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, is evil and should be put to death. Zhao Yao unsatisfied with that reasoning 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. Li Chen Lan falls in love with her but Zhao Yao is still in love with Ming Xuan.
So despite being happy together, Zhao Yao leaves to find her Ming Xuan. Zhao Yao finds Ming Xuan but realises that he is not as good as he claims. Zhao Yao is almost killed by Ming Xuan when her grandfather rescues her. Her grandfather ends up being killed by Ming Xuan and Zhao Yao is able to escape.
Zhao Yao is devastated and returns to Li Chen Lan. Intent on seeking revenge she establishes her own ‘evil sect’ Wan Lu Men.
In five years (this drama does everything in five year blocks), Zhao Yao and Wan Lu Men become infamous. She is able to defeat and seal Ming Xuan and create a powerful kingdom.
To further strengthen her power, Zhao Yao attempts to retrieve a very powerful sword. Before she can reach the sword, she is ambushed and seriously injured by members of the Righteous Sect. Li Chen Lan comes to her rescue but despite her injuries, Zhao Yao will not leave before she retrieves the sword. Li Chen Lan complying with her request goes to retrieve it. However, upon retrieving it, something in Li Chen Lan is triggered. Li Chen Lan’s blue markings disappear and he releases a force which kills Zhao Yao.
Elsewhere, Qin Qian Xian (a just and pious member Righteous) becomes Sect leader of the Thousand Ashes Pavilion.
Arc 2 | Episodes 5 – 24 | Zhao Yao v Li Chen Lan 🌟
The pacing slows right down in arc 2 and there is a large number of filler scenes/characters storylines. I will only be covering the main part of the sotry which is the return of Zhao Yao (who died in episode 4).
Zhao Yao’s spirit is ‘awakened’ by the young and naive Qin Zhi Yan. Following, her father’s murder she turns to Wan Lu Men to seek justice. Although Qin Zhi Yan is from the Righteous Sect, no one believes her when she tells them that her father killer is her fiancé’s father.
Relevantly, her fiancee’s aunt (Liu Su Ruo) is Ming Xuan’s fiancée. Liu Su Ruo need blood from Qin line to awaken him and is the one that arranged for Qin Zhi Yan’s father’s murder.
Zhi Yan get lost trying to find Wan Lu Men. In her confusion, she 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 are tied to Zhi Yan’s body. By day, Qin Zhi Yan is Qin Zhi Yan 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). On arrival to Wan Lu Men, Zhao Yao employs various tactics (from seduction to outright combat) to kill Li Chen Lan.
However, Zhao Yao (having died once) has lost a lot of her spiritual energy and isn’t strong enough to defeat Li Chen Lan. To accelerate her spiritual energy she finds a spiritual market place where she can buy energy elixirs. The catch is that the currency used is ‘good deeds’ (of which evil Zhao Yao has very little).
Meanwhile, Li Chen Lan (at episode 11) realises that Zhao Yao has returned and after sunset occupies Zhi Yan’s body. Still deeply in love with her, Li Chen Lan does everything Zhao Yao asks — including retrieving the Sword of Heaven in episode 14 which severely weakens him — 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 that 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. He is busy 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 deeds for herself and is immediately captivated by her. By episode 13 e falls in love with her and kidnaps her to persuade her to marry him in episode 13. Zhao Yao entertains Jiang Wu and agrees to be his spy (in episode 19) because he similarly wants Li Chen Lan dead.
A separate plot line involves Si Ma Rong — originally one of Zhao Yao four captains and head of intelligence. Si Ma Rong backstory is revealed when he is kidnapped by Jiang Wu (episodes 18 and 19). Si Ma Rong was betrayed by his lover Yu Zu (an agent from the Righteous Sect) which lead to Zhao Yao’s death.
Yu Zu having really fallen in love with Si Ma Rong is imprisoned by the Righteous Sect. Si Ma Rong tries to rescue her but she ends up dying and he loses his ability to walk. Si Ma Rong still very much in love with Yu Zu uses his wood magic to recreate a clone of her to accompany him.
Arc 3 | Episodes 25 – 36 | Back from the dead
The main event in this arc is the return of Luo Ming Xuan. Liu Su Ruo (in cahoots with Yue Zhu) uses Liu Cang Ling to trick Qin Zhi Yan. Zhi Yan ignoring Zhao Yao’s warning walks straight into Su Ruo’s trap. Her blood is then used to awaken Luo Ming Xuan.
Separately, Zhao Yao discovers that following her death, Qin Qian Xian rescued and preserved her body in the Ice Caves. Having located her body, Zhao Yao goes to the Spiritual Market to recombine her spirit and body so that she can save Zhi Yan.
Ultimately, (with the help of Li Chen Lan) Zhao Yao is able to defeat Luo Ming Xuan. She rescues both Qin Zhi Yan and Can Ling. However, after Zhao Yao’s battle with Luo Ming Xuan she blasts into a series fireworks (as the magic doesn’t quite work) and Li Chen Lan is once again left heartbroken.
Losing Zhao Yao combined with his previous injuries and growing darkness weakens Li Chen Lan. Whip Lady tries to comfort him but after her betrayal, he expels her from Wan Lu Men. Still in love with Li Chen Lan, Whip Lady 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. With Zhao Yao’s endorsement, Li Chen Lan is the undisputed Seat Leader of Wan Lu Men.
Meanwhile Qin Qian Xian and Jiang Wu are playing cat and mouse in the Ice Caves. 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 explaining 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 deteriorting health.
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 all her spiritual energy) and Li Chen Lan (who is desperately trying to contain his inner demon).
Arc 5 | Episodes 44 – 56 | Overcoming Evil
Jiang Wu having imprisons Li Chen Lan and again tries to persuade Zhao Yao to be his. Zhao Yao out-rightly refuses but the stress of it all causes her unstable body to burst into fireworks. To save Zhao Yao, Li Chen Yin and Jiang Wu combine forces and transfer enough spiritual energy to keep her from disappearing.
Li Chen Lan and Jiang Wu’s camaraderie doesn’t last long. Their playful rivalry turns dark after Jiang Wu takes Qin Qian Xian spiritual energy (much to the worry of 17), kills a number of people die (a number of his own friends die 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. Luo Ming Xuan kills 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. That demon now wants to kill Zhao Yao. Li Chen Lan is able to win the battle against himself (with Zhao Yao’s help) and dies…
This drama tries to end happy but does so in a very rushed and confusing way. In the final episode, Zhao Yao is making the best of life without Li Chen Lan. It is later revealed that Li Chen Lan is not dead but meditating in the heavens (presumably purifying his soul).
After presumably years of mediation, Li Chen Lan is back in the mortal world with Zhao Yao walking through a market. There isn’t really an explanation for how this happens or if it is real but at least they are together? The final scene is of their grown children. Zhao Yao and Li Chen Lan’s two children look and act exactly like them. The drama ends with them bickering — bizarre.
Given the number of filler episodes, I really wish this drama took a little more time explaining how Li Chen Lan came back and show a little more of their married life. Skipping ahead decades to a scene of their children was really confusing and unnecessary.
The finale did tie-up some loose ends though. After Zhao Yao and Li Chen Lan disappear, Qin Zhi Yan becomes the new Sect Leader. However, her relationship Can Ling is over as neither could get over her father’s murder.
Qin Qian Xian — the weird but wonderful ‘beautiful man’ — ascends to High God status after meditating and reviving all the souls that were lost in the battle against Luo Ming Xuan. Finally, Si Ma Rong uses his wood technique to regain his ability to walk.
It might sound odd but I really did enjoy watching Zhao Yao despite the underwhelming ending, slopping editing and excessive filler episodes/character. Zhao Yao ranks high in terms of re-watchability value (not the filler but main scenes) and I’ll definitely be revisiting it.
What did you think of Zhao Yao (The Legends)?