Unchained Love (2023) 浮图缘: C-Drama Series Review

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The story starts off with a sombre tone with death of the Emperor, and the subsequent sentencing of the ladies in waiting to accompany him in the afterworld. Amidst maneuvering and the fight for power amongst the royalties (including Empress via the young heir, Prince of Nanyuan and the other officials), the powerful eunuch Xiao Duo is balancing the change in power.

When the only brother to the deceased Emperor Murong Gao Gong requests for the assistance of Xiao Duo to save Bu Yin Luo, one of the concubines sentenced to accompany the deceased emperor, Xiao Duo is surprised but completes the instruction to obtain Murong Gao Gong’s trust and favour. Henceforth, Bu Yin Luo and Xiao Duo are thrown together in the power-grab whereby Bu Yin Luo is trying to save her own skin while it is slowly revealed Xiao Duo has an ulterior motive – to find the real murderer of his twin brother, the real Xiao Duo (Xiao Cheng is his real name).  

In the most unlikely situation, Murong Gao Gong ascends the throne. Lacking confidence, but coveting power and Bu Yin Luo, he embarks on an alliance with Xiao Duo to take over and slowly learns the rope of being the emperor. Unfortunately, Bu Yin Luo does not reciprocate Murong Gao Gong’s affection but plays it down to save her ownself. Not giving up, Murong Gao Gong goes on the offensive even with the officials, resulting in enemies for Bu Yin Luo.

As Bu Yin Luo faces off the many challenges thrown to her, she grows closer to Xiao Duo. Both falls in love with each other and set themselves to escape more challenges. The first and foremost is the enemy within the imperial harem, the previous Empress who is still hanging on to the power at hand. Subsequently, they faces off with Prince of Nanyuan and even Bu Yin Luo’s own father. The most difficult enemy of all is actually the new Emperor, Murong Gao Gong who is dead-set to “own” Bu Yin Luo.

The fundamental storyline of the series is actually an interesting one which not many dare to take the risk to even attempt a series. The forbidden love between a royal concubine (technically a concubine of the previous emperor) and an eunuch Xiao Duo (a fake eunuch) touches many difficult topics in the gray areas. Unfortunately for the series, the production team falters in everyway possible in this series to make good of the storyline.

The production team takes a gamble in the series by not taking a stance whether the series should be serious or a comedy. They started off serious, and at the most inconvenient times, include comedic tries. The efforts fall flat, and serves to annoy rather than endear.  

The forbidden topics of love – a one-sided “love” of a lowly prince with a concubine of his father the Emperor, between a concubine and an eunuch, the pining of love of an Empress for an eunuch’s affections. All affections and relationships are complicated and if explored properly would provide great drama. Unfortunately, the series touches these gray areas in a superficial manner and totally misses the mark. It is a real waste as these are great materials to use to make a great series.

Another issue with the series is the flow of the series. There are gaps in the stories, and connection from one challenge to another is often off-mark. Whether there is serious editing issues with the series, a good story should be told in an engaging manner. Again, the series fails in this area.

Main Characters

Main Couple – Bu Yin Luo and Xiao Duo

The series caught my attention mainly due to its main male lead, Dylan Wang, who portrays Xiao Duo/ Xiao Cheng. Dylan Wang is convincing as the cold-blooded eunuch who is willing to obtain the highest power in order to investigate the death of his twin brother, the real Xiao Duo. Unfortunately, the development of the character is not consistent. Xiao Duo is shown to be cruel and cold-blooded, often not showing his own emotions. When he falls in love with Bu Yin Luo, the character changes to be a youth in love, often making silly decisions. It is hard to reconcile the change in his character, especially in short period of time.

Yukee Chen (whom I first watched in Heaven Sabre & Dragon Sword) portrays Bu Yin Luo, a cheeky girl hiding behind the mask of a muddled concubine. Behind the character is a strong female who is just bidding her time & character, who loves freedom & resents being controlled as a female. However, the character is a little difficult to like especially at the beginning. Bu Yin Luo curry-favour others, pretends to be nice, scheming in certain situations. Unfortunately, she is unable to carry through for the character to be liked. The character lacks the sweetness of a female lead, nor the steely determination of a strong female lead. Neither here nor there.

Peter Ho portrays Murong Gao Gong, and I have to say he is very convincing at the beginning as the “scaredy cat” and bullied prince. Lacking confidence, his facial expression can reflect his confusion & hesitation in expanding his authority as a prince. As he rises through his ascension as the emperor and tastes the ultimate authority of the emperor, he expands his own horizon. Unfortunately, he turns into the bully that had previously bullied him. His authority expanded his ego to control and own everything he wants. It is quite exasperating to see how his character grows throughout the series, although not unlikely in real life. Power and wealth do change people. The ending painted at the end is so disjointed, and shows an almost crazed Emperor, with no real conclusion.

Peter Ho as the hapless, later cruel Emperor

The characters are mostly not developed properly, even for the main characters. The exploration on their motives and drives are poorly executed, resulting in a lack of empathy for the characters. The investigation on the murder of the real Xiao Duo is such an anti-climax, and the ultimate revenge is also laughable.

Most of the side characters are quite forgettable. Series do pair up a few of the side characters eg Yuwen Liang Xu and Princess He De, Xiao Duo’s sidekick and the Bu Yin Luo’s maid.  

Conclusion 5/10

With the leads being popular & strong actors and actress, the series just prove that a badly written story (coupled with terrible scripting & musical background) will not be able to be saved by these actors and actresses. Unengaging, lack of cohesiveness in the storyline, a dearth of drive and passion in the ultimate objectives of the characters, deficiency in the exploration & development of the characters and their motives.

The series really had a great start with the introduction of various topics that could be better explored. Injustice to the women of the palaces as tributes (and sacrifices) with the passing of an Emperor. The hard life of an eunuch – the hypocrisy & prejudice against them. The challenges of a royal prince who has no strong backing. Such wasted materials.

Milking out all the romance of the leads

The series basically tries its hardest to milk out the romance between Xiao Duo and Bu Yin Luo. All the romantic activities that you can think of, they would have done it. 😀 Don’t worry, the series has its happy ending with the main couple escaping imperial life. The ending is obviously sloppily concluded and totally unbelievable. Unfortunately, series is a disappointment to me. Watch it at your peril.  

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