The Long Ballad
An emotionally gripping story that hits the right notes
In a Nutshell
The Long Ballad is a 2021 Chinese drama based on a Manhua (ie. Chinese comic book) of the same title. Set in the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), The Long Ballad is a coming-of-age story about Li Change Ge (official title: Princess Yong Ning), who is a headstrong and spirited daughter of the Crown Prince. She shares an affectionate bond with her best friend / cousin Le Yan, and her Uncle Li Shimin (official title: Prince Qin), who is also her tutor in military strategy and martial arts. When Change Ge’s parents are executed in a military coup, she becomes a political fugitive and flees the Capital disguised as a boy. Vowing to avenge her parents, she escapes to neighbouring cities in an attempt to shore up military support to retake the Capital. Along the way, she meets the enigmatic Ashile Sun and they both form an unexpected friendship. Unbeknownst to her, he is actually a warrior prince from the invading Grassland tribes. Circumstances bring the two frenemies closer together as they discover a larger threat to the Tang Dynasty and the Grassland Tribes. In the end, Change Ge learns about the will to survive, sacrifice, unconditional love, and finally forgiveness.
The Long Ballad is a fast-paced drama that pulls you into the thick of the plot right from the opening scenes. I effortlessly devoured all 49 episodes like an Atkins dieter set loose at the bakery on cheat day. As the story progressed, I found myself visually, musically and emotionally drawn deeper into the fears, desires, and inner conflicts of the characters. The drama stays consistent with its themes symbolised by Change Ge’s prized dagger of adolescent innocence, tragedy, revenge, and letting go of past enmity.
The solid screenplay is equally supported by a strong cast. Dilraba Dilmurat was born to play the role of Change Ge, as she convincingly sweeps you onto the emotional rollercoaster ride of her character’s coming-of-age journey. She is able to convey all of Change Ge’s feelings of betrayal, hate, fear, sorrow, determination, and defiance with the most subtle of facial expressions. Leo Wu flourishes in his role as the seasoned warrior prince conflicted by his duty to his Tribe and his instinct to protect the people he loves. He plays Ashile Sun with poise and commanding physicality, yet with an undercurrent of gentleness and refreshing chivalry. Imperial bodyguard Hao Du, played by Liu Yuning, and Le Yan, played by Zhao Lusi were the dark horses in this drama, with their unexpected onscreen chemistry and several scene stealing moments. Although probably not intended by the writers, the dynamics and chemistry between Dilraba and Zhao Lusi playing the best friends / cousins torn apart by tragedy was simply off-the-charts. This was amusingly more so than the titular pairing of Dilraba and Leo Wu!
The fight choreography has a grounded yet energetic grittiness to it, with each stroke of ferocity reflecting the escalating intensity of the story. The original soundtrack (OST) and theme songs masterfully capture the emotion and tone of each scene, without being annoyingly overpowering. It is certainly one of the best I have heard so far and continued to evoke emotions I felt long after finishing the drama.
If there was one major thing that didn't work well with me, it was the sudden transition from live action scenes to comic book sequences; often with awkwardly inserted CGI talking heads. This was thankfully only used in a few episodes, but was enough to abruptly disengage me from the story for those brief moments. The drama also starts to lose steam in the final 2 episodes with draggy scenes that didn’t add anything substantial to the overall plot. However by then, I was so invested in the story and characters that it didn’t become a major stumbling block to my overall entertainment. If you are someone that absolutely despises the Paper-Thin Disguise C-drama trope (see below), you will probably be frustrated by the first half of this drama where Change Ge drives the narrative disguised as a boy.
The Long Ballad is a captivating drama that will leave you smiling, crying and cheering. The storyline is easy to follow and despite its many tropes (see below), I thoroughly enjoyed the wild and exhilarating journey of survival that these memorable characters took me on.
Some C-drama tropes to look for
Female character wears male clothing with man-bun and ta-da … everyone believes she is a boy! The Paper-Thin Disguise is the oldest C-drama trope where the only people who know the truth are us the viewers, and later on her love interest +/- a few of her close friends / relatives. Every other character in the drama are as thick as two short planks to this disguise. Well, I guess if Clarke Kent / Superman can pull it off with a simple pair of glasses, why not someone in Chinese dramaland?
Female character falls from a certain height and male character catches her with open arms. This is followed by lots of slow-mo close-ups as both stare lovingly into each other’s eyes. This was actually quite tastefully done and I didn’t have to reach for the vomit bucket. This is a good thing.
Male character grabs female character’s hand, and as they walk off, the female (no matter her status or ability) suddenly regresses into a helpless giggly 5 year old. Yeah … enough said!
Characters get stabbed multiple times, on multiple occasions, to various vital body parts, yet appear in following episodes completely healthy and uninjured. Well I guess if gravity defying kung-fu is possible, then why not self-healing mortal wounds?
Any ailment big or small, starts and ends with coughing up copious amounts of blood. Always.
To hide one's identity, one must wear a fancy elaborate zorro-like facemask. I have no idea why this is such a popular plot device in C-dramas. LOL!
1. How many episodes? 49 episodes. Each about 45 mins long.
2. Where can I watch? All 49 episodes with English subtitles available on Youtube. See link below
3. Will I become addicted and end up binge-watching this drama? Yup!
4. Will the theme songs and music from the soundtrack be stuck in my head? Yup! – the only cure is to replace them with another OST.