Old-fashioned love story set in a fairyland

Wallace Huo and Zhao Liying (both left) play star- crossed lovers in The Journey Of Flower.
Wallace Huo and Zhao Liying (both left) play star- crossed lovers in The Journey Of Flower.PHOTO: THE JOURNEY OF FLOWER/WEIBO

The mystical realm dreamt up in the Chinese fantasy The Journey Of Flower is a land of floating cliffs and enchanted forests, where swords double as hoverboards and books, like Internet devices, can be searched by voice.

And a contest held at Changliu, the top school of immortal martial arts, ends with judges fighting over who will teach which disciple, rather like an audition episode of The Voice Of China.

The world of The Journey Of Flower may be a fairyland in the distant past, but it is seen through up-to-date lens. It is at once far-flung and accessible to a wide young audience, which may be why the show was a huge online hit in China last year.

The drama seems to be a confident work of a clever student of pop culture, who is not only well-versed in J.K. Rowling and Louis Cha, but may have also internalised films as diverse as Inception (2010) and Ashes Of Time (1994).

Oh, and it can be seriously cute. For instance, the animated character of Tangbao, a chirpy insect that is the pet of Hua Qiangu (Zhao Liying), the central character, calls her its "mother dear" and sleeps in its own teeny- weeny cot. It gets a high score on sheer adorableness, which is surely a key indicator of the success of a pop product.


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However, when the show gets down to business, the story is startlingly old-fashioned.

Qiangu is a lonely girl who was born under an unlucky star (her name is a lyrical allusion to her birthday, when fields of flowers perished along with her mother) and her star-crossed would-be lover is Bai Zihua (Wallace Huo), an aloof immortal guy who heads Changliu and is fated to have his life ruined by her.

Zihua has magical equipment to identify Qiangu as the jinx he should shun, though it is of little use against his enemy, Master Yixiu, a masked mystery man who works harder than a matchmaker to push them together.

A seed of a relationship is sown in an early episode, when Zihua rescues Qiangu from a monster possibly summoned by Yixiu. Later, Yixiu plants an idea of Changliu in Qiangu's head and, before long, she has moved into Zihua's residence in the clouds as his new disciple.

Here is where the fun in an idol drama would usually start, as Zihua fights not to fall for Qiangu.

But although Huo is a master of the cool sidelong glance, he doesn't muster the ice and fire, the charm and passion - unlike, say, Nicky Wu in Scarlet Heart (2011) - that would pull you into the thrall of the character and the story of doomed romance.

Instead, the show flickers to life whenever Sha Qianmo (Ma Ke), the silky king of demons, sweeps in. As the good bad guy with cover-girl looks - and enough mascara to face off against entire K-pop armies - Ma is just magnetic. And Qianmo's scenes with Qiangu, whom he likes instantly, have a real warmth.

They make me wonder if a braver show could have been made about them and their less conventional relationship. Well, I can dream, can't I?

An alternative title of the Japanese Netflix drama Atelier could be The Devil Who Designs Lingerie.

Mao Daichi, wearing her hair in a stiff bob reminiscent of Vogue editor Anna Wintour's, is the devil who makes statements such as: "Beauty is a weapon".

Mirei Kiritani is the new girl at a bespoke lingerie boutique, who has the gall to go to work in a cheap suit.

Beauty versus function - Prada versus Muji, maybe - they are the axes that the two characters' struggles revolve around.

Not that much drama is squeezed out of their arguments, however, which tend to be tied up too quickly and tidily, with lace and ribbons.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline 'Old-fashioned love story set in a fairyland'. Print Edition | Subscribe