god I have so many thoughts™ on the way POVs were chosen for woh, like off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen dramas where we don’t ever get to fully understand or explore the motivations of the villain (or villains) and even a few where “wants to do evil” is just considered sufficient, which is bearable only because we know the good guys and what drives them
mostly, when we explore moral dilemmas, we explore what happens when good guys do bad things and make wrong choices, what happens when their good deeds result in unintentional consequences (one of the things that made mdzs so compelling, and one of the things that cql just couldn’t do the same way)
and woh skates close to that with both zzs and wkx (definitely more than the novel does from what I can tell so far) - when we sympathize with the villains, it’s mostly because we can identify with (and justify) their motivations.
woh starts off telling us that both zzs and wkx essentially are villains. our introduction to zzs includes him executing a seemingly harmless dude for “treason” and forcing the dude’s daughter (his martial brother’s fiancee) to take poison. wkx and the rest of the “ghosts” are introduced in a stereotypical fashion, from their makeup choices, to their environment of choice (i.e place called the death valley). the first time we see these “ghosts” in direct action, they force a dozen of the “righteous” sect’s disciples to fight each other to the death
it’s easy to accept that the two main characters are villains and we’re okay with that, because it’s expected (and this does happen) that these villains have been forced into their circumstances (wkx), that they have been somehow misled (zzs) and that they either feel guilt and take responsibility for their actions (zzs) or that they will grow and change and take responsibility for their actions eventually (wkx)
if these two were the only POVs we get, it would be compelling enough
an overwhelming majority of the rest of the characters we get to know up close and personal are also villains
actually, I can’t think of more than three characters who are NOT villains, and even though I suppose they can be sorted into the “good guy” ranks, their flaws are no less damaging, and their “goodness” brings them no less misery
anyway, I don’t know where I’m going with this except that I really really fucking like this script and I think the woh scriptwriter is my new hero in life
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lol I am so glad someone else shares my salt about how much ZZS’s character got fucked over in the last few eps. and honestly a lot of what happened was OOC for WKX too, like you said their whole relationship is build on mutual trust and openness and then their whole ending is based on a series of pointless lies to each other??? why????
sdlfksjdlfkj I don’t want to like, bring negativity into what was a very joyous text for the first thirty-some episodes, but actually I am So Mad about what the final six episodes do to Zhou Zishu
throwing everything else below a cut, beware of SHL spoilers
so! so. let’s go back to episode fucking one of this show. we meet Zhou Zishu. he is a ball of angst wrapped up in the skin of a deadly assassin armored in the black cloak of a powerful commander of the prince of Jin’s secret police or whatever. the first thing he does is kill a good man. the next thing he does is pressure a young woman into drinking poison. the third thing he does is execute one of his loyal subordinates in a manner that may be mutually consensual but still horrific to witness.
so we’re like. oh shit. who is this dude. are we...supposed to like him? and then. and then Zhou Zishu walks into the imperial court and goes to his knees before his prince and his liege and asks to be relieved from service. no, he doesn’t ask--he forces the decision, because he has already taken the act of justice upon himself, and has been inflicting unspeakable pain and punishment on his body for, oh, the past fifteen months
and we go oh. Oh? because suddenly this person who seemed like a cold-blooded killer when we first met him is showing grief, and vulnerability, and guilt, and doubt. we find out that Zhou Zishu has done all of these horrible things in the name of loyalty, in the name of service, but even then, his conscience still speaks out too strongly against the supposedly noble project that he has taken uncountable lives for. so he takes, in his eyes, the only way out--he gifts himself a long and painful death. he carves the beginning of a slow torment into his bones. he goes to live out his last years in a haze of misery and alcohol.
that is where we start.
this is the first element of plot and characterization we’re introduced to--Zhou Zishu is the main character, and his emotional journey from resigned-to-impending-death to actually-I-want-to-live-because-now-I-have-people-I-would-live-for is one of the most powerfully moving parts of the entire show. look, I love Wen Kexing and his complex revenge plots and impeccable sense of style and flair for the dramatic and his quiet moments of vulnerability and care, but Zhou Zishu is the heart of the story, and I will die on this hill
so much of 《山河令》 is about two men who were ready to die for their crimes finding out that there are still things in the world they would live for. it is a story about the nature of forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness; it is about reaffirming the belief that, despite all the evil and darkness and despair in the world, life is beautiful and wonderful and still worth living
and up to episode 30 or so, Zhou Zishu’s journey is so goddamn compelling--he grudgingly gets drawn back into jianghu affairs. he is dragged--kicking and grumbling and rolling his eyes--into caring about other people, and letting other people care about him. he is talked back into wanting to live again.
(he goes home)
Zhou Zishu is making strides on this journey of healing and self-acceptance and even the tentative beginnings of hope and joy, when his past comes back for him with knives and blood and teeth
and this? this was masterful. I loved the drama of Zhou Zishu walking out from the gates of his manor. his refusal to be cowed despite his capture. the knowing and willing sacrifice he makes to protect his newly-found loved ones. and his commitment to surviving, to doggedly hanging on long enough for Wen Kexing to ride in with the rescue. Zhou Zishu walks into imprisonment and certain torture with his head held high, knowing that he might not come out of this alive but his heart at ease because this is a sacrifice he is choosing to make, to defend and protect those he cares about
this is a sacrifice with meaning.
okay. jump forward to the end of episode 32, after Wen Kexing has swan dived off a goddamn cliff and Zhou Zishu jumped after him. I’m not going to get into my salt about Ye Baiyi right now (but trust me, I have it), but after Zhou Zishu wakes up again to find that Wen Kexing is still dead and everything still bitterly wrong, he returns to the cliff and goes nuclear. he writes a time limit into his body and, in a grief-fueled rage, makes the decision to avenge Wen Kexing with what little time he has left
and of course Wen Kexing isn’t dead; of course this was all an elaborate deception, and good for Wen Kexing--he gets very public closure! he gets to destroy Zhao Jing and chew out the rest of the jianghu for being hypocritical assholes! everyone is happy and drinking wine over dinner together!
except where does that fucking put Zhou Zishu, huh??? where does that put Zhou Zishu’s greatest sacrifice thus far??? it renders his actions utterly meaningless; it means he has hastened his death to no end
this rankles especially because remember? Zhou Zishu has only recently regained the will to live. and now he’s shortened his lifespan again for literally no reason
he’s quiet and upset at that celebratory dinner but he keeps it in; he doesn’t want to ruin the good mood--Wen Kexing seems genuinely happy for once--and then there is the wedding. There are so many good things happening for the people he loves, he doesn’t want to rain on their parade with, y’know, his impending death, which again, he accelerated for no goddamn reason because he wasn’t let in on Wen Kexing’s schemes
(look I don’t mind that Zhou Zishu was left out of the loop for whatever reasons you’d like, in-universe or dramatic--all I ask is that you deal with the emotional fall-out of that deception. so much of the relationship negotiation between Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing revolves around trust and understanding; Zhou Zishu takes the first leap and trusts Wen Kexing with his true identity. Wen Kexing agonizes over his identity and backstory, and when it comes out in the messiest, ugliest way possible, Zhou Zishu is there for him)
anyway I’m like, okay with all of this convoluted plotting? as long as they address the fall-out of Zhou Zishu’s invisible sacrifices. but do they? nope. I mean, to be fair, a lot of shit goes down very suddenly (when I said that if there was a wedding it was going to be crashed because of genre logic I meant it as a JOKE--), so there are extenuating circumstances, I get it, but Zhou Zishu decides to take his remaining days and go do something noble. which is. idk how I feel about it thematically but whatever--the important thing is that he makes this choice
Zhou Zishu doesn’t really have many choices in his life, so I am very invested in the fact that he chooses to give up his life to do the right thing. it’s! his! choice! fucking! respect that! my dudes!
and then ??????? stuff happens, he and Wen Kexing are locked in an ice library, they do an experimental medical cultivational procedure (wow doesn’t that sound familiar) and we get the reveal when they’re halfway through and can’t stop that Wen Kexing knows that this procedure will kill him in the process of granting Zhou Zishu immortality and I’m--
what???? literally what???? the fuck???? Wen Kexing??? why??? would you do that???
Wen Kexing acknowledges that he is taking the selfish, cowardly way out--he would rather die bringing Zhou Zishu back to life than live without Zhou Zishu. and I’m like. sure. thanks. you acknowledged that. you went ahead and did it anyway. you didn’t just consign Zhou Zishu to living with the guilt of your life on his hands, you consigned him to an eternity of it
Wen?? Kexing???? a literal murder-suicide would have been kinder?????
whatever. whatever. the extra episode is like, a sloppy fix-it in the sense that it kind of handwaves everything and goes “they’re immortal and magic and living happily on an ice mountain together!” and that is literally the exact same move that the Harry Potter series pulls with its “nineteen years later all was well” and the Hunger Games film trilogy with “sunlit Katniss with a baby” and I’m like, thanks, you didn’t resolve shit, but they’re alive and bantering and fighting in front of this poor kid who just came here for some instruction and I’m just like--
where is the knock-down drag-out fight about the repercussions of their actions!!!! where is the yelling and the betrayal and the heightened emotions!!! where is Wen Kexing yelling “I couldn’t stand to lose you” and Zhou Zishu shouting back “do you think I could stand to lose you either????” where are these two disasters negotiating the absolute mess of the last four episodes??? where is it???
sdlfkjsk tl;dr they did Zhou Zishu dirty and I’m salty about it
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thinking about adaptations and ‘changes I dislike’ vs ‘changes that are bad’ in the context of ep30 and the ending - I used to think that maybe I just wasn’t enough of a romantic for the ending but I’ve changed my mind. it’s just bad, even from a romance-centric viewpoint.
In ep 30, though I, as a HLY apologist, am... upset... at how prince jin is so boringly evil, the way the plotline is executed is good. zzs, his decision to accept capture, his confrontation with the prince, etc are given the time and weight they deserve, and for drama!zzs it’s an excellent culmination of his arc! it’s so narratively satisfying to see him go from the broken man in ep1 to facing down the prince at swordpoint. and then it gets resolved even more excellently when he gets rescued by 19 new disciples of the sect he misses, and wkx finally openly identifies as his shidi (which incidentally is another change that falls into the I-dislike-it-but-it-works category).
But the ending - by which I mean most of the wenzhou related plot in eps 32-36 - is not like that. it could have been good! part of drama!wkx’s arc is realizing that his actions have consequences - consequences like the person he loves DYING bc wkx didn’t trust him enough. but no. all we get is wkx showing up at the end, calling zzs a bastard (as if this is his fault - no apologies, barely any emotion at learning his lover is dying bc of him), and proceeding to lie to him AGAIN. after ep31 there is 0 growth for the central relationship of the drama - it just goes downhill. their relationship post-ep 6 is filled with zzs making the conscious choice not to hide. to show wkx his true face, accept him as a shidi, and wait for wkx to meet him there, but we never get to that point. we get close - ep31 wkx acknowledging him as a sect brother and “marrying” him is progress! but then the progress gets undone and more by the lies that follow, and we never actually see a wkx that fully reciprocates what zzs gives him.
it’s just so unsatisfying to see zzs tear himself apart, literally, and get absolutely nothing in return. his goal at the start of the drama is to be free and live for himself - and in ep30, though he is not physically free, he gets to do that! he makes decisions and they matter! but in 32-36 he doesn’t do anything for himself, or even, really, anything that matters. in the beginning of the drama, we see him trapped in a life he doesn’t want because he trusted someone who lied to him, and the ending is no different. it’s just depressing.
and then we get the silly little extra where they’re happy on their little mountain. if you want an ending that’s predicated on the idea that giving up the world for your soulmate is good, you’d better write a damn compelling romance. but because of all the lies in 32-36, by the time I watched the extra I was no longer convinced that wenzhou were, or should be, in love. the drama ended on the lowest possible point in their relationship and then expected us to believe they’d have a happily ever after? that’s just lazy. and I haven’t even gotten into the rushed bullshit with the ‘secret to a happy nation,’ or how the ending retroactively makes ye baiyi and long que’s arcs empty and pointless.
I guess TLDR adaptational changes are fine, but they need to be carried through in a way that makes sense for the adapted characters - the audience’s vested interest in their CP being happy and together doesn’t mean you don’t still have to make the romance and character arcs compelling.
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