Gao Liang and Gu Yi Ye are recruited into the same unit and thrown into action the first day of enlistment. Their careers start ‘on a bad foot’, even if their bravery is undoubted, as they both come from different backgrounds and thus have different personalities. Though they are rivals in love and competitors in army, they cherish each other as comrades-in-arms. With time passing, their lives are put through constant trials, forcing them to make hard choices as they strive forward. This is the story of young heroes, that once had dreams, and that grew and strove for nearly four decades, to become the heroic Ace Troops. (Source: MyDramaList) Edit Translation
Cast & Credits
A Lot to Unpack - An Honest ReviewI only watched this because Xiao Zhan is one of the people I follow and also for seeing what the military genre holds in their country, as it's the first time I watched a military cdrama. And while everyone knows the general issues production had, I did find out recently that it was because of censorship and multiple reviews, that this drama lost 13 episodes and therefore explains the haphazard editing and much of the disconnection and inconsistencies. Let's unpack this series.
Pros: I loved Gu Yiye from the beginning. The character wasn't perfect in the slightest but was always determined to make himself better no matter how much hard work it took. Every step he took, every emotion he displayed made it in effect seem like a docuseries and not just a fictional drama. No matter how many people frowned upon him, he was determined to show his hard work and take his own path to the top. XZ filmed this series during the most difficult time in his career and life and still put 110% into it and it shone through in dividends. His explosion of emotions or even basic army tactics spoke volumes about how much he was invested in his character.
A-Xiu was literally the perfect match for GYY. Though their relationship began out of responsibility, it blossomed into real genuine love. The way she always had his back no matter what. She helped break the PTSD cycle, she ran around searching for doctors for his arm, she was ready to beat up anyone that ever bullied GYY and was the solid foundation that essentially GYY never had in his life. To her, he was the brightest star in the entire world. Both Jiang Nan Zheng (JNZ) and Hu Yang (HY) couldn't provide the simple things GYY needed and that really all he ever needed was understanding and support.
My other favorite characters were many of the support like Zhang Fei, papa Gu, and the rest of their comrades in arms. Each one came with their unique personalities and flaws. If a character is too perfect, it won't be remotely realistic. Just like if the opposite happens and the character is awful, it won't lead credence to the portrayal either. The couples whether they stayed together or not still were properly evolved and had their closure at the end.
I loved the special effects during the big battles or whether they actually used real military equipment or CGI I don't know but all the blasts and the combat scenes were really nice. Be they real war or drills; when actual fighting was involved or strategies explained, it was nice to see how the mind worked to help move on to the next step. The OSTs were also appropriate and made the proper impression whether in the credits or in the scenes. Also liked the fact that this series ran low on propaganda which is a very good thing as these military dramas tend to overdo that aspect in large quantities.
Cons: I will be completely honest here and I'm not hating on him in the slightest but Johnny's performance for more then half of the series was underwhelming. I have been told for a long time that this genre was his niche so I was very excited to see him and XZ in this great drama but his performance fell flat for being the ML; I've got nothing against him at all; this is just my own personal experience and opinion as a viewer.
Gao Liang until he went to study at the school was essentially riding the coattails of nepotism which was quite unseemly and with the sob story about him being an orphan and his dead brother; also weird that the story kept changing to fit whatever was going on in the drama. I kept wondering why no one was calling it out but perhaps that's how their military ran in those days.
JNZ started off as a smart young woman but then they dumbed her down into this whining, crying female lead that had literally no concept of being affected by the battle that took so many lives. It felt like the battle the rest of the cast fought and the one she was in were completely different situations. The "turn your frown upside down" after a trauma from JNZ to GYY was rather lame and that's the other thing that made GYY start to distance himself from her.
The amount of random time lapses and inconsistencies were staggering. A few examples; JNZ hated her father the chief and then in the next episode when she finds out he's fighting for his life, she was practically ready to change his diapers in the hospital for him. One episode she calls GL her brother, in the very next episode she's madly in love with him. The romance between GYY and AX would also have been good to see.
The fact that this series tried desperately to turn GL into Robocop, making him single-handedly take out very butch and heavily armed terrorists or that last drill that dragged for far too long and him zipping around the island with literally a propeller in his behind and 17 pairs of eyes being able to spot a singular intruder on his own and then go chase him down. It was beyond unbelievable even for a fictional military drama. That can't be excused by the cut in episodes, but I would like to ask what the writer was thinking. The fact that he was able to scuba dive with explosives without any real training was very inconsistent and pretty ridiculous; just like GYY and his soldiers being able to essentially turn into paratroopers with zilch experience also made little sense.
There were many more but I'll mention a last one and that's the tug of war of JNZ and GL and their marriage. When GYY is dating JNZ, GL is always there getting in between them like an annoying mosquito they can't swat. But as soon as JNZ is single, GL seems interested and then quickly backs off; giving her a zillion excuses. Did he ever really love her? Or was she like a trophy to win in a competition? Yes they got hitched in the last episode but it seemed it was such an afterthought and added a musical to the mix. When she didn't look at him, he was super clingy but when she starts being the epitome of cling wrap, he runs in the other direction. And her solution to every one of their problems was marriage. Her showing up in the 21st century wedding dress and heavy bling (that didn't make sense as she had a military salary) at the hospital where he was unconscious looked completely misplaced in a military drama. Many moments like that make you scratch your head in confusion.
Would I recommend it? If you're a military drama fan and like Xiao Zhan as well as well done supporting characters and great action, then yes I would. But I do warn about a lot of inconsistencies that might make you very confused.
Soldier vs. RoboCopStory:
The Good -
The military aspect of this drama was interesting especially in the way they showcased how the military advanced through the years. The technological advancement being the most intriguing while the training portion was appropriate as well. Generally, I think the hierarchy and the flaws they showcased about the military with their higher ups and how it could impact soldiers really gave great insight to how things were ran. That maybe it isn't as perfect as it seemed but as time progressed those issues were slowly getting resolved to maybe make it harder to accomplish but not completely absent.
My favorite part of the story had to be Gu Yiye’s story arc. I felt he was very consistent with the way they wrote him – he started off being this proud, arrogant, and smart soldier and they continued to sort of write him that way but slowly try to evolve him but kept his original characteristics. Gu Yiye embodied the ideal soldier where he thrives to work towards a goal but combat and grief alters his plans and provides him other opportunities to continue to sacrifice not just for his country but also for his fallen brothers who he trained alongside. His story really made u feel sympathetic towards his choices and wanted to root for his happiness along the way and just wanted him to succeed.
The Bad –
The romance portion of this drama really dragged the plot of this story down in my opinion. It felt as if they removed the avoidable love triangle, they could have saved the main character Gao Liang from being so annoying in the beginning. The main character, Gao Liang, being the other main issue that I had with this drama. He was written very inconsistent with 1 moment he is this typical soldier that is a strong fighter to just out of nowhere being super smart AND a strong solder. It seemed like they didn’t know how to make him great and just constantly kept on adding on to him to make him seem more perfect without ever trying to really evolve him. In a way, I feel the screenwriter was trying really hard to make him into a Goku character, from Dragon Ball Z, but failed miserably along the way. U know the typical comical, strong character that his friends love and constantly root for. But the screenwriter just sort of dragged it out where it just felt forced rather than organic with the way Goku was written. Overall, I just feel his character was very flawed, writing wise, and just inconsistent with who he was from his actions in the previous episodes to how he was towards the middle. Just felt like 2 completely different people that showed no signs of how one got to the other.
This is probably the main reason why I continued to watch this drama. I felt the acting that Xiao Zhan, who played Gu Yiye, was just breathtaking. He really was able to portray his character in a perfect manner where it seemed like he was that character. While watching, I constantly kept feeling that he showed signs of being a method actor where he completely immersed himself into his character and brought out those emotions that Gu Yiye would be feeling at that exact moment. The way he showed signs of aging by simply changing parts of his face and not just relying on makeup to make him look older – just amazing. Just the overall performance by Xiao Zhan was brilliant. The other actors also did a remarkable job with their roles and being able to bring those characters to life even with the certain flaws the plot had. I think a lot of the supporting cast such as A Xiu, Niu Mancang, Zhang Fei, Chunyu, and of course Hu Yang did an absolutely amazing job with their characters and really made me invest myself into them and wanting to know what became of them.
The OSTs were absolutely amazing. Both the beginning and ending songs that were sung by Johnny Huang and Xiao Zhan, respectively, were just beautiful and were able to enhance the plot and give the appropriate emotion for the type of drama it is.
Overall, yes, I would rewatch because I felt there are some scenes that were just done stunningly; especially episodes 18 – 21 when the war had occurred. I even enjoyed parts of the training portion in the beginning episodes. But some parts I would just fast forward since I was not a huge fan of the overexaggerated compliments a certain character was getting and just inconsistencies.
To sum it up, I think this drama is quite good for a military drama and allowed a lot of room for discussion which I feel is the main task for a lot of shows/movies. To allow people to discuss and see what they like or dislike about something just so it could be engaging amongst the audience.