Arsenal Military Academy was one of several popular Chinese dramas in 2019 and it’s one of the titles that I chose to close out the year and it was a pleasant diversion for a number of reasons, but primarily because of the performance of Bai Lu as Xie Xiang, the young woman who takes her deceased brother’s assignment to a military academy in order to fulfill his dreams. Is she a convincing young man? Of course not, but total props to the actress for going all out to behave like a boy to the best of her abilities; a real tomboy with courage.
The other reason to spend time with the idealistic soldiers in training is the manga-come-to-life actor Xu Kai, playing the rebellious bad boy Gu Yanzhen who torments his new roomie (Xie Xiang), learns her secret, and becomes her protector. (Can it really be a spoiler to tell you all this when it’s a preordained trope of all cross-dressing dramas? I don’t think so!)
When it’s not focused on the drills and training at the academy, the hazing and schooling, and game-playing, the story is all hot on Japan’s incursions in mainland China, and their evil oppressiveness, foreshadowing the role of these future young soldiers in training will play in kicking them out of their country. Surprisingly, they allow these kids access to the arsenal, so to speak, in a number of deadly operations, so it’s not all school-based, kids in love hi-jinx.
In addition to our main couple, we have another suitor for Xie Xiang in her feminine form, another classmate, Shen Junshan, played by Toby Lee (who looks like a young Eddie Peng). He is pursued in turn by a young woman who has a foot in the Japanese camp (Gao Yuer, who looks like a sister to Korean actress Han Yeseul). There’s another romance between an actress and Shen Junshan’s older brother, so in between the training, there’s plenty of couples bickering and making up.
Truth be told, the story is a
little lot jingoistic in tone with some of the ‘we will overcome’ messaging, and some of the acting is a little very broad, but the main characters have an appealing chemistry, a carryover no doubt from previous dramas in which they costarred. Enough so that I’d say yes, give this one a whirl.