks into the manor as a courtesan. She accidentally runs into the ‘weaver’ Ning Yi, and pleads with him to arrange a meeting between her and the Prince of Chu. Ning Yi is aware of the Qiu family’s tricks, and knows that Feng Zhiwei is in fact a substitute (hence the nickname ‘Little Civet Cat‘).

However, he doesn’t want Feng Zhiwei ruining his plans that night, and locks her in a pavilion. During the banquet, the appearance of an “assassin” (who was actually Feng Zhiwei trying to escape captivity) who seems to be headed for the Crown Prince further weakens the shaky alliance between the three brothers. 

I swear, Chen Kun hasn’t changed since his Painted Skin days.


Everything and everyone in this drama looks beautiful – it’s comfortable and natural because there are no bright filters, and neither is it so washed out that it looks dull and grey. I also want to point out how professional the team is for sticking to on-site recording, and using everyone’s original voices –  this is definitely a big step forward for Chinese dramas in general. Acting wise, I thought Chen Kun was a bit over the top when he was acting as a drunken idiot, but he is perfect in the more serious scenes with Xin Ziyan.

Zhao Lixin is my favourite so far – his interactions with his wife Hu Ke (as Dahua) are hilarious, and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of his scenes with Chen Kun and Ni Dahong.

Fun fact: Zhao Lixin narrated the introduction to episode 1.

Ni Ni is beautiful as always, and though Feng Zhiwei still seems a bit naïve at the moment, I’m confident the character will grow up once she enters the imperial court as Wei Zhi.

I’m actually worried about the story and its pacing more than anything else after seeing the sheer number of writers and editors involved in this project – I really want to love this show, and am desperately hoping The Rise of Phoenixes will not be the next Tribes and Empires.