Oh my heart!
This drama. It murdered my heart. But I ADORED it! I absolutely gobbled it up, I was engaged and invested and just so utterly moved, but dude, it also kind of killed me.
Like I was just totally emotionally washed out for like three days after I finished it, and I had to think really long and deep about that freaking insane ending.
But more on that later.
Bloody Romance Review:
Here is my review of the actual complete masterpiece that is the 2019 Chinese Drama Bloody Romance.
Please note, the beginning of this review is SPOILER FREE, and I do make sure there is a LARGE PRINT spoiler warning before I start discussing the ending or any major key events.
So even if you haven’t seen this drama, the first part of my review is totally safe to read. 🙂
The Setting, Tone and Story:
This drama is a whimsical and sweeping story in an almost mythical alternate history, it’s filled with surreal Kingdoms and vast landscapes, and man is it DARK!
Like WAY more heavy than I expected (probably because I watch more Kdramas than Cdramas and feel in terms of violence and gore, this Cdrama was much harder hitting than I was used to), but I actually really loved the use of violence and heavy torture themes in this story, it just immediately raised the stakes to an absolute sky high level for all our key players, which I always appreciate.
There is nothing worse than watching a drama that thinks it is high-stakes but is actually toothless, simply because you know it would never dare to truly hurt a main character.
But well…. this drama … well.
More on that later in the spoiler section of my review!
This is a tightly plotted show, about a young woman who has spent her life being overlooked and wounded, who is given the opportunity to fight for a future in a very dangerous world of organised assassins, and I felt like the overarching theme was always whether she was willing to compromise herself, and what she believes is right, to safeguard her survival.
And you know?
That ended up being a truly compelling story hook. Like, I came here because of the word ‘romance’ in the title, but wow did this show provide a spectacle that tapped into ALL my emotions, portraying a world that was truly grey, with no easy answers for our main troupe of characters ever.
The constant struggles, both physical and moral were just utterly engaging, with many of the side characters, and in particular the baddies and the bordering on baddies characters being extremely fascinating.
Really, this was not a black and white good versus evil drama. It showed good portrayed in many shades, and evil came with a tragic backstory that made my heart ache.
I just loved the exploration into how a true villain can be created through life’s circumstances, and the idea that we can be good or we can be cruel, and that is essentially entirely up to us.
You know what?
This drama really surprised me.
It had all the elements I love in a good historical show, high stakes, excellent fight scenes, fast paced plot, a huge and swoon worthy romance, multi-faceted characters, seriously EVERYTHING, but it also delivered a much deeper and more thoughtful portrait of how the choices we make all accumulate and make us who we are and yet …. there is always still a choice.
To be kind or to be cruel, ultimately that is the one thing in a huge and terrifying world, that we can control ourselves.
I really loved the heroine, Wan Mei, in this.
She was such a wonderful character and just went from strength to strength.
I have quite a bit more to say on her character in my review of the ending, but overall the thing I liked most about Wan Mei was her core of inner strength. (And yeah she was physically pretty cool too, kicking people around and being generally badass!). The thing I liked most about this portrayal of a strong woman, was that she constantly wavered.
She was constantly vulnerable and unsure if she could endure a second more of whatever tragedy was hitting her at every point in this drama (and gosh, did the writers of this drama not put poor Wan Mei through a whole lot of HELL!)
I just felt that the way she constantly looked at herself and had to make desicions on what was right and wrong, or what she wanted to do in a situation, how far her line was, all of this was constantly re-assessed and adjusted by Wan Mei, she was not one of those heroines who is just good for the sake of being good, who was able to magically make the right decision at every turn, or was selfless at every turn.
For Wan Mei being good and selfless and doing the right thing was hard.
It was so hard.
Sometimes it nearly killed her.
And she would struggle with herself endlessly on how far she could go for survival, on how far she would cross the line.
But ultimately she chose to be a good person, and she chose what the definition of a good person was to her.
And it was a beautiful character arc.
Chang An. Oh be still, my beating heart. Chang An was heaven. I LOVED him. He was truly special.
Firstly, I loved that at the beginning of the drama their relationship is very uneven and interesting. Basically he is Wan Mei’s servant, sworn to serve her and do whatever she orders him to, but he is also much more knowledgeable about their new surroundings in the assassin city, so constantly needed to guide Wan Mei’s actions as well.
Which made for a really interesting dynamic.
He was also gentle and sweet, calm and respectful and thoughtful, unless someone crossed Wan Mei and then he was absolutely terrifyingly ferocious, and a complete badass in very way.
Sooooo…. it is completely possible that this sort of character type is just such an utter favourite of mine. Chang An was like a beacon of love in this drama, he was absolute gold.
The actor who played him, Qu Chuxiao, was absolute gold too.
Other Million Characters!
Also, there were heaps of other FASCINATING characters in this drama.
The King was a stand out for me, he was absolutely bonkers, but also quite terrifying too.
And Gong Shi. Wow. I kind of loved him. He was both selfish and not. Awful and kind. Good and bad. He was such a conflicted character, but also not at all emotionally mature. He was a wonderful antagonist, particularly as his feelings for Wan Mei grew and were not reciprocated.
The baddies were equally fleshed out and fascinating. And actually the whole love story between the ultimate villain of the piece, Cha Luo, and her slightly kind lover, Xing Feng (also a torture master – so not too kind), was quite compelling. And sad. It was actually super sad.
So yeah. Characters. Top notch!
Every single one of them was no one things, each just had layers and layers and layers, all getting peeled back over time.
The Love Story:
Now, BEWARE – SPOILERS NOW!!!!!!
The romance in this drama is seriously swoony.
Due in a large part to the swoonyness of Chang An. Honestly, I felt like the romance was pretty epic.
My ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE part of this entire drama was the angst ridden and absolutely excellent wonderful heart-rending conflict that arises about the mid-way point between Chang An and Wan Mei.
Basically their relationship has reached the point where they trust eachother, wholly and utterly, and especially for Wan Mei, this is a really big thing. No one has ever treated her with kindness. No one has ever earned her trust. So to give it away to Chang An, to choose to rely on him, this is such a massive foundation for their relationship.
But then the most epic thing ever happens.
Chang An betrays her.
Okay, so not totally.
He didn’t completely mean to, and some of it is beyond his control. But hey, he could have run off and tried to save Wan Mei a little earlier, but he couldn’t, because before he ever made his promises to protect Wan Mei, he also made them to someone else, and she is calling in on that promise.
And boy does this ruin everything!
Wan Mei is seriously physically tortured and maimed.
And it is seriously all Chang An’s fault.
The whole thing is just utterly gut-wrenching. Soul destroying. And man, the AGONY these characters are faced with in the aftermath is just so heart-breaking. (I loved it! I love romantic angst!)
But the actual reason I loved this conflict so very much, is because I have seen a million dramas that have the couple get together early on in the story, and obviously the writers need to separate them. They need to have the couple fall out of trust, they need angst and they need a reason for the romance to become stalled.
The big issue I always have with this forced separation, is that it is usually just so stupid. The reason for the separation is usually so manufactured and fake, and could seriously be solved with some five minute conversation.
But not here.
This was the MASTER of all romantic separations. It was the most epic and deserving of full romantic angst.
Because of the circumstances behind their separation, the hurt just runs way too deep for an easy reconciliation. Wan Mei is just so irretrievably wounded that the one man in her entire life that she has ever placed her trust in has betrayed her, and for Chang An himself, he just hates himself to such an utter degree that he is barely able to even face her at all, let alone explain himself. My gosh, this man’s expression every time he even looks at her just broke my heart.
Oh. Just. Romantic angst at its absolute best.
WARNING: Excessive tears and swearing coming up!
So …. the ending of Bloody romance nearly killed me.
I definitely was sobbing.
It was heart-rending, and to tell the truth, completely unexpected. I was beginning to prepare myself that the ending might be sad or bittersweet, but I had not even thought the ending would be this heart-breaking.
Ok. So let’s get into this….
The ending of Bloody Romance has Wan Mei rushing into the torture dungeon after finally defeating her foe (and using up a hell of a lot of Chang An’s life force to do so, in the ultimate of Chang An swoony self-sacrifice moments).
Wan Mei rushes in asking where Chang An is, and the bitter torture master tells her that the red stuff smeared all over the floor and the walls and the ceiling is all that is left of him.
And I was like…. fuck?????? No.
I kept waiting for a whole and healthy Chang An to just pop out from behind the torture contraptions and be like… surprise! He’s lying! I totally wasn’t ground to paste and then thrown in the river at all!
… except he just …. didn’t.
I have been taught by every single movie or drama I have ever watched, that if you don’t see the character die, if you don’t see the body, then they aren’t really dead, and they will 100% just pop up again when you least expect them.
Except like, Chang An was really totally utterly completely dead dead dead.
He was fucking dead.
He was so dead, in fact, that Wan Mei was presented with a fucking FAN covered in his fucking BELLY SKIN covered in a poem written in Chang An’s fucking BLOOD as a keepsake of the whole charming experience.
So…. yeah. That was how the drama ended.
I just cried and cried and cried. It really nearly killed me, my heart just ached for three days straight.
Firstly, please let me apologise for all the swearing I did back there.
Secondly, I wanted to ask this:
Did I hate this ending?
It took some getting used to, but an ending like this demanded a lot of thought. So that’s what I did. I sat around thinking about whether it was a good ending or a bad one, and whether I liked it or not.
Thoughts on Bloody Romance Ending:
Turns out that, although I would have LOVED a beautiful happy ending and a swoony kiss scene, in the end I sort of realised the whole drama wasn’t really what I’d thought it was, and I had to re-frame the entire thing in my mind.
I thought I was watching an epic sweeping romance about assassins and Kings and armies, but actually I was watching a much more contained story, simply about one girl’s journey to either decide to be kind or decide to be cruel.
Basically I realised that this entire drama revolves around Wan Mei and the villain Cha Luo.
Their stories utterly reflect eachother in every way, right down to the forbidden romance with men devoted to follow them to the very ends of the earth.
Bloody Romance is a story about cycles repeating themselves, and about how a million cruel things endured can create the most terrifying of monsters, with the villain Cha Luo enacting out her revenge on the world (and in fact, her vulnerable self-protection act) by becoming the scariest being ever, simply so she wouldn’t herself need to be afraid any longer.
In a lot of ways Wan Mei’s journey was very sad, and the biggest questions Bloody Romance poses, are:
- Will Wan Mei replace Cha Luo after she wins their big battle?
- If she does, will Wan Mei simply become another Cha Luo type, wounded and vicious and cruel?
- Or will Wan Meir choose to be kind, despite everything she has endured?
And when I realised that the story wasn’t actually about the romance, or the politics, or anyone else at all, it was just Wan Mei’s journey to become the thing she was going to become, I realised that the ending required Chang An to be killed off, simply because without his death posing the ultimate challenge and test, how could Wan Mei ever know if she was a good woman because of her inner core and inner strength, or just because she was being treated well by life with Chang An by her side, basking in his love and protection.
And that ultimately, was the story Bloody Romance was trying to tell.
Wan Mei’s story.
And it did an extraordinarily wonderful job.
Look, happy endings are my jam, I love them, but I also understand why this story ended the way it did. I felt it was essential in order to tell the narrative correctly.
But yeah, it absolutely broke my heart. It was just so utterly sad.
But gosh, I loved it too.
I award this drama FIVE out of FIVE Chang An stomach fans!
Wan Mei and Chang An forever. And ever and ever.
If you have time to chat with me, I would absolutely LOVE to know:
Did you watch this drama?
Or will you watch it after reading this?
If you have watched it, who was your favourite character? (Was it Chang An? Come on, was it?)
Did you like the romance? (Swoon, swoon!)
Did you swoon over Chang An? Ha!
Tell me your feelings about that freaking end!!!!
Thank you for reading, please feel free to leave a comment below!
LEE EVIE is a podcaster, blogger and author of dark historical fiction set in old Korea. Discover Lee Evie’s historical fiction novels by clicking on the images below!