“Instead of wasting my time on medical treatments, I would rather carry a jug of wine, to travel around the world, with my Soulmate while I’m still healthy”
The difference between a good adaptation and a mediocre interpretation is maintaining the essence of the original content. While prior BL adaptations like “The Untamed”, “Winter Begonia” and “The Sleuth of Ming Dynasty” tried pretty hard at traversing into the unknown territory, they were pretty wary of the strict Chinese Censorship. As such, the dramas ended up being rather obscure portrayals of “Brotherhood” or “Bosom Friends”. The concept of “Being each other’s Soulmate” was never explored and as such Word of Honor has managed to garner high ratings by banking on this premise. The show’s ingenuity is attributed to its clear demarcation of being “Boys’ Love” drama rather than “Bromance”. The romance between the main characters is clear as the daylight and the show’s scriptwriter Xiao Chu should certainly be praised for being truthful to the novel (Tian Ya Ke by Priest). There are added twists and turns that rather increase the intricacies of this adaptation, which coupled with the exceptional chemistry between main leads Zhang Zhe Han and Simon Gong have skyrocketed this show’s ratings.
Zhou Zi Shu
Zhang Zhe Han plays the titular role of Zhou Zi Shu, the former Chief of Tian Chuang (Window of Heaven) and current master of the Four Seasons Manor.
Wen Ke Xing
Simon Gong portrays the role of Wen Ke Xing, the Master of the Qing Ya Mountain’s Ghost Valley.
Zhou Ye plays the role of Gu Xiang, Wen Kexing’s maidservant.
Zhang Cheng Ling
Sun Xi Lun plays the role of Zhang Cheng Ling, the third young master of Mirror Lane Manor Sect. He is also Zhou Zishu’s disciple.
Cao Wei Ning
Ma Wen Yuan plays the role of Cao Wen Ning, the Disciple of Qing Feng Sword Sect. He is Gu Xiang’s love interest.
Adapted from the novel “Faraway Wanderers” (天涯客) by Priest, the storyline focuses on the journey of Zhou Zi Shu (Former Chief of Prince Jin’s exclusive assassin organization, Window of Heaven). Years of bloodshed and remorse make our hero yearn for peace. He leaves the organization and roams the mountains of Jianghu in search of a calm life, while counting his final. Under unavoidable circumstances he ends up protecting the orphaned heir, Cheng Ling (of the Mirror Lake Manor Sect) and meets Wen Ke Xing, a mysterious martial artist. Both of them end up escorting Cheng Ling until to his Uncle Gao Chong’s Manor. On the way they learn about the legendary treasure “The Glazed Armor”, that will give its owner ultimate power over jianghu.
Zhou Zi Shu’s Fleeting Emotions
The introductory scenes do a pretty good job at setting the mood for future confrontations and as such Zhou Zi Shu’s (ZZS) storyline chronicles the struggles of a legendary hero, who was led astray by his life’s choices. He is formidable as the Chief of the world’s deadliest assassin organization (Window of Heaven), extremely loyal to his Master (Prince Jin) and yet his heart carries deeper wounds than his body. Stuck with “Seven Point Three Autumns Nails”, ZZS is majorly depicted as a convict, counting his last days while roaming the calm mountains of Jianghu. Behind the ugly mask he dons to obscure his handsome looks, ZZS is constantly battling his inner demons, while experiencing the self-inflicted torture by the nails embedded in his body. He isn’t exactly afraid of death but is scared of losing his martial arts skills. ZZS is case study in contractions and as such it is increasingly difficult to understand his motives or intentions. Although he vehemently denies being responsible for other’s safety (Cheng Ling) or seeking human company (Wen Ke Xing), the inevitable truth remains that ZZS is a lost man yearning for family ties and affections. He has lost all his brother’s while working for his organization and that loss eventually led to his seclusion. The best trait about this character is his humility and the ability to condone for his past sins. ZZS isn’t self obsessed and that certainly adds to his charm. Zhang Zhehan has this distinct ability to emote and you can actually experience his pain, may it be physical or emotion. His handsome looks are another added advantage, that imparts rather mystique aura to this character.
Wen Ke Xing and His Hidden Motives
Simon Gong is one of the very few actors who manages to leave a deep impression on the minds of the audiences. His depiction of Xia Yao (Advance Bravely) was true to the original context, while his serious portrayal of Dr.Ling Rui in the recently on-air drama “Begin Again” certainly melted my heart. As against these two characters, Wen Ke Xing (WKX) is invariably different. The character has too many shades and watching Simon emote those characteristics with a funky yet scary twist was entirely enjoyable experience. WKX is the Ghost King, Ruler of the Ghost Valley and as such has a formidable presence and even scarier demeanor. He is good at scheming, plotting and using derisive methods to achieve his goals. There are distinct similarities as well as differences between the drama character and the novel counterpart. While it takes more than twenty chapters or so, before WKX starts falling for ZZS in the book, the drama version starts hitting on our assassin-turned reformist, from the moment they meet. His tone is infectious and although he acts like a “Good Samaritan”, the audiences can clearly guess his deceptive nature beneath the veneer. He is an excellent martial artist, is entirely besotted with the ugly beggar next door (ZZS) and loves to protect weak orphans (Cheng Ling). He does all of this, while successfully planning the downfall of the “Five Lakes Alliance”. Truly, WKX is a master strategist and although he never reveals his true identity or intentions, like everyone he craves attention and love. Something that has been denied to him for too long. In certain instances he seems lost and ZZS becomes the anchor he desperately needs. I’m utterly astounded by their dynamics as well as camaraderie.
The Blatantly Obvious Romance
Priest’s novels are rather characterized by their distinct lack of physical intimacy. It is rather the gesture or the unspoken words which depict the main lead’s relationship and the rest is left to the readers imagination. So, Word of Honor surmises to depict an alternate universe, where our main lead’s romantic inclinations aren’t brushed aside because of Censorship. While remaining true to the original script, scriptwriter Xiao Chu has managed to reinterpret this romance in an entirely flavorful way. So, while the book version had a subtle play of emotions, the drama characters are more brazen and honest about their feelings. It could be the scenes where WKX aimlessly follows ZZS because he is intrigued with his martial arts or continously needles at him to reveal his handsome face. The sexual tension between these two men is palpable and heightened by their distinct intimacy. Although ZZS plays hard-to-get in the initial episodes, there are certain moments when he pushes back. It could be the scenes where he inevitably holds WKX’s hands a tad longer than neccessary while trying to interrupt him or when he sensually touches WKX’s hand while accepting a jug of wine.
While the beginning episodes are fast-paced and try to establish their relationship, the later episodes explore their feelings for each other. While WKX’s spents majority of his time tailing behind ZZS, he has nefarious plans in motion. Surprisingly, ZZS starts paying more attention to his annoying stalking when he starts doubting WKX’s true intentions. The role reversal is truly phenomenal because while WKX tries to hide behind a wall, ZZS removes his face mask and dares WKX to do the same. There is subtle play of emotions while both of them fight their own inner demons. I’m thoroughly enjoying this phase, because ZZS is trying his best to win WKX’s trust and that’s truly encompassing. For a character who rarely interacts with other’s, WKX’s emotional upheavals have an immediate effect on ZZS. All he wants to do is spent the rest of his days with his Soulmate (WKX), who is right on the warpath.
The Makeshift Family That Stays Together
ZZS would have never thought that he would be saddled with human affections when he resigned his position and decided to live the rest of his days disguised as an ugly beggar. But fate clearly had different plans for our former assassin and he ends up being responsible for Cheng Ling’s safety. The sole survivor of the Mirror Lake Manor Sect, Cheng Ling is rather stupid, and has abysmal martial arts skills. The pampered child’s life is turned upside down when his entire family is murdered and his guardian Uncle Li, entrusts his safety to a strange beggar. Despite the horrible situation, Cheng Ling tries hard to adapt and never questions his savior’s intentions. Cheng Ling’s utter trust and affection slowly draw ZZS out of his shell and it becomes his life’s mission to protect the fragile child. WKX on the other hand takes more time to warm upto Cheng Ling. It isn’t until the later episodes where he openly displays his affections for the silly boy who trusts too easily and loves wholeheartedly. ZZS and WKX unexpectedly become Cheng Ling’s family and protectors.
Gu Xiang might be WKX’s spitfire slave and although their relationship resembles that of a Master & Slave, the truth is far from the surface. Xiang was bought up by WKX and he is highly protective of her. The scenes where he acts like a protective Father fending off suitors (Cao Wei Ning) are absolutely hilarious and portray their true relationship. He considers Wei Ning unsuitable for his precious girl and is hellbent on separating them. It is enjoyable watching this makeshift family bicker and argue like a real one and that’s one of the main reasons of why ZZS stops being a recluse. Xiang’s relationship with Cheng Ling is absolutely adorable. Xiang is equally protective of Cheng Ling and doesn’t take kindly to people bullying or hurting her younger brother. Zhang Cheng Ling remains at the center of this obscure dynamics, as he ties this entire medley group together and gives them a sense of belonging. These four individuals were never meant to be the same place and yet fate has bought them together. Simply heartwarming! Child actors Zhou Ye and Sun Xi Lun are doing an amazing job portraying their characters and I love them as much as I love the main lead couple.
While Liu Yuning’s opening theme instantly grabs your attention, there are several inconsistencies that mar the production value of this wuxia drama. The costumes are resplendent of the foregone era and exquisitely stitched, however the cheap sets and the obscure CGI effects dim the projection. The supporting cast portray their characters roles well but the lack of proper introduction or the resulting disconnection might confuse the masses. Since I’m currently reading the novel, I didn’t face the same issues but for those who aren’t well acquainted with the textbook version, the addition of too many side characters might be slightly disconcerting.
This drama heavily focuses on the main character’s journey as they rediscover themselves and get a better understanding of their life’s recourse. We must really appreciate the fight scenes choreographies in this drama, because most of the time they emphasize the sensual nature of our main characters relationship. The slow touches, staring and unspoken words heighten the experience and you are driven to the edge of excitement with the sudden changes in their relationship.
While ZZS comes to terms with the fact that loneliness can be deafening and human company is albeit essential, WKX is still waging a war between his supposed ideology and their drastic consequences. In the scenes where his carefully crafted schemes led to the sudden demise of the “Four Sages of Anji”, we are faced with a devastated WKX who is quilt ridden and terrified. His true intentions are still under wrap and he is scared of his own convictions or their possible ramifications on the people he loves dearly.
The show’s production house and scriptwriter have by far managed to surpass the expectations of the audiences with their faithful interpretation of the popular BL novel. Whereas prior adaptations failed at setting a precedent while dealing with their main leads romantic entanglements, Word of Honor is more daringly obvious in its portrayal of love, relationships and family. I’m immensely enjoying this ride and hoping that the scriptwriter manages to maintain the current pace throughout the series.
Rating- 4.5 out of 5