Who Rules The World
More style than substance
Who Rules the World is adapted from a well-known Chinese novel of the same name. It was one of the most anticipated Chinese drama in 2022, and debuted with over 1 billion views globally in its first week.
In a Nutshell
It is common in Chinese literature to divide society into two parallel but distinct paradigms - the political world of mainstream society, and the martial arts world also known as Jianghu. Our main characters, Bai Feng Xi and Hei Feng Xi are the top two fighters in Jianghu. Their names sound similar, but are written in different Chinese characters. Bai means white and Hei means black, which in the novel is meant to represent their contrasting personalities. Bai Feng Xi and Hei Feng Xi share a friendly rivalry and have known each other for many years. She nicknames him Black Fox for his calculating and cunning persona. He describes her as a troublemaker due to her maverick behaviour and unashamed love for eating and drinking.
The mainsteam political world is ruled by the Emperor of the Dadong empire. This empire is made up of six States which have their own governing King/Queen. Bai Feng Xi and Hei Feng Xi keep their real identities in the political world as a guarded secret (although not so secret for audiences as the trailer spoils it ….. LOL!) .
The martial arts style in this drama is a mixture of fantasy and Wu Xia, where martial art experts possess superhuman capabilities and skills. So expect a lot of gravity defying kung fu, supernatural weapons, and heavy reliance on inner force (qi) to either defy the laws of physics or to toss enemies around like ragdolls.
The story begins when a mystical token controlling all six States is declared missing. Hei Feng Xi and Bai Feng Xi become caught up in the search for the token and the subsequent power struggle, as each State attempt to conquer one another to ultimately claim dominion over the entire empire.
Zhao Lusi and Yang Yang are terrific in this drama, with their endearing portrayal of the main characters and sizzling onscreen chemistry. As an actress known primarily for her lightweight comedic roles, Zhao Lusi surprisingly fits the “as beautiful as she is lethal” role of Bai Feng Xi like a glove. She steals the show with her versatility and acting chops, as she effortlessly brings to life the elegance, charisma, playfulness, and wittiness of Bai Feng Xi. Her performance in a particular scene completely shatters your heart with her raw display of grief and loss. After that, I couldn’t think of anyone else more perfect to play a character, who fights with grit and fierce determination to defend her hometown.
Yang Yang also shines in his portrayal of the calm and strategic Hei Feng Xi. He plays the different shades of the character well, with measured intensity. All his scenes with Zhao Lusi are on-point and the off-the-cuff banter between their characters was incredibly fun to watch. The evolution of their relationship from friendly rivals to falling in love unfolds naturally and nothing felt forced or overly sweet to give you a nauseating toothache. The self-deprecating scenes about cliched plots in romantic novels was also cleverly woven into the script. The OST / music was perfect for the drama and gave me goosebumps in certain episodes.
Who Rules The World starts off with promising first few episodes, with visually spectacular fight choreography and interesting character set-ups. The story then rapidly descends into the depths of sloppy scriptwriting and vanilla bland plotlines, resulting in a mediocre mishmash of palace politics and family melodrama that seemed to drag on forever. The story gets somewhat back on track in the final 8 or so episodes, but by then, it was such a mad rush to wrap things up that the pacing became uneven and haphazard. This, combined with choppy and disjointed editing, left some episodes feeling flat and uninspiring. Even the scene where Bai Feng Xi delivers her character-defining line, which was said in the context of soldiers who have willingly died for her on the battlefield, felt indifferent, as there was not enough lead-up or follow-through in the narrative for me to appreciate the emotion of those words. The motivations of characters were also shallow and under-developed, leading to actions that were either puzzling or just down-right illogical.
Despite being heavily promoted as a martial arts / WuXia drama, most of the fight scenes were cramped into the first and last few episodes, which left the middle acts of the drama feeling a little dull. The CGI battle scenes also started off well, but towards the end deteriorated into B-grade Marvel movie imitations. This is a real shame considering how hard the actors spent learning wire-work, swordplay, and fight choreography.
Who Rules The World had so much potential to be a well-made drama. However, the screenplay was too ambitious in trying to cover multiple narratives, resulting in an undercooked incoherent story. This resulted in the actors having to do much of the heavy lifting and often left them looking directionless in their own plotlines. That said, if you are looking for a historical fantasy drama purely for entertainment, great chemistry and endearing main characters, then this show will not disappoint. But if you are looking for a more intricate story, then you might not enjoy this one as much.
Overall score: 6.5/10
Some C-drama tropes to look for:
Mouth-to-mouth transfer of medicine to an unconscious character. How actors can keep a straight face
while doing this I will never know.
The princess carry. Thank goodness Yang Yang and Zhao Lusi have incredibly good looks and sizzling chemistry to make these scenes adorable, rather than awkward and clumsy.
Husband and wife drawing each others eyebrows. This historic practice dates back to the Han Dynasty and was an indication of a loving relationship between a couple.
Characters get stabbed multiple times, yet appear in following episodes completely healthy and uninjured. Well I guess if gravity defying kung fu is a thing … then why not self-healing mortal wounds?
All ailments big or small, start and end with coughing up copious amounts of blood. Always
Walking in the rain, or heaven forbid falling into water, will cripple a character with a life-threatening cold.
1. How many episodes? 40 epsiodes. Each about 45 mins long
2. Where can I watch? All episodes with English subtitles on Netflix, Tencent Video, or WeTV app (one-off subscription required)
3. Will I end up binge-watching this drama? Likely, especially if you are a fan of the actors.
4. Will the songs and music from the soundtrack be stuck in my head? Very likely – the only cure is to find some other OST to replace it.