Kmuse and I have been looking for a positive recap to do in the new year, and Joy of Life just fell into our laps. The rule of a positive recap is that we only talk about the parts of the drama that make us happy. Which means we might not get that deep into the plot unless that is what is making us happy. So if we have nothing nice to say about the story or the characters, then we’ll talk about eyeliner and abs.
Thankfully, with Joy of Life, everything is making me happy right now, so we have lots to talk about. I think the best way to start a Chinese drama recap is to intro the main characters and how they pertain to the story. There are always so many that it can get confusing.
We start with Fan Xian as he’s being rescued from the people who have assassinated his mother. He narrates (as a baby, lol) that he remembers being a man from the twenty-first century. (Is this a clever way to get around the time travel ban?) He’s being carried by a man with a blindfold who Fan Xian will later call Uncle Wu. For his safety, baby Fan Xian is taken to a grandmother’s manor out in the country. He’s now known as the illegitimate son of the house and raised by the grandma.
Eventually, little Fan Xian has a teacher arrive. Fei Jie, who is head of the Department of Inspection, and the most hilarious relationship ensues. Fei Jie and Fan Xian duel wills by trying to out poison each other, while Uncle Wu chases after Fan Xian and makes him dodge his advances instead of actually teaching him martial arts.
After a while, Fan Xian’s teacher leaves (because the little boy is successful in poisoning the old guy, thus graduating) and Fan Xian is left to wait for some mysterious red guard his grandmother tells him will eventually come for him.
Drama Geek: I have to say that I was worried after seeing the little boy actor and how adorable he was that the older actor would not live up to his old man in a little boy persona. But I shouldn’t have been worried. Zhang Ruo Yun pulls off the modern man in the past really well. He’s confident and cheeky, but also knows his way around the time he has grown up in.
Kmuse: Young Fan Xian stole my heart as soon as he knocked out his teacher with a brick. Not only is he absolutely adorable but he totally pulls off the smart beyond one’s years vibe that Fan Xian needs. Just like Drama Geek, I was also concerned about the time jump. Thankfully the age up of the character was seamless and I love the older Fan Xian as much as I did his counterpart.
She is the illegitimate daughter of the prime minister and one of the princesses. Wan’er has a mysterious illness and is on a strict vegetarian diet; which is why Fan Xian finds her hiding under a table with a chicken leg in her hand. They are completely unaware that they are each other’s betrothed. They have a fun first meeting but Wan’er has to leave before they can exchange names. So now they both refuse to marry who their parents want them to, while they pine over the mysterious person they met at the temple.
Drama Geek: I’m a little worried about her role in this show. She hasn’t had much to do so far, and because of her illness, is physically weak. But she has been charming and fun so far, and all the other characters in the show are really interesting so I’ll be patient. And positive!
Kmuse: Wan’er has that perfect leading lady run. You know, the one where her hair fluffs perfectly and it is slowed down to make her seem otherworldly and more gorgeous then your usual girl. I am also impressed that they are committed to making her seem ill (that cough is killing me and brings out all the motherly instincts) and they don’t just say she is sick and ignore it for the rest of the drama.
The Fan Family
When Fan Xian arrives in the capitol you half expect a conniving brother and step-mom with a very cold father, but I’m happy to say that is not what this show provides. Yeah, the step-mom might have thought about plotting to kill Fan Xian, but she soon sees how much Xian can help her son in the future. Ruo Ruo, their sister, is such a delight and I love how she immediately wants to help her brother find his chicken leg girl. She’s smart and doesn’t let her little brother get away with being a brat.
Drama Geek: More happens with the family after the first five episodes, but I am totally in love with their dynamic. So refreshing.
Kmuse: I was totally expecting your standard bad relationship family trope. I was delightfully surprised by the quick banter that Fan Xian has with his quirky, money-obsessed brother. Even more, I love that the brother just wants to make money because he likes it. It’s refreshing that it’s not out of a need to be powerful or rich. I also want to do a quick note on how much Fan Xian’s relationship with his Grandmother touched me. For once we are seeing strong relationships between family and it isn’t all hate and betrayal.
Emperor of Qing
Lounging on his throne, with his hair often out of sorts, this Emperor is probably just as much of a cold-blooded killer as all the rest we’ve seen. But for now, he is cunning in a fun way. He knows everything that is going on and is pushing all the pieces around to suit his whims. He is the one who has set Wan’er up with Fan Xian. He needs to loosen the Crown Prince’s hold on his empire, and Wan’er’s mother has the key to that control.
Drama Geek: So… I had to look the actor up and he’s 64. He’s a pretty handsome 64. LOL. I am totally digging this guy’s more laid back look. It’s probably due to spending time with Fan Xian’s mom. They’ve made it pretty clear that she’s like Fan Xian and originated in modern times, bringing both the inventions of science (like soap that works) and her equal rights beliefs with her.
Kmuse; I agree that he looks really good for being 64. I can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve. I also like how he isn’t stupid or puffed up with power (at least not so far.)
The Crown Prince has been blamed by most people for the assassination attempt on Fan Xian. He is in league with Wan’er’s mom, and of course, has his sights set on the throne. He also has this weirdly close relationship with one of the Emperor’s high officials. They like to share art and poetry… but the official comes to him early in the episodes and denounces their relationship and says they can no longer be close.
Drama Geek: Yeah, I think I’ve been watching a bit too much of The Untamed to not read between those lines.
Kmuse: Uhm, the amount of despair over not being able to “talk art” together was way out of proportion. These two definitely felt like they were using painting as a euphemism.
Second Prince is a mystery for the first five episodes so we won’t get too much into his character, just know he has a similar vibe to his dad, and we are totally digging it.
Drama Geek: I can’t wait to see more of him. I have a feeling he’ll be like Tiger Prince from The Princess Weiyoung. I’ll love him, but he’ll probably kill tons of people.
Kmuse: I need to start ep 6. I stopped so I could write my thoughts before they are tainted with further reveals. I can’t keep things straight otherwise. But from the bit of fancy hair and forehead I saw, I approve.
Teng Zi Jing
He is the person sent to assassinate Fan Xian, but instead he ends up asking Fan Xian to pretend he killed him, and let him hide with him as he travel back to the capitol. It seems he was framed by a rich household for a crime he didn’t commit and ends up being forced to work for the secret police to keep his family safe. But when he gets back home, his family is gone and he needs Fan Xian’s help to find them.
Drama Geek: Oh my word, I thought the relationship between Fan Xian and Uncle Wu was hilarious. This one has me in stitches. Zi Jing is very serious and offers to kill anyone Fan Xian wants in return for his help. The deadpan back and forth between these two is hilarious.
Kmuse: Love this bromance so much! And you can’t have a better guard then an actual assassin. I also appreciate that he has a solid background story that explains a lot of his actions and why he wants to stay connected with Fan Xian.
We now have Fan Xian in the capitol and he’s stirring things up among all the pretty boys in town. Yes, there are plenty to be seen. And ones we haven’t even met. There is huge potential for Fan Xian to revolutionize this empire, and bring a little love and compassion into everyone’s lives. He’s also smart enough to know he’s being used as a pawn, by his adopted father, and by the Emperor.
Drama Geek: This show is 95% witty banter, and that’s not something a see often in Chinese dramas. (Please note that I am aware that the language barrier doesn’t allow me to get the more nuanced wit that does occur in a lot of shows.) On top of the smart humor, I actually like almost all the characters. There is still a slew of characters yet to be introduced. I’m curious how Zhan Xiao (one of the leads from The Untamed) will come into play, and if his natural charm will shine through as bright as it did in his last drama.
Kmuse; It is so rare that we get the witty banter, likable characters (even beyond the main leads), and all the pretty we could possibly ask for. My hope is high that we will have a ton of positive things to say about this drama and won’t have to result to just discussing eyeliner.
Until the Next Chicken Leg Encounter,
Kmuse & Drama Geek
Dramas With a Side of Kimchi