Available on: Viki, YouTube
Total episode #: 56
Dumpling-rating scale: 3.75/5
Zhao Yao 招摇 (also known as The Legends) is the 2019 xianxia drama based on a novel by Jiu Lu Fei Xiang 九鹭非香 of the same name.
Bai Lu 白鹿 plays the title female lead, Zhao Yao – which translated means “ostentatious”. True to her name everything Zhao Yao does, she does extravagantly. Raised by her grandfather on a mountain cursed by a demon spirit, she comes from a family tasked with guarding the demon king’s son, Li Chen Lan (portrayed by Xu Kai 许凯).
At birth, Li Chen Lan was fused with a very powerful but evil dragon spirit by his father. His father realising the extent of its power and danger, imprisons Li Chen Lan while he finds a way to get rid of it.
Before the Demon King is able to return, members of the heavenly Righteous Sect attack Li Chen Lan with the mission of killing him. They fail and their sect leader Luo Ming Xuan (a Phoenix) is seriously wounded. Zhao Yao finds the wounded Ming Xuan. While caring for him, she falls in love. Things come to a head for Zhao Yao when the righteous Ming Xuan wants Demon King Son, Li Chen Lan dead… Phoenix v Dragon (does this remind anyone else of Ashes of Love?)
Supporting Zhao Yao is Qin Zhi Yan portrayed by relative new comer Xiao Yan 肖燕. Although Qin Zhi Yan is the polar opposite to Zhao Yao, she is inextricably tied to Zhao Yao’s spirit. As time goes by they not only learn to get along but grow to care deeply for each other.
Jiang Wu (portrayed by Dai Xu 代旭) is the second male lead. Jiang Wu is the male version of evil Zhao Yao. He has an interesting/somewhat confusing origin story. In spite of this, his playful nature makes him a much better second male lead than Ming Xuan (who I thought was going to be the second male lead but was dropped after episode 4).
This drama was originally intended to be 28 episodes. However due to TV pressures it was inflated to a whooping 56. The doubling of the episodes did not do this drama any favours. As with a lot of Chinese dramas – it started strong and with a lot of promise. However, as the drama progressed, the number of filler episodes increased and the subplots became more (unnecessarily) convoluted.
For a 2019 drama, the editing was problematic. A lot like Princess Agents (2017), the episodes would abruptly end and there were some serious pacing issues. In spite of these criticisms (with more to come in the Episode Guide below), I enjoyed this drama. It had a healthy love triangle, a vibrant female lead and an original revenge story.
The overall messaging was not bad but was made really obvious in almost every episode — that is, what appears good/righteous may not it fact be good and what is bad/demonic, similarly may not in fact be so. In other words – do not judge a book by its cover.
I’ve put together the Episode Guide below and a 🌟 next to my favourite arcs but beware there are ‼️spoilers‼️. Hopefully it will assist in cutting through the filler.
- Arc 1 | Episodes 1 – 5 | Zhao Yao’s backstory 🌟
- Arc 2 | Episodes 6 – 18 | Zhao Yao v Li Chen Lan 🌟
- Arc 3 | Episodes 19 -34 | Back from the dead
- Arc 4 | Episodes 35 – 43 | Zhao Yao & Li Chen Lan 🌟
- Arc 5 | Episodes 44 – 56 | Overcoming Evil
Arc 1 | Episodes 1 – 4 | Zhao Yao’s backstory 🌟
Zhao Yao’s backstory opens with her living an uneventful life with only her grandfather for company. Her grandfather and her are from a long line of protectors, guarding the Demon Crown Prince.
Zhao Yao’s life of relative solitude is interrupted when she encounters a wounded Luo Ming Xuan (the leader of the Righteous Sect). In an attempt to kill Li Chen Lan, Luo Ming Xuan not only injuries himself but releases Li Chen Lan.
In tending to Luo Ming Xuan’s wounds, Zhao Yao falls in love with him and learns about good and evil. Once Ming Xuan is fully healed, he leaves Zhao Yao. Upon his departure, Zhao Yao decides she wants to go out in to the world and be a “good person.”
Through her grandfather’s training, Zhao Yao (already with very high levels of spiritual energy) becomes incredible skilled and powerful. Her grandfather, understanding that he cannot keep Zhao Yao on the mountain forever, lets her go.
As soon as Zhao Yao leaves her home, she encounters a mob about to execute Li Chen Lan. When she asks what his crime was, the mob has no response and only state that he is the Demon King’s son and is evil. Zhao Yao decides that that is not a good enough reason and saves Li Chen Lan.
Together Li Chen Lan (named Mo Qing by Zhao Yao) and Zhao Yao make a beautiful home together in the mountains. It is clear that Li Chen Lan is in love with her (its not reciprocated) and only want to be by her side (literally all the time).
Despite being happy together, Zhao Yao leaves to find her first love Ming Xuan – whose righteous sect want to now kill both her and Li Chen Lan. Zhao Yao upon finding Ming Xuan realises that despite his desire for ‘goodness’, he is insists on killing Li Chen Lan for no reason. Zhao Yao refuses to give Li Chen Lan up and as Ming Xuan is about to kill her, her grandfather rescues her (and in the process dies).
Heartbroken (not only because she lost her grandfather but also because of the Ming Xuan’s betrayal) she returns to Li Chen Lan and begins a sect of her evil sect own to combat the Righteous Sect – Wan Lu Men.
Over five years (this drama does everything in five year blocks), Zhao Yao and Wan Lu Men become infamous – she defeats Ming Xuan (and seals him), wrecks havoc and builds an empire.
Her quest for power culminates in Zhao Yao quest to retrieve a very powerful sword. Before she can reach the sword, she is ambushed by members of the Righteous Sect. Zhao Yao is seriously injured and Li Chen Lan comes to her rescue. Despite her injuries, Zhao Yao will not leave before she retrieves the sword so Li Chen Lan goes to get it. However, upon retrieving it, something in Li Chen Lan is triggered where his blue markings disappear but the force of the energy is so great that Zhao Yao dies from the impact.
In other happening/subplot – Qin Qian Xian (a member of the Righteous Sect how was not comfortable with killing Li Chen Lan) becomes Sect leader of the Thousand Ashes Pavilion (Qin Qian Xian become important later).
Arc 2 | Episodes 5 – 24 | Zhao Yao v Li Chen Lan 🌟
In terms of events and pacing, Arc 1 is jam packed. Arc 2 however slows right down and there is a large number of filler scenes/characters (which I will not cover). Pivotal to the arc, is the return of Zhao Yao (who died in episode 4). Her spirit is ‘awakened’ by the young and naive Qin Zhi Yan.
Qin Zhi Yan is on the run from the Righteous Sect after her father is killed by her fiancé’s father. Her fiancee’s aunt (Liu Su Ruo) also happens to be Ming Xuan’s fiancée. Liu Su Ruo is on a mission to awaken Ming Xuan and needs blood from Qin line to awaken him.
Zhi Yan (following her father’s death) decides there is only one place to go to seek revenge – Wan Lu Men. On her way there, she gets lost, falls and hits her head. The blood she loses awakens Zhao Yao’s spirit. It doesn’t take long for both Zhao Yao and Qin Zhi Yan to realise that they both occupy the same body (that is Qin Zhi Yan’s body). Qin Zhi Yan is Qin Zhi Yan during the day but after sunset Zhao Yao’s spirit inhabits her body.
Luckily for Zhi Yan, Zhao Yao also wants to make her way to Wan Lu Men but for a different purpose – to kill and get revenge on Li Chen Lan (who she believes killed her). That pretty much sums up this arc… Zhao Yao employing various tactics (from seduction to outright combat) to kill Li Chen Lan.
However, Zhao Yao (having died) has lost a lot of her spiritual energy and isn’t strong enough to defeat. To accelerate her spiritual energy there is a spiritual market place she can buy energy elixirs. The catch is the currency they use is ‘good deeds’ (of which Zhao Yao being evil has very little).
Meanwhile, Li Chen Lan (at Episode 11) realises that Zhao Yao is occupying Zhi Yan’s body after sunset. Still deeply in love with her, Li Chen Lan does everything Zhao Yao asks — including on very dangerous missions — to try and win her affection. Slowly but surely his earnestness and sacrifice start to change how Zhao Yao feels about him.
In the end it is a combination of the well-meaning Zhi Yan’s influence and Li Chen Lan’s self-less acts which cause Zhao Yao to remember her former ‘good’ self and let go of her old ‘evil’ self.
We also get introduced to Jiang Wu in this arc although he remains on the fringes (for a bit of comic relief). The notorious Jiang Wu is essentially the new Zhao Yao — messing up the social hierarchy, creating chaos and taking advantage of the rift between the Righteous Sect and the now established Wan Lu Men.
Jiang Wu meets Zhao Yao (while occupying Zhi Yan’s body) performing good deed for herself and finds it ‘interesting’. Ultimately (without much work by Zhao Yao), he falls in love with her to the point of kidnapping her to persuade her to marry him (nice?). Zhao Yao seemingly puts up with Jiang Wu because he seems to have a similar motive to her – that is killing Li Chen Lan. And that takes us to the next arc.
Arc 3 | Episodes 25 – 36 | Back from the dead
Although this is arguable the most ‘important arc’, like the previous it contains a lot of filler scenes/episodes. A number of important events happen starting with the reawakening of Luo Ming Xuan. His dedicated fiancee, Liu Su Ruo is finally able to trick Qin Zhi Yan to return to the Righteous Sect by using Liu Cang Ling (her-ex) and collaborating with Wan Lu Men’s Yue Zhu (‘Whip Lady’ – who is in love with Li Chen Lan).
Ignoring Zhao Yao’s warning Qin Zhi Yan walks straight into the trap and her blood is used to awaken Luo Ming Xuan. Zhao Yao (who now cares for Qin Zhi Yan like a little) goes to the spiritual market to get her spirit to re-enter her body (which has been preserved by Qin Qian Xian).
Ultimately, (with the help of Li Chen Lan) Zhao Yao is able to defeat Luo Ming Xuan and both Qin Zhi Yan and Can Ling are rescued. However, after Zhao Yao’s battle with Luo Ming Xuan she blasts into fireworks (as the magic doesn’t quite work) and Li Chen Lan is left heartbroken.
Losing Zhao Yao (a second time), weakens Li Chen Lan who is still suffering from his previous injuries and is battling with his inner darkness. Whip Lady tries to comfort him but after her betrayal she is expelled from Wan Lu Men. Whip Lady (in a continued effort to win over Li Chen Lan) colludes with the imprisoned Yuan Ye and launches a rebellion.
When things come to a head, Zhao Yao makes her grand return (in her own body) and officially instates Li Chen Lan as head of Wan Lu Men.
Meanwhile Qin Qian Xian and Jiang Wu are playing cat and mouse in the ice chamber. The big reveal is that Jiang Wu is actually a product of Qin Qian Xian lust for Zhao Yao (after she spent a night staring at him). This goes some way to explain why Jiang Wu is so similar to evil Zhao Yao and why he is so obsessed with her.
Arc 4 | Episodes 37 – 43 | Zhao Yao & Li Chen Lan 🌟
This short but very sweet arc is dedicated entirely to Zhao Yao and Li Chen Lan — not fighting but in love. Finally reunited (in their own bodies) Zhao Yao and Li Chen Lan don’t waste anytime and spend as much time as they can together.
Li Chen Lan (presumably knowing that the darkness in him is growing) takes it upon himself to propose to Zhao Yao on the cliff where it all started… it was really beautiful (Episode 42 is a good one).
Not losing anytime, Li Chen Lan and Zhao Yao arrange to get married in an elaborate wedding ceremony despite Li Chen Lan’s weakening health.
However before they are able to formally get married, Jiang Wu interrupts their ceremony (in an eerily similar way Zhao Yao interrupted Luo Ming Xuan’s ceremony). He easily overpowers both Zhao Yan (who hasn’t recovered her spiritual energy) and Li Chen Lan (who is desperately trying to contain his inner demon).
Arc 5 | Episodes 44 – 56 | Overcoming Evil
In addition to the weakening Li Chen Yin, Zhao Yao is having problems with her own body as she is unable to keep it from burst into fireworks. To save Zhao Yao, Li Chen Yin and Jiang Wu combine forces to transfer enough spiritual energy to her to allow her to keep her from dying.
Li Chen Lan and Jiang Wu’s camaraderie doesn’t last long. Their playful rivalry turns dark after Jiang Wu takes Qin Qian Xian martial energy (much to the worry of 17), kills a number of people die (a number of his own friends dies too) and imprisons Li Chen Lan. During this time, Li Chen Lan discovers that he too is an inner demon (like Jiang Wu) and is slowly losing the battle to control that demon.
There is however now a new bad guy in town — Luo Ming Xuan. Having lost his fiance, he is back from the dead and wants revenge. It is this bad guy that finally kill Jiang Wu (in episode 50), who dies while protecting Zhao Yao. His parting words were — I was born of you and I will die for you. It was quite touching.
While the formidable duo that is Zhao Yao and Li Chen Lan manage to defeat Luo Ming Xuan. Their victory is at a cost — Li Chen Lan had to release his inner demon, who now wants to kill Zhao Yao. Li Chen Lan finally wins the battle against himself (with Zhao Yao’s help) and in dies…
The final episode was very rushed and a little confusing. Li Chen Lan one moment is meditating in the heavens (presumably purifying his soul), in the next scene he is back with Zhao Yao walking through a market. Skip a couple more minutes and we see their grown kids who look exactly like them — bizarre. This drama could have taken its time given all the filler but I suppose that is what separates a good drama from an excellent drama.
What about the other characters? Qin Zhi Yan becomes the new Sect Leader of Wan Lu Men (again really bizarre) and but her relationship with Can Ling is dead as neither could get over her father’s death. Qin Qian Xian — the weird but wonderful ‘beautiful man’ — ascends to High God status after meditating away and reviving all the souls that were lost in the battle against Luo Ming Xuan. His ascension was obviously not taken well but number 9 … look, I could go on but I really did think the other characters were pure filler so I will stop here.
Overall, I enjoyed Zhao Yao. The main cast were particularly enjoyable to watch however the sloppy editing and excessive number of filler episodes/characters were a downer. In saying that — I would still recommend it.
What did you think of Zhao Yao (The Legends)?