C-dramas can be uneven, given their length and complicated plots, but Princess Agents has achieved a paradox. Despite its absurdity, you are compelled to watch to the very crazy end.
First, let’s start with the wonderful.
The leads. While the romantic triangle is not new, the trio of Chu Qiao (Zhao Li Ying), Yuwen Yue (Lin Geng Xin) and Yan Xun (Dou Xiao) is entertaining, especially before the Big Tragedy. Chu Qiao is a great female lead. At first, you wonder about her indifferent attitude, but then revel in the way she is totally not impressed with Yue or Yan Xun’s elite position. And I love her interaction with the Xiuli Army. Yue and Yan Xun are completely different, yet they are friends and share concern for Chu Qiao. Even though I love a stoic, I was not feeling Yue at first. But throughout the series, he actually changes, even if his facial expression rarely does. That slow personality change is what makes him endearing. Yes, I’m #TeamYue. Yan Xun plays the leisurely, “I live in a manor and hang out with the elite but I’m a captive prince” really well. His happy-go-lucky demeanor brings levity to the politics of Chang’an. Because of their different personalities, Chu Qiao interacts with Yue and Yan Xun in different ways. The low-key banter and insults between Yue and Chu Qiao belie how much they care for each other. Chu Qiao does what no one else is able to do for Yan Xun after the Big Tragedy.
The villains. Any good melodrama needs villains and the more villainous the better. Yuwen Huai (Wang Yanlin) initially takes up the villain mantle out the gate: the human hunting ground, his repeated assassination attempts on Yue, his constant attempts to beat down Chu Xiao. He’s the type of villain that almost makes you sad to see him go. But Princess Agents got you! No sooner than he is off the scene, Cheng Chi (Hu Chunyoung) takes up the villain gauntlet thrown down by Huai. His scheme-y shenanigans are unrelenting and bold. In the last acts of the drama, Yuan Chun (Li Qin) represents the ladies. Who else would steal a army to get revenge?
The sidekicks. Given the powerhouse main cast, it takes a special character to catch the audience’s attention. Yue Qi (Xin Shao Lin) is the man! At first, you think he’s just one of Yue’s many underlings, but he’s the closest to Yue and he knows him the best. This means that he’s not only trustworthy and dependable, but can also get away with throwing shade of his own and live to tell the tale. Zhong Yu (Li Ruo Jia), Yan Xun’s martial artist aide, is always serious, which means she gets the job done. She also tries to tell Yan Xun what’s-what and keep his people in line.
The dilemma. The plot hinges on Emperor Wei’s (Tian Xiaojie) response to what he thinks is a potential rebellion by Yan Xun’s father, the Yan Sicheng (Li Haohan), Duke of Yan. The Emperor’s sworn brother, Yan Sicheng has been guarding the border for years, but because the Emperor is paranoid, suspicious and drunk on power, he plots to kill Yan Sicheng and his whole family for no good reason. It is this decision that alters the lives of all the characters, plunging them into a scenario that is difficult to resolve at best. It ruins all the relationships that Yan Xun has with Wei people, particularly Yue. You could kinda see why he’d want to get revenge. At the same time, his Wei friends know that the Emperor’s actions are wrong, but they are loyal subjects, and as loyal subjects they can’t do anything about it. What to do when your leader is crazy? Then again, Yan Xun’s revenge is all out of proportion, not directed at the right people and harms a lot of innocent people. How to resolve?
The wonderful is what keeps you invested in Princess Agents. The crazy makes you want to beat your head against a wall.
The ending. What are you doing, Princess Agents?!!! You leave people who have invested 58 episodes with a cliffhanger!!! You wait until the eleventh hour to reveal that Chu Qiao has feelings for Yue! You drown Yue in the icy lake! You kill off Yue Qi! You end with Chu Qiao accepting that she is the heir to the Fengyun Order and then fade to black!! That ain’t right.
The subplots. Speaking of the Fengyun Order, this is only one of several subplots that were irregularly weaved through the drama. Audiences really didn’t care that Chu Qiao was the daughter of Luo He by the time they find out. Hey, what about those Liang spies? They cause all of the trouble, yet are not brought to account. Why are they spared Yan Xun’s wrath? We really did not need another romantic subplot that is alluded to in the early episodes but only addressed in the last one. Who are these random people in Master Wu’s explanation of Chu Qiao’s background? Why does she only literally find him in the last episodes? SHE’S BEEN IN NORTHERN YAN FOR FOREVER!!!! If Chu Qiao is supposed to take up the mantle of her mother, who was killed by her own people because she wanted to free slaves, how is Chu Qiao going to succeed? Who is the guy with the green ring? What is the significance of the guy who served Yan Xun’s father, had a hand in the fall of Yan, then serves Prince Xiang? WHO IS HE?! It’s not that you can’t figure some of this stuff out, but rather that it doesn’t make sense to the overall story. Too much stuff going on.
The (unbelievable) character development. That’s right, I’m looking at you, Chu Qiao! Even if my disbelief got an out-of-school suspension, your behavior would not make sense. Who else wanted to shake Chu Qiao? She is supposed to be righteous and helping the oppressed. But, she’s chilling in the cut with Yan Xun after he’s killed all these innocent people, left her to defend the city and let his generals talk smack about her TO HER FACE!! Why are she still giving him benefit of the doubt after what happened to Yuan Chun AND the Xiuli Army? Where is the dilemma? Yue told her that man had changed. What is even more unbelievable is that she immediately severed ties with Yue when she heard SOMEBODY ELSE saying he was using her as a death pawn. She never asked him. And while Yue did prevent Yan Xun from escaping, he never killed innocent people. But Chu Qiao drops Yue like he stole something and proceeds to spend an inordinate amount of time with Yan Xun and his doomed plan.
The pacing. While many long dramas have slow episodes, they irk you even more in Princess Agents because there is no payoff in the end (see The Ending). Nirvana in Fire had 54 episodes, but moved the plot along at a much better pace. The Incarceration Arc in Princess Agents felt like the actual three years that Yan Xun was on house arrest. We get it!
There are many more flaws, but the thing is, you kinds don’t care. The plusses outweigh the minuses. There were lots of scenes with Yue! And besides, a drama that can raise your ire like this can’t be all bad, right?
Image: Wiseme. https://www.wiseme.com/play/ZPSJ358116. (19 Nov 2017).
The Crazy Wonderful of Princess Agents by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.