Fated romances are one of the most common tropes in Chinese drama, so much so that many series take for granted that one will always love the same person in every lifetime. Xianxia drama Love and Destiny 宸汐缘 is a rare rejection of the assumption, instead questioning the ideas that the soul is the sole entity of human identity and that one’s life is necessarily bound to that of one’s past lives. In one of the most morally ambiguous battles in a recent drama, a chapter climax of the series has the male leads fighting for different reincarnations of the female lead. One male lead is determined that the human reincarnation of the female lead dies on time so her soul will return to heaven; another wants to try and save her current mortal self. The former believes that it’s important to save her soul so that she lives on, but the later believe that each life is a new person and they can’t sacrifice one of her lifetimes for that of another.
Love and Destiny follows three lifetimes of the female lead (Ni Ni) – first as the immortal Lingxi, who is then banished to experience mortal life as Lin Mo, and then becomes an immortal again. Her story is paralleled by that of the secondary love triangle, where immortal Qingyao (Zhang Zhixi) faces the opposite problem – she fell for the mortal interlude of an immortal. When he returns as an immortal, does she still love him?
Lin Mo’s life is one of a substitute. From birth, she was told she was a biological child so that her mother could cover up a lie. She lived a life where no one in the family cared much for her except for her father, only for him to push her into the river to save his biological daughter. When she survives, she finds out that she was adopted and leaves the family. Living by herself, she befriends the immortal Jingxiu (Li Dongxue), who has also escaped to the mortal world. Yet just as she and Jingxiu were beginning to spark up a romance, she was lured into a romance with Jiuchen (Chang Chen). As she is going through her fated death, the perfect timing for her soul to return as Lingxi, she learns of the truth. Most of his romantic actions were because he considers her to be Lingxi and didn’t want to see her with anyone else. Even the peach tree that gave her hope as a child was planted for Lingxi, not her. With her last breath, she tells Jiuchen to remember her as her – Lin Mo. She tells him to never forget that the girl who spent day and night with him loves him as Lin Mo and no one else.
Instead of finding it romantic that the male lead loves every reincarnation of her, Lin Mo finds it horrifying that he thinks of her as a continuation of Lingxi. She reminds him of who she was – her human parents, her upbringing, her life story, her experiences with him, everything that makes her Lin Mo and no one else. While both are kind and strong in nature, Lingxi and Lin Mo’s life experiences shaped who they are and made them drastically different beings despite sharing a common soul. Lingxi is spritely, chirpy, and sometimes clumsy. Lin Mo is reserved, quiet, and thoughtful. Lingxi worships Jiuchen as a war god, but Lin Mo loves Jiuchen for his companionship. Lin Mo dies loving Jiuchen, but the series doesn’t give a satisfying answer to whether Jiuchen loves Lin Mo as Lin Mo or Lingxi.
Lingxi’s fellow disciple Qingyao (Zhang Zhixi) is on the opposite side of the problem. As a mortal, she was deeply in love with her husband. When he was killed in a flood, she focused on practicing to become an immortal but still longs for him. Yet when she returns to Earth and meets his latest reincarnation, she saw how happy he was with his current life, and chose not to tell him of his past. When this reincarnation also passes away, it’s revealed that like Lin Mo, her ex-husband was an immortal banished to experience earthly lives before returning as an immortal. With all of his previous memories, he seeks her love again. She rejects his immortal form. He is not the person she once loved, and the person who loved her is no longer him. Instead, she chose to stay with another immortal who fell for her as himself.
In contrasting life stories, the two female leads decide to separate the soul from the individual. Lin Mo reminds the male lead that the person he fell in love with is not just Lingxi, while Qingyao reminds her ex-husband that the person she fell in love is not just his soul. Through their stories, Love and Destiny makes a bold departure from conventional Chinese dramas to argue that a person is the sum of both their soul and experiences.