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Zhang Ruo Yun (Actor) | Chen Dao Ming (Actor) | Li Qin (Actor) | Xiao Zhan (Actor)
One of the dramas I'm most looking forward to in 2021 is the second season of Joy of Life. The first season that aired in 2019 was a big hit in China and made our year-end picks, thanks to its unique mix of wuxia, suspense, fantasy and pure wit.
Based on Mao Ni's novel Qing Yu Nian, the period series stars Zhang Ruoyun as silver-tongued swordsman Fan Xian, who lives in ancient times but has modern-day knowledge. His mysterious origin links back to his even more mysterious mother, who came from an unknown place and left behind a great legacy of innovation and larger-than-life legends. Summoned to the capital by his father and the Emperor (Chen Daoming), Fan Xian searches for his origins and encounters the love of his life (Li Qin), not to mention many powerful people who want to use him, help him and/or kill him.
Joy of Life boasts a great cast, with Zhang Ruoyun in a representative role that not only exemplifies his acting skills but also reinforces his reputation for being witty and well-spoken. Chen Daoming and Wu Gang are masterful as expected, and Guo Qilin (a.k.a. son of Guo Degang) comes into his own in a lovable performance as Fan Xian's bratty, money-minded younger brother. The series even has Xiao Zhan in a morally gray role as a spy who was sent to another state.
Besides the acting and the production values, what makes Joy of Life truly stand out is the quality writing – a rare and precious commodity in the world of Chinese dramas. Many a popular IP suffers on the small screen due to bad writing. This drama, however, is adapted by Wang Juan, who has built a reputation for his strong screenplays in works like Young Blood. Like all Chinese screenwriters, Wang has to figure out how to tell a story with elements that could potentially run afoul of censors. The baldly direct workaround in this case is to begin with a brief modern-day prologue that basically announces "this is just a fictional story some guy is writing," and then jump straight into the quirky antics of Fan Xian's childhood.
There are many droll moments at the drama's start that make you wonder if you're being trolled, but then it turns out, this is just how Joy of Life rolls. The offbeat series sends up wuxia tropes with oddball characters and strange developments that make you chuckle in good fun – until they make you gasp out loud with surprising turns, anime betrayals and mind-blowing leaps of imagination that upend everything you thought you knew about the story. I need Season 2 now!