Hello folks! I haven’t written in a long while (although still religiously watching c-dramas when I have a moment) as Life has just gotten so busy but I guess this resonates so much with me that I felt compelled to pick up the pen again.
Finally, a healthy relationship in the c-drama world (ehem, cough, All Out Of Love) which I can totally get behind and …. he is the second male lead so destined to Not Get The Girl. Why???? Seems to me that the scriptwriters are equally conflicted as I am up to episode 32 of a 50 episode drama and Zhao Lan Zhi, the doomed second male lead, is in as many, or even more scenes than the male lead, Mu Le, and his arc with the female lead, Yuan An, is well-thought, well-written and well fleshed out….until its ah, tragic end. I literally punched my fist in the air [ spoilers ahead] when Yuan An clearly stated in ep 32 that her heart belongs to Lan Zhi. I honestly did not think there was anything more than affection and kinship for Mu Le from her perspective – while show tried to position for Mu Le to be the romantic lead (and it was obvious from all the previews and staged romantic moments ..ehem..sudden flowerpetal shower), kudos to Wu Qian who interpreted Yuan An such that she treated him as a child she is responsible for, cares for and tries to not hurt his feelings (no lingering looks, no conflicted feelings – her entire attention was focused on Lan Zhi once he joins them (family dinner, sending off fake princess, literally anytime! ) and her obvious choice that she would have to kill Mu Le if it came down to only-one-could-survive.
My immense second male lead syndrome started the moment Lan Zhi could identify that Yue An was a female garbed in male attire, pretty much in their official first meeting (after he rescued her princess style). Observant? Check. And although they were initially on opposing sides, he had enough instinct, wits and flexibility within reason to give her 3 days grace period to investigate the case and clear her male servant’s girlfriend from a murder charge. Intelligent dude with compassion? Check. I particularly liked the part where Lan Zhi confronted Mu Le in army camp saying that he is aware that Mu Le has feelings for Yuan An hence considers him a love rival but yet he was professional enough to try and manage things fairly despite his discomfort and jealousy. Man with honor and integrity? Check.
If there is one thing to learn from this doomed couple is to Not Take Things for Granted. When Lanzhi was baring his heart to Yuan An knowing that they cant be together as he has to marry Ming Zhu in exchange for her anecdote, I could hear strains of 可惜没如果 in my head. Aaah, so sad and stoic, my poor Lanzhi. While not every real life relationship would end so dramatically (poison, anecdote, Empress decree), how many of us have taken a stable, fulfilling relationship for granted until it drifts apart or completely disintegrates. Maybe that’s the one thing which makes me so invested in Lanzhi and Yuan An. Not much is said outright but all their interactions together show how much they are in love with each other – she willing to try something different to be more conventional so he would be more at ease, he learning to accept her as she is – “peacock” flower arrangement and all, she risking her life more than once to rescue him despite not knowing how or the what the repercussions maybe, him prepared to lie to the Queen to prove to her that he is not merciless (and really because she asked him!), her duelling with Ming Hui so that the latter will stay away from Lanzhi and him sticking her fake brother up a tree for insulting Yuan An! While they may have different view points, neither conforms to the other completely but instead try to find a happy middle ground where both perspective are not completely sacrificed but just compromised. They may disagree and get upset each with other but like a mature, healthy relationship, neither walks away from each other after a quarrel – they know that they are each other EndGame. Even if Yuan An was attracted to Mu Le (and Lanzhi to Ming Hui) since both Mu Le and Ming Hui were so forward physically with Yuan An and Lanzhi respectively, it’s clear that the love that they have for each other far outweighs any such distractions. It was telling that Lanzhi told Mu Le that if the Queen had allowed him a request, he too wouldn’t have asked for a grant of marriage to Yuan An because in his mind too (similarly in hers), them getting married was an eventuality that both of them wanted and did not require external consent. Ahhh, the feels.
I actually feel kinda sorry for Zheng Ye Cheng because in my mind, the character Mu Le is not a rootable romantic character at all. Sure, he may love Yuan An wholeheartedly but it comes with reciprocal expectations (why would you force a kiss on someone who is effectively your boss and blame her for being “cute and pretty” or expect to hug her just because Lanzhi held her hand? Eww). When he left her alone in ep 32 because he FINALLY realised that while she cares for him, her happiness and joy is only for Lanzhi – I was like – she is all alone and miserable (esp since you didn’t tell her why Lanzhi did that) and you are leaving???? I truly suspect that while Mu Le is the protagonist (perhaps based on the book, I am not sure), one of the scriptwriters (and I dare say even Wu Qian herself) has a huge Lanzhi bias! It doesn’t help that Wu Qian and Zhang Yu Jian has off-the-charts chemistry – even when they are just sitting at a table and she hands/serves him food or standing/walking together – you don’t need them to hold hands to know that their hearts are aligned. Even the Empress can see that when she was trying to advise Ming Hui against marrying herself off to Lan Zhi.
So I just cannot bring myself to watch the remaining episodes – without Yuan An investigating with Lan Zhi, it takes away the essence of the story for me. I am just glad that I got 32 episodes of it and there are only 18 episodes left. Ideally, I would like it that Yuan An knows the extent of Lanzhi’s sacrifice and loves him till the end although she is touched by Mu Le’s love for her. Since Mu Le is the male lead, I think its not likely so I am not holding my breath.
Having said that, I think Oriental Odyssey is still a light, fun watch and I highly recommend it. Wu Qian is so spunkily cute without being annoying and makes a believable male in that she is not overly made up so I may still cave and watch the remaining episodes. I first saw Zhang Yu Jian in Delicious Destiny and thought he was underused there so I look forward to their next collaboration in Le Coup de Foudre. If for nothing else, I hope this article puts Zhang Yu Jian in the limelight as he is not well known and its such a pity as he did Zhao Lan Zhi so much justice!