XDRAMAsX’s 2016 Drama Review

Personally I feel 2016 has been a rather lackluster year for dramas, and there wasn’t a single show that had me completely invested. My standards have risen exponentially after a slew of good dramas in late 2015, and I’m hoping some of the shows from the 2017 lineup will make up for the disappointment this year. That being said, I probably have missed out on a couple of gems this year, so feel free to suggest your favourites below.

This is my first time reviewing anything, so do bear with my ramblings as I try and figure everything out. I also owe a huge thanks to the team at CFensi, especially 0kuo0 and idarklight, for patiently answering all my questions and making sure I settled in with minimal hiccups. All productions are listed in the order they aired, and I’ve also included some short commentary on dramas I dropped

The Imperial Doctress 女医·明妃传

The Imperial Doctress was touted as a female-centric medical drama, though that went down the drain after about 15 episodes. Sadly, the plot wasn’t the only thing that fell apart – the screenwriter sacrificed Qiyu’s characterisation to make room for Yunxian and Zhu Qizhen’s romance and chose to glamourise the latter in the most unsubtle way possible (Yes, I’m very salty about that).

It didn’t help that Zhu Qizhen was practically a rehash of Jin Yuanbao from Perfect Couple before he was captured by the Oirats, and then suddenly grew a brain when he came back. Qiyu’s transition from romantic prince who had a great sense of political acumen to gullible and insecure Emperor was awkward and forced – props to Huang Xuan for doing what he could to salvage the character. This is also the first time I’ve seen up-and-coming actress Jin Chen, and despite how unlikeable Wang Meilin was, at least she played it with aplomb.

Aside from the aforementioned actors, the only other positives were the theme songs by Lala Hsu and the exquisite costumes, which I assume was possible due to the extra investment from New Classics Media (the company behind upcoming big-budget drama Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace).

The last Tangren drama I enjoyed was 2011’s Bu Bu Jing Xin 步步惊心, and was hoping this drama would return said company to its former glory. Quite unfortunate that The Imperial Doctress was hindered by a terrible script. Although with China’s current market, how many dramas aren’t?

Rating: 6/10


Ode to Joy 欢乐颂

This was one of the more ‘realistic’ offerings of the year (as realistic as dramas can get), and the story actually gave me some food for thought. Compared to other dramas this year, I could at least empathise with some of our protagonists in this drama.

Everyone’s acting was on point, although Jiang Xin’s nuanced performance was the best thing about this show. Fan Shengmei carefully treads the line between being sympathetic and exasperating, and the character slowly won me over as the drama delved deeper into her family conflicts. An Di was a bit too unrealistic (Liu Tao is still awesome though), Qiu Yingying was too naïve and annoying, Guan Ju’er was decent but quite forgettable when compared to the other five, while Qu Xiaoxiao…well, I’m still holding out hope that Season 2 will give us her backstory so some of her actions can be justified.

I was really excited to see Zu Feng in a modern drama and I actually thought Qi Dian was perfectly fine at the beginning – given his history as a failed entrepreneur, it seemed normal that he had to make sure every ‘transaction’ benefited him. However, I lost all respect for the character when he spilled An Di’s private problems and asked someone to investigate her. All his romantic confessions became increasingly moot, because it was clear he’s afraid that he would have to deal with a mentally ill An Di if they ever got married. I think I’m just going to go wash my eyes by re-watching Lurk 潜伏. 

Rating: 7/10


Les Interprètes 亲爱的翻译官

The Interpreter started off pretty well, and exceeded what little expectations I had of it. Cheng Jiayang and Qiao Fei’s bickering was hilarious and possibly the best part of the drama. After watching 3 dramas starring Huang Xuan, I already expected him to bring his A-game, and I’m glad to say that there are no missteps on his part. It was actually Yang Mi‘s improved acting and smooth line delivery (both Chinese and French dubbing was done by the actors themselves) that surprised me the most.

However, the drama decided to mess everything up with obsessive second leads, terminal diseases and the evil mother-in-law – by Episode 20, the drama had already fallen into the dog-blood” (i.e. over-the-top tropes) category.

Gao Jiaming is the twisted and arrogant adopted brother of Cheng Jiayang, and self-proclaimed ex-boyfriend of Qiao Fei who firmly believes that she left him for money. Gao Weiguang‘s over-acting and weak delivery of dialogue also did the character no favours. Zhou Qiqi, known for her role as Gong Yu in Nirvana in Fire was saddled with the most awful character in Wen Xiaohua. For the most part, I felt like I was watching a brightly repackaged version of the traditional old melo.

In the last stretch, Jiayang’s IQ dropped, Qiao Fei became a noble idiot, and the second leads managed to outdo themselves on the infuriating scale. This drama is watchable only if you leave your brain at the door and keep your hand on the fast-forward button. Also, make sure there are no breakables around.

Rating: 4.5/10


To Be A Better Man 好先生

As the title suggests, this drama centres on the redemption arc of main protagonist Lu Yuan (Sun Honglei), who is first introduced to us as a scoundrel and alcoholic. I have no sympathy for noble and prideful idiots like Lu Yuan, hence his entire reason for hiding the truth from first love Gan Jing, and basically the catalyst for this entire drama just didn’t sit very well with me.

However, logical quibbles aside,the drama was simply a joy to watch, mostly because of the endearing relationship between the main trio made of Lu Yuan, Peng Jiahe (Guan Xiaotong) and Granny Peng (Li Wenling). None of the characters were one dimensional, but those three were definitely the best thing about this drama. I was always expecting more from Jiang Lai (Jiang Shuyingafter a great first half, yet sadly the character was relegated to the sidelines as the scriptwriter chose to focus more on Lu Yuan, Gan Jing and Jiang Haokun’s love triangle.

On the technical side, the drama also deserves accolades for its directing and cinematographythe scenes are cleanly shot, and everything is just beautiful to look at. The palette is definitely more muted than the usual fare on TV, which is a nice visual change. To Be A Better Man had its fair share of inconsistencies, but the sharp sense of humour and genuine moments of warmth made up for all the flaws.

Rating: 7.5/10


Just One Smile is very Alluring / Love O2O 微微一笑很倾城

I usually wouldn’t touch cheesy romance dramas with a ten-foot pole, yet somehow this drama made it work. I finally get Yang Yang’s aesthetic appeal now – he looks stunning in ancient garb, and as a fan of historical dramas, I’m not one to resist the pretty.

Gu Man’s original had a paper-thin plot that revolved around Bei Weiwei and Xiao Nai’s college romance. Thankfully the breezy plot didn’t require any groundbreaking acting, because the lead actors were serviceable at best. Special mention to Niu Junfeng (Yu Banshan in the drama), who stole the show too many times to count. I found out that he also had a guest-starring role in Home With Kids 家有儿女, and now I’m starting to wonder if I should dub the show a star-making machine.

Though the OTP romance leaned more towards the saccharine end, the drama itself was refreshing because it stuck to the basics of an idol drama. Love O2O steered away from most of the cliches, and ended up becoming the most enjoyable piece of fluff this year.

Rating: 6/10


Dr. Qin Medical Examiner / 法医秦明

Now this is one drama where the acting, directing and (most of) the story are all up to standard. The cases aren’t very convoluted, but it wins points for making sure everything plays out logically. The first case was visually shocking, but I was a bit underwhelmed by how easily the culprit was caught, and surprised the neighbours didn’t catch a single whiff of the dismembered body parts from the crime scene.

Qin Ming isn’t as forced and pretentious as other genius male leads before him, and Zhang Ruoyun did a great job in the role. It’s obvious he’s a step ahead in talent when you compare him to his colleagues from the “fresh meat” category. Jiao Junyan’s Li Dabao is equally lovely – she’s a funny and down-to-earth medical examiner who isn’t afraid to throw insults back at Qin Ming when the situation calls for it. Their camaraderie with detective Lin Tao (Li Xian) is the heart of the show, and the comedic scenes in between cases made for a nice breather.

This drama was on its way to an 8/10, but the last episode was a huge letdown. The story was rushed, and the scriptwriter didn’t have enough time – or couldn’t – explain the restaurant owner’s motivations clearly, resulting in an one-dimensional and hysterical villain.

The first eighteen or so episodes were great, and I would actually recommend skipping the last episode altogether. Trust me, the ending you imagine will definitely be better than the actual one.

Rating: 7/10


When a Snail Falls in Love / 如果蜗牛有爱情

This drama is very stylish, and you just know it’s a Daylight Entertainment drama from the cinematography alone. I wasn’t very fond of Ding Mo’s original detective romance novel, and thankfully the drama has managed to steer away from the worst parts. Screenwriter Zhu Zhu has done a good job fleshing out the main characters and connecting all the separate plot threads, which resulted in a (mostly) well-paced crime drama with just a touch of romance on the side.

Ye Zixi’s murder case played out brilliantly, and I expected the same from the Myanmar storyline. Unfortunately the last three episodes didn’t answer the questions it had raised in previous episodes, and I feel cheated out of a proper ending. It seemed like the finale was more preoccupied with laying the groundwork for a possible second season instead of wrapping up loose threads in the present timeline.

I have no problem with the acting though, and I was especially surprised by Wang Ziwen’s performance. She’s managed to shake off all traces of the arrogant Qu Xiaoxiao from Ode to Joy, and Xu Xu really grew on me over the course of the show. Though there were many brilliant shots throughout the drama, I can confidently say that I won’t be missing the shaky cameras.

Rating: 7/10


More Nibbles

Legend of j38aztjbNine-Tailed Fox 青丘狐传说 (Jin Chen & Wang Kai)

Their story was pretty cute, though the misunderstandings and obstacles didn’t really pack a punch. If the quality of this story is representative of the whole drama, then Tangren has failed to live up to its previous supernatural gems, including Strange Stories from Liaozhai 聊斋志异 (2005) and The Fairies of Liaozhai 聊斋奇女子 (2007).

cxyltgub

Precious Youth 那年青春我们正好 (Episodes 1 – 3)

Not even my love for Liu Shishi could make me continue watching this show.

 

 

mnfmfihbThe Mystic Nine 老九门 (Episodes 1-9, 18-20)

The story itself isn’t anything to write home about, and the pacing is excruciatingly slow. I can’t believe it took 8 episodes just to convince Er Yuehong to take up grave-robbing again, and 18 episodes to actually see any action underground. William Chan also needs to tone down on the “I’m hot and I know it” type of acting.

mpun8urb

Border Town Prodigal 新边城浪子 (Episodes 1 – 33) 

Butchering of the original was expected, though I wasn’t prepared for this level of bad. The writer bit off more than he could chew, and the result was another messy Gu Long adaption. However, it deserves a passing grade just for the acting and the hand-to-hand combat, which is reminiscent of the beautiful and creative action sequences most often seen in the early 2000s wuxia dramas.

n4uhimnbSinging All Along 秀丽江山之长歌行 (Episodes 1-6, 43-50)

I loved the original novel, but the small screen adaption just fell flat for me. The writer chose to keep the original female lead’s modern personality without the time travel element, which was jarring to watch. That being said, the drama is far from being mediocre, but just lacks the addictive quality that would’ve made me continue.

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Ice Fantasy 幻城 (Episodes 1 – 6) 

Neither the story nor the aesthetics are my cup of tea.

 

 

Noble Aspirations 青云志 (Episodes 1-7) azwjcprb

Started off pretty well, and has much better production value than the disappointing Legend of Ancient Sword 古剑奇谭. Again, this drama suffered from poor writing, and the wooden acting from some of the main actors made it even worse. I would actually be content just watching cuts of Xiao Hui annoying Tian Buyi.

 

p5x55dlbA Love For Separation 小别离 (Episodes 1 – 15)

Acting and directing is brilliant, and the story started off really well. I was just really irritated by their daughter Fang Duoduo’s immaturity.

 

 

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The Princess Weiyoung 锦绣未央 (Episodes 1, 31-33, 54) 

Contrary to the promos, Weiyang had no revenge plot up her sleeve, and Tuoba Jun turned out to be a lovesick royal who was incapable of doing anything else.

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20 thoughts on “XDRAMAsX’s 2016 Drama Review

  1. Just saw this.

    I agree 2016 was a really slow year in dramas. I don’t think there’s anything I’ve even finished with the exception of Snails and Ode to Joy, and the later with major fastforwarding through all the Andi/Guan Ju’er scenes. I really liked the dialogue for The Interpreters, and it had such a good start, but ended up stopping half way through once the plot went off the rails.

    Having seen all but the cut homoerotic segment of the Fox series, I can fully assure you that WK + JC’s episode is not representative of the series, because the rest of the series is so much worse. That one and the Gulnazar one were the only ones with a passing grade. This series is the reason I would disagree with your judgment of Zhang Ruoyun. I don’t think his role in Dr.Qin required that much acting, and I still think he can’t handle emotional scenes or even ones where he’s suppose to act surprised or cute. He, Qiao Xin, and Fu Xinbo (whom I still love despite all his flaws) were imo the worse lead actors out of the entire series.

  2. Pingback: Jin Dong is Jiang Shuying’s Mr. Right in upcoming romance drama | Cfensi

  3. XdramasX, Thank you very much for writing up such detailed and helpful reviews for so many dramas. Apparently we have very similar tastes. I just have 1.5 less points for For a Better Man (FABM), and a point higher for Alluring Smile. For Green Hill Fox Legend, I liked the last story with Gulnazhar and Jiang Jin Fu.
    I have a hard time with Lu Yuan’s character in FABM. Much too spicy for my taste.
    Zhang Ruo Yun has improved a lot. He was really bland in GHFL. I still find him lacking screen presence just a taaaad, but still fine overall.
    The acting in many of the dramas aren’t bad. But I didn’t watch Ice Fantasy, and only skimmed through tiny parts of Noble Aspiration, Precious Youth, Weiyoung and Mystic 9. Skipped Singing and Border Prodigal altogether. The scripts are the weak points for many of the dramas.
    Technical points are still wrong in dramas sometimes. SPOILER alert: ________ WASFIL moved the revised murder time estimate in the opposite (wrong) direction, after the detectives discovered that the perp injected ice water into Ye Zixi’s body. ____ Drama logic is still flawed in certain places. But the production values are fine.
    2016 is a quite full of Zhao Liying’s dramas. I liked her best in Cuo Dian Yuan Yang with Qi Ji and Han Dong. I haven’t yet found another one of her role that I like as much yet.
    Generally, Dr Qin, WASFIL are much preferred over rehashed and tired tropes with typical Mary Sue drama heroines. Especially if they are accompanied by relentlessly evil, overbearing future in-laws or senior relatives (or roommate who is a pure plot device. ****cough** cough**** The Interpreters and many others.)
    The main issue is production firms cares about commercial values the most. Apparently, the audience is not yet entirely tired of the Mary Sue characters and repetitive evil relative plots. So the producers keep making more Mary Sue dramas (sometimes even with the same few actors) until they cease to make money and forced to look into some other plots for a change.

    • I’m glad you found the review helpful.

      As long as there’s demand for certain types of stories, there will be (over) supply, though I can’t really blame the production companies for putting commercial success first. :p Apparently SARPPFT is planning to do something about the actors’ sky high wages, so hopefully the extra funds they save will be used in appropriate places.

      Meanwhile all we can do is try and dig for the gems :)

  4. I watch all 47 episodes of Princess of Lan Ling Wang and i totally regret watching it. I really wanted Gao Chang Gong and Yuan Qing Suo to be together but it turn out opposites. I don’t really know the novel(The Prince of the Orchid Hills) but if the director wanted Qing Suo to fell more in live with Yu Wen Yong as they spent so many loving times together after she lose her memories, then they should not call it Princess OF Lan Ling Lang. I really wanted Qing Suo to really love Chang Gong than Wen Yong and find out her lost memories faster and spend many loving times with Chang Gong. Chang Gong loved only her ever since they were little and always protect her as well making her smile everyday but after she lost her memories Wen Yong interfere in their love since they were very little. I hated the ending how Qing Suo still choose Wen Yong after she got her memories back that made Chang Gong so heartbroken and how when Chang Gong wanted her to be happy that he send her back to Wen Yong and promised her not to fight anymore, die so sadly after he won’t tell the king of a thing and drink the poison. I cried so much that my eyes got so swollen about Gao Chang Gong.

  5. Les Intepretes was a disaster, but I’m glad I found Huang Xuan through this drama, he’s wonderful!

  6. Whoa, I completely forgot that One Smile would happen! Promotion is so far in advance of execution, I tend to do that. Thanks for the reviews! I’ll benefit from your experiences and queue things that don’t seem to have caused you pain.

  7. Skip-watched a lot of dramas this year. For the ones I did finish watching properly, I agree with you so much haha (Imperial Doctress, Ode to Joy, Dr Qin, WASFIL, Love O2O)

    Noble Aspirations pissed me off a lot lol because it was so repetitive and dragged out with no progression in the story or characters.

    I’m currently watching Princess Weiyoung and will finish it with the help of the fast-forward button XP

  8. Wow it feels like Imperial Doctress and Huan Le Song were so long ago. Like you I also felt like 2016 was a lackluster drama year.

  9. I like your drama review. Especially what you wrote about The Princess Weiyoung. Totally spot on! XD

  10. With regards to Dr. Qin Medical Examiner, after reading the novel from which it was adapted from, I can definitely say the scriptwriter did an excellent job with the little that the original author had. I recall just right before the drama was to air, the author took to his weibo to express that the drama had to take some liberties (I would say about 75% in liberties), but thank goodness those liberties were taken! The Qin Ming, Li Dabao (a Dabao existed in the novel, but not as a female) and Lin Tao of the novel is nowhere like what we saw onscreen–the ones in the novel were very 2-dimensional. And at “how easily the culprit was being caught”? The novel made it even quicker than the drama did.

    Makes me wonder what the other drama version of Dr. Qin Medical Examiner will be like?

    • That explains a lot of things then. :p
      Ah yes, the one starring Luo Yunxi and Zhou Qiqi? LYX’s very green , but the trailer looks promising enough.

  11. Except for One Smile with almost everything you say. this year was pretty much a major disappointment although One Smile is a gem for those days when I just want the romance without the drama. :)

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