People around the world love science fiction and fantasy. None of us will ever be able to enjoy all of it. But something we can do is sample the SciFi literature and drama that other countries produce. For most Americans that probably means following Doctor Who on BBC America and maybe supporting the Harry Potter franchise.
But if you grew up watching low-budget scifi movies on television you’ve probably seen your share of Japanese Kaiju (giant monster) movies. The original Godzilla is well worth watching in all its black-and-white glory. And what kids don’t get excited when Gamara the giant space turtle comes spinning out of the sky to rescue a child?
I can’t claim to be a connoiseur of foreign science fiction films but I’ve watched a few from Finland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and maybe from a few other countries. These were late-night, low-budget films that didn’t make much of an impact in the American cinema industry but which were scooped up by U.S. distribution companies for pennies on the dollar. And I’ve only watched the (American) English-dubbed versions of some older films.
They were pretty awful.
Michael Meets Cdramas via Online Streaming
Since the start of the pandemic I’ve searched the Internet far and wide for new sources of entertainment and I gradually settled on Chinese dramas (Cdramas). I’m not saying I won’t watch the Korean shows and movies that are so popular now, but for the time being I’m enjoying Cdrama.
For too many years I thought Chinese fantasy TV and movies were all about “kung fu fighting”. That’s because at one time Hong Kong Cinema was all you could find in the U.S. market. And Hong Kong-style movies inspired some of my favorite shows of the late 1990s and early 2000s (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess). That said, I’m glad I’ve discovered new (to me) shows and some movies to appreciate.
I’ve blogged about some of these shows on the SF Fandom Blog. My first post there was How Chinese TV Drama Appeals to American SciFi and Fantasy Fans. My knowledge of and appreciation for these shows at the time I wrote that was pretty limited (still is – but not quite as much).
After I fell in love with Novoland: Pearl Eclipse, I pondered the meaning of the show’s peculiar ending. Did Fang Jianming (or Fang Jian Ming), played by William Chan, live to the end of the show or not? His character dies in the novel. But fans on the Internet couldn’t decide whether he was really alive or not.
So, being the insufferable know-it-all (or opiniator) that I am, I couldn’t help but throw my own 2 cents in to the mix with What Does The Ending of Novoland: Pearl Eclipse Mean? on the SF-Fandom blog. I don’t claim to know anything, but that’s how I want to think of the ending.
I Review Films and TV Shows on the SF-Fandom Forums
We started SF-Fandom Science Fiction and Fantasy Forums over 20 years ago. The story is too long to repeat here, but SF-Fandom is a safe place for people to share their thoughts. You won’t be attacked there for disagreeing with anyone.
And through the years I’ve shared my Takes and Thoughts on various shows and movies. So it was only natural that I should start writing reviews for the CDramas I’ve watched in the forums.
I still watch American shows, like Stranger Things on Netflix and She-Hulk: Attorney-at-Law on Disney+ (to name just a couple). But there aren’t enough good American-style shows that I enjoy watching for me to review.
If your favorite SciFi/Fantasy show is a dystopian, zombie-laden, bloodfest or a teenage werewolf/vampire soap opera – sorry, that’s not for me. I hope you enjoy your favorites for many years to come and derive great joy from them. But I love shows with hopeful, upbeat stories where the good guys prevail over the bad guys (and you’re usually clear on just who is good and who is bad). Some ambiguity is okay, but don’t leave me hanging in the end unless you provide enough clues for me to figure out what happened.
Here’s A List of Some of My Cdrama Reviews
I wrote my review for The Longest Day In Chang’An in December 2019. The novel coronavirus had been discovered in Wuhan but it was not quite yet making the news outside of China. What a different world we lived in at that time.
I was blown away by this show, which stars Lei Jiayin as Zhang Xiaojing (spelled Zhang Xiau Jing in the subtitles). Zhang Xiaojing is a former soldier and police officer who is taken off death row for a day to help solve a mystery that threatens the empire. What other kind of threat would merit such drastic measures, right? He leads an amazing cast through 42 episodes that trace events through a single day in an ancient imperial capital city.
I was warned that I would probably not find another show that matches this one in quality. Well, it’s been a little over 3 years and so far that warning/prediction has held true. But if you get the opportunity to watch this show before you watch any other CDramas, I think you’ll be glad you did.
I’ve watched the series at least 3 times (although I can’t watch it on Amazon Prime any more).
I think the next show that really caught my attention was The Amazing Detective Di Renjie, which is known by other names I’m too tired to look up for this blog post. I’ve only been able to watch seasons 2 and 3 because, I think, licensing was never procured for English translations of seasons 1, 4, and 5. That’s a shame because I’d really love to watch all 5 seasons.
Guanhua Liang stars as Huaiying Di Renjie. The character is based on a real historical figure, a court official who was very intelligent and had a reputation for solving problems. About 300 years ago Chinese novelists began writing detective stories based on the character, and the tradition has continued ever since. Di Renjie has migrated into probably dozens of TV shows and movies by now. The Guanhua Liang version is the one I know best, although I’ve watched a couple of movies with younger actors starring as Di Renjie.
If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, you’ll probably love some variation on the Di Renjie theme.
Novoland: Eagle Flag starred Haoran Liu, Zuer Song, and Ruoxuan Chen as three young heroes who came together to change the destiny of their world. I guess that’s one way to describe the story. It’s an amazing tale but also a kind of teenage-angst fantasy drama.
Although Eagle Flag was my introduction to the Novoland franchise, it was by no means the first such production made. I’ve tried watching some of the older movies (Castle in the Sky and Legend of the Naga Pearls) and so far I haven’t been able to finish them. They’re just not made to the same production values as the highly-anticipated Eagle Flag was. But as well-made as this show was, it was not the best in the franchise.
I didn’t know what to expect from My Heroic Husband, which is a comedy that doubles as a dramatic story – so it’s a Dramedy, as they say. Guo Qilin and Yi Song had co-starred in an earlier show known as Joy of Life, which was a similar kind of story (Dramedy), but they played brother and sister. Many of their fans believe that previous collaboration helped build the strong chemistry between the two. Most of their private scenes are very well done.
I was pleasantly surprised by this show, which turns serious in the second half of the season. Some fans were disappointed because they wanted more of the romance and less of a war drama. But I rather enjoyed both halves. And actress Jiang Yi Yi joined the cast as the young rebel princess Xigua. I’ll mention her again below.
If you only watch one of the Novoland productions, I think you should watch Novoland: Pearl Eclipse. In my opinion it’s the best of the franchise. My wife loves this show, too, and she doesn’t normally watch all these Cdramas with me.
Yang Mi stars as Fang Hai Shi, a girl who is rescued from a fishing village by Fang Jianming (played by William Chan). Yang Mi plays the adult Hai Shi, and though some fans complained that an actress in her 30s was playing a young woman just out of her teens, Yang Mi did just fine. It’s not like the actors’ faces aren’t all enhanced through CGI anyway.
Pearl Eclipse is set near the end of Novoland’s 10,000 year history. It’s both interesting and irrelevant, as the cultures don’t seem too different in these shows. You get more barbarians in Eagle Flag and more sophisticated civilization in Pearl Eclipse. There are some fantasy races in Novoland. The Winged Clan appear in Eagle Flag and the Sea Folk (merfolk) appear in Pearl Eclipse, so if you want the fullest effect of the franchise, I suggest you watch these shows in the same order I did.
You may notice a pattern forming in this list, as Time Flies and You Are Here is another romantic drama. I’ve tried watching some pure action shows/movies but they’re just not as appealing for some reason. And in this list TFAYAH may not be the best example of a Cdrama that I can recommend. But I enjoyed watching it all the way to the end.
Liang Jie stars as the young girl Xie Xiao Man who is forced to move to a larger town by her father’s poverty. But because her family connections are wealthy and her father is an imperial bureaucrat, she is admitted to the highly reputable local academy. There she meets and falls in love with Zhao Xiao Qian, Commandery Prince of Julu (played by Joseph Zeng). I found their story quite compelling, especially given the tension/chemistry between the two actors.
Ju Jing Yi just owns this show from episode 1 all the way to the end. The idea that this frail young woman would be mistaken for a man is absurd – but obviously in ancient times all a woman had to do was wear man’s clothing and tie her hair up. Okay, technically, women have disguised themselves as men throughout history – but for a TV comedy part of the fun is the obvious “thin” disguise.
Song Wei Long plays her love interest, local scholar Feng Cheng Jun. He’s tall, dark, handsome, and you’d think thick as a brick for not realizing that his roommate is a girl. But then again, it’s all part of the fun. And the background story is quite interesting, as there is some serious corruption afoot. Our star-struck couple find themselves in the thick of things time and time again.
There are apparently quite a lot of these “girl sneaks into academy disguised as a guy” shows, and I don’t know how this one compares to the rest of the sub-genre. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I love the “romance theme” they play in a few episodes. It’s called “Auditory Hallucination” and is performed by Nana.
When I discovered A League Of Nobleman, I thought, “oh, cool – another detective show”. I hoped it could only be half as good as the Di Renjie shows I loved. In fact, it’s very good, and it stars Song Wei Long (from In A Class of Her Own). I actually recognized him as soon as I saw him.
Given that nearly all the Cdrama shows I’ve reviewed involve some kind of romance (even the Di Renjie stories do), I was surprised as heck to learn there is no love story in this show. It’s just a bunch of guys doing some guy things while they get dragged into a marvelous (and sometimes gory) murder mystery. If you need a strong female lead to keep your interest in Cdrama, skip this show. But I really enjoyed it. I think it was quite well done.
You don’t need to watch the 1st season of My Heroic Husband (starring Guo Qilin and Ning Yi) to understand this movie, but it helps. Liu Guan Lin plays Su Wen Xing, the cousin of Su Tan’er (played by Song Yi in the 1st season show). We’ve been promised a season 2 for MHH, but all we got was this funny, crazy movie (so far – it has a teaser scene in the credits for season 2).
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. Su Wen Xing is a classic cornball, goofy character in the 1st season show. He’s not quite a rotten guy – he’s a redeemable rotten guy who just wants to accomplish something. I feel like they gave him this movie so they could redeem the character, and it works. He goes off and has his own adventure, meets his own girl, and finally learns what it means to be a responsible man. All’s well that ends well – just don’t look outside your window at night.
I think most people who enjoy the season 1 show will appreciate this movie.
Wow. I’m not sure if this is the best of the Cdramas I’ve watched (after The Longest Day in Chang’An), but it’s got to be one of the best of the best.
Zhao Lu Si (aka Rosy Zhao) stars as Qin Chuan in Love Of Thousand Years. But this is a very unusual story. The main character is first played by Jiang Yi Yi (who played Xigua in season 1 of My Heroic Husband). The show compresses or leaves out many of the important details of the book, and I did my best to fill in some of the gaps in my review.
You don’t need to know anything about the book to follow the story. But when this show first aired, it stirred up a lot of debate on the Internet because of the way it ended. The ending is very different from the book, and people aren’t sure of why they did that. So, to understand the meaning of the ending, you kind of need to know what goes on in the book. I did some research and shared some of what I found.
This isn’t just a love story. It’s a very complicated action drama, thriller, and romance. There are multiple overlapping love stories and cabals. Everyone has an ulterior motive for what they’re trying to do, and there’s no single moving event.
But the basic premise of the story – in both the book and the TV show – is that an immortal named Fu Jiu Yun (played by Zheng Ye Cheng) falls in love with a doomed girl who lives miserable life after miserable life. He first encounters her as Princess Di Qi on the day she dies in battle, and he is so impressed by her indomitable will that he watches her as she is resurrected (with no knowledge of her previous lives) through 10 lifetimes, all of them ending badly (and often when she is still quite young). That’s all explained in the book. In the show, we see Princess Di Qi die and then we’re introduced to young Princess Yan Yan (played by Jiang Yi Yi) a thousand years later.
Fu Jiu Yun finally decides to intervene in her fate (despite the warnings from other immortals), and that decision leads him to his face own destiny. I had to use spoiler tags in my review to keep from giving away too many important plot details.
I enjoyed this show immensely, but I had to rewatch the first few episodes to understand some of the things I missed first time around.
I’ve tried watching many Cdramas over the past few years and most of them cannot hold my attention. I may go back and watch a few of them again. But these are the shows that held my attention all the way to the end, and I really enjoyed them all.
Some of the music in these shows is pretty cool. A lot of the background songs sound very similar. Usually there’s a piano playing and a girl singing when some heart-wrenching romantic drama has ripped the lovers apart, or when they’re enjoying a close, intimate moment.
But a few of the songs stick out enough and I included videos for them in reviews where I thought appropriate.