A Positive Recap: Joy of Life Ep 41-46 (Season 1 Finale)

WHOA, all of you who finished way before us have been patiently waiting for us to get to the end. What a CLIFFHANGER of an ending. I, for one, am dying for season two. Join us as we share our final (written) thoughts on Season 1 of Joy of Life.

Huh, uh, what? I’M SO CONFUSED!

I (Drama Geek) was at work and happy to get a break to watch Joy of Life episode 41. Little did I know that I’d desperately need Kmuse and Kdrama Jen. As I listened to Xiao En’s explanation of why he’d tell Fan Xian his HUGE secret on his death bed, I grew more and more confused. “Wait! He’s this guy’s grandson? He’s from Norther Qi? Chen Ping Ping really is a huge ass? Oh, wait, we were right all along, he is a prince.”

Bottom line: Chen Ping Ping is the king of the long con. He planted seeds in Xiao En’s head back when Fan Xian was a baby that he’d saved Xiao En’s grandson when he’d killed everyone else in his family. He managed to twist the truth enough so that when they sent Fan Xian on the trip to Northern QI, Xiao En was convinced he was with grandson and therefore felt it was okay to tell him his secret.

Please forgive me, but this is the condensed version of his very long story. He traveled a really long way looking for God’s Gate and along the way everyone in his troop starved or died from exposure (except Ku He, the Grand Master dude). They resorted to things we will not mention to stay alive, but were about to keel over too, when sunlight finally appeared in the sky, and then a huge door appeared. They couldn’t touch the door, anytime they came near, it would move away from them.

Then a cute young lady popped out carrying her luggage and a smile. This is Ye Qing Mei, Fan Xian’s mom, and he notes that internally but he’s allowing Xiao En to continue to think they’re related so he doesn’t say it out loud.

Now we know that Fan Xian’s mom came out of whatever portal from the Popsicle freeze and met these two guys. She bestows Ku He with a book, because he’s more suited to learn from it, which is one of the reasons he was able to become a grand master so quickly. I know Xiao En ends up with something too, but I may have been a bit traumatized by my confusion form earlier to remember.

She ends up leaving the top of the mountain because she’s says it’s not safe, and she needs to find her friend (Uncle Wu?). She swears the two men to secrecy about the God Gate, and how she got there.

Drama Geek: Chen Ping Ping kept this man in prison for twenty years so he could reveal that he walked really far north and found a magical mountain? And yeah, he has no idea exactly where it is. LOL One thing I love about this show is that I truly do not hate anyone. All characters are given layers and reasons for their actions and I end up liking whoever Fan Xian is with. Same goes for Xiao En.

Kmuse: I loved that we had such an in-depth betrayal happen in the last few episodes. It was so enjoyable getting flashbacks of everything we had missed and how it connected into Fan Xian’s experiences in Qing.

Daddy secret FINALLY revealed.

At the end of Xiao En’s long story Fan Xian asks if he knows what happened to Ye Qing Mei after they parted ways. He’s told that she “married” the prince and future Emperor and had a child. You know, about the same time Fan Xian would have been born… Things lock into place and our hero finally realizes he’s of royal blood. Then he wonders about Xiao En’s real grandfather and manages to get enough info from him to piece together that Yan Bing Yun is his real grandson and Chen Ping Ping raised him to live for Southern Qing.

Xiao En dies, wanting to be left above ground, and Fan Xian seeks out Guo Bao Kun to confirm his suspicions that everything was orchestrated from the beginning by Chen Ping Ping and Daddy Emperor. He then returns to his temporary home where Yan Bing Yun is recovering. Fan Xian decides he has a new goal now, and it’s to gain power and make sure he’s not used as a pawn in Chen Ping Ping and his royal daddy’s games anymore.

Drama Geek: I did like how Fan Xian found out about his royal blood. It allowed him to see both Chen Ping Ping and his father for who they really are. It was an awakening that was inevitable. I also liked that they we saw Fan Xian finding out the truth, while his adoptive father back home, rallied for his safety. He’s never wanted anything but Fan Xian’s safety, and has loved him like a son all along.

Kmuse: Fan Xian’s adoptive father is the best. I do want to find out how involved The Emperor was in Chen Ping Ping’s plotting. I suspect that a lot of it has more to do with his own grasp for power and not for the good of the emperor.

Playing the Empress Dowager (?)

Fan Xian still hasn’t accomplished getting rid of the Shen Zhong and Shang Shan Hu. He calls Shan Hu to see him and manages to convince him to save his life by going in front of the Empress Dowager. It’s pretty funny because Fan Xian “gives” him as a present, and the way they go back and forth between the palace scene an Shen Zhong getting the news, it felt like he kept checking Twitter for all the latest gossip updates. This sends Shen Zhong running to the palace, and makes a perfect scene for Fan Xian to pit them against each other.

Fan Xian reveals that someone was smuggling Northern Qi money to someone in Qing, and that Fan Xian will be more than happy to keep the deal going. Of course, Empress Dowager doesn’t know anything about it, and it outs Shen Zhong for keeping secrets from her. That, along with the fact that he killed Xiao En without her approval, puts enough distrust in her commander of guards, that she starts stripping away responsibilities from him.

Drama Geek: I’ll admit a did yawn a few times and may have asked Kmuse and Kdrama Jen when these two would die already.

Kmuse: I enjoyed how smart The Empress and Emperor ended up being. Sure they let themselves be used a bit by Fan Xian but they were bright enough to use him right back. I felt that everyone ended up equal in this exchange.

Can I Change My Ship?

Nobody in the Northern Qi royal family is stupid, so Empress Dowager needs some reason why Fan Xian would want to do anything to help them. So Fan Xian blurts out that he fell in love with Haitang Duo Duo the moment he saw her. Which then leads to all the scenes where they have to pretend to hang out, and my little shipping heart couldn’t help it. They are matched in every way. Wit, smirks, fighting skills, and just plan badassness.

On one of their dates, she takes him back to her place and they have a lovely conversation about life. Then he gets rip roaring drunk. He wakes up and Si Li Li is there by his side. She confesses her love for him, but says she can take care of her feelings and for him to not be bothered by them. She’s also about to enter the palace, so she’ll be off limits anyway.

At the Empress Dowager’s birthday party Lang Tao (Duo Duo’s brother) wants to duel with Fan Xian, but Duo Duo steps in and offers to fight. They pretty much dance around the room, there is even a funny dance sequence, and pretend to fight. The Empress Dowager is happy, and Fan Xian doesn’t die. But this is when Shen Zhong comes in and gets humiliatingly stripped of his formal dress attire because he refuses to give in, and except the deal with Fan Xian.

Drama Geek: My feelings for these two already bled into my recap. LOL. I don’t dislike Wan’er but if she were to fall ill and pass away quietly so these two could strike up a romance I wouldn’t be that upset. Sorry, I have a sucker for a kickass female lead who is also smart and funny. I do have a type. The dance break was a bit cheesy but showed that they have oodles of chemistry.

Kmuse: Duo Duo was so much more an equal to Fan Xian that it was very hard not to ship them as a couple. I really hope that she has some significant screan time in season 2.

Stick in the Mud

This entire time Fan Xian has been trying to get Yan Bing Yun to agree to be on his side when they get back to Southern Qing. And Shen Zhong’s sister has been trying to just see him and make sure he’s okay. On both fronts Bing Yun is resolute. Everything he does is for the control bureau and a stable empire. He will not admit his feelings for the girl, and he does not see how he would ever go against Chen Ping Ping. It’s funny because in another life, Fan Xian could be the emperor and Bing Yun a little Chen Ping Ping. But as you all know after finishing, that is not these character’s fate.

Drama Geek: Untamed boy did step it up in the last few episodes and delivered an interesting performance. I do wish Wan’er had shared her drumstick with him, poor boy was stick thin for the filming of this. His character was molded by Chen Ping Ping and I hope we will get flashbacks next season. I’d like to see their relationship forming.

Kmuse: Bing Yun has some serious hardass problems. There is no give when it comes to breaking the rules and it is no surprise that they just don’t connect at all.

Zhuang Mo Han

Before Xioa En died, he told Fan Xian that Zhuang Mo Han is his brother, they just took different last names. He asks Fan Xian to make sure to visit him before he leaves and tell him of his death. Now, Xiao En thinks he’s sending a great nephew to him, but even without that connection, the meeting between these men was almost as beautiful. I actually think if his real nephew showed up it would have been horrible.

Xiao En finds him furiously trying to contextualize all of the poems he spewed while drunk. The references are all confusing, and Fan Xian is able to explain the origin of the poems well enough that Mo Han finally realizes he can’t find the answers he’s looking for in their books, because they just doesn’t exist in this world. Mo Han apologizes for conspiring with Wan’er’s mom, and Fan Xian releases him from his guilt. He knows he did it to save his brother. They bid each other goodbye, and Mo Han knows it’ll be the last time they see each other.

Drama Geek: One of the most touching scenes of the last half of this drama. I loved their shared respect for one another. I’m also glad that before his death he found some peace.

Kmuse: Agree that this was some great storytelling. It was nice that Fan Xian had that moment to connect intellectually with someone. With someone who wasn’t interested in using him politically.

Goodbye My Beautiful Saintess

Fan Xian wasn’t able to get the Southern Qing smuggler’s names before he departs, but he was still able to secure an alliance with Empress Dowager and the Emperor. (At least he thinks so, the Emperor is more devious than he let on, and he’s been playing a lot of sides during all of this.) Duo Duo meets him outside the city gates with a gift form Zhuang Mo Han. He’d passed that morning, but before he died, he left his books to Fan Xian.

Si Li Li is there too, but before Fan Xian can see her, they are descended on by Shen Zhong’s assassins. He’d been officially demoted by the Empress Dowager, but wasn’t willing to go without killing everyone from Southern Qing. A full scale fight breaks out, with the palace guards that escorted Si Li Li helping out on Fan Xian’s side.

Of course, Shen Zhong’s sister is also there to secretly bid her love farewell, and she jumps in front of Yan Bing Yun just when Shen Zhong goes to spear him. The fight is over almost as fast as it began, but we finally see a crack in Bing Yun’s stoic face and it reveals that he really does care of the girl.

Drama Geek: Again, I like how I felt for Shen Zhong during his final scenes. Sorry, he does die later, but I can’t cover every plot point. Anyway, he was loyal to his country and was fighting to keep is safe from their enemy. And in the end he protected his sister at all costs. Okay, he was very cruel to Xiao En and deserved to die, but at least I cared for him for a second. LOL

Kmuse: Shen Zhong was one of my favorite bad guys and he was very successful in matching wits with Fan Xian.

2nd Prince Did What Now?

Shen Zhong surrenders and says as long as Fan Xian takes his sister with them to Southern Qi and helps her live, then he’ll reveal who the smugglers are. It’s 2nd Prince! He was the one working with Wan’er’s mom the entire time, and was the real mastermind. *Shocked Face*.

With this knowledge they keep traveling home, but are joined by 2nd Prince’s main guard Ha Dao Rin. 2nd Prince has a letter for both Fan Xian and Yan Bing Yun. He knows Fan Xian will figure out he’s the one behind everything while he’s up north, and could he please just forgive his tiny transgressions and join his side? Bing Yun’s letter probably told him to remember his duties to the Control Bureau and be a good loyal servant. They have the night to give 2nd Prince and answer. Fan Xian declines right away, so Dao Rin gives Fan Xian a present from 2nd Prince. It’s pretty much hostage paraphernalia. He has Teng Zi Jing’s son, Fan Xian’s brother, and Fan Xian’s teacher and uses them to threaten Fan Xian.

Fan Xian seems to call his bluff with the two more important people, but knows that Teng Zi Jing’s son is disposable. He has a lot to think about, and so does Bing Yun. When Dao Rin returns in the morning, he has them completely surrounded. Even then, Fan Xian doesn’t look like he’s going to give in, and might fight his way out.

EXCEPT! Yan Bing Yun really is the most loyal person that Chen Ping Ping has ever created and he rams his sword through Fan Xian from behind. Determined smirk in place, he laments in voice over that the everything the Control Bureau does is to keep Southern Qing stable. We all know that Fan Xian does not create stability.

As Fan Xian lies on the ground bleeding to death we fade to a blinking computer screen. Professor Ye is wearing the same expression we all were when watching the last screen. She’s like, “that’s how it ends?” Present hottie Fan Xian says. “Of course not,” and smiles.

Drama Geek: Because of reader comments, I was prepared for a total cliffhanger. I even gleaned enough from spoilers I’d seen that we’d end back in present day. What I didn’t expect is Fan Xian being run through with a sword and dying. Okay, we all know with drama medicine that he can be saved, but it’s a pretty crazy place to leave us. 2nd Prince was always a wild card in the friend or foe category and his treachery doesn’t surprise me. I enjoyed him talking straight to the camera while he spoke of his deeds and looking very hot while doing it. He’s a much better enemy than Crown Prince, and teamed up with Wan’er’s mom, they’re a pretty strong team.

Kmuse: I was totally blindsided by this reveal. To be honest he wasn’t even on my radar at being connected with the Princess. Which made the reveal all the better to watch. I can’t wait to see what happens next with these two rivals/frenemies.

Final Thoughts:

Drama Geek: Guys, I completed another Chinese drama!! There are so many times I stall out and cannot get through the slow plot arc in the middle. Thankfully, the interesting characters and witty humor kept me engaged. Fan Xian’s dad may end up being one of my all time favorite monarch figures. Him and his son kept me on my toes the entire show. I feel the drama would have been bland without these two men. Thankfully, they did sprinkle enough smart and interesting women throughout the drama to make me happy. Especially, once we got into enemy territory. Fan Xian is not one to let a border dictate who his allies are, and he made a few really good friends while he was up there. I am praying to the drama gods that season 2 doesn’t take a long time to get to us. If it does, I may end up reading the book, though I feel I wouldn’t be satisfied without Zhang Ruo Yun’s wonderful smile.

Kmuse: I’m 100% in on season 2 and I’m devastated that it still has to begin filming. There is not one character or story arc that I did not love. It was delightful that there was so much positive in this show that there was no problem finding things to write about.

Until the Next Season,

Kmuse and Drama Geek

Dramas With a Side of Kimchi

5 thoughts on “A Positive Recap: Joy of Life Ep 41-46 (Season 1 Finale)

  1. Finally! You’re finished! Now I can rave about the many things I loved about this drama and that cliffhanger! Seriously, this is a very well-plotted and cast drama and I agree with you; there is not a single character I don’t find fascinating and compelling. But I’m even more impressed with how the book has been adapted to the small screen – where the screenwriter has made significant changes to the flow of the story and where it’s virtually word-for-word – it has me chomping at the bit for part 2. I’m currently on chapter 380 of the nearly 750 chapters of the novel and I’m already mentally mapping out the things they’ll potentially do in part 2 to accommodate the changes made in part 1. For instance: with the flow in the novel, the Emperor and Chen Pingping have almost no personal interaction (yet) with Fan Xian. These relationships start to build in what would be part 2, based on the actions that have taken place. Moving these forward has given us a chance to learn more about these 2 fascinating characters (so well acted, btw). I’m going to do a more in-depth comparison this week; I’ve been meaning to do it once I’d reached the novel ‘end’ of the drama’s end of part 1, but I couldn’t stop reading ahead and devote that time to writing!

    I am so impressed with Zhang Ruoyan’s acting here, particularly his scenes with Xiao En and Zhang Moran. These are two very experienced senior actors (as are the two who play Chen Pingping and the Emperor) and it’s a very humbling and powerful thing to be a junior actor tasked with holding your own with these crafty veterans. Each scene with these men is worthy of an acting class exploration.

    I could write a lot more, but there’s one final point of interest to mention (for now) and that is the casting of the role of the young Emperor — it’s a woman! The fascinating thing is that, based on the description of Fan Xian in the novel, this is pretty much how Fan Xian himself is described. No, not as a woman, but as a delicately featured, extremely beautiful and graceful youth (who is 16 when called to the capital). Zhang Ruoyan is attractive, but not beautiful, and IMO a much better choice.

  2. I do concur with Robin that this is a well-plotted and cast drama. The screenwriter has done an excellent job at tweaking and pruning excess flotsam of the novel. I’m of the opinion that Drama actually elevates the story. And the cast is truly grand making even many of the lesser characters quite memorable. I’ve been keeping tabs on Zhang Ruoyun since I first saw him in Wuxin the Monster Killer and he’s always solid, so I was pretty confident he’d do a good job in this role too. If anyone is interested in watching one of his early works, try Black Fox 黑狐. 😉 There’s a bit too much ” patriotic flag waving” but otherwise it was pretty good.

    Now about the last epi. For the most part Drama follows the novel storyline quite faithfully but it’s in the last episode where it starts going on it’s own merry way. Nothing from Shen Zhong’s attack onwards aligns with the novel. So, I do wonder how much the S2 is going to differ and for how long. It’ll be interesting to see which parts will be kept and which dropped or altered. Anyway, I still think there will be a point where the novel and drama storylines will converge again.

  3. Well I do wish Wan We realised who ki her beloved brother and cut her ties with Fan Xian then we can have Duo Duo X Fan Xian ship sailing.

    Or Wan Er can marry YBY for any timing reason. I know the Novel pair them together but still Duo Duo X Fan Xian for the win

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