The Long Ballad (2021) 长歌行 : C Drama Series Review

Main poster

Set at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty during Emperor Gaozong Li Shi Min’s era, the series traces Li Chang Ge’s journey upon the annihilation of her father Li Cheng Jian, the Crown Prince & her family. She barely escapes, with the focus to stay alive & obtain support for revenge. She crosses path and is saved by Ashile Sun, who is Ashina Tribe’s prince who disguises as a merchant. 

At the city of Shuozhou, Chang Ge attempts to win over governor Gongsun Heng to stage a coup against Li Shi Min. Gongsun Heng ends up teaching a few principles to Chang Ge in prioritising citizen’s life over personal agenda. Unfortunately, Gongsun Heng sacrifices himself to offer peace-making to the Ashina Tribe to spare the lives of the citizens of Shuozhou.

Subsequently, Chang Ge joins Ashile Sun in his Eagle Camp in the grassland, maneuvering the Ashina tribe as his military strategist. As Ashile Sun is cornered to fight for the Great Khan’s favour with Ashile She Er the Young Khan, he realises his own priorities is freedom rather than power. Meanwhile, Chang Ge realises her obsession with revenge is toxic and gives up her revenge for the peace of Tang Dynasty.

Ah Shun as the consistent saviour to Change Ge

Meanwhile, Chang Ge’s cousin sister, Princess Yong’An Li Le Yan is lost in the chaotic war between Ashina Tribe and Tang Dynasty. She endures as a war refugee, finding her way back to Luoyang. In her journey, she experiences hunger & desperation to live but never loses her kindness. Through her experiences, she learns to be tough and empathises with the hardship faced by the pheasants. She is finally rescued by Hao Du and returns to Luoyang.

As the control of Ashina Tribe is slowly reined in by the Khatun (Princess Yi Cheng of the defunct-Sui Dynasty and the wife of the Great Khan), Ashile Sun & Chang Ge convince the tribes from the northern & southern desert to form an alliance with the Tang Dynasty. Gaining the trust of the King of Northern and Southern Desert, Chang Ge heads down to Chang’an as a representative of the tribes. The Khatun with the Young Khan are right at their heel to sabotage the alliances as they want to control the tribes.

The Khatun seeks marriage for the Young Khan with the royal princess of Tang Dynasty, whereby Princess Yong’An Li Le Yan is reluctant. She is saved from the marriage by Hao Du, and she marries him when she realises his sincerity & love for her. Meanwhile, Ashile Sun is accused of attempted assassination of the young Tang Dynasty’s Crown Prince, captured & imprisoned by the Khatun.

When the Ashina tribe returns to their new capital in Dingxiang, Ashile Sun finds the Great Khan incapacitated due to poisoning. He finds opportunities to rescue the Great Khan with the help of the Young Khan who realises his mother’s schemes to take over the Ashina tribe for him. Ashile Sun seeks Li Jing, a Tang Dynasty’s general for assistance, defeating the Khatun and returning the tribe to the Young Khan. Ashile Sun & Chang Ge give up their position & revenge, leaving for a life of freedom.

The candies of the series

General Muses

Series is enjoyable with a few key themes. 

Finding your own path : Series looks at childhood friends – Chang Ge, Le Yan and Wei Shu Yu, exploring their relationships & growth in their individual challenges. Each of them finding themselves along the way, seeking their own principles & forging ahead on their own path.

Chang Ge’s route is hard, but with her tough & independent personality she takes it in her stride. Along the way, she learns that revenge may not be in the best interest of all. Chang Ge’s character starts off as a rash young noble, but learns to tame a little of her hot-headedness. 

Le Yan’s journey is the most interesting, as she is timid & not very opinionated. However, as she maneuvers through hardship of the pheasants, it is wonderful to see her grow into an empathetic & kind soul. It is as if her character flourishes amidst all the hardship and chaos. Luck really plays a significant part in her life, as she escapes near mishaps and meets kind-hearted soul who repays her own kindness. I like that Le Yan did not give up on herself when she is rejected by Shu Yu, and continues to live her life well. Zhao Lu Si is totally different when portraying this character, and I really like the way she does it. 

At the beginning, Wei Shu Yu’s character really irks me. He is indecisive & is a fence-sitter, looking out for the best parties for him to rely upon. However, along the series, he learns more about himself, and I empathise with his situation slightly. In real life, his character will probably live life a little longer. 😀 He has no power, and his family is not highly regarded especially after Li Cheng Jian passed on. He redeems himself by being true to his childhood friends.

Wei Shu Yu’s character is more realistic than any of the others

All 3 subsequently leads their own chosen path, separately but hopefully happily. Isn’t this what life is all about, growing up & choosing own path.

Path of Revenge Leads to Further Destruction : Chang Ge’s original plan to seek assistance from armies supporting his family almost leads her to the path of revenge and destruction.  Ashina Tribe’s Khatun (Princess Yi Cheng) takes this route, hiding behind a weak façade, leading to destructions for her own family, her “married” family and other innocent lives. Gongsun Heng really saves Chang Ge by imparting such important principles of loving the citizens before your personel agenda.

Brotherhood, Gratitude, Loyalty : Ashile Sun’s journey is slightly different as he is an adopted son to the Great Khan. All his life, he is tested for his loyalty & gratitude. He is one who is aloof on the outside, but warm to those he is close to, protecting them at all cost. What is the glory of an elite general and the ultimate position of Great Khan if you can’t protect your loved ones? Ashile Sun probably feels his original path being pointless, and longs for the freedom. His relationship with Ashile She Er is unique, as both are competing brothers but actually cares deeply for each other, although they are of opposing camp. His parting words to She Er, lead the tribe for the freedom you want is indeed apt.

Darker side of the Ashile She Er, who actually possesses a kind heart

Romance Corner

For me, the original attraction of the series is actually the 2 main couples – Wu Lei as Ashile Sun and Dilraba Dilmurat as Li Chang Ge and Liu Yu Ning as Hao Du and Zhao Lu Si as Li Le Yan.

Couple Ashile Sun & Chang Ge look great together but their chemistry really is more like brother-sister. Wu Lei doesn’t even have to do much other than looking cool. He has grown (from his days of Fei Liu in NIF) and improved his acting. Ashile Sun’s character has very little development, which is a waste as it would be great to see the perspective from his journeys. On the other hand, Chang Ge’s character grows significantly. Her temper is moderated with Ashile Sun’s level-headedness. Are they a good-looking couple? Definitely. But I won’t go out of the way to root for them, unlike the way I root for Le Yan & Hao Du.

The second couple – Le Yan and Hao Du. The characters are allowed to grow, and find their love with each other. Liu Yu Ning as Hao Du needs some improvements in his acting, there were quite a number of scenes in which his expression is a little stunted. Zhao Lu Si is perfect as the “bunny” princess.

Bit of cheesy scene of Hao Du “rescuing” an injured Le Yan

Other Interesting Characters

Li Shi Min’s character seems a bit washed down in the series. In my memory, Li Shi Min has always been portrayed as a good emperor. In this series, it is no different. Perhaps with the passage of time and with the many schemes in the royal family, his rise to the top would have sacrifices.

General Du ie Hao Du’s adopted father is also an interesting character. His one track focus to assist Li Shi Min to achieve great glory for the Tang Dynasty is sometimes at the expense of personal livelihood. He mellows down pursuant to his own experience in dealing with Chang Ge, who is able to let go of her personal agenda towards the greater good of the kingdom.  

Another interesting character is the military strategist/ general Li Jing. His banter with Ashile Sun is interesting, but nothing beats his fierce wife. Who says a strong man is not afraid of his mistress? 😀  

Mu Jin as Ashile Sun’s right hand is caring towards his life-long friend, but can be sarcastic in a humorous way. And he gets away with it while Ashile Sun has no way to response. His love interest – Guli Mimi is a little annoying, reliant on others, indecisive in her own priorities. Although a little sad the couple is separated by death, it may be the best.  

Mu Jin and Guli Mimi

Conclusion 7/10

Watch this with little expectations. The storyline is engaging and enjoyable. The acting so-so, but there are eye candies everywhere. 49 episodes seem to be long, but it does pass very fast as you want to know what happens in each episode. What irks me the most was the animation that are inserted in some of the scenes, making the series totally neither here nor there. Watch it for the beautiful actors & actresses.

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