It’s no secret I love Chinese period/fantasy dramas. After having watched amazing productions like Eternal Love, Ashes of Love, and The Untamed I have apparently become much pickier about what I watch.
I am currently watching two C-dramas, Novoland Castle in the Sky (2016) and Under the Power (2019). I started watching the former because of the actor who plays the main male character. I had just finished watching Joy of Life (I’m still mad that the second season hasn’t been released yet after that ending) and loved it. I particularly loved the way Zhang Ruoyun played the main character so when I found out that he played the main role in Novoland I was super excited. Imagine my disappointment when I quickly realized the show left much to be desired.
This shows fails in so many ways. The acting is terribly over-dramatic (I’m guessing these were all novice actors at the time), the settings are obviously cheaply made and poorly finished (you can actually see spots of paint where it bled over the edges), and the plot (which has so much potential) is so ridiculously repetitive I got tired of it really quickly. The only saving(ish) grace is the female main character played by Gabrielle Guan who does the best acting of the show. I might go back to it at a later date and finish watching it, but for now it’s on the backburner. Life is too short to watch mediocre stuff.
By contrast, Under the Power is one of the best C-period dramas I have watched to date. The acting is excellent, the characters (including the supporting ones) are well-rounded, beautifully crafted, and believable (even when in the middle of a kung fu fight), and the settings feel real and “finished”.
Tan Songyun, who plays the main female role, is amazing. She’s a natural. Her acting does not feel like acting. She plays a likable, strong female who is not perfect but very smart. She’s a mixture of a tomboy and a girly-girly and it comes across so real and adorable. Unlike other C-drama female characters, Xi Shui, does not get constantly tricked, and however kind-hearted and generous, she does not allow herself to be stepped on. I also love that the romance between her and Lu Yi, played by the great Ren Jialun (who I was not crazy about before but am now), does not fall into some of the usual traps of C-drama (like going along with the family’s idea that they are incompatible due to class status or whatever) and they both solve their relationship problems by doing the sensible thing: talking about it.
There is a lot of humor from how the two main characters romance develops from a mutual dislike to admiration and respect and eventually love and also from some of the supporting cast. Xie Xiao (played by Ethan Yao) is hilarious as the clueless, immature friend who is capable but always sticking his foot in his mouth. Or Xi Shui’s brother, Yang Hue (played by Lu Hong), who is shy, loyal, and awkward, doggedly and humbly pursuing the love of his life despite her indifference.
Even the villain, the despicable Yan Shi Fan (played by Han Dong) is amazing. The contrast between his genteel ways and love for art and his immoral, unsavory desires and cruelty is played to perfection by this actor.
I do hope this drama breaks another of the C-drama common traps, which is a terrible ending (either one of the main characters dies or then there is this ambiguous ending that leaves you guessing). I want all of these characters (minus the villain: kill him, please) to have their happy ever after. I’m in the last ten episodes of the series and both excited about and dreading the end. I totally recommend this drama to anyone who loves C-drama with romance, mystery, and some history.