Hei Feng Xi (Yang Yang) and Bai Feng Xi (Zhao Lu Si) are renowned martial artists and longtime rivals. Where one goes, so does the other. So of course, they both get embroiled in the power plays between the Six Kingdoms and the Imperial Family who rules them all. But they must also deal with their secret identities and the personal problems that go with them.
My first impressions of Who Rules the World were very positive, but alas, it didn’t take long after I published them for the series to go downhill and turn into a boring mess that didn’t even know what it was supposed to be anymore. In the end, I had to resign myself to bidding it goodbye a little past the midway point.
A Difficult Start...
I'm neither a fan of Yang Yang nor of Zhao Lu Si's. The former I've only seen in two dramas: The Lost Tomb, in which he hardly says anything, and The King's Avatar, in which Ye Qiu's laid-back character lends itself very well to an expression of constant amusement. In other words, they're not very demanding roles.
As for the latter, I've only seen her in the first four episodes of The Legend of Tiger and Rose, which I dropped, and none of her other projects have really caught my eye since.
That is to say that its leads had no bearing on my decision to start Who Rules the World at all, and I really didn't expect much from it.
Which turned out to be a good thing, because there were no surprises there. While certain scenes were a bit bad, both leads did a decent job through the first 16 episodes, although Yang Yang was so stiff he gave me a neck ache with the way he was incapable of turning his head independently from his body. But then, episode 17 happened, and that's when things went sour. I don't know what was going on with Yang Yang when this episode and the ones after that were shot, but his performance went from decent to terrible. Long, exaggerated sighs, toneless monologues, constant frowning... I honestly don't understand what happened there.
As for Zhao Lu Si, I'm sorry to say I'd forgotten her existence by that point; she was that absent from her own drama.
How (Not) to Write Women... Again
Yes, because just like in so many other dramas, the writers of Who Rules the World don't have a clue as to how to write strong female characters. Bai Feng Xi disappears from the plot between episodes 16 and 20 because it's so focused on the court of Yongzhou, to the point that, as I mentioned above, I'd forgotten about her.
It's only when she walked back in that I realized I had no idea what she'd been doing for the past few episodes, apart maybe from strolling down the street and (probably) minding her own business. Honestly, I don't know.
Her martial sister Bai Langhua, on the other hand, remained the very embodiment of the useless damsel in distress who needs to be rescued every five seconds. She got a very secondary love line that had no bearing on the story whatsoever, but apart from serving as a plot device to stay in Yongzhou for a while, that's all she was used for.
In truth, however, the one that grated the most was Xuan Lu's Feng Qi Wu. Introduced as the first female clan leader of her line, a peerless warrior and a respected politician... she got to be rescued by our protagonist five minutes in, and then only appeared when he needed a convenient hand. Her way of choosing a succession candidate to support seemed limited to his ability to jump very high and shoot arrows. Of course, she fell for him. And obviously, according to her servants, her only motivation for helping was her feelings for him, no political interest whatsoever. No, she's a woman, so it has to be love.
Seriously, somebody save me, this is exhausting.
Oh, What is That?
And this is what I would like to know, really. What is Who Rules the World? Within the 22 episodes I watched, this drama went from fun jianghu adventures to Court politics. It was mind-numbingly boring, and I was very sure I'd hit rock-bottom, but no, then it turned into a romantic comedy. Our calculating and distant prince started asking his manservant for love advice, both girls were suddenly giggling together about feelings over a weiqi board, and Bai Feng Xi keeps playing dumb to Hei Feng Xi's very obvious declarations, while the man himself resorted to trying to make her jealous. And this was where they lost me.
(Ah yes, and let's not forget that both of them had about 150 people in love with them. Because there just aren't enough people on this Earth. It's like Who Rules the World conspired to gather everything I detest in one place. Seriously.)
I was also thoroughly puzzled by Yang Yang's fight scenes, or rather the lack thereof. The drama boasted about his martial arts prowess from the very beginning, mentionned his earth-shattering final techniques on multiple occasions, but 22 episodes in and he had yet to fight for more than 20 seconds. I do support the building of anticipation and so on, but only if I get the actual satisfaction of seeing him destroy his enemies with martial arts at some point. And not in the last episode. So... what happened there? Bai Feng Xi fought all the time (when she was there, anyway). What happened to Hei Feng Xi (to Yang Yang)?
As I mentioned in my first impressions, there was some good in Who Rules the World. Beside some very beautiful shots, I was very surprised by the 9-10 first episodes, because the interactions between our leading duo really reminded me of Wen Kexing and Zhou Zishu from Word of Honor: equally competent and respected martial artists flirting by way of spars and playful banter. I loved seeing them together, and I also loved that Bai Feng Xi's techniques felt fairly new.
Hei Feng Xi's beautiful brain and mysterious persona (his secrets had secrets, one could say) also made my day, as did his relationship with his brother Feng Chang. Played by actor Jiang Tian Yang, who really deserves more notoriety, Feng Chang broke my heart on more than one occasion, and I would have liked to see him much more than we did. Unfortunately, just like martial jousts bowed out in favor of verbal fights and banter left the floor to love declarations and lovesick gazes, so did Feng Chang disappear from the show with everything that made it actually enjoyable.
All in All...
Who Rules the World did have some good to it, except it promptly put it all in time out and decided to focus on boring court intrigues and romantic shenanigans, turning ruthless, cunning characters into lovesick fools. Overall, it was yet another addition to the long list of badly-written dramas that could have been so much more.
Title: Who Rules the World
Starring: Yang Yang, Zhao Lu Si, Lai Yi, Xuan Lu, Liu Rui Lin
Aired: 04/18/2022 to 05/17/2022
Number of episodes: 40
Genres: Wuxia, Aventure, Politics, Martial Arts, Romance
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆