Don’t think that my recent foray into Gong Jun’s filmography, or my brief side trip to K-dramas, has distracted me from my goal last year of working my way through Wang Yibo’s (and Xiao Zhan’s) dramas. I actually watched Legend of Fei months ago and never got around to writing the recommendation, but rest assured that it is an absolutely enjoyable show that’s totally worth a binge-watch.
Legend of Fei is the story of Zhou Fei (Zhao Liying), daughter of the chief of the 48 Strongholds, and the mysterious Xie Yun (Wang Yibo), whose incredible lightness skills aid him in rescuing Zhou Fei when she nearly drowns. Together, they wander through the martial arts world, meeting random masters and absorbing new skills and information as the martial arts world wars with the imperial world as everyone searches for a mysterious artifact that allegedly will lead to a great treasure. In short, lots of mystery.
If that sounds a little bit like Word of Honor, that makes sense, because both are based on novels by Priest. And while I was similarly confused by both shows for similar reasons (I’m still not sure how the martial arts world is separate from the kingdom – especially because the leaders tend to be pretty power hungry so how does one not want to conquer the other?), they are very different. You definitely won’t feel like you’re watching the same show.
For starters, the primary protagonist of Legend of Fei is a woman. Zhou Fei is a powerfully badass protagonist with a habit of breaking swords, but she’s never portrayed in a way that feels inauthentic. She is skilled at martial arts, but she becomes powerful along the way as she learns from various masters and is taught their special skills. She has a strong sense of purpose and a good moral compass. She wants to help people but she’s not afraid to kick some ass along the way.
Her partner in crime, Xie Yun, is a mystery. He first appears at 48 Strongholds in order to call her father back to his post in the imperial army, and she holds Xie Yun responsible for this for a while, but eventually they become friends. He’s someone without martial arts skills in a martial arts world, which is part of the mystery of his character, but that also means he’s virtually useless in a fight, constantly hiding behind Zhou Fei whenever there’s trouble, which is honestly hilarious and a big part of the humor (for me, at least) of this show.
Zhou Fei and Xie Yun end up together, because of course they do, but I genuinely love them together; I think they balance each other nicely, and not just because Zhou Fei will totally march up to the bad guys while Xie Yun ducks behind her. He is a lot more playful and tempers her more stoic nature, while she gets him to take things seriously. They have a charming, sweet, slow-burn romance featuring moments like him commissioning a sword for her and her essentially risking her life to find medicine to save his life.
One thing I really enjoyed about Legend of Fei was the female characters. Aside from Zhou Fei, there is her mother Che Xiao, her cousin Li Yan, their ward Wu Chuchu, and a whole host of side characters – both heroes and villains. I love that Che Xiao is the chief of 48 Strongholds because in the few wuxia dramas that I’ve seen, women usually don’t hold positions of power, regardless of how powerful they are. That’s why I also loved Lady Nishan, the leader of a troupe of actors and dancers who also act as spies.
But the women aren’t one-dimensional either; they aren’t the stereotypical “strong female character” where they can fight but don’t have anything else going for them. There is a lot of nuance to these characters, a lot of varied portrayals of femininity. And to balance out the characters like Zhou Fei and Che Xiao, there is Wu Chuchu, who doesn’t have martial arts skills but finds value and purpose in being a healer. And even though occasionally these women need to be rescued, they never come across as a generic “damsel in distress”. (And sometimes, it’s another woman doing the rescuing.)
Legend of Fei as a show is a lot lighter than, say, Word of Honor or The Untamed. Those shows both have elements of humor, but they get pretty dark, particularly with their protagonists. (I love Wen Kexing and Wei Wuxian but, like, they kill lots of people.) Zhou Fei and Xie Yun are more standard protagonists in that they’re a lot less on the gray side of the morality spectrum, and therefore this show leans a bit more into the humor. That isn’t to say that this is a comedy, or even that happy of a show – people still die, but I feel that it’s not quite as brutal as it could be.
The action scenes are extremely entertaining and there is a lot of variety in the choreography because of the different skills each fighter brings to the table. There are multiple episodes where the fights are between two women, which is just great, and I feel like it’s something that’s not all that common even in Western media. Even Xie Yun, who isn’t able to use martial arts, gets to have some fun; he has incredible lightness skill, which usually means he deftly evades attackers. And one time he blows up a couple of buildings. He gets to have one of those scenes where he just casually strolls away from an explosion and I legitimately love those no matter how unrealistic they are.
As I said, the plot can get a little confusing. (OK, I was confused, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s confusing.) There are a lot of characters, a lot of moving parts, and I was never quite sure who was on what side, but the basic gist is that everyone is after this artifact – some because of the great treasure that it unlocks and others to stop those people from getting it. Zhou Fei could honestly care less, but other sects keep coming after 48 Strongholds and she can’t abide by that, so she gets herself involved in order to protect her people. I really loved how she just wanted to mind her own business and she kept stumbling into these situations and just was like, “Ugh, fine“.
Legend of Fei is an extremely entertaining show. It’s funny without being over-the-top, the romances are sweet without being cloying (and there is plenty of action to balance it out), and the plot is interesting enough to keep you on your toes.
Legend of Fei is currently streaming on Viki.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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