The Legends 招摇 might be the best wuxia-ish drama with a female lead out yet (I know, low bar), and the three leads might have my favorite drama lead dynamic since The Disguiser. The currently-airing drama is still a funny, cute rom-com at heart, but it’s one of the few wuxia that treats its female leads’ ambitions no different than a male lead. It reminds me of Wicked the musical with its polar-opposite female leads who share a room and who change each other for good. One of them is pushed into wickedness after being called so by the leader of the land, but the other believes in her even after the world has deemed her wicked. The romance plot reminds me of The Disguiser, with the male lead being in love with not just the female lead but her visions for the world.
update: You should stop watching the moment Zhaoyao explodes because that is when the series also explodes as they go into original content. Everyone becomes out of character and the plot is a mix of cringe+boring+??? after that.
Zhaoyao (Bai Lu) starts off as a young girl fed naive visions of helping her people “become good” by her mentor and first crush. Yet when he condemns to death an innocent youth prophecied for evil, she is horrified and rebels against him. Her mentor ends up killing her grandfather while she saves the youth. After being told repeatedly she’s wicked by everyone, Zhaoyao chooses to become wicked. She sets out to build a ruthless empire, killing both her mentor and her old dreams along the way.
Five years later, the “righteous” sects gang up on her and she is killed. The youth she saved, Li Chenlan (Xu Kai), takes over her sect and rebuilds it in her original vision. When she magically returns from death, she finds that her acres of traps and torture equipment have all been converted to pastures and tools for the villagers. Enraged by this sign of betrayal, she goes back to her sect undercover and spends every day trying to seduce and/or kill Li Chenlan. All this happens in the first five episodes!
Meanwhile, Qin Zhiyan (Xiao Yan) is the body that Zhaoyao shares after coming back from death. When her father was murdered, the sheltered Qin Zhiyan escapes from the righteous sects to avenge him and protect herself. She is indecisive and timid and far from a hero, but once she has her mind made up she won’t give up. She’s terrified to even talk to strangers, but forces herself to be brave for the people who she cares about。
Zhiyan repeatedly pushes Zhaoyao out of her comfort zone, tells her over and over again that she deserves to be and already is loved, and forces Zhaoyao to be true to herself. Similarly, Zhaoyao spent day after day teaching Zhiyan how to fight, how to talk, and how to stand up for herself. In the book at least, Zhiyan even takes over the sect in the end and continues to build Zhaoyao’s dreams. Through their journey together, the two women learn from and support each other in a way that I haven’t seen in a female-female relationship in a wuxia-esque drama in forever.
Since Zhaoyao is partly dead, she also has to maintain strength by doing good deeds in exchange for money for the dead. In her attempts to rejoin her sect and interactions with Qin Zhiyan and Li Chenlan, she slowly regains her belief in humanity and remembers her original dreams.
Unknown to Zhaoyao, Li Chenlan has been in love with her since she saved him. He remembered all her grand dreams even when she forgot them. He actually recognized her! He spends much of the drama enjoying her failed attempts at killing and/or seducing him. He has always loved Zhaoyao unconditionally, and does anything she asks of him without exceptions. All his scenes with Zhaoyao are adorable. He’s like the dock that’s always waiting for Zhaoyao to return, while Zhiyan is the wind that constantly pushes her on her way. Xu Kai’s character is relatively underdeveloped, but he’s so cute and loves Zhaoyao so much and that’s more than enough for the role.
I’ve never seen Bai Lu in anything before, and I’m impressed with her pulling off all three different stages of Zhaoyao’s life. Every scene with her is interesting no matter who she is with, and she has great chemistry with everyone. Xiao Yan is weaker than Bai Lu when playing Zhaoyao, but does an excellent job playing Qin Zhiyan.
The “righteous” sects also have pretty interesting characters. There’s Lu Mingxuan (Liu Guanxiang), who isn’t pure evil so far but is fatalistic and is willing to kill for what he believes is the greater good; Qin Qianxuan (Li Zifeng), who is so determined to block all his inner desires and flaws that they took on a life of its own; Liu Suruo (Mi Lu), who is so in love with what she thought was perfect goodness that she turned evil to find it. Unfortunately, everyone there gave forgettable performances and many of their scenes are fillers.
Although limited in number, the costumes for Bai Lu and Xu Kai look amazing on them . I especially love the blue iridescence of Xu Kai’s outfit and Bai Lu’s “evil” makeup+ hair. Clothes for the rest of the cast are pretty costume-y, as are the special effects, but they don’t distract much. The music is solid, with my favorite being the ending song, The Path is Far 路之遥 . The song plays on a pun of Zhaoyao’s name and captures her journey and emotions perfectly. The singer, Ding Ding, even sounds like Zhaoyao’s dub.
The Legends is ultimately a solid rom-com with humor and romance, but it also features great characterization. It’s one of the few dramas featuring two female leads with character flaws, character growth, who are also genuine friends. The series is based on the book of the same name by Jiu Lu Fei Xiang and directed by Steven Cheng. It’s available on Youtube here and airs two episodes every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
Also, I know the story is technically xianxia, but the story feels very wuxia.