After several unsuccessful adaptations of important Wuxia novels by Jin Yong, the Wuxia genre dramas has been continuously criticized. However, in recent years, the success of wuxia dramas such as "Sword Snow Stride", "Joy of Life", "Strange Tales of Tang Dynasty", and "Ever Night" has revived the genre.
The market seems to have realized that traditional Wuxia dramas are a thing of the past, and breaking away from the Wuxia dramas of Jin Yong and Gu Long may bring about new vitality. According to incomplete statistics, there are as many as ten upcoming Wuxia dramas awaiting release in 2023, all of which break away from the traditional production approach and incorporate other elements such as time travel, idol, and spy warfare.
Recently, the drama "Pledge of Allegiance", directed by Cao Hua with Li Yi as the chief screenwriter, starring Leon Zhang and Chen Ruoxuan as lead actors, and featuring Sun Yi in a special guest appearance, has started to air. It has received a lot of love from netizens since its premiere. One important reason for its high attention is the connection it has with the movie "Brotherhood of Blades".
"Pledge of Allegiance" is an adaptation of "Brotherhood of Blades", yet it seems to have no link to the movie in terms of actors, character settings, or plot, except that both take place in the Ming Dynasty Embroidered Uniform Guard and characters do carry the same knives. Differences are significant in terms of structure, style, and target audiences, among others. However, traces of the movie can be noticed in "Pledge of Allegiance", and showcases innovation beyond the style of the movie.
The Sentimentality and Narrative Style in the Pledge of Allegiance
"Pledge of Allegiance", produced by the director of Brotherhood of Blades, Lu Yang, continues the film's tone and narrative style. Similar to its movie predecessor, focuses on the sentimentality and brotherhood between the members of the embroidered uniform guard.
Perhaps to attract a wider audience, "Pledge of Allegiance" did not continue the story of three brothers enduring hardships together as seen in the movie. Instead, the main characters are two young men and a female assassin. All three experienced the trauma of imprisonment during their childhood, and as adults, they were caught up in the conflict of the ruling class, facing numerous challenges and difficulties.
Although the status of female characters has been enhanced, "Pledge of Allegiance" still adopts the same narrative pattern, illustrating the brotherhood and mutual respect among men. Each male character is portrayed as enthusiastic and enigmatic, suffering from miserable backgrounds but possessing chivalrous hearts and willing to sacrifice everything for friendship.
Li Wu (played by Leon Zhang) initially appears as a thief, adept at lying and cheating in the gambling den. However, this seemingly unsavory character possesses a strong sense of justice, as he helps a beggar who is being bullied on the roadside. Unlike traditional martial arts dramas, Li Wu uses his wit to save the beggar by making up a lie on the spot. Despite being a thief himself, he warns the beggar not to steal again while generously giving them money to purchase high-quality fabrics for their clothes. Li Wu's introduction gives viewers a sense of his gutsy and resolute nature. His selfishness and cunning do not detract from his likability, but rather make him a well-rounded character.
The other male protagonist, Lu Zheng (played by Chen Ruo Xuan), also has a mysterious past. Ten years ago, his father was killed in an accident and was falsely accused of being a rebel by the court. Though Lu Zheng was saved, he never forgot that his real name was Song Zhen, and his father's name was Song Heming. He wishes to uncover the truth behind his father's death and thus strives to become a high-ranking official so that he may gain access to the files and search for clues regarding the Hongwu old case.
Both male leads carry secrets, and ten years ago they had a complicated relationship. As a teenager, Lu Zheng wanted to rescue Li Wu, who was imprisoned, but witnessed his father's death with his own eyes, while seeing a bloodstained knife in Li Wu's hand. Lu Zheng suspected that Li Wu was the one who killed his father and attacked him vigorously. Li Wu, in turn, cut Lu Zheng with the knife and escaped. However, it turns out that Li Wu was not the real killer of Song Heming. In fact, as an adult, Li Wu felt guilty and was constantly searching for the man with a scar on his back.
The friendship between Lu Zheng and Xie Keng Ran is a touching point in the first few episodes. When Lu Zheng was falsely accused of murdering Wang Ke Gong, Xie Keng Ran risked his life to rescue him. When Xie Kongran discovered that only Li Wu could prove Lu Zheng's innocence, he decided to protect Li Wu at any cost. Although Li Wu was initially concerned only with his own interests, he cleverly saved Lu Zheng to repay Xie Kongran's kindness. Although the political turmoil has not yet fully developed in the latest episodes, the unyielding bond between these male characters is already one of the most significant aspects of this drama.
The Collision of Wuxia and Spy-Themed Plots
"Pledge of Allegiance" combines traditional Wuxia elements with spy-themed plots. Li Wu, Lu Zheng, and Shu Tang (played by Sun Yi) belong to different camps with different goals, but they ally their common purposes.
As a Ming dynasty intelligence agency, the Embroidered Uniform Guards already have spy drama elements, but most dramas depicting them as themes seldom highlight these elements. However, combining ancient costume wuxia with spy themes seems to be a topic that Lu Yang is particularly skilled at; "The Wind Blows from Longxi", which aired last year, was also a costume spy drama directed by Lu Yang.
From the popularity of "Pledge of Allegiance", it seems that the drama has struck a chord with viewers. The plot is concentrated and intense, with a suitable pace, and both the spy and suspense elements engage viewers' sensitive nerves.
Regarding the drama's spy element, it is mainly reflected in Li Wu, who hides his true identity and becomes a Bai Hu (百户, Ming Dynasty Official Title) using the name Li Dongfang for his own purposes. He was previously imprisoned and saved by young Lu Zheng, but he could not continue living under his real name, so he was determined to enter the records room and destroy evidence of his past crimes so that he could live an honest life. Ye Bu Shou, the leader of assassins, promised to help him do this, but as an exchange, he needed to become his pawn.
To complete Ye Bu Shou's task, Li Wu and Shu Tang pretend to be a spy couple. This setup inevitably brings to mind many spy dramas, from "Lurk" to "Jing Zhe". Additionally, the drama's sense of suspense is well done. In the beginning, there was a tragedy during the Hongwu period; Li Wu, as a teenager, was suspected of killing Lu Zheng's father. But what is the truth? This becomes the truth that Li Wu and Lu Zheng are both eager to figure out, and it is the first mystery the show sets up for viewers.
Subsequently, Li Wu, Lu Zheng, and Shu Tang get sucked into a political dispute. Wang Kegong is murdered by Ye Bu Shou, so what is Ye Bu Shou's true identity, and what are his motives? A series of unanswered questions await the next revelations in the drama.
The Aesthetic Style of Cruelty and Romance Blended Together
The drama "Pledge of Allegiance" continues the style of "Brotherhood of Blades" in terms of its tone aesthetic. The overall color tone is dominated by dark tones, creating a mysterious atmosphere. Similar to the film, "Pledge of Allegiance" also seamlessly blends cruelty with romance, utilizing numerous imageries of "fire in the darkness" to present a beautiful scene of passion.
In the beginning scene of the fifth episode, Li Dongfang plays the piano while blindfolded with a blazing flame behind him. Then countless assassins suddenly emerge leading to a battle where blood and fire blend together.
It is not difficult to notice that the majority of the plot occurs during nighttime, and fire has become a common element in the series. Whether it is the blazing fire on the battlefield or the calm candlelight, the show frequently emphasizes a warm light in the darkness, which has become an important feature of the aesthetic in the series.
It is worth noting that the fight scenes in this show are realistic, without relying on special effects. This is rare to see in the era of Xuanhuan drama. Additionally, the drama utilizes masks to add to the sense of mystery. The masked ones are responsible for collecting intelligence and protecting the northern border from Mongolian threats during the Ming dynasty. They cannot reveal they're true identities.
If the two films of "Brotherhood of Blades" did not satisfy viewers' appetite for martial arts, then the 24-episode "Pledge of Allegiance" will surely make up for it. The plot of chivalry, love, hate, and grudges can always make audiences unable to look away. Especially since the show integrates elements of martial arts, espionage, and comedy, it satisfies various audience preferences.
It is worth mentioning that the "Brotherhood of Blades" series has formed a unique aesthetic style. The cruelty in the martial world does not lack romance, although this combination can be found in the novels of Jin Yong and Gu Long, it still requires the enhancement of aesthetics on-screen. The Lu Yang team achieved this successfully. While martial arts espionage dramas have been criticized, "Pledge of Allegiance" has shown success, which may bring hope to the productions of similar dramas.
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