Who Rules the World (2022) 且试天下  : C-Drama Series Review

Black and White in the martial world, as represented by Hei Feng Xi (portrayed by Yang Yang) and Bai Feng Xi (portrayed by Zhao Lu Si), both reputable & famous in their own rights. Behind the façade of the martial world hero and heroine lies some deeper secrets driving their actions. As their path crosses in the martial world, the series provides some glimpses of their personalities and adventures.

Main Poster

Bai Feng Xi is a carefree soul, with deep righteousness to fight for the underprivileged. Direct, action-based, decisive, easy to make friends, optimistic with a deep love for great food. On the contrary, Hei Feng Xi is a little more reserved but also a lot more cunning. Keen observer, meticulous, conscientious, but with equal thoughts and care for the people. At first, both are curious about each other and their capabilities as a martial artist. As their encounters expand, they found themselves attracted to each other.

The backdrop of the series is based on the intricacies of the establishment of the Imperial Kingdom and the 6 main vassal kingdoms supporting them, being Yongzhou, Qingzhou, Jizhou, Youzhou, and 2 more kingdoms which I did not manage to identify . Each of the kingdom is defending their own turf, with a keen eye to potentially annihilate the other nearby land and perhaps to “rule the world”, taking over from the existing imperial family who is not very keen to rule & manage the world. Based on this particular premise, the series progresses with a mixture of martial world, internal court strife within each kingdom, and even external strife amongst the kingdoms leading to mini-wars in turf-struggles.  

As the story progresses, it is also revealed that Hei Feng Xi is also the founder & leader of organisations Fountain Abode and Jade House, representing the intricate organisation compiling information in both the martial world and politics of the various kingdoms. To top it all, he is also the “weakly” Prince Feng Lan Xi, 2nd prince of King of Yongzhou, who has been concealing his own strength to protect his own life in the internal struggle to be the heir to Yongzhou Kingdom. The current Yongzhou Empress is keen to promote her birth son, the 3rd Prince Feng Ju to be the heir apparent, doing all she can to keep Feng Lan Xi/ Hei Feng Xi at bay even at the point of eliminating him.

Gluttonous, carefree Bai Feng Xi

Voila, Bai Feng Xi also has her own secrets, almost identical to Hei Feng Xi’s situation. The only difference is she is the hidden Princess Feng Xi Yun of Qingyun Kingdom and she has a loving family who is so understanding to let her roam the martial world to satisfy her carefree attitude.

On the other platform is the ambitious Prince Huang Chao of Jizhou, who is assisted by the Yu Wu Yuan the heir of the Empyrean Token (the family who also assisted the establishment of the Imperial Kingdom centuries ago). He is blinded with his own ambitions to rule the world, first by getting support from friendly kingdoms, then by annihilating nearby neighbourhood to submit to his kingdom. In his own blind for such ambition, he uses his relationship and marriage with Princess Hua Chun Ran of Youzhou Kingdom to expand his influence. Although the princess is equally pragmatic about their union, the expansion through using each other’s position seems so not right. At the same time, he has neglected all the tell-tale sign of how his own advisor, Yu Wu Yuan, is plotting against everyone else behind the scene with the ultimate aim to rule the world on his own!

High, almighty & extremely ambitious Prince Huang Chao

Muses

Main Attractions in Idol Leads : Most people are attracted to the series due to the leads, who are mainly “idol” status ie Yang Yang and Zhao Lu Si. I do like their chemistry, but them getting together is too early in the series, which makes the later part a little bit more boring from a romance perspective. Both characters are well-flexed with their own nuances, and almost made in heaven.

This is the first time I am watching Yang Yang in a full series. Known as an elegant dancer and equally hardworking and humble actor, I am totally smitten by his character and how he has portrayed the nuances. I have always liked Zhao Lu Si, since her days in Romance of Tigers and Roses and The Long Ballad. Each of these series actually show her in totally different characters, and her acting prowess is well-flexed. But after a while, it does become a little cringe-worthy to see too much of the lovey-dovey way of Hei Feng Xi and Bai Feng Xi.

Complicated Backdrop with Many Characters but Little Development : The backdrop of the series is really a complicated one, as it crosses both internal court conflicts, war strategy of various kingdoms and the martial world, with a hiding-in-the-dark villain super-willing to make use of all these people. As a result, it is slightly difficult to follow the plots, especially with 6 kingdoms and most if not all the princes and princesses from these kingdoms look alike!

One main issue that I had with these other supporting characters are their lack of depth and development. With such varied different situations & storylines, it is so easy to provide the kind of depth so that audiences can empathise with these other “side” characters. Very unfortunately, the series did not deliver on this part. Bit of a waste, as the side characters could have their very own stories, with more in-depth to the characters, their drive and own story.  

Feng Cang, Feng Lan Xi’s eldest brother who is always concerned about him

Good examples – Princess Hua Chun Ran, who is portrayed as a calculating and conniving princess who wants to be a ruler on her own (without any power). Her existence and storyline is not really assessed in depth, resulting in a character which lacks development and I truly could not empathise with her role. Feng Cang, the first born of Yongzhou Kingdom, always split between his loyalty to Feng Lan Xi and his birth mother current Empress of Yongzhou. His depression of childhood abandonment, his continuous emotional abuse and use by his birth mother, his betrayal of loved ones lying to him. So much more can included to expand and flex the character. I was actually rooting for Feng Cang to end up with Feng Qi Wu, but after some further thoughts, their personalities may not fit. 😀 Similarly with Feng Qi Wu, the only woman minister of Yongzhou Kingdom, so much more could be coloured for her character to flourish.

Girl-power Feng Qi Qu – so much potentials

Who Rules the World with Compassion & Kindness : The key messaging on who deserves to be the ruler of the world seems to imply that compassion for the citizens would be the rightful heir. The contrast in their approach between Prince Huang Chao and Prince Feng Lan Xi, between attacking and defending. The contrast in Yu Wu Yuan’s view point of revenge vs Prince Huang Chao’s ambition. Although these are briefly introduced, I think the execution of the storyline is so weak that it came across as a mild message. Again such a waste of a great storyline which can be better explored.  

Scheming vs Loving Family in Royal Families

King of Yongzhou (also Hei Feng Xi or Prince Feng Lan Xi’s father and portrayed by the great actor Zhang Feng Yi) is such a cruel father, with huge ego and lousy leader to his own citizens. The storyline is supposed to paint him as a scheming king, who uses the balancing power to push his sons to greater height and for them to compete as his heir. What came across is an egoistic and selfish king who is even jealous of the achievements of his son! I am not sure whether the script is intentionally written that way, but Zhang Feng Yi is simply despicable in this role. His awakening and regrets at his own approach is not well depicted, as it was all in a big confusion with the rebellion by his youngest son Feng Ju. My main take – Prince Feng Lan Xi’s family is so dysfunctional. The husband is wary of the main wife, and even the sons. The stepmother is so cruel to his own first-born son and so overly protective of the youngest one. No wonder Feng Lan Xi turns out to be a scheming son too, you really can’t blame him.

Suspicious King of Yongzhou, portrayed by veteran Zhang Feng Yi

On the other spectrum is the loving family of King of Qingzhou, Bai Feng Xi or Princess Feng Zi Yun’s family, who has a loving relationship with the deceased wife. Their children Prince Xie Yue and Princess Zi Yun are positive people and always supportive of their family members. Their motto – defend the country to focus on the well-being of their own citizen instead of expansion of land to rule the world.

The Confusing Ending : Most series somehow does not know how to make a good tie to end, exactly what happened to this series. The series towards the last few episodes were full of epic battle scenes. I wish I can say the CGIs were great, but they are obviously not. To make matters worse, the ending came with a big confrontation between Hei Feng Xi, Bai Feng Xi, Prince Huang Chao and the villainous Yu Wu Yuan, who is hell-bent to destroy the world. Upon the demise of Yu Wu Yuan, both Hei Feng Xi and Bai Feng Xi give the “world” away to Prince Huang Chao, entrusting him to govern with great compassion with consideration to the citizens. And both Hei Feng Xi and Bai Feng Xi therefore quit their kingdom to live their remaining carefree life in a secluded forest.

Power couple Black & White

Conclusion 7/10

A total of 45 episodes, it is quite a long-drawn series, although with a really complicated backdrop story. Plenty of political plots, war strategy, epic battle scenes, strategic weaponry & hidden gems, with a little focus on the romance of the 2 main leads.

Is this one of the better ancient costumed series? Not really. Is the focus on political maneuvering with focus on people’s behaviour? Not really too. Is the focus on revenge by the villain? Partly but not so much focus. Is the focus on romance? Some for the main 2 leads, but nothing else.

Then is it worth it to invest the time? Perhaps, and only if you are firm supporter of the main leads. I am sure the storyline is great and cool, but unfortunately the direction of this series do not do justice to the storylines. The characters are also “annihilated” in their quest for an idol drama. If you can’t bear with these, better to avoid this series. Otherwise, cut the series loads of slacks to finish it.


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