I have recently started to watch Chinese dramas. What was initially a joke turned into an exciting experience I didn’t see coming. Today I want to talk to you about Word of Honor, a period drama that stole my heart.
Word of Honor is adapted after Faraway Wanderers, a BL novel written by Priest. Due to China’s strict censorship policy, the queer elements have been toned down or written off. On the one hand, gay erasure does a massive disservice to the original story and the queer community. On the other hand, perhaps this ‘clean’ content is fitted for viewers who wanted to focus on the martial arts story. Even without explicit romantic/sexual scenes, the intimate relationship between the male leads is definitely there, thanks to the actors’ dedication and chemistry.
What is Word of Honor about?
Zhou Zi Shu, the disillusioned leader of a royal secret service, takes drastic measures to leave his former life behind and wanders the world. He unexpectedly gets involved in a conspiracy after he steps in to save a young boy. He also meets the mysterious Wen Ke Xing, who is on a quest to avenge his parents’ deaths. Together, they go through a series of adventures involving a legendary treasure that gives its owner ultimate power over the martial arts world (adapted from mydramalist.com).
Of course, the plot has many twists and turns that take you by surprise exactly when you thought you figured it all out. I haven’t read the source material, but most fans are happy with the adaptation. I enjoyed the experience more than I thought I would, and now I’m at that stage where I recommend Word of Honor to anyone who’d listen.
Since this was my first c-drama, I was a bit confused in the beginning. I had a hard time memorizing all the names and understanding who belonged to which martial arts sect. Rest assured, the drama focuses on external and internal conflicts so that you won’t be bored by palace political affairs.
My favorite things about Word of Honor
If I had it my way, I’d ramble about this drama forever, but I’ll try to pinpoint the parts I enjoyed best, hoping they will convince you to give it a try too.
1. Excellent acting
The cast took me entirely by surprise with their acting skills: from leading roles to supporting and guest roles, the actors gave superb performances. Word of Honor turned out to be the major project which boosted the career of both Zhang Zhehan (Zhou Zi Shu) and Gong Jun (Wen Ke Xing), who have been high in demand ever since the drama premiered.
It’s so hard to choose a favorite actor/character, but the one who stood out the most to me was Zhang Zhehan, who played the former assassin, Zhou Zi Shu. Zhehan brought his complex character masterfully to life, showing us his haunted soul, blood-soaked hands, gentle heart, and sharp mind. His microexpressions conveyed a thousand nuances, from a sorrowful smile to barely contained rage. His performance made me want to watch more of his work.
I want to point out that every character was voice-dubbed by a professional actor, which blew my mind when I found out. The lines are perfectly synchronized it’s almost impossible to tell. A person’s voice is very important to me, so Gu Jiangshan will forever be the gentle voice of Zhou Zi Shu, and Wang Kai will be the iconic voice of Wen Ke Xing to me. Kudos to both actors and voice actors who brought these fantastic characters to life!
2. Flawless aesthetics
Every landscape, every frame, every character looks perfect. I thought there was a lot of CGI involved to make everyone look flawless. Still, it seems like some people just casually look other-worldly like that *sighs in ugly*. All jokes aside, Word of Honor is full of eye-pleasing details that will immerse you in the story. A lot of attention went into crafting every character’s defining looks according to their personality. The period costumes, make-up, and hairstyles were stunning. Wen Ke Xing stole the show due to his impressive wardrobe worthy of a Lord.
3. A cliche-free show
This drama is unlike any show I’ve ever watched: I couldn’t find any established pattern, and I couldn’t foresee the ending either. Likewise, the characters turned out to be so much more than met the eye. Every character got some sort of closure, regardless of their role in the story. I got attached to many supporting characters, and I was glad to know what had become of them, even if they broke my heart on more than one occasion.
A word on female characters, who are often two-dimensional. Well, not in Word of Honor! Even though men dominate the martial arts world, there are also female priests, assassins, spies, loyal servants, and free spirits. Kudos to Xiao Chu, the brilliant scriptwriter who brought to light such relatable female characters!
Don’t get me wrong, Word of Honor is in no way perfect. I suppose some elements are in other c-dramas, but as a newbie in this area, I’m impressed with what I saw.
4. The Fight Scenes
Word of Honor is still a wuxia (martial arts) show, so it has plenty of sword and flying fighting scenes. Again, I’m no expert, but I think the fights looked convincing and fluid. From what I’ve seen, the actors did most of the stunts; I can’t even imagine what it’s like to fly over trees while being tied with wires.
As strange as this sounds, my favorite fighting scenes involve the main characters. Yes, you read that right; those stupid dudes fight every few episodes against each other. It’s their mating dance, which brings me to the next point
5. The relationship between the lead characters
At the beginning of the drama, Zhou Zi Shu and Wen Ke Xing had their own plans: one wanted to enjoy his remaining days in anonymity, and the other wanted to get his revenge. Forced to fight together by circumstances, they were like ice and fire: impossible to mix without devastating consequences. But as the drama progressed, they discovered that they were fated to meet. Zhou Zi Shu and Wen Ke Xing are soulmates, a bond that defeats death, hate, war, insecurity, and pain. They accept and defend each other unconditionally, making thousands of fans bawl their eyes out. That’s true love right there, people.
Word of Honor has finished airing at the beginning of May, and exclusive BTS clips and interviews are still coming out to this day. The fandom calls itself ‘The Mountain People,’ and it’s generally a friendly crowd. So, if you want to join us on the mountain, you’re always welcome!
Where you can watch the drama
Word of Honor has recently premiered on Netflix. Unfortunately, the subtitles are disappointing, taking away many of the original’s cultural references and innuendos. Moreover, the Netflix version is incomplete: they only have 36 episodes. Therefore, I recommend you chose your source carefully and watch the drama on the official YOUKU YouTube channel. Remember to watch the 37th episode as well. It’s worth every second, trust me!