I believe I said once that I had learned a lot from Chinese period/fantasy dramas. Even though they are TV shows they have taught me how to write better. Dance of the Phoenix was not any different and I definitely learned a thing or two about what NOT to do when writing a fantasy.
I actually enjoyed the series and watched it faithfully every night, but as much as it was entertaining, it was riddled with plot holes, unexplained events, and to be honest the worst ending ever–and that includes The Fall of the Phoenix (no relation) which ended with death and destruction.
There were some major problems with the story, some of which I was okay with ignoring, others that made me cringe. Two of the cringeworthy problems had to do with fat-shaming and color-shaming. One of the main side characters, Zhao Ge (played by Estelle Chen), is introduced in the show as a cute young woman who happens to be on the chubby side (who is played by Zhou Yi Qiao). She’s likable and truly adorable and for a moment I thought this show would actually deviate from most of the C-dramas and actually have a character that was not super skinny. I even thought I saw signs that she would be the love interest of one of the other side characters, a very handsome man, Xuan Yi (played by Gao Ji Cai ). However as the plot develops ,it becomes painfully clear that I was wrong. Her weight is portraited as the result of a curse that makes her eat a lot. She eventually gets “cured” and becomes a beautiful and very thin woman. Xuan Yi does fall in love with her but not until after she regains her thin frame. Bummer!
The color-shaming happens when the main character, lovely Feng Wu (Yang Chao Yue) disguises herself as an “ugly” girl by getting a tan, freckles, and wavy hair. What????? I realize that fair skin was valued as the model of beauty in ancient China just like it was in Jane Austen’s time, but this is a show for modern sensibilities and it could have been handled much better.
That aside there are many plot holes and unexplained things. The main character claims to be “not from here” throughout the whole story but the only faint clue we have as to where she came from is when she offers a “birthday cake” made with pastries and a candle to her love interest, hinting at possible time travel. But that’s where it ends. Nothing is ever explained and at the end she claims this was her second life. What was her first life?
Other weird things happen. For example, her love interest, the Crown Prince (Xu Kai Cheng) gets stabbed in the heart and dies–or at least that’s what we all thought. Except he’s not dead. For unexplained reasons the Queen, who wanted him dead above all else because he was the only one legally capable of opposing her, decides to keep him alive. Why? It made zero sense.
Also above mentioned Zhao Ge and her love interest die on the last episode only to return at the very end with a brief explanation on how that was accomplished. Same with Feng Wu’s Master. One moment he’s dead, the next is back alive. The King/Emperor also has a mystery ending. The Queen has him drugged or something (not quite clear) so she can manipulate him but then he vanishes, never to be mentioned again.
Which takes me to the terrible ending. Everything is pointing at a unbelievable but satisfying happy end as the Crown Prince travels across the city to fetch his bride who is waiting for him in full wedding garb as it is traditional. But at the last minute someone walks in the room (her Master back from the dead) who takes her back to wherever it was she came from. No protests from her, no explanation why this is necessary considering she now has a family and friends and a position in this society. What were the writers thinking of?
However, if you are not the kind to get really upset about these kind of things and are willing to suspend disbelief this show is entertaining and well worth a watch. Just don’t expect to quite understand the reasons behind most of what the cast of characters does.