When her village is razed by the emperor’s soldiers, the enigmatic Fang Zhu (William Chan) takes in Ye Haishi (Yang Mi) and gives her a boy’s education. But in her heart, she still longs to avenge her family from emperor Chu Zhong Xu (Xu Kai Cheng).
When the news first came out that Yang Mi would be releasing a new costume drama three years after the fantastic Legend of Fuyao, I was very excited. Fuyao, after all, was magical, epic, and overall an incredibly entertaining watch which I and many others cherish. On top of that, the Novoland series, although not very happy in general, take place in a vast universe filled with magical creatures, so it was with great enthusiasm that I heard Tencent would be broadcasting Novoland: Pearl Eclipse this December at long last. Alas. in the end, this show could well turn out to be the disappointment of my year.
The reason one can’t outright say this drama is bad is because it does have some slivers of good here and there, even if, after long, long episodes spent wishing for them to bloom into something more, they end up becoming more frustrating than anything. The emperor is one such sliver: played by Xu Kai Cheng, whom I thought forever ruined for me since the disaster that was Well-Intended Love, he was unpredictable, unstable, and as a result interesting if only because he’s so hard to understand. And I confess to growing annoyance every time I saw people call him a tyrant and a spoiled child on the internet, because it was very obvious to me that the man suffers from severe depression.
Another such sliver was the relationship that female lead Haishi nurtures with her adoptive brother Zhuoying: those two were a riot together, but they also trusted and supported each other through thick and thin.
Supermassive Black Hole
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all the good that this show has to offer, because the plot resembles an empty shell: there’s absolutely nothing inside.
After dramas such as Joy of Life or Nirvana in Fire, which remain captivating from beginning to end with a similar episode count to Novoland: Pearl Eclipse, the plot of the latter, or lack thereof, seems like a very poor attempt at filling time. Indeed, all it ever deals with is three different love stories, two of which are toxic, and which hardly ever make any progress at all. The characters have no goals whatsoever, no desires, no wants. We do get a couple of battle scenes, but the first one is shamalessly plagiarized from the Battle of Helm’s Deep, and once it’s done copying it, the stunts and choreographies devolve into utter nonsense.
In the end, I realized, as I reached the two-thirds mark, that pretty much all the characters were still at the same point that they were when the show began. Haishi keeps parrotting “Shifu, Shifu, Shifu” (reminds me of “Sifeng! Sifeng! Sifeng!”, that), Zhuoying bats his eyelashes at his belle, the emperor keeps playing “he loves me, he loves me not” with his concubine, and Fang Zhu remains as inexpressive as ever. And Tilan? She just takes it, I guess.
It’s just so boring on all accounts, really.
Uninteresting and Unbelievable
In addition, Novoland: Pearl Eclipse is incredibly slow. It’s slow, it’s tedious, and it almost seems like it was purposely written to be as bland as possible. They couldn’t bring me to truly care for any of those characters except for one who’d been there for half an episode. By that point, the bad guy had been allotted a grand total of 20 minutes of screentime if that, which hardly makes him menacing (he’s barely mentioned anyway). There are allusions here and there to suspicious people, but the show would rather linger on the main six gazing longingly at each other and daydreaming of marital bliss while tearful music plays in the background rather than elaborate on the actual plot.
After clinging to it desperately for 28 episodes, I ended up dropping this show when they introduced that one character I liked which I mentioned before, only to write him an unrequited love line with Haishi which is so thoroughly useless I don’t even know why they bothered. Especially since the poor man had no other attribute than being in love with her, talented and gorgeous. (Very much so, in fact. It’s Huang Jun Jie.)
This much laziness should not be allowed, and I threw in the towel.
Yes, because the characters themselves, apart from the emperor, have all the consistency of soup, and so do their relationships.
Indeed, the show manages to make its audience uncomfortable from its very beginning, when Fang Zhu, played by actor William Chan (36), takes in young Ye Haishi, played by Liu Qi Qi (13). Why in the world did they decide to keep adult actors for the two male leads when the female lead of the show was played by such a young girl! How do they expect people to feel comfortable with that, and to believe them when they try, later on, to make up for the confusion by explaining that there’s only a few years between Haishi and her love interest Fang Zhu? It makes no sense.
On top of that, even when she grows up, Haishi remains submissive to her master, behaving like a student or an adoptive daughter and never his equal. She never steps out of his shadow, and her supposed love for him feels like puppy love rather than the deep-rooted affection and mutual respect one would expect from such a drama (or any solid romance, really). Plus, William Chan’s expressionless face doesn’t lend itself to a passionate love story, even when a few lines of internal monologue try desperately (and fail) to award him a sliver of emotion.
And finally, there is no way I can take any of those characters seriously when they truly believe that Fang Haishi is a man even though she proudly walks around with an unwrapped chest, three tons of mascara and eyeliner, a slim build and a high voice. There is just no way. To me, it just means that everybody she interacts with is an idiot, and while I might have been more indulgent in another drama with the plot and character development to make up for it, the sheer lack of effort that went into this one prevents me from it. Out of curiosity, I went to see the “grand reveal” of her actual gender to the Court and the emperor (which comes incredibly late), and was utterly flabbergasted to realize that they managed to make it as drab as it could possibly be. (Honestly, I can’t think of a more uninteresting way they could have done it.) Worse, they even managed to make it so that those who didn’t know looked even stupider than before. There are just no words anymore.
The drama could have been easier to bear had the production values hefted it up a bit, but that didn’t happen, unfortunately. Sure, it’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near good either. It’s like they did the bare minimum and left it at that. Fight scenes are usually badly filmed or sluggish or both, although I’ll freely admit there were a few nice shots here and there, as well as a decent variety of costumes.
The music didn’t really have anything new to offer either. It’s quite important to me, I always pay attention to it, so to say that I don’t remember a single song from the soundtrack is quite telling. And while the background music did have a couple nice tunes (all derived from the main theme), it’s in no way remarkable. I was also struck by how inappropriately it was used, such as this one “epic” battle scene onto which they slapped this random, light-hearted flute melody which really had nothing to do there.
All in All…
A waste of time. Corroded by toxic relationships, one-dimensional characters and a plot that never seems to move forward, Novoland: Pearl Eclipse also suffers from the way it advertised mermaids and the sea when we hardly get to see either. In the end, it just frustrated me to no end me because I kept thinking “if only they did this” or “if only they developed that”, and I’m very glad that I washed my hands of the whole thing by episde 28.
Title: Novoland: Pearl Eclipse
Aired: 11/10/2021 to 12/05/2021
Number of episodes: 48
Starring: Yang Mi, William Chan, Xu Kai Cheng, Chen Xiao Yun, Wang Sen, Huang Jun Jie
Genres: Romance, Xuanhuan
My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Trigger Warnings: Rape