Bu Liang Ren is another recent highly-rated drama in China, so I decided to give it a try. At 12 episodes for the first season and 14 for the second season, it’s short enough to be manageable for me to watch around finals. At only 40 minutes long, the first episode zips right by and is a lot of your usual wuxia set-up.
In the opening scene, we meet the childhood version of Li Xing Yun (Zheng Ye Cheng), our protagonist, who is roughing it on the streets with his grandfather. They are struggling to make it on the streets, as we soon see when Xing Yun picks up a bun that a man dropped on the ground. Meanwhile in the city, a man is being chased by some masked soldiers who cause a ruckus as they attempt to capture him. The man runs into Xing Yun and his grandfather and hands them a bundle and some money with the request that they take the bundle to a pavilion just outside the city. Then he runs off, his future unknown, but it doesn’t look hopeful.
Xing Yun and his grandfather make it to this pavilion surrounded by cherry blossoms and meet Lu Lin Xuan (Li Chun), our main female protagonist. Their introduction to her is Xing Yun being pelted by pebbles from her slingshot. She’s outspoken and demanding, wondering what they want with “Master Lu”, who, it’s soon revealed, is her father. Xing Yun’s grandfather hands off the bundle, then asks Lu to accept Xing Yun as his student. Lu refuses, and the grandfather produces a jade pendant from the folds of Xing Yun’s clothes. The pendant makes Lu’s eyes widen, but he stands firm and is about to leave when the masked soldiers appear again, this time carrying a casket out of which a villain, the white-clad Bai Wu Chang/White Impermanence (Ma Wei) emerges. She is after the bundle, the legendary Long Quan Sword. The White Impermanence immediately launches some arrows at Lu, which he easily dodges, but some end up killing Xing Yun’s grandfather, who was trying to protect him.
Lu and the White Impermanence fight and Lu seems to have her beat, but then her brother, Hei Wu Chang/Black Impermanence, appears and grabs Lin Xuan, taking her hostage. Lu manages to get Lin Xuan back, but is poisoned in the process. The poisoned Lu falls to the Black Impermanence and the two Impermanences acquire the sword. All seems hopeless and the two prepare to kill the crying children who are left when a mysterious man appears. He stops Black Impermanence from killing Lin Xuan and takes possession of the Long Quan Sword in the process. The man is Yang Shu Zi, a fighter so powerful that his presence forces the Impermanences to retreat. With his last breaths, the dying Lu requests that Yang take on the two children as his students.
Eight years later, we are back in the lair of the masked soldiers and watch as Meng Po, an elderly woman who is a leader of the Xuan Ming Jiao clan, sends the Impermanences to Yuzhou to go after some clues that will lead to the Long Quan Sword. Meanwhile, Nu Di, leader of the Huan Yin Fang sends Ji Ru Xue to Yuzhou to go after the same clue.
Our two protagonists are now grown up and extremely close. It looks like they live in seclusion and have only each other and their teacher Yang for company. Yang has been instructing Lin Xuan in martial arts and swordfighting while Xing Yun is only allowed to study medicine and is forbidden from learning how to fight. We soon find out that Xing Yun has been secretly learning martial arts from Lin Xuan, despite Yang’s orders.
While they hang out, Yang receives a mysterious flying letter from the Bu Liang Ren. Whatever it is, it puts him in a mood. He questions how much Xing Yun and Lin Xuan have learned in the past 8 years, then asks Lin Xuan to show him just how much she’s learned, permitting Xing Yun to watch for the first time. What proceeds is Lin Xuan getting beat up by Yang while Xing Yun protests and Yang insults her for how little she’s learned. He seems to be provoking her, saying “good” when she refuses to back down. But he eventually knocks her out with his signature move. Xing Yun is appalled and demands to know why Yang is acting like this.
Yang tells Xing Yun this is the perfect opportunity for Xing Yun to show how much medicine he has learned in the past 8 years: Lin Xuan’s life depends on him. But instead of acting to save Lin Xuan, Xing Yun starts fighting back, surprising Yang with some of the skills that he has learned in secret.
I don’t know how I feel about this show yet. Episode 1 is a lot of set-up, and all the set-up so far hasn’t particularly piqued my interest. You have your mysterious object that needs to be retrieved, mysterious child prodigy of unknown origins who is definitely, various clans of clear good and clear evil. But set-up is set-up and I’m willing to give the show a few more episodes to really pick it up.
My main issues with the drama are with the production and direction itself. I’m not a fan of the CGI scenery that has started to replace sets and on-location shooting. Most of the CGI isn’t well-done enough to be believable and kind of ruins the viewing experience for me. I’m also not loving how the action sequences are composed of a lot of quick cuts. Perhaps it’s just a shortcut to get around the abilities or lack thereof of the actors, but it breaks up the action and is confusing to follow. I miss a good long, well-choreographed fight sequence.
The story so far is panning out like an other wuxia drama. I like how Lin Xuan is the one who is taught how to fight, despite being a female, while Xing Yun is relegated to studying medicine. It’s a nice role reversal. But already, all we see of Lin Xuan’s “skills” is that she gets easily beaten up by her teacher, while Xing Yun seems to have a natural penchant for fighting, somewhat holding his own (at least better than Lin Xuan) against his master. Hopefully we’ll have more opportunities to see Lin Xuan being a badass and holding her own later on down the road.
It’s only the first episode, so the show still has a lot of room to redeem itself for all its shortcomings in the episodes to come. Looking forward to what the next few episodes hold! On the bright side the 12-episode count means that we hopefully won’t get any long, drawn-out mini-dramas.