Novoland: Eagle Flag is a show that attempts to chronicle the journey of three young heroes who go from naïve youngsters to rulers in their own right. I say attempt only because at the time of writing this review, the one character that seems to be getting a proper and logical growth arc is Ji Ye (Chen Ruoxuan), and even his arc is written in such a way that the character takes one step forward and two steps backward. Lv Guichen (Liu Haoran) is still the just and benevolent saviour, though his resurrection should help drive the character forward. That being said, I still find the show riveting enough to watch every single episode, which doesn’t happen very often these days.
The brooding and flawed Ji Ye is a particular standout, and I’ve been invested in his story from the get go. Having not read Jiangnan’s original, I feel like the entire betrayal subplot in Nanhuai was developed very well, especially with regards to the conflicted feelings Ji Ye holds for his family. Compared to Lv Guichen, he has an inferiority complex, often acts selfishly, is ambitious and desperately wants to prove himself, but these qualities make the character feel like a real human being, and I was completely with him when he killed the official that tortured his mother.
Lv Guichen has had his moments to shine, and killing the Chiya warrior in episode 6 was a particularly carthartic moment for the character. The moment he revealed his true feelings for Yu Ran (Song Zu’er) was a turning point in the love triangle, and it’s a beautiful moment of honesty that is completely in line with Lv Guichen’s personality. Unfortunately his high points have been few and far between throughout the drama, and his idealism, naivety and stagnant growth arc are just some of the reasons why the character doesn’t appeal to me.
It’s clear from the start that the main leads are simply pawns in the brutal game of power, and now that we’re past the halfway mark, I’m impatient to see how Lv Guichen and Ji Ye will take control of their own fate and hold their own against the calculating warlord Baili Jinghong (Zhang Jiayi), Chenyue cult leader Lei Bicheng (Zhang Zhijian) and anti-villain Ying Wuyi (Zhang Fengyi). Whoever cast the three veteran actors is a genius, because even when the pacing is slow, I’m still interested in watching them sitting around devising political machinations to make the waters even murkier.
Apart from Ying Yu’s (Wu Jiayi) love line, I’m not particularly interested in the main love pentagon, because I’ve already found my OTP in Su Shunqing (Wang Ou) and Xi Yan (Li Guangjie). Su Shunqing describes herself as a bird willingly locked inside a cage that wouldn’t know where to fly even if someone were to open the cage. Unfortunately her predictions came true, as Su Shunqing’s fate was sealed when Baili Yin (Liu Qiushi) died from his injuries in the underground palace. Though I respected her decision and believed it was a fitting end for her character, the fact that her plans to leave were disrupted by her adopted son drove the shipper in me mad. The romance between a warrior and a former assassin bound to love and duty was never meant to be, but the unspoken tenderness between them had me rooting for the couple the entire time they were onscreen.
The production values, cinematography and music cues are excellent, and though parts of the storyline are making me question the screenwriters’ common sense (making the leads camp in a mountain valley overnight twice when there are enemies on all sides), the series is well worth a watch. Novoland: Eagle Flag is currently streaming on Youtube (English subs) and Tencent (VIP).