An orphan, Li Ge (Li Qin), allies with prince Liu Yi Kang (Qin Hao) to bring down the tyrannical nobles who respect neither king nor people in their neverending quest for power and riches.
I need to stop hoping for dramas to be excellent from beginning to end. I really do. The Song of Glory is a show that started very well, had me fall in love in no time… and out of it just as fast. What’s wrong with it? Please refer to the quotation hereabove, and to the ranty review right below.
My Girl Crush, Shen Li Ge
Shen Li Ge was my dream protagonist for the first twenty episodes or so. Raised as an assassin, she was a stunning package of beauty, ice-cold competence, cutting smarts, endless resourcefulness and quiet maturity. For example: instead of jumping to conclusions in reaction to a perceived betrayal, her first reflex was to go request an explanation.
Her romance with Prince Peng Cheng was based on a strong mutual respect, banter and shared ideals. Theirs was a great love to see bloom and flourish, and their scenes had me laughing more than once.
Li Qin, who, in Joy of Life, sadly played the one and only useless character (I’m not kidding, I forgot her existence at one point, and she was supposed to be the female lead…), seems determined to make up for it by showing off the full extent of her skills in The Song of Glory. She offers, at least in the first part of the show, a stellar performance and an impressive range of emotions which fit her complex character perfectly.
Memorable Family Dynamics
Among the various character dynamics, it’s the families that really catch the eye (and the heart) in The Song of Glory. Between Li Ge’s parents and siblings, Prince Peng Cheng and his brother Jing Ling, and the villain’s obvious love for his own sister, there was familial love all around. Li Ge’s relationships to her martial siblings as well as the Shen brothers was particularly delightful, and will undoubtedly make more than one of you tear up and laugh in turn.
Another thing I feel should be pointed out is the tender love between an older couple. It’s something we rarely get to see on TV for secondary characters, especially in period dramas. The Shen elders are clearly in love, feel no shame in showing it, and even get a couple poster.
Excellent Production Values
The choreographies (for dancing and fighting scenes alike) were among the first thing to draw my attention. Simply put, once you’ve watched a bunch of Chinese martial arts dramas, the fights all bleed into one another. The Song of Glory was the first show to have me perk up in interest when the characters started fighting. Why? Because they made a creative use of the props which gives those scenes an originality I didn’t know I needed.
On another note, the set decors (especially of the Royal Manor) also felt fresh and new, with copious amounts of running water, painted walls and monumental statues. A special note for the color schemes, tailored to each character’s personality. Green for the peaceful Princess Consort, red for the greedy Consort Dowager, and so on.
Finally, the costumes were all absolutely beautiful. Some of them were deceptively simple but with stunning detail, others eye-catching and breath-takingly gorgeous.
The one downside lay in the editing, which was… well, rough would be a nice word for it. The transitions were brutal, and there were quite a lot of montages which looked straight out of a fanvideo…
I Kissed a Girl
Last but not least, the epic romance between the Princess Consort and Li Ge should be pointed out, too. It’s not overt, of course, but all the codes are there, and their interactions are pure joy, too. The Princess Consort is a breath of fresh air when it comes to harem characters. Her obvious adoration for Li Ge is breathtaking. I adored their dynamic, and would have loved to see something new happen with the three of them.
Alas, it was not to be.
It All Goes Down the Drain
Of course, things were going too well, so the show had to just… go downhill. As we say in France: “rien ne va plus.”
From episode 25 on, Li Ge became a washed-out shell of the powerful, brilliant woman that she used to be. As soon as they went off to war, she spent about 10 episodes doing nothing but look to the prince everytime something happened. It felt as if she was asking how she should react and even feel about what was said. She barely had any lines, barely did anything, and when she finally did, it was offscreen and she returned half-dead. Basically, as soon as the romance was set in stone, she lost everything that made her an incredible character and it was like doing things that she used to pull off with relative ease now left her on the brink of death.
I’m particularly mad about that, because Shen Li Ge used to make my heart pound with love. I adored every minute of her screentime, and was enraptured by her smarts, her beauty, and her maturity. The quote I used up there is one that particularly annoyed me but is sadly quite representative of the evolution of her character: as soon as she fell in love, she followed the path of so many badass female characters before her and started asking her beau for permission and guidance on when, where and how to breathe.
Again, I Ask: Why?
Another example of a great female character being reduced to “the love interest” was Wang Zijin, originally fun and spicy and strong-willed, who goes the Legend of Fuyao route. By which I mean that the writers dragged her into a setting where she clearly served no purpose, except to be a burden to the actual competent people around her, whom she endangered by her mere presence. And while her love story with Shen Zhi was really sweet, it got stale after a while, too. Or maybe I’d lost interest in the show so thoroughly that I couldn’t bring myself to care past a certain point.
Why is it so difficult to write females who exist beyond romance? Females who retain their skills and badassery and maturity even after falling in love? Females who can hold their own and kick ass just as well as any man, who won’t let anybody walk all over them, and who think for themselves?
Why, I ask, is romance a systematic death sentence for a great female character?
Laziness to the Max
I could have borne the tragic loss of my favorite character, however, if only the plot had remained good. Unfortunately, it took Li Ge’s hand and plunged with her into the abyss of mediocrity. It became so bad, in fact, that the actors themselves bled boredom. Their performance, once so complex and heart-wrenching, turned flatter than a pancake, with only basic expressions to go with the hollowed-out version of the show they were suddenly acting in.
In turn, ten episodes into this new drama, I found myself consistently abusing the fast-forward button, and even skipped two episodes without issue.
Even the fight scenes, which I used to love, turned bad and frankly stupid. Strategies which might have had some merit were implemented too soon or several times in a row, which even I could tell is idiotic. The fake horses were so blatant and ugly I need mind bleach to get over them. All the important action happened offscreen, and what you’re shown seems determined to contradict the characters’ grave explanations of the situation.
An example of how dumb and draggy it became is the looong funeral scene for a very secondary character who got about ten lines total and hardly mattered at all.
All in All
The first part was excellent, really. The first 20 episodes or so were captivating, with a proactive, no-nonsense heroine and a beautiful romance between two mature adults. Then, the writer suddenly gave up and decided to draw from the magic pool of clichés, turning this excellent show into a boring, endless historical drama the likes of which there are thousands already.
I ended up purposefully spoiling myself on the ending as soon as the final episodes were released, and dropped it at episode 38, after 16 episodes of consistent fast-forwarding. I’d give three stars if only for the great first half of it, but this show leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m angry, I’m frustrated, and I’m tired. Two stars it is.
What a waste.
Title: The Song of Glory
Starring: Li Qin, Qin Hao, Guo Jiacheng
Aired: 07/01/2020 to 08/12/2020
Number of episodes: 53
Genres: Action, Martial Arts, Adventure, Historical, Romance, Drama, Politics
My Grade: ★★☆☆☆