Legend of Xiao Chuo (2020) 燕云台 : C Drama Series Review

3 sisters marrying into 3 branches of descendants of the Yelu family, who are destined to fight for the throne of Liao kingdom. Xiao Hunian, Xiao Wuguli, Xiao Yanyan – each sister very different in temperament with challenges & encounters of their own.

The Xiao Sisters

The fast-paced story follows through with the 3 daughters being married off in the early episodes. Wuguli – entitled & stubborn, falls in love with Yelu Xiyin. Following her heart to pursue the love of her life, she tries to assist Xiyin when his family staged a rebellion. She is caught & implicated as a rebel, throwing her into the prison. Hunian as the eldest sister requests the assistance from Yanshage, the Emperor’s brother, in exchange for her hand in marriage. Yanyan as the youngest originally seems to have been able to escape destiny to marry into royalty, as she falls in love and got engaged to Han Derang, a son of a Southern minister. However, fate finally wakes up and she is forced to marry Yelu Xian in the midst of his attempt to take over the crown.

Pursuant to these marriages, the series follows Yelu Xian’s plot against his uncle, Yelu Chage, the reigning emperor. The breaking point for Yelu Xian must have been when his brother Yelu Zhimo is tortured for being caught for having an affair with the maid of his uncle. When Yelu Xian finally ascends the throne, he plans out the changes to adopt Han-based policies & administration. As Yelu Xian’s health is weak, he gets Yanyan to act as Regent and assist in his administration. The plot thickens when Xiao Xiwen – the Prime Minister & the sisters’ father is assassinated. Han Derang returned to assist in the investigation, resulting in more rebellion plots from the other branches of the Yelu family. Both Yelu Xiyin & Yanshage rebelled, with Yanshage losing his life while Xiyin barely retaining his life & court position.

Upon maintaining the peace in the imperial city, Han Derang left for Youzhou to guard the city and remains there for more than a decade. He comes back to assist the Emperor & Empress, and faces further challenges – death of his wife Li Si, constant bickering at court, doubts from the Emperor himself, rebellion once more from Yelu Xiyin. The task to maintain peace in the Liao Kingdom seems to be endless.

Bond of Three Sisters

At the beginning of the series, the sisters are close and shares similar values & their dedication to their father. Upon marriage, each of the sister goes through very different path.

Wuguli – the 2nd sister

Wuguli having married someone she loves, helps Yelu Xiyin in any way she can to ensure her husband is successful. She is often torn between her love for her family and her husband. Her character is very believable as the 2nd in line, always jealous of her siblings. As time passes, she also realises that Xiyin does not have a chance to fight for the throne but is unable to advise him against risking everything for the throne. Her family’s ending is tragic – if only not because of greed for power.

Little Hunian

Hunian is an interesting eldest sister, portrayed by Charmaine Sheh. Charmaine is very good in crying scenes, and she milks out her scenes extremely well. Obviously Yanshage has a soft spot for Hunian, and when she finally agrees to marry him, I am not sure whether she is finally touched with his sincerity or she is just fulfilling her duty & promise. Charmaine’s portrayal is gray, and it suits the series. I like her character the best of the 3 sisters. She is dutiful & loyal to her family, thinking through before she makes any decision. When Yanshage dies, he left his palace & army to Hunian, planting a seed of doubt in Hunian on Yanyan’s priority. Her treatment of her family and sisters comes from a pure heart.

Xiao Yanyan, flanked by the two men who love her

I like Tiffany Tang (who portrays Xiao Yanyan) as an actress but in this series, I did not think she did very well (as compared to her other series eg Princess Weiyoung). Initially her character is rash, unruly & immature. Even after marrying Yelu Xian, I didn’t see any major change to her character. She just becomes slightly mellowed, but lacks the intelligence nor wit to conquer the scheming clans. When she breaks up with Han Derang, she just plays the damsel-in-distress, and after marrying Yelu Xian, she just decides to forgive her husband one fine day and play nice. In her years as Empress, she also does not come across as impressive nor witty in the game of politics.

Frankly, I am disappointed as her character is supposed to be reflective of a strong woman. The impression that I got thusfar, Yanyan is just plain lucky! It doesn’t help that Tiffany Tang has only very little change in her facial expression. She has just 1 expression – whether she is angry, shocked, sad, depressed. In Wuguli’s final confrontation with Yanyan, I felt that Yanyan is basically a selfish sister whereby she is exactly like her husband, Yelu Xian – fake & selfish. Always taking, and never giving.

Xiao Siwen

The sisters’ father Xiao Xiwen is portrayed by Liu Yijun, who also acts as Xie Yu in Nirvana in Fire I. Ah… Liu Yijun is a great actor, enough said. In real history, Xiao Xiwen is deemed as someone who is careful & defensive. However, the fact that his 3 daughters married into 3 different branches of the descendants of Liao indicates that he is a scheming Prime Minister. Whether he marries them off as he believes in Yelu Xian’s ambition & abilities, or just buying insurance that at least one of his daughters is married to a future emperor – history leaves much to our imagination.  

Male Leads & Supporting Casts

Young Han Derang

Han Derang’s character develops throughout the series and it is wonderful to see how he grows in spite of the challenges thrown to him. Han Derang is portrayed by Shawn Dou, who looks as a clean-cut handsome horse-riding male lead.  He is torn between his love for Xiao Yanyan and his dedication to support changes to the country through his best friend & emperor Yelu Xian. When Yelu Xian betrayed him by asking for Yanyan as his empress, Derang retreats to the grassland & encounters different experiences in the grassland clans to understand the common Khitan people. It gives him respite from thinking of his broken heart, and gives him opportunities to grow & see the bigger picture. When he comes back to the court to assist the Emperor and Empress, it is equally difficult to see how he interacts with the woman he loves and the friend who betrays him. I think Shawn Dou did a great job in the role.

Yelu Xian, personal name Mingyi

Yelu Xian is portrayed by Jing Chao. Having seen him in at least 2 other series, I didn’t think too much of his acting. It is equally difficult to like him in this series. Yelu Xian’s character is wily, and he gives me the impression that he is faking everything he says. He acts generous with Han Derang, but taking advantage of him as a brother and as an emperor. He is selfish, wanting Yanyan as his empress but never trusting both Yanyan and Han Derang. Not a character I can trust nor like. Yanyan’s description of him in one scene – “Don’t take us all as your bargaining chips, it is disgusting” is apt in describing Yelu Xian. Everything he does is for his own selfish needs, insincere.

Yelu Yanshage

Surprising, Yanshage’s character is more interesting. He is ambitious, loyal to his own brother, cunning & scheming to a certain degree. He is competent in military, the only drawback – he is cruel & probably selfish. He has no intention to change the ways of the Khitan clans. He seems sincere in wanting Hunian as his wife and the way he courts his wife – well it is perhaps not romantic, but realistic! It does help that the actor looks great!   

Yelu Zhimo

Another character of interest is Yelu Zhimo, the younger brother of Yelu Xian. The historical character was the youngest son of Emperor Shizong and with Empress Zhen who was not of Khitan descend. In the series, Yelu Zhimo started off as an arrogant & ambitious young prince who is incited by the evil maid Anzhi. In his youthful rage & his desire to protect Anzhi, he loses his eyes & is castrated by his uncle. Tragic but he survives and upon reflection calms down significantly.

Yelu Xiyin, Wuguli’s husband
Yelu Xiuge

There are a few historical figures in the series but do not have significant air time. It would be interesting if the series had paid more attention to these. Lookout for Yelu Xiuge, Yelu Xiuzhen and Xiao Dalin, who are all generals.

The opening theme song is sung by Henry Huo who composes very good theme songs for ancient series.

Sharing the simple piano arrangement, and the ensemble.

Please note the music sheet is personally arranged & shared for educational & personal entertainment purposes.  Please use these personal shared items responsibly and not to use these commercially.

Conclusion 8/10

The story arc is very interesting but the storyline, scripts & acting for its female lead leave much to be desired. However, the support characters are indeed more interesting. Acting-wise they can also hold their own and support the full series. I look forward more towards watching the supporting casts than the leads. I really wish the supporting casts were given more air time as their stories would definitely be more interesting.   

What attracts me the most is actually the history of the Khitans, the actual history of the various characters, scenes from the beautiful prairie land especially the horses running wild on the grassland and their costumes including their jewelleries. I find that their hair-gears to be very elaborate & beautiful, although it must have been extremely heavy to wear all the time. I especially like the Khitans as they give almost equal rights to the women, who are able to rule and not restricted like the women of the Southern kingdoms and especially the subsequent Chinese dynasties.

Worth it to watch, but pay attention to the supporting casts & others. 


4 thoughts on “Legend of Xiao Chuo (2020) 燕云台 : C Drama Series Review

  1. It may surprise you to note that it was exactly Jing Chao in the supporting male role of Ling Yun Che, that the series Ruyi’s Love in the Palace edged the other very popular similar series in the same period both in terms of popularity and critical acclaim.
    I agree that Jing Chao’s stage acting style may not suit your popular taste for film acting. For someone who share love both for stage acting and film acting, I appreciate the likes of Jing Chao, Wang Jing Song
    Ding Yong Dai (find them in Nirvana in Fire) more than the likes of Shawn Dou or Tiffany Tang.
    Jing Chao is a true professiobal actor instead of film star. Hu Ge also went back to stage acting after hitting headlines after Nirvana in Fire.
    In Princess Silver, the critical acclaim also went to Jing Chao, and many viewers are saddened by the way Fu Chou became a pawn for revenge. Watch over the part after Rongle became Princess Silver. How Fuchou tried to save her by getting the Blood Bird, and how Ro ngle and WuYou retaliated blindly, leading up to the part where the ashes of WuYou and Fuchou’s mother got scattered by Fu Yun. The part of the series beginning from FuChou being restored as Wuchou and got the regency until the end must be fully grasped to understand this central character of the story, and the entire plot. The most moving part of the entire series lies hither. It was heart breaking to see how Wuchou reacted with the Crown Prince under captive with their father watching from behind unknowingly.
    This series is a 8.5/10 series at the very least.

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  2. You are right, I do have a bias against Jing Chao as an actor. 🙂 My first view of his acting was in Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace. Perhaps the role of Ling Yun Che in Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace is just too difficult or complicated for me to empathise, or perhaps Jing Chao portrays the character with too much methodical acting. Unfortunately, Jing Chao came across as one-dimensional in that series, at least for me. Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace is one series I totally love, and converted me to a fan of Zhou Xun. The male actors from the series did not have such impact, and I did not like Ling Yun Che’s character one bit. I do believe that first impression of an actor/ actress does impact subsequent impressions, even moving into other series. I have not seen him in modern series, perhaps it may have a different impact. Let’s see, I guess, if there are opportunities to refresh my impression of him.

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  3. I agree that Xiao Yanyan is not successfully portrayed, and similarly Han Derang.
    Two flawed leads sabotaged a great production.
    You may not notice how the props and costumes are detailed to the minute accord g to historical resources, just showing what a serious production this is supposed tp ve.
    Yet how Tan Yan and Dou Xiao disappointed audiences!
    Tang is sidetracked by misunderstanding or inadequate understanding of her role, while Dou’s acting is plainly sub pat compared to other male support g leads, viz Tan Kai as Yansage, Jing Chao as Yelu Xian and Ji Chen as Yelu Xiyin. These three did much to save the series from a complete flop. The other outstanding male character is the young lover of Hunian.
    The other 2 female leads are adequate but not outstanding. She Shiman wears her age not in the face but in her demeanour. Never looked an inch as an aggressive female warrior of which Hunian is. Ku Shan is a bit better but the character she pirtrays is not pleasant. Yu Xiao as played by a beautiful young actress is also a shady character better to be left out.

    P. S. You seem to have a great bias against Jing Chao, who is a very capable and up coming actor. I watched him in an early series on Shanghai during WWII as the male lead, with Ren Dahua and Zhou Dongyu. Simply outstanding acting. Shawn Dou is a baby actor compared to Jing. Indeed, I think Han Derang would have much better been portrayed here by Jing Chao, while Shawn Dou should portray Yelu Xiuge. As for the King Yelu Xian, may be Luo Yunxi should be casted. Luo who looks every inch the king should more than justify the role.

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  4. Thank you very much for your review. I really wanted to watch this drama but I cannot because of Tiffany immature annoying acting.

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