It must be acknowledged that "The Last Immortal" does not belong to the type that amazes people from the beginning. To be precise, the early plot of "The Last Immortal" hard strikes a chord with the audience. In the first episode, the male protagonist, Gu Jin, plays an extremely clichéd scene of apologizing, which results in the dispersal of the fairy essence of Feng Yin that had just helped him.
Afterwards, the Feng Yin essence attaches herself to a water condensing beast egg, and after hatching from it, it becomes Gu Jin's fairy servant, A Yin, instead of the noble successor of the Phoenix, as originally intended.
This farmer and snake-like beginning makes it impossible for the male protagonist to escape criticism, while the pitiful female protagonist evokes sympathy from the audience. Even though A Yin's magical power is weak after transforming into a water condensing beast, she is still cute in appearance, pure in character, and ambitious in nature.
This further highlights the foolish and detestable nature of the male protagonist, who mistakenly admires the supporting female role. Furthermore, the beginning of the story of "The Last Immortal" already spoils the fact that Gu Jin will disperse A Yin's fairy essence once again, after killing the main female character. The main female character seems to be an unjust victim, while the male protagonist resembles an infamous scumbag. Such an outdated plot has long exhausted the aesthetic sensibilities of the experienced audience.
But "The Last Immortal" belongs to the onion-type, requiring the audience to have some patience in order to discover the tear-jerking moments beneath the layers of clichés. Once understood, it becomes truly captivating.
Let us first discuss the character development, primarily focusing on the controversial male protagonist. "The Last Immortal" is adapted from the novel of the same name by author Xing Ling, and belongs to the same series as the original work of "Ancient Love Poetry" called "Shang Gu". The male protagonist, Gu Jin, is the son of Shang Gu and Bai Jue. In "The Last Immortal", the names of Shang Gu, Bai Jue, and several characters that appeared in the previous work are changed, but most of the settings are retained.
Like his parents, Gu Jin is also a true god of the Three Realms, possessing powerful magical abilities and a noble status. After the inflation of identities in the Xianxia drama genre, the audience has become somewhat numb to the various gods of the Three Realms and Six Realms, and even feels a bit resentful towards them. "The Last Immortal" gives the male protagonist a noble identity, but also seals his divine power. Gu Jin, as a disciple of Da Ze Mountain, becomes a low-key waste, with poor cultivation and weak spiritual power, slightly mitigating the sense of arrogance associated with his identity.
In fantasy dramas, it is not very common to have a male protagonist who is weak to this extent. "The Last Immortal" is innovative in terms of character development. As for the female protagonist, A Yin, she may not be intellectually challenged, but she is even weaker. As a water condensing beast, not only is her status low and her spiritual power weak, but her lifespan is also very short.
Having both the male and female leads belong to the weak type makes them prone to being abused by the antagonist. However, on the other hand, this slightly naive character, portrayed by two young actors, naturally exudes a sense of youthful romance. Coupled with the lavish costumes, makeup, and special effects of "The Last Immortal", it is still visually appealing to watch.
Certainly, it is not advisable for the male protagonist to be foolish and naive for too long. Most of the criticisms about Gu Jin in "The Last Immortal" were overturned in the later plot. For example, he quickly realizes that his feelings for the supporting female lead are merely gratitude, and that his true love is A Yin, with whom he spends his days and nights.
Although his cultivation progress seemed a bit too easy, considering his true god bloodline, it is not unreasonable. Furthermore, the storyline of "The Last Immortal" clearly focuses more on the female lead, and the male lead does not overshadow her, which can be considered upholding male virtues.
Modern audiences generally suffer from a dislike of stupidity, which may be one of the reasons why there are fewer growth-type protagonists in recent years. Audiences understand rationally that the protagonist needs to undergo a process of transformation and growth, but if the process of growth is too stifling, they naturally hope to save time.
Even in "Empresses in the Palace," many people only enjoy watching the plot of Empress Xi after she returns to the palace and wreaks havoc. It is best for a growth-type protagonist in the early stages to immediately give the audience a sweet reward after a setback, so as not to go from disappointment to despair.
The last growth-type character who was criticized for slow transformation was Gong Zi Yu in "My Journey to You." In this aspect, "The Last Immortal" has done well, as Gu Jin clearly becomes smarter and more stable with each episode.
On the other hand, while growth-type characters endure criticism in the early stages, they also have hidden benefits. After all, the emotional impact brought by their true awesomeness is also huge. For example, when Lu Ling Feng first appeared in "Strange Tales Of Tang Dynasty," he was arrogant, insolent, and easily provoked, which truly irritated people. But as he grew, not only did he become much more pleasing to the eye, even his title of "Zhong Lang Jiang" sounded better. "The Last Immortal" is currently halfway through the series, and the characters are still growing. Whether they will gain more devoted fans remains to be seen in the future.
Similar sets, different emotions
"The Last Immortal" was originally serialized in 2013 and completed in 2018. The plot twist revealing that the male protagonist had already died is a common trope in online novels. For example, Yidu Junhua used it in the novel "The Starry Love," and Tianlai Zhiyuan used it in "Ao Ting's Blessing." However, seeing it in a new story still gives readers a different feeling. After all, while the trope is fixed, the characters, story, and emotions are new.
The drama adaptation of "The Last Immortal" stays true to the original work and retains the nostalgic atmosphere. Although the early stages have a lighthearted approach with the young protagonists, the tragedy of Gu Jin and A Yin's fate is evident from the beginning due to the use of reverse chronology. Tonight's plot has already reached a major turning point, with Da Ze Mountain being destroyed and misunderstandings between A Yin and Gu Jin intensifying.
This type of storytelling is also seen in many fairy and idol dramas. But on the flip side, this is a classic pattern that has been verified by the market, and it carries significant tension. "Death and resurrection" is a story archetype, but how one dies and resurrects can still be a surprise. As long as it is told well, it can be equally moving.
For example, the theme of "fate and calamity" is depicted in "Eternal Love" through the female lead's tribulations of love, in "Ashes of Love" through the romantic entanglements of the male and female leads, and in "The Last Immortal" through the apparent calamity that Gu Jin poses to Feng Yin, preventing her from being born.
However, the plot has already laid the groundwork. As a phoenix born against the heavens, Feng Yin is destined to face many difficulties and hardships, intertwining her fate with Gu Jin's, which paradoxically gives her a glimmer of hope, while A Yin is indeed Gu Jin's calamity.
Once immersed in this narrative context, it seems difficult to argue over who owes whom in terms of suffering, whether it is the male or female characters who suffer more. After all, these two individuals are destined for each other, bound by fate and destiny. This extreme form of tragic romance, with its emphasis on life and death, undeniably strikes a chord with fans of fairy and idol dramas.
For example, the pairing of Huashu and Emperor Lanfeng in the drama, a combination of a scheming villainess and a righteous gentleman, ends in tragedy. A similar couple was seen in the previous drama "Story of Kunning Palace" with the characters Jiang Xue Ning and Zhang Zhe, who were equally popular as the official couple.
"The Last Immortal" meticulously portrays how the villainess gradually falls in love, and at the peak of their relationship, arranges for Lanfeng's death, turning their wedding into a funeral. With emotionally nuanced progress and sufficiently devastating twists, this plot is enough to captivate the audience. When Lanfeng exits the stage, the barrage of comments is filled with lamentations, and Huashu's descent into darkness becomes more reasonable.
The old-fashioned style does not necessarily mean it lacks emotional impact. As long as it is executed properly, combining the nostalgic flavor of old dramas with innovative character designs, and with sincere production, even familiar tropes can evoke a genuine sense of appreciation from the audience. In my opinion, what makes "The Last Immortal" captivating is not how much it innovates, but rather how it earnestly tells a heartbreaking story in the old-fashioned style, without unnecessary embellishments, but with a sense of serene beauty.