When their entire village is massacred, Zhang Xiao Fan (Li Yi Feng) and Lin Jing Yu (Cheng Yi) are taken in by the prestigious Qing Yun sect to be trained as cultivators. As they explore the world and meet friends and enemies alike, Jing Yu and Xiao Fan find their convictions tested by both adversity and love.
Noble Aspirations, also known as Legend of Chusen, has long stood as a classic of the wuxia genre, and therefore been on my to-watch list for ages. I finally took the plunge this summer, only to be very underwhelmed by what I found. Sure, this is an older production with a stellar cast (I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a concentration of stars in a single show before), but it has… issues.
The fight and cultivation scenes, however, are not among those issues. Everything is beautifully choreographed and executed, with dynamic and interesting moves. The way the characters cast their spells and gesture shows a high level of training that translates very well to the screen. All the characters had their very own fighting techniques, which made it very interesting to see a fight between any of them.
The Xiao Fan Problem
Alas, the problem starts with the main character Zhang Xiao Fan, and, unfortunately, with actor Li Yi Feng. I understand that they wanted Xiao Fan to come across as this quiet young man who works hard, always keeps his cool and can reason with anyone thanks to his open heart, but what it comes down to is that Xiao Fan loses his cool literally once over the entire show. The rest of the time, he comes off as a bit dumb. Several scenes attempt to show him as this amazing strategist people trust to lead them and come up with clever plans, but this doesn’t really work when you’ve had 10+ episodes before that of him looking confused at everything.
This is not helped by the fact that Li Yi Feng isn’t a very good actor, and while that’s not too much of a problem in shows like The Lost Tomb, it’s especially flagrant here when he’s surrounded by a myriad of uber-skilled actors such as Zhao Liying, Qin Jun Jie (Never Say Never) or Cheng Yi (Love and Redemption). Even during the most ridiculous death scene I’ve ever seen in my life, he just opens wide eyes and stares into nothingness with a gaping mouth.
So on the one hand, you’ve got Xiao Fan, who hardly wavers from his beliefs and position and remains calm at all times, and on the other, you’ve got Bi Yao, Zeng Shu Shu and especially Jing Yu, whose growth and emotions are way beyond anything Xiao Fan ever expresses. Qin Jun Jie, in particular, is a delight as the lively Zeng Shu Shu, while Cheng Yi acts his heart out as he always does, and pulls off some amazing scenes towards the end of the show.
What this all translates to is a love story that induces little more than polite indifference, and a main character it’s hard to fall behind because he may be very nice, but he’s also very, very bland.
Snails are Faster
This is not helped in the least by Noble Aspirations’ terrible, horrible, no good, very bad pacing. The drama is so insanely slow in everything it nearly drove me crazy on multiple occasions. The group floundered for ages before figuring out anything, the same old questions of good versus evil kept being brought up again and again, the romance took over 40 episodes to really get anywhere, and all this was interspersed with so many useless scenes and new characters it was hard to stay invested.
All in All…
Noble Aspirations made for a decent watch, but it could have been way more interesting had it been condensed into half of its episode count. It also could have benefited from not recycling the same trope over and over again with different characters, and the directing was really weird in parts, making some supposedly tragic scenes hilarious instead.
Title: Noble Aspirations/Legend of Chusen
Aired: 07/31/2016 to 11/08/2016
Starring: Li Yi Feng, Cheng Yi, Yang Zi, Zhao Li Ying, Lu Xue Yi, Qin Jun Jie, Ren Jialun
Genres: Wuxia, Action and Adventure, Fantasy, Romance
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆