Rise of the Phoenixes (2018) 天盛长歌 : C Drama Series Review

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70 episodes of heart-stopping scheming, this is a show that you need to focus & concentrate, listening to the conversations & the acting to be fully absorbed. Series traces the life of Ning Yi, 6th son of the Tiansheng Kingdom and “pariah” son of the Emperor who is imprisoned in Zhong Zheng Temple for 8 years.

Upon his release, the series picks up steam with the continuous schemes of the many princes of Tiansheng Kingdom to gain the favour of the emperor and be his successor. From a young age, Ning Yi faces difficulties arising from the persecution of his mother & the execution of his 3rd brother, of whom he is extremely close to. Ning Yi plans each and every step to seek revenge & clear both his mother & brother’s names.

The weaving scene, lingering to discuss scheming!

He pulls out each obstacle, one by one with great effort, starting with the Crown Prince Ning Quan & his main accomplice, Ning Yan. Subsequently, removing Ning Sheng 2nd prince who became too ambitious with the intention to rebel. Then his biggest nemesis yet, Ning Qi the 7th prince.

Adding to the complicated storyline, there are external parties who has a stake in the political turmoil. Remnants of Dacheng Kingdom (of previous kingdom) who are eager to overthrow the new monarch with Feng Zhi Wei & her relatives. Jinshi Kingdom with Helan Zheng & their own internal political struggles. Dayue Kingdom with Prince An.

Muses on Romance

Is this a love story? Big part of it, I would say yes. Is this a tragic love story – definitely. Precisely because of the tragic ending which leads to my deferment to watch this series for more than a couple of years. BUT, the epic love story is greatly told here – and I truly believe both leads should be highly commended for carrying through the romance, sizzling underneath.

During happier times

The epic love story spans a period & journey of self-discovery for Ning Yi & Zhi Wei – themselves & their priorities. Unfortunately for the lovers, they are just born in different camp set to be natural enemies. Ning Yi & Feng Zhi Wei discovers themselves through all the challenges thrown to them, both steadfast in their beliefs. Ning Yi is passionate about getting the revenge for his 3rd brother & mother, ultimately moving towards the belief that he shall be the power to stabilise the kingdom. Zhi Wei on the other hand, is a lot more pragmatic, naïve at the beginning but steadfast in her belief to keep the innocent out of harm’s way.

The titular role of Ning Yi is helmed by Chen Kun, and oh my! Such a great actor, with so many facets. Regal, handsome, expressive eyes. Chen Kun is able to showcase all the different facades to Ning Yi as a victim & a survivor – stubborn, loyal, high EQs, his ability to disguise his actions. I am totally charmed by Chen Kun. Went to do some digging on Chen Kun’s career and totally besotted with his personal journey. Great talent indeed.  

The glare! Soulful, almost manic, sending dangerous signs to the enemies

Ning Yi as a character is a very interesting prince. He is very focused to achieve his objectives, often able to side-track his emotions to manage the overall picture. He is neither naïve nor evil, but more shades of gray. He does not stop at killing the innocence, if the action builds towards eradicating the bigger evil. For such character, if their compass is right, their actions may be for the best. However, I wonder if their compass is broken, whether their actions can be for the betterment of the society. Chen Kun describes Ning Yi’s character as a drama king. In certain situations, yes but in as many other situations he is reserved as a person can be. Total polar opposite, which Chen Kun portrays with flair.

His love interest – Feng Zhi Wei, also the long-lost 9th princess of Dacheng kingdom, is witty, brilliant & kind. Ni Ni portrays Zhi Wei’s character with aplomb. She never wavers from her principles – keeping the innocent from harm. Another great talent.

Beautiful as both Feng Zhi Wei and Wei Zhi

Frankly – the super rushed ending leads me to make a hazardous guess that Zhi Wei committed suicide due to her disappointment in Ning Yi prioritising power over innocent lives and the realisation that it will be difficult if not impossible for both of them to reconcile under the circumstances that they are in. A very logical ending, but sad nevertheless. I do not condone committing suicide, surely there are other ways of managing the break-up in an amicable way.

Do I want to see them together? Definitely, but another hazardous guess – they would probably be hating each other in years to come if they decide to be together. Their beliefs & priorities are just different and will never be resolved. They will probably end up totally estranged like Ning Yi’s father & mother, or perhaps similar to Ulanara Ruyi & Hong Li (Emperor Qian Long) in Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (2018) or equivalent to Ma’ertai Ruoxi (Zhang Xiao) & Yin Zhen (Emperor Yong Zheng) in Scarlet Heart (2011). What would be sadder then – leaving early to cut short the pain or staying forever to be disappointed?

Looks of longing & disappointments?

Other Muses & Other Characters

There is the usual scheming of the royal family to gain power. And frankly, history shows us how dysfunctional royal family can be. My take – given a choice, don’t choose to be reincarnated into any royal family or rich family. Relationship is just a tool to consolidate power. No real family ties, no enduring trust, no companion to journey with – what exactly is the objective of consolidating power then?

Emperor Ning Shi Zheng – The veteran actor Ni Da Hong portrays this character, and I will always remember him for his portrayal of Su Da Qiang in All Is Well (2019). His expression is almost a little “idiotic” and obsessive, which makes me uncomfortable! 😀 The character is a conflicting one, which I believe he deems himself as the ruler first, then a father. Does the father love his sons? For a father to manipulate the sons, I fail to feel the parental love for the sons. Does the ruler love his subjects, including his own sons? Perhaps a bit more gray answer and I would like to answer in the positive.   

The Emperor & Father, distrustful, manipulative & scheming

Xin Zi Yan – the loyal strategist who chooses his future ruler & an equally humbled husband who fears no one but the fierce wife. Hahaha! This character is also interesting, a flamboyant strategist who disguises his plans. His camaderie with Ning Yi is always great to watch, their banters especially when they disagree with each other. Xin Zi Yan always provide the gravity of the situation with constant reminders to Ning Yi, especially when he is affected emotionally and chooses actions based on his heart rather than his brain. I am not so sure whether this is an ultimate good advice to Ning Yi. What is so wrong with acting with your heart once in a while? Near the end, I begin to doubt Xin Zi Yan’s loyalty to Ning Yi. Did he choose Ning Yi for his integrity or did he choose Ning Yi for his own ambition? The actor portraying Xin Zi Yan ie Zhao Li Xin is so good, I really can’t tell!

Banter with hidden meanings

Ning Cheng – the fiercely loyal personal guard to Ning Yi, who practically grows up with him. His concerns for Ning Yi are real, and his banter with Ning Yi reveals a different side of the prince. In a matter of seconds, Ning Yi can turn from an accommodating & humorous prince to a calculative & commanding prince, with anger seething from his eyes. One glare from Ning Yi, and Ning Cheng and the rest of his bodyguards will be completely silent.

Fiercely faithful Ning Cheng

Gu Nanyi – the cute young bodyguard of Zhi Wei from the Blood Pagoda Group, who probably has mild autism. Nanyi is committed to Zhi Wei, always by her side without asking anything in return. Read somewhere that Gu Nanyi is actually the son of Gu Heng, the traitorous Dacheng Kingdom general who becomes Tiansheng Kingdom’s Head of Royal Guard.

Zhi Wei hiding behind Gu Nanyi from Helan Zheng. Gu Nanyi is almost like another younger brother to Zhi Wei

There are other smaller characters which I feel for – Yan Huai Shi the merchant-scholar who is Zhi Wei’s attendant when she was Wei Zhi or the Ultimate Scholar of the Kingdom, Gu Heng who is the Dacheng traitor turned head of royal guard for Tiansheng Kingdom, who is also Zhi Wei’s uncle.

There are other characters which I think didn’t do so well, and I am a little disappointed. One is Zhi Wei’s mom ie Qiu Ming Ying who is portrayed by Liu Min Tao. The acting is a little over, and the character seems to be in conflict, not able to decide whether to take revenge or to let it go. Another character that I thought could be better casted is Ning Qi. The actor Gu Gao Wei seems to be a little dull to be playing this character. Two more characters are He Lan Zheng (actor Zhang Xiao Chen) & Jin Si Yu (actor Yuan Hong). The two characters seem to be out of place. Although supposedly an integral part of the stories especially on the final parts in Jinshi Kingdom and the battle with Yue Kingdom, the characters are not well-fleshed. He Lan Zheng is almost like a little puppy in love, so sticky to Zhi Wei all the time. Ewww…

Qiu Ming Ying in her dying breath…

Costumes, so very nice! Love Ning Yi the tailor, love all the obviously high-quality multi-layered clothes. They look so comfortable & nice to be worn. And the weaving scenes. Oooh…. The cinematography is also eye-popping. Definitely a high-budget production.  

Comparison with Other Series

Princes of a kingdom competing as the successor to a calculative & scheming emperor, with a female lead who is smart & intelligent, and a favourite with other suitors. Generic enough to naturally provide comparison with other series. Inevitably, 2 other series came to mind – Royal Nirvana (2019) and Nirvana in Fire 1 (2015). The former has the most similarity, while the latter has more scheming with fantastic plots.

Seeking love from the present but elusive father is almost an impossible task

In terms of leads, Rise of The Phoenixes vs Royal Nirvana, the former definitely has better acting performances. Luo Jin is a good actor, but the Crown Prince character in Royal Nirvana sometimes seem weak compared with Chen Kun’s Ning Yi. Ni Ni’s Zhi Wei vs Li Yi Tong’s Lu Wen Zi – Feng Zhi Wei’s character is better fleshed out.

Love-story wise – Rise of the Phoenixes wins hands against Royal Nirvana. Nirvana In Fire 1 has never focused on romance. So direct comparison is not possible. But plot-wise, Nirvana in Fire 1 wins hands down.

Conclusion 9/10

Swooning over Chen Kun/ Ning Yi in his white suit

When I started this series, I really did not expect to like it so much. But falling in love I did, and very deeply too. Especially with Chen Kun. At the beginning of the series up to nearly halfway-through, I gave it a perfect 10. Until the series stumbled along and became a little chaotic in the last 10 – 15 episodes. I was gobsmacked! The pacing of the series was slow and steady all the way, building towards such a solid story filled with love & schemes. Then it went haywire, and I had no choice but to pull it down from a tenner to a niner. Actually, I am very sad to do so. BUT kudos to both Chen Kun and Ni Ni to carry through the series with such aplomb. I love the pairing, and have great respect for their great portrayal of the series.

More swooning over the – I just woke up mood.

Watch it for the pure great acting, great cinematography & costumes. Is it any indication the plot is lacking? Not really, but after a while, the scheming does get into me. Series turns me into an officially Chen Kun fan. 😀

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