Drama Reviews

[REVIEW] Nirvana in Fire

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Title: 琅琊榜 Nirvana in Fire
Episodes: 54
Region: China
Broadcast Period: September 19, 2015 – October 15, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Summary:
Prince Qi and the Chiyan Army were framed for attempting to stage a coup and committing treason. The Chiyan Army was massacred under the Emperor’s orders, and 19-year-old Lin Shu, the son of General Lin Xie, was one of the few to survive. However, he was poisoned from the Poison of the Bitter Flame. Treatment for the poison changed his appearance, weakened his body, and shortened his life. He spends the next 12 years establishing the Jiangzuo Alliance under the alias Mei Chang Su and planning out how to clear Prince Qi and the Chiyan Army’s name as traitors.

When he is finally ready to enact his plan, he enters the capital under the alias Su Zhe. In the fight for power between the two favored prince, the Crown Prince Xian and Prince Yu, he becomes a political strategist. On the surface, he works for Prince Yu, but the prince he is truly trying to bring to power is his childhood best friend, the unfavored Prince Jing. Prince Jing is the only prince whose morals he agrees with and the only prince who would ever attempt to reveal the truth and clear the Chiyan Army of its name.

Overall Thoughts:
I am normally very hesitant about watching dramas over 30 episodes long, so it took a lot of convincing to get me to start watching this drama. But I am so glad I finally gave in because this is one of the best historical dramas ever made. It kept my eyes glued to the screen, and I finished all 54 episodes in less than a week. This drama was fast-paced and filled with brilliant strategies and maneuvers on bringing down the favored princes and raising the unfavored prince into power. Cinematography, acting, and script were all amazing and top-notch.  One could not ask for more in a drama.

SPOILER WARNING
Thoughts on Characters:

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Hu Ge as Lin Shu/Mei Chang Su/Su Zhe

Hu Ge was phenomenal in this role. His eyes were so expressive! No matter what he was saying, you can tell what he was really feeling just by looking at his eyes. All the pain, all the yearning.

As Hu Ge mentioned in an interview, Mei Chang Su isn’t just Lin Shu. Mei Chang Su is the combination of all 70,000 Chiyan soldiers who were wrongfully accused and want justice. He is a very intelligent strategist and is always a couple steps ahead of everyone else. He has a strong network that provides accurate information and does what he needs to get done, and he’s very good at anticipating what others will do. He always has the end goal in mind. When things don’t go as planned, he is very quick to improvise, and he always does it successfully. He’s also extremely patient… I mean, carefully planning for 12 years takes a lot of patience!

Fortunately for the world, he uses his intellect for good. He establishes the Jiangzuo Alliance and is greatly admired and respected as the chief. When you can easily find 10 people who are willing to give up their lives for you, you know you’ve lived your life the right way.

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Wang Kai as Xiao Jing Yan, Prince Jing
Chen Long as Meng Zhi
Hu Ge as Lin Shu/Mei Chang Su/Su Zhe

Wang Kai… where do I even begin? It’s no surprise to me that this drama escalated his status as an actor, and I am so glad it did because from now on, I will probably be following all of his future dramas.

Prince Jing is a prince who sticks to his guns and would never sacrifice his morals for power. He hates strategists because they use innocent people to achieve their goals. His stubborn personality and his strong belief that his brother Prince Qi and the Chiyan Army were not traitors caused a rift between the Emperor and him, so he was an unfavored prince for a long time.

Mei Chang Su was adamant about keeping his real identity from Prince Jing because he knew that if Prince Jing knew Lin Shu was his advisor, he would hesitate in everything that he did for fear that it would harm Lin Shu. It was so heartbreaking for me to watch Prince Jing cry in front of his mother because he missed Lin Shu so much, but didn’t realize that Lin Shu was right there by his side.

Meng Zhi is extremely loyal and is the best fighter in the drama. Although he is not the fastest when it comes to understanding the situation and the consequences, he is the first to recognize that Su Zhe is Lin Shu. He recognizes him at first sight and never doubted it. So, to me, this makes up for all the other times when he’s a little slow or simple-minded.

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Liu Tao as Princess Ni Huang
Hu Ge as Lin Shu/Mei Chang Su/Su Zhe

Maybe I just need to do some research, but I was surprised that a woman was leading an army in this era, especially since she had a brother. Princess Ni Huang is a skilled fighter and the general for the army guarding the southern boarder. I loved how she was so independent and so in control of her own destiny. When the Emperor was trying to marry her off, she managed to get him to agree that she didn’t have to marry anyone who couldn’t beat her in a fight. And of course, she ended up beating all of her suiters.

She was betrothed to Lin Shu and is the second person to recognize that Su Zhe/Mei Chang Su was actually Lin Shu. I loved how she was able to recognize him, despite his changed handwriting and changed appearance. I guess we can call that true love. When I was watching, I was waiting for Prince Jing to connect the dots the way she did, but alas, he wasn’t so quick on the uptake/he was more hesitant to believe that Mei Chang Su could be his friend. It’s really too bad that her love with Lin Shu just wasn’t meant to be. When I was nearing the end of the drama, I secretly hoped that she would be pregnant so that we could get a somewhat happy ending, but I guess the writer didn’t have the same thoughts.

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Victor Huang as Xiao Jing Huan, Prince Yu
Gao Xin as Xiao Jing Xuan, Crown Prince Xian

Prince Yu is ambitious and is described as the prince who most resembles the Emperor. He was adopted by the Empress after his mother died, and he didn’t know who his mother was until the end. His strategist was Qin Ban Ruo, whose motives were not so pure. One thing I didn’t understand was why he didn’t consult with Mei Chang Su more (the way he consulted with Ban Ruo) when he thought he was on his side. Whenever Mei Chang Su gave him advice, it always helped his case, so I’m puzzled by why he only consulted with him whenever there was a crisis.

Despite his ambition, Prince Yu knew his place and was going to give up his quest for power after the whole Wei Zhang situation backfired. It’s too bad that Ban Ruo managed to convince him to make one last attempt for power and go all out by attempting a coup.

Crown Prince Xian is a prince who’s not very capable, but he has very powerful supporters. His primary pillars of support are his mother, the favored Noble Consort Yue, and high-ranking Marquis Xie Yu. I assume Marquis Xie Yu sided with the Crown Prince because he wasn’t as competent as Prince Yu and is therefore easier to control. Otherwise, I don’t see why someone so powerful would support someone so incapable. Ultimately, the Crown Prince brings about his own downfall because he shows the emperor that he’s truly incapable of leading a country.

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Jin Dong as Lin Chen
Wu Lei as Fei Liu

Oh Lin Chen, why couldn’t you be in more of the drama?! If you had showed up more, I’m sure your brilliance coupled with your fun-loving nature would’ve made you my favorite character. Too bad you were only in the beginning and the end, so it was hard to get too attached to you.

Lin Chen is the master of Langya Hall, a skilled physician, and Lin Shu’s loyal friend. In terms of intelligence, he is probably on Mei Chang Su’s level. He is quick to deduce and quick to plan countermeasures. As the master of Langya Hall, he is also very resourceful. If he had wanted to aid another prince in the battle for power, I’m sure he would’ve given Mei Chang Su a run for his money.

Fei Liu is Mei Chang Su’s cute, fun-loving, loyal, simple, and pouty bodyguard. Despite his age, he is a highly-skilled martial artist and makes it almost impossible for anyone to attack Mei Chang Su. His interactions with Meng Zhi and Lin Chen always made me laugh and the way he treats Mei Chang Su always melted my heart.

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Guo Xiao Ran as Yan Yu Jin
Cheng Hao Feng as Xiao Jing Rui

Xiao Jing Rui and Yan Yu Jing had one of the best bromances of the drama. I’m so glad that the most tragic character in the whole drama, Xiao Jing Rui, had the playful and carefree Yan Yu Jin as his best friend. Xiao Jing Rui is very skilled with the sword and uses his skills to protect others time and time again. He has such a big heart and is probably the most innocent in everything, but sadly, due to his identity, was a major chess piece in the game for power. Xie Yu used him to make Zhuo Ding Feng do a lot of the dirty work, and Mei Chang Su used him to break up the tie between Xie Yu and Zhuo Ding Feng. It’s even more heartbreaking that one of the worst days of his life turned out to be his birthday.

For someone whose father ignored him for over a decade, Yan Yu Jin is quite a positive person. He’s the kind of guy that everyone would want to be friends with because he’s just so playful and fun to have around. But it was nice to see his serious side as the drama progressed. And I love that Mei Chang Su helped convince his father to spend more time with him.

Thoughts on the Ending:
I may be in the minority, but I loved the ending and thought it was the best way to end this beautiful drama. We knew early on that Mei Chang Su/Lin Shu didn’t have long to live, so we could predict that he’d live until the Chiyan Army was cleared of treason but not too much longer after that. Yes, a miracle could’ve happened – Lin Chen could’ve created some cure. He could’ve lived happily ever after with everyone, but that just doesn’t fit the tone of the drama. So early on, I knew the drama would end with Mei Chang Su’s death. The question was when, where, and how. Would he just die peacefully, surrounded by loved ones after he’d cleared the Chiyan Army’s name? That would be kind of a weak ending, given how strong the rest of the drama was. So no… his death was so much more. Although he was able to clear his name, Mei Chang Su could never go back to just being Lin Shu. It really is the best ending that he was able to go into the battlefield one last time to protect the country that he loves, to really show his intellect in the field where he truly shines, and to live as Lin Shu one last time. His death was inevitable, and  he died doing what he truly wanted to do after doing what he really needed to do. What more could you ask for? And Jing Yan renaming the northern army as the Changlin Army shows that his friend will always be with him. Mei Chang Su and Lin Shu were a huge part of how the country came to be the way it currently is (moral, protected, and for the people), and Jing Yan honors that by naming the army after both of them.

Final Comments:
GO. WATCH. NOW.
Especially if you like historical and political strategizing (scheming) dramas.
And if you like Hu Ge or Wang Kai… or any of the cast members because they were all great.

Here’s the 20-minute trailer (not subbed in English):

Watch the drama on: DramaFever | Viki

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