The Sword & The Brocade (2021) 锦心似玉 : C Drama Series Review

Drama Poster with all the women in Xu Ling Yi’s life

The series traces the journey of Luo Shi Yi, a daughter of a concubine of the Luo family. She is gifted in the skill of embroidery & longs for the freedom to choose in her life. Upon her elder sister Luo Yuan Niang’s death, the Luo family marries her to Duke of Yong Ping (@ Xu Ling Yi) to take over her elder sister’s role, care for his nephew Xu Xi Zhun & safeguard the interest of Luo’s family.

The first 10 episodes or so explores Shi Yi’s journey in the Luo family. She manoeuvres the scheming of the family to ensure safety for her mother and herself. In their attempt to run away from an arranged marriage with the Jiang family, Shi Yi’s mother is murdered near Ci’An Temple. Pursuant to her mother’s death & a change in arrangement, she is then married to the Xu Ling Yi as the main wife, whereby she promises her elder sister to ensure the safety of her son Xu Xi Zhun.  

The subsequent 10 episodes explores the initial days of Shi Yi at her newly-wed home of Xu family. The Xu family treats Shi Yi with suspicion as they do not trust her. Her main nemesis is Qiao Lian Fang, one of the concubines, who covets the status of the Lady of the Xu Family. Lian Fang constantly schemes to land Shi Yi into trouble – kidnapping her to ruin her reputation, conspire against Xi Zhun resulting in him getting sick, and many others. She maintains her kindness & sincerity in treating members of Xu family, slowly gaining their trust & Ling Yi’s love. 

Concubine Qiao Lian Fang, the villain who is spoilt but pursues her love relentlessly

The next 10 episodes explores Shi Yi managing the Xu family household, even venturing to her passion of embroidery. As her investigation into her mother’s death progresses, the clues test the trust between the husband & wife. Due to her mistrust of Ling Yi, she accidentally wounded her husband, only for him to protect her at the expense of his own life. She finally realises Ling Yi truly loves her & opens up her heart for him.

Subsequently, the series traces the challenges the husband & wife face – especially fending off Ou Family’s offensive attack to destroy the family. The Ou Family plans various attacks – both external and internal affecting Ling Yi’s career in the palace and the internal household matters managed by Shi Yi. Building on the trust & love that Ling Yi & Shi Yi has built, they faced off with the enemies.


The story is set in Ming Dynasty, and often refers to the sea ban & managing the pirates. However, the focus seems to be more on

  • the journey of Luo Shi Yi within the household and the scheming involved
  • the family dispute between the Xu family and Ou family
  • the slow charcoal-burning romance between Ling Yi and Shi Yi and
  • some investigations related to the various matters

I do have a bit of sentimental regards to the Ming Dynasty due to their focus on maritime exploration & Admiral Zheng He’s ties to Malacca & South East Asia. BUT….

Ming Dynasty apparently has little rights accorded to women, rendering their life significantly dependent on the men in their family (Pah! And thank god not born in that era). The virtue of a woman is also significantly tied to her connection, birth status & behaviour. The series is obviously dramatized and the plot is probably not realistic.

The Couple

The clothes are slightly different, and tends to accentuate the small waist of Tan Song Yun. The embroidery does not really catch my attention, although I love their simple hairpins. The more elaborate hairpins are a bit too gaudy for my liking, but the ones made of wood or jade are simple & practical.

It is difficult not to compare this series with the Story of Minglan (starring the now husband-wife pair of Zhao Li Ying & Feng Shao Feng). Both explores the inner scheming of ladies & concubines of a higher official, with the underdog being a concubine’s daughter. Some glaring differences:

  • Male lead Feng Shao Feng’s character is unruly & wayward while Wallace Chung’s Xu Ling Yi is righteous, prim & proper
  • Female lead Zhao Li Ying’s character is a bit more cunning & does not hesitate to make the first strike while Tan Song Yun’s Luo Shi Yi is a wait-and-see person, more reserved & less aggressive
  • Story of Minglan is a little more dramatic with a lot of life-endangering situations while this series is a bit more muted when it comes to the “action compartment”

The theme songs are apparently very popular, one sung by Tan Song Yun and one by Wallace Chung. I didn’t know they sing! And of course, the king of ancient drama theme song, the one and only Zhou Shen also contributes one of the theme songs – Be Together 要一起. My current favourite.

The piano sheet arrangement is attached herewith.



Awkward wedding night

Wallace Chung Hon Leong portrays the role of Xu Ling Yi, and I last watched him in General & I a few years ago. He suits the role as a duke who is cold on the exterior, but deep down warm & shy. The character is written to be too perfect – filial, family-oriented, loyal, always putting the country & people first. The barrier that he puts up in his attempt not to be emotional at all levels is finally torn away when he slowly gets to know Shi Yi.

Shi Yi’s character is portrayed by Tan Song Yun, and it is an extremely likable character. She is kind, sincere, fair & loyal. She is also extremely lucky to be married off to Ling Yi (instead of to the wife-beating Wang Yu!). She warms up very slowly to Ling Yi. Even though she knows Ling Yi is righteous & fair, she only starts falling in love after realising he is willing to sacrifice his life to protect hers.

Romance-wise, the two of them seems more of family love rather than lovers. I didn’t feel the spark, but felt that both admires each other. The banters between General Fu and Shi Yi’s maid Dong Qing, and their eventual attraction to each other is quite natural. The introduction of Ou Yang Xing as the potential love rival did not excite.

2nd son of Ou Family, Ou Yan Xing

The other concubines of Xu Ling Yi are really just ornament pieces to this series. Concubine Qiao is selfish & fights for her coveted position. When her real face is finally unmasked, she is displaced to be a nun. Concubine Wen & Concubine Qin are used by the Ou Family, entangling themselves with their own perceived benefits which spelled their doom. I am not really of fan of too much scheming in a series, and this series does not focus too much on this aspect. Yes, there are the typical scheming by concubines & their petty selfishness but on a bigger picture, the kindness overwhelms the petty scheming.

Conclusion 7/10

Series pacing is considered a little slow, but plot is engaging. Romance department does require a lot more work, even though both leads are great. Comparing this with the very similar Story of Minglan, they are equally good, but forgettable. The ending seems a bit rushed for the overall slow paced series, but it is obviously a happy ending.

Personally, I like this series. It manages to keep me wanting to watch more. The series works for me as I like the general good-feeling as the leads are kind & sincere, and doesn’t advocate revenge. Many of the current c-drama series seem to focus on scheming & advocate “an eye for an eye”. Although I do believe in the concept of standing up & defend against bullying, I am actually quite alarmed that many series advocate outright revenge. For younger audiences, I am not so sure they are able to really differentiate that taking revenge has other repercussions & the series do not reflect real-life situations. More love all around for a peaceful world.

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