I was intrigued by Avenue X’s praise (and legitimate quibbles) with Love In Between but the things that caught my attention in her review were ‘beautiful lighting’ and ‘live-recorded audio’ and ‘likable ensemble of leads.’ These are indeed reasons to watch this drama, and there are more, so without too much in the way of spoilers (always marked), here’s to my first fully completed drama of the new year!
First off, in terms of atmospheric lighting and general set pieces, this drama delivers the most beautiful, warm, candle-lit (and seriously, did someone in production have the candle concession and/or know about my pet peeve of historical dramas with night scenes lit for electrified day?) sequences that one could ever hope for in a relatively lower budget drama. Maybe they were using candles to reduce their electricity consumption, or perhaps to hide any imperfections on set, but one cannot complain about the end results. The natural shadows and mood created by this illumination just makes every yearning glance that much more poignant.
Just look at this beautiful room and candle-glow; you can just imagine the character of Wen Si Yuan straining to read by the dim light (no matter his levels of qi circulating around his eyeballs). The set piece for this room too is really that much more lovely in candlelight, though it’s satisfyingly detailed enough to enjoy in daytime scenes as well. In fact, although this is a much less Big Production drama than The Longest Day in Chang’an, they share much in the way of beautiful and thoughtful set lighting, and that is high praise because The Longest Day in Chang’an is one of the most stunning I’ve seen… ever.
The other thing that this drama does successfully is deliver on not one, not two, but three romances (not to mention two buddies and one failed suitor). Zuo Qing Ci and Su Yun Luo are the primary young lovers; he is the brilliant, medically trained (but, in a nod to Nirvana In Fire, seriously ill and fur-colored cape-wearing) young master with A Past. She is the young master thief with excellent neigong searching for ingredients to free her master from another type of poison. They’re young, they keep saving each other’s lives, and they’re in love, but they have Important Things to Do that are impediments. They part but cannot keep apart, so there is some lovely yearning time for this couple.
Couple number two is one of an older (30s?) mysterious leader of one of the Jianghu sects (he runs a NIF-like Lanya Hall/business managing information and more), Wen Si Yuan, and the oldest female disciple of the most important of the sects, 18-ish? Shen Man Qing. The flies in their ointment are her arranged marriage commitment to another sect’s (weasel) heir and his Secret Past (and his awareness that he is a little old for her).
Couple number three is the youngest one, a couple of cute kids who meet in times of conflict and whose families are on opposite sides (though not them, nope, not them). They’re Man Qing’s younger martial brother and the heir to their sect, Zheng Yang Palace, Yin Chang Ge.
Now one might think that having so many couples in a drama might bog it down a bit, but it’s really one of the more enjoyable things in this drama. When the story focuses on their joint and/or separate journeys the plot moves along briskly and the mostly very youthful cast more than delivers the emotional goods. I particularly enjoyed Zhang Yao’s lanky, intelligent Zuo Qing Ci; he must have been 21/22 during the filming, but for his relative youth he holds his own with more experienced actors. Nope, for me the show bogs down a bit with what one might call ‘an excess of plot.’ Here are the major arcs: Zuo Qing Ci’s birthright and connection to imperial palace intrigues (a plot to usurp the throne), Su Yun Luo’s and Wen Si Yuan’s connection to a power grab in the sects, and corresponding plots and attacks between sects driven by Zheng Yang Palace (home of Man Qing and Chang Ge). There’s also the little business of an invading army nibbling away at the border of the empire. Whew! Not gonna lie, I took advantage of the WeTV feature to play scenes at 1.5, even 2x speed during some of the more repetitive plotting sequences by the bad guys. (And what a nice feature that is! All streaming apps should off this feature; I can read fast, don’t even need to skip ahead!)
One thing is amusing: while most of the villains of the piece wear the typical black of their kind, take a look at this group shot (above) and their white/pastel robes. Now one might think that they’d be of the more noble and righteous character archetypes, but one would be (minor spoiler but acceptable because come on, look at their smug faces) wrong.
I also enjoyed the lovely relationships between Zuo Qing Ci and his servant/medical assistant/friend Bai Mo. Poor Bai Mo! Saddled with carrying this medicine kit cum instant market stall backpack most of his scenes, like some sort of porter, but truthfully, he’s charming and adds both humor and concern, reminding us that his master/friend is gravely, GRAVELY ill. Zhi Yun Peng (who was coincidentally a minor supporting character in The Longest Day in Chang’an) as Zhu Yan is initially a little less fleshed out as a character, but he swears an oath of friendship with Chang Ge that bolsters his position with the group to being more than the one with a hopeless (jealous) crush on Su Yun Luo.
All in all, this was a fairly satisfying way to start the new drama-viewing year. Will it be a favorite drama of the year? Probably not, but there’s a lot to like and it hit the spot, and I’ll look forward to seeing more work from the young cast in the future — and hopefully more works filmed with glorious candlelight!