It is extremely challenging to bring a perpetrator of sexual assault or harassment to justice. Just the first step of bravely speaking out and accusing the perpetrator requires immense courage from the victim, who must overcome both physiological and psychological fears, while may also enduring the societal backlash of victim-blaming. This is still true in the present-day society, let alone in the male-dominated and female-submissive ancient Chinese society, where seeking justice for an aggrieved woman would be even more arduous.
Directed by Zang Xichuan, starring Wu Qian, Li Jiahang, Qiao Zhenyu, and Hu Yixuan, with special appearances by Tang Jingmei, Yang Yutong, and featuring Bai Shu, Zhang Kangle, and especially starring Deng Cuiwen, "Faithful" is a ancient suspense cdrama that focuses on such topics.
It tells the story of a young girl, Lin Rulan, who, against the opposition of her close friend, Meng Wan, risks her own reputation to accuse the owner of the Embroidery House, Wu Lian, but finds no legal recourse and ends up taking her own life to prove her innocence. Meng Wan, after seven years of enduring hardships, gathers a team of nine righteous people including Liu Xin, who is intricately tied to the Lin Rulan case, to form a revenge team and seek justice. Through this process, the struggles and battles of the young girl who had been buried in time gradually come to light.
"Faithful" has two timelines and a unique broadcasting format, where the story unfolds in both the upper and lower sections simultaneously. The odd-numbered episodes depict the events seven years ago, when Lin Rulan accused Wu Lian, while the even-numbered episodes portray events seven years later, when Meng Wan gathers the nine righteous person to bring down Wu Lian. This dual narrative and alternating storytelling format allows for independent expression of plotlines and character stories, creating a suspenseful atmosphere and providing viewers with a distinctive viewing experience.
Although the plot in the later timeline, seven years later, may be considered more gratifying, everything that happened seven years ago is the foundation and crux of the arduous revenge mission of the team. It is not that the story from seven years ago is not compelling, but rather it is too cruel and painfully realistic, despite being a ancient drama, with a strong sense of using the past to criticize the present. Characters such as Meng Wan, Lin Rulan, and Ding Ru, who were learning their craft at the Yanyu Embroidery House, truly evoke a sense of heartache.
The story begins with the tragic death of embroidery worker Ding Ru, who fell into a well. A murder in an embroidery house, which is comprised solely of vulnerable women, should not be a trivial matter. However, the Huai Prefecture Yamen only seeks to go through the motions and hastily concludes the case as an accidental death. The reason behind this is that they cannot afford to offend the owner of the Yanyu Embroidery House, Mr. Wu Lian, who has influential connections with the Ningguo Duke's Manor. Although the power of the Ningguo Duke's Manor is waning, Lady Ningguo has managed to gain favor from the empress dowager by virtue of Wu Lian's unique Yanyu embroidery skills, and their interests have become intertwined.
Ling Rulan, who is kind-hearted, did not believe that it was an accident when she found a prescription for abortion pills in Ding Ru's room. However, her good friend Meng Wan told her that Ding Ru had committed suicide, and the mastermind behind it was Wu Lian, the owner of the embroidery house. At first, Ling Rulan found it hard to believe. Although she had a relationship with Wu Lian under his half-coaxing and half-forcing, she thought that Wu Lian had genuine feelings for her. It was not until she discovered that Wu Lian used the same tactics on Meng Wan, as well as Ding Ru and possibly many other girls in the embroidery building, that she realized they were all just playthings to him.
To outsiders, Wu Lian appeared gentle and polite, with exceptional skills. He was even a distinguished guest at the Duke's mansion, making him not only a charming gentleman in the eyes of countless young girls but also a great talent in the eyes of the common people. Little did they know that beneath his disguise, he used his identity as the master of the embroidery building and special techniques to achieve his sinister goals.
Starting from intentionally belittling and suppressing others, to using the pretext of personally teaching to test physical contact, once the opportunity arose, he would take advantage of it. His tactics were almost undetectable by young girls who had been sheltered and inexperienced. In his eyes, these girls were nothing more than objects to be admired and played with like embroidered pieces.
What is even more infuriating is that every girl who enters the Yanyu Embroidery House to learn the craft will receive a silk bedsheet. However, once they fall into Wu Lian's trap and lose their virginity, the silk bedsheets are replaced with coarse linen ones, how ridiculous. In a feudal society where chastity is valued above all else, Wu Lian's actions are nothing short of ruining these girls' lives. Some, like the early Ling Rulan, live in the lies woven by Wu Lian, while others, like Meng Wan, are powerless to resist and can only swallow their grievances.
It was not until Ling Rulan, who knew the truth, stood up and decided to sue Wu Lian that she realized there was no response after submitting the complaint. She decided to knock on the doors of justice, risking her reputation, her future, and even her life. All she wanted was for the wicked person who had done so much harm to receive the punishment they deserved. She just wanted justice for herself and for those girls who had been hurt. But this path was so difficult. She failed to bring Wu Lian to justice and was instead falsely accused of being shameless. She was forced to marry Wu Lian as his concubine and had no choice but to prove her innocence through death.
Seven years ago, Meng Wan always followed behind Ling Rulan. Although she had her own ideas, her character was somewhat weak due to her upbringing. It was not until Ling Rulan's death completely destroyed her that she vowed to make Wu Lian pay for his actions. She was willing to lie dormant for seven years just to clear Ling Rulan's name.
In addition to the captivating storyline, the portrayal of the ensemble cast in the drama is also vivid. Led by Meng Wan, the nine righteous people are known as the avengers of the Lian alliance. Each of them had been persecuted by Wu Lian seven years ago, and now, they have come together to reopen the old cases.
For every righteous person they accumulate, Meng Wan weaves a lantern with the corresponding verdict written on it. As Liu Xin pointed out, Meng Wan is not just hanging lanterns, she is weaving a net for Wu Lian. At present, the net is already halfway woven, and the long-awaited judgment that is seven years overdue is surely not far away.