Drama Review: Royal Nirvana

The show clearly wants my tears, and it’s got them.

I’ve got so much to say about Royal Nirvana I just couldn’t wait until the halfway mark, so here I am with a first impressions post (Episodes 1-11).

Royal Nirvana is a poignant drama that is anchored by a group of wonderful actors and an equally good screenwriter in Liangman Xueyuan, who is also the original author. The tragic relationship between the emperor (Huang Zhizhong) and his estranged son the crown prince Xiao Dingquan (Luo Jin) forms the core of the story, and sets the tone for the entire drama.

So far I have found the political manoeuvres to be quite engaging because the plot twists come so frequently there is hardly enough time to react. This is aided by the fact that the writer purposely left out key hints to up the surprise factor, which initially led to some pretty sloppy last-minute reveals. Nonetheless, the politicking in this drama is the best I’ve seen in years and the execution of each reversal followed by an equally exciting revelation has me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

The first few episodes focused on the crown prince Xiao Dingquan’s coming of age ceremony, and it took viewers on one heck of a rollercoaster ride. It was painful to watch, because Xiao Dingquan clearly had the upper hand, yet ended up taking responsibility for older half-brother Xiao Dingtang’s (Jin Han in his best role yet) mistakes. Xiao Dingquan knew how biased the emperor is towards his eldest son, yet his desire for his father’s recognition and affection meant he was unwilling to go down without a fight. Unfortunately, it was a fight he was destined to lose from the very beginning, because the emperor saw Xiao Dingquan first as a political rival who had the backing of a powerful and ambitious clan and then as his son.

I absolutely love the teacher-student relationship between the Grand Tutor Lu Shiyu and Xiao Dingquan.

If the emperor’s actions towards the crown prince are out of conflicting feelings of fear and desire to groom a proper heir, then the incorruptible Lu Shiyu (Wang Jinsong) truly treats the crown prince as a beloved student, warning him of the dangers of getting too involved in the murky waters of coercive diplomacy:

“If you listen to my advice, your road ahead will be very difficult. If you don’t, only death awaits you. The day you can strike a balance between the two is the day when you are ready to rule.”

“Life will only get harder for me in the future.”

One thing I have noticed is that Xiao Dingquan cries a lot, and when I mean a lot, I mean almost every episode. However, I don’t see them as childish tantrums, because it just felt so natural for the sensitive character to be driven to tears given what was happening. Luo Jin may not be the right age or fit the aesthetic descriptions given to Xiao Dingquan in the novel, but there is no doubt that he is a very good actor who knows how to tug at viewers’ heartstrings.

For a person in his position, Xiao Dingquan is too naive and innocent, but his sincerity is what makes the character so endearing to me. He hasn’t even seen Lu Wenxi (Li Yitong), yet believes her to be his soulmate just based on her artwork and beliefs. I don’t think Xiao Dingquan fully understands why his and Lu Wenxi’s union is frowned upon by Lu Ying (Qiu Xinzhi). It’s not only an upright and honest scholar’s desire for political freedom, but also a reflection of a father’s love for his daughter and unwillingness to watch her get mired down in political scheming. Being the intelligent young maiden she is, Lu Wenxi clearly understands where her father is coming from, and her acceptance of this outcome is what makes their relationship so beautiful (and depressing). Personally, I find Xiao Dingquan and Lu Wenxi’s bittersweet relationship to be more touching than a lot of the love stories that value romantic love above everything else.

Last but not least, the instrumentals by Ah Kun is the cherry on top. His music is beautifully woven throughout the drama, and the orchestral pieces play a crucial role in evoking all the right emotions at the right scenes. You can listen to the full album here. (He also composed the soundtrack for City of Hopeless Love, which was the best thing about the show after Bao Jianfeng and Guo Zhenni’s Thirteenth Moon segment).

The drama is perfect so far, and it’s too good to pass on even with Youku’s irregular streaming schedule. Catch the series English-subbed on Youtube here.

18 thoughts on “Drama Review: Royal Nirvana

  1. Help request from a non-chinese speaker!

    I’m new to Cfensi and don’t know what thar means.
    Not a movie watcher but got hooked on China’s historical dramas. I had lived in Bei for 5 years, 20 years ago and found the movies impressive. However, as a non-chinese speaker I found this site looking for answers?

    1. The Empress – what was the story on why she lost the first son.
    2. Who is Prince Min?
    3. Are all the English / sub-titles/ translation the same on any channel? I missed some good dialogues –
    4. I am a bit familiar with the festivals & had to look up the meaning of the hair-pin?
    When CP said why do I need the hair-pin? Did that mean
    that he is protecting her as a pawn?
    5. Anyone know how I can get a copy of the chinese script and will have it translated?

    Xie2 ni

  2. Ok so I got to episode 60 and WTF!!!! I need to have a full cycle emotional breakdown first from 59 episodes of anguish before I can even begin to decipher what the end means. What an amazingly painful and magnificent ride. I’m sure I will be unravelling all of this in my mind for months to come with spontaneous episodic epiphanies in between.

    • I am so confused with the ending! Did they end up together or did he left her and their unborn child behind? In other words, did he died?

      • I stopped at Ep50, but from what I’ve seen in online discussion forums, the drama deleted 10 episodes worth of content (which included further breakdown of father son r/ship and an uprising by Gu Feng’en). It looks like a happy ending, but some fans think it’s just a dream sequence.

  3. EP46: I spoke too soon in the most recent Music Monday post – after the crown princess’ death, the drama just dropped back to square one with regards to the torturous father x son relationship. The romance has also taken a rather morbid turn and it just didn’t make sense for the crown prince to not make the link between Lu Wenxi and Gu Sese after the heroine basically came clean with her backstory.

    • I guess. It was just a transition, but there will be more tragic stories coming back in later episodes, the rumor says that the uncle will usurp the throne.

      • Thank you for the updates. I peeked at EPs 46 and 47 for 2 minutes each. They looked as if there may be gratuitous melodrama. Your comments are helpful in putting random scenes I saw in a context.
        I’m sensing that I don’t love RN as much as you overall. By around EP 8, for me, there’s a bit of that Tsui Hark style coming through. Move the plot along at a fast speed ala Detective Dee so that it’s easier for you to miss there are a couple of plot holes here and there. There’s some waving the sleeve thing going on. But they were not blatantly obvious.

        Music Monday post was very enjoyable. I like a lot of the same ones, but my list is a lot shorter since I didn’t watch as many dramas. Untamed, Royal Nirvana, Joy of Life, in no particular order, top my list.
        I like a few of Zhou Shen’s OST songs, including Light Chaser’s White Snake. But not completely in love with that song.
        I paid less attention to drama OSTs this year somehow.

        Untamed’s OST didn’t start well as the first major instrumental theme I recognized was the recurring instrumental theme used in Perfect Couple with Tang Yan, Wallace Huo years ago. This was used in the major scene in EP 1 or 2 where Xiao Zhan was clinging on Lan Zhan precariously on a cliff. But I love the Wuji OST on the Dizi flute. I find several Lin Hai compositions highly enjoyable for their sweet melodies and their use of pipa, dizi, and zheng though music critics of the world may not view these compositions too favorably. Li Jian may be at a similar level with his Joy Of Life and other compositions but may not use traditional instruments as much. Both write music that are relaxing and sooth the soul.

        Thank you for your music discussions. It’s easier to discuss traditional C instrument music with people with similar interests over the internet than to find such people in person.

  4. FYI, Royal Nirvana is also available to watch on Amazon Prime (seems to have slightly better English subs and slightly faster uploads than Youtube). It’s also on Maplestage without English subs and the upload schedule is much faster than both Amazon and Youtube.

  5. I love it it so good it fill with human passion and I understand what is fight for parent Love, I can’t wait to see what happen next. Thank you for English sub told Me.

  6. Thank you for your review! Is it too early to ask how you compare this to Nirvana in Fire? I’m currently waiting until there are more episodes before I invest myself fully into this drama. But I’m still so curious how it compares.

    • Royal Nirvana is way more depressing than NIF because the hero has fewer supporters, and is distrusted by his father. The villains also seem smarter than the ones in NIF, but that’s mostly because Mei Changsu is written like an otherworldly genius. The crown prince in Royal Nirvana is still fighting for survival within the palace walls, while the Mei Changsu was more about overturning the injustices laid to the Chiyan army. They’re both great dramas, but I personally am more emotionally invested in Royal Nirvana.

  7. I appreciate reading your detailed description. Beyond what you said, I also like the crane CGI art in the opening sequence and the flying CGI cranes in the drama. The OST is indeed very nicely done. I always enjoy watching Wang Jinsong’s acting whenever he’s doing a noble character. I don’t like his acting in Sparrow as much. A lot less still in Glory of Tang.
    I do like Luo Jin in RY. There are times when I find he looks a tad mature for this, but his emotional scenes are much more on point than many other younger actors can manage, so I’m enjoying LJ.

    Since I saw RY’s trailer, I anticipate that RY will evoke more emotion out of me than Chang’an and Eagle Flag. The human relationships in RY feel much more real and alive. The leads’ acting in Love and Destiny looks appealing, but there’s a lot of love theme and immortal politics. The latter can easily feel frivolous when you live in the modern world and are not in the right mind setting to sit down and enjoy xianxia. Unlike many other cfensi fans, I can’t take 20+ hours of love stories. I still shiver when I recall Princess Weiyoung. The two leads in Weiyoung had such idol drama lives. I get sleepy easily watching xianxia love plots too.

    I’m just afraid this drama will have a tragic ending (***SPOILER *********** like the novel ending.)

    Will someone kindly warn if this drama ends tragically? I’m watching RY at half the pace of RY’s release schedule.
    Thank you!

    Did anyone here watch Light Chaser’s White Snake? There were only 6 people in the whole theatre when I went to see it on a weekend evening. It may take a miracle for the next Light Chaser movie to get to US, Canada in the future.

    • tragic ending ?! glad i stopped watch it on ep 01. Nirvana in Fire drama was not considered tragic because we had been given hint from the start the hero has already very ill so it’s naturally he died in the end. BUT royal nirvana ? how could … would it be like Goodbye My Princess ?

      • The screenwriter is the original author, and apparently the drama has already veered away from the source, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it gives us a new ending.

        • Thank you! I hope the ending won’t be tragic.

          I meant “mind set” and “RN”.

          You can try watching RN along with Joy of Life. JoL is a rather cheerful drama and may counter RN’s seriousness.

    • Looking at the box office, it’s definitely not great:

      In comparison, here’s Nezha’s results (Sep 20-22 is probably a fluke):

      I think it has more to do with the lack of general buzz for the film and the fact that the distribution company doesn’t really cater to Chinese audiences. Also most Chinese people would’ve seen it online by now. I think if Light Chaser does well in China, they’ll still be picked up by at least one of the Chinese film distribution companies.

      • Thanks and thank you for posting White Snake’s movie release dates too. I thought the movie would do okay commercially in the theaters since its release coincided with a US long weekend. The preceding and successive shows of the showing I saw also only had about 5 people each.
        I’m surprised to see there were a couple of days with average receipt of $0 per theater.

        The movie’s visuals were very good and I like how there is more facial expression in the animated faces. The plot is okay though I think it is slightly better suited for idol drama fans. The audience aim may be a bit off for the international market in that this movie is better for teens and older, rather than pre-teens.

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