Breaking 1 Billion views with a trailer alone, the expectations and anticipation for this drama cannot be rivalled by many. Exceeding 40 billion views throughout its run, the show not only surpassed its record predecessor Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms, but has doubled the figure. Based on Xiao Xiang Dong Er’s Queen of No.11 Agent, Princess Agent was undoubted one of the most buzzed about series on Weibo this year. Many fell prey to this production, I, being just one of the million others.
Zhao Li Ying as Chu Qiao (Xing Er/ Jin Xiao Liu)
Lin Geng Xin as Yu Wen Yue
Shawn Dou as Yan Xun
Li Qin as Yuan Chun
Drama Episodes: 58 (Uncut)
Episode Length: 45 Minutes
Broadcast Date: 5 June to 1 August 2017
In a world where the upper class dictates all and the life and death of commoners is merely a game to them, Chu Qiao awakes in a carriage surrounded by other criminals. She has committed a crime punishable by death, one she has forgotten, along with her other memories. The sons of nobles gather at a field, where they pit the girls against wolves, in a cruel game to entertain themselves. Whilst the dark nature of such environment has successfully penetrated the thoughts and excitement of these young men, there are some adamantly against the idea as well, the bright and cheerful Yan Xun being one. Although Chu Qiao has forgotten her martial arts, her survival instincts have not, as she comes out the sole survivor of this incident, having been secretly saved by the cold mysterious Yu Wen Yue, who is now her master. In the Yu Wen household, she reunites with her half siblings and along the way witnesses their hardships and sacrifice to protect her.
Whilst the slaves are treated no more than mere objects that can be thrown away, being born noble also has it’s many inner power struggles. Although Yu Wen Yue is nurturing in Chu Qiao’s abilities and training her in the arts of fighting, the grudge and revenge she must extract from him for her brother’s death will always be part of her thoughts. With the need to flee the place and protect her younger sisters, Chu Qiao must seek the route that guarantees her survival.
After reading the Wikipedia synopsis of the drama, the actual storyline fails to capture even half of my expectations. The beginning of the drama was relatively captivating, however the pacing is possibly one of the worst elements of this series.
Whilst the drama, received criticism for its inability to adapt the book, with the time travelling elements, the drama was already forced to take a different route. However, this route led to more disappointments with the series trying so hard to push the love line between Yu Wen Yue and Chu Qiao from the beginning.
With highlighting the romance between the two, the first arc of the storyline was extended, and hence the climaxes of the novel, were delayed or not explored well. Whilst the death of Yan Xun’s family was a pivotal moment for all the characters in the drama, it did not need to extend the span of two episodes. Especially since it comprised of Yan Xun being defeated several times, very long fight scenes and his mother, stating the same sentences several times.
The novel explored much more than the drama, and whilst it was expected that the series would be a commercial success, it was dragged out to make room for a potential sequel. With 58 episodes, any novel should be able to be compressed and sufficiently presented within that time frame.
Yan Xun’s turmoil, his transition from bright and cheerful, to revengeful and spiteful was one of the best explored character developments in the series. His disappointment in the place he held as home, his cruel acts to extract revenge, even his choice to take over Chang An, weren’t excusable, but I understood perfectly where the sentiments derived from. Whilst many disliked his hatred for the Xiu Li army, by that time he was already a character who could not trust. In his eyes, his best friend had done little to nothing with the knowledge of the potential death of this family. His family was wrongfully slaughtered, whilst he had been away from them and his mother committed suicide right in front of him. In addition, the place he wanted to return to, his home, which once held the illusion of freedom and peace was shattered after withholding all this pain. And whilst the Xiu Li army had been tricked into opening the gates that resulted in the death of his family, the hatred of those gates being opened was already deep-rooted in him. Whilst he turned into a character of little sentiment, we witnessed that his upholding of relationships, the stem of which his hatred derived from, was not completely lost.
Whilst he held the truth from Chu Qiao, there was more than enough to show that he cared deeply for her. Does that make him her idea partner? Probably not, but at the very least we saw the dimensions in his character. Yu Wen Yue, whilst the fan favourite, wasn’t a character I particularly cared for. To put it simply, Yu Wen Yue is the perfect male lead. He loves the female character more than anything, he learns to accept and adapt to her views, he is willing to love her from afar, even if that means watching her find happiness with someone else. He’s always there for her and most importantly his love is selfless and it’s what motivates his movements. He’s intelligent, good at scheming and reading people and holds his country to high importance. Whilst his relationship with Yan Xun was deterred due to this and the many misunderstandings along the way, his stance to protect what he was raised to never changed. The only problem is, it makes him boring. In a drama that was not meant to be predominantly romance, it seemed almost forced for a character to allow love to trump all else. I’m not saying that Yan Xun didn’t value his love for Chu Qiao just as much, but Yu Wen Yue to an extent was almost too silent in his perfection.
Chun Er would have been the fans’ most disliked character. She was spoilt and naïve and even when extracting revenge, her naïvety and how pampered she was still prevalent. Characters, again and again, sacrificed their life to protect her, but it wasn’t until the very end that she learnt to cherish it and let go. I don’t blame her for loving Yan Xun, I don’t blame her to thinking she could protect him if she married him and I don’t blame her choice to extract revenge. Because after all it was her naïvety that presented us with the scene of her confronting her father and delivering possibly the most satisfying scene in the series. But the problem was her direction, whilst Yan Xun was part of the reasons for her misfortunes, he was not the core reason. Yes, there’s a fine line between love and hate and in that moment, she had overstepped the line into hatred, but Chun Er’s love for Yan Xun, was as strong as any of the characters’ love for one another, regardless of whether it was one-sided. Most people, detest one-sided loves in dramas, but to me, as long as it doesn’t become the pitfall of all situations, it’s just another reality. Unfortunately, not everyone can love the person that loves them.
Another character that shared Chun Er’s naivety was Yuan Song. Even when he witnessed the Yan Xun’s tragedy, he believed in this picture-perfect world. But his ability to forgive was one of his many redeeming characteristics.
The last of the core characters is Chu Qiao. Chu Qiao, is the one character who was surrounded in the most mystery and had the most potential on a political and motivational stance, but she fell short in all aspects. Her identity was side-lined and skipped over relatively fast during the end. Her motivation to free all slaves and allow for civilians to be in peace became a backstory for the majority of the series. Her protection for Xiu Li army, was possibly the only character plot that showed predominantly, but only in the later half. She was supposedly intelligent, but what I saw in her was someone who was to be lead and wasn’t necessarily a leader. She was essentially for large parts of the series, a spear in another master’s hand, whether that had been Yu Wen Yue or Yan Xun. I found her constant fights with Yu Wen Yue, to an extent pointless. She was trained by him, it would have always been impossible for her to beat him, considering he was her only trainer. Not to mention, her character was written to be strong, but every time Yu Wen Yue rescued her, I felt it was a little contradictory.
The slow motion scenes to force a romance on the couple was borderline threading comedy. Her actions felt like they lacked conviction. If she was in love with Yan Xun, it would have been stronger grounds for her dedication to him and in ways Yan Xun’s betrayal would have been looked upon more critically. Companionship, as great as it may be, cannot exist between characters where a one-sided love exists.
This is probably the only department where my complaints are minimal. Shawn Dou and Li Qin’s portrayal of Yan Xun and Chun Er respectively, was the highlight of the series. Main cast wise only Lin Geng Xin was a little stiff, but his character was meant to be cold, so it worked in his favour. Whilst the minor characters, weren’t exceptional, they all pulled off their roles whilst not distracting the flow.
Cinematography and Costumes:
The costumes for the most part were very beautiful, individually. They immersed elegance and refinery and in a sense simplicity. The costumes didn’t try to be flamboyant, which was both a negative and a positive. On the positive side, it wasn’t hard on the eyes, but the costumes became washed out in the overly bright background. As Yu Wen Yue says to Chu Qiao, if it’s not white, it’s black with her clothes selection.
The colour choices, consisted of mainly black, white and pastels, especially when it came to the leads, Yu Wen Yue and Chu Qiao. The overall cinematography choice in this series really did steer the focus point for the audience. The chosen filter, that amplified the natural colours of the scenery, draws forth attention to the background, rather than the main characters who are mostly dressed in pastel and dark tones. This makes for great imagery in still pictures, but does not work for motion series. Most of the settings were beautiful. Whilst there was some unnecessary CGI in scenes, the use of them for the most part was minimal.
There was one scene or set of scenes in episode 45 that particularly sparked my negative reaction. The overall use of blue and pink used for the main couple was in my opinion quite tacky. It felt like they were trying to indicate how the pair is a match for one another, by resulting back to blue, pink gender norms. And really I don’t need a story to be spelt to me in such a way.
Music and Sound Tracks:
The theme songs were beautiful. Whilst Zhao Li Ying isn’t the strongest vocalist, her participation in the opening theme song, showed she knows her limits, with Zhang Bi Chen taking over many of the harder notes. Do I feel as though her participation in the track was needed or made it any more beautiful though? The answer would be no, it was honestly a song that would have been better without Zhao Li Ying’s voice, but overall her voice did not largely deter my appreciation of the track.
Princess Agents, started exciting, but fell short of many of my expectations. It was long-winded, and the choice to only film half of the novel, although inaccurately, clearly indicates the purpose of the series. It was a show created to garner attention and do well statistically, but lack in overall quality and storytelling. The ending was quite disappointing and whilst I don’t mind sad endings, and actually seek for them, it was overall quite frustrating. I found myself skipping many scenes, not that it mattered because the plot progression allowed for it to still seem like I was watching the same scenes. However, that isn’t to say I didn’t invest emotionally into the series, as I did cry for the many hardships of the more ‘villainous’ leads. Nevertheless, I still don’t think it’s a show worthy of the praise and many achievements it has obtained. I would not wish for another person to invest their time into this series.