Joy of Life is one of those cdramas I was looking forward to ever since it was announced back in 2017, mainly because of Zhang Ruo Yun. I don’t generally pin dramas up because of who the actors are but when it’s someone whose work I’ve enjoyed before, I do tend to pay more attention than usual. In this case I started reading the novel to see what it was all about and based on that, decided to check Drama out when it finally airs. Which I did and ended up loving Joy Of Life a lot. It was the only drama I followed week to week this year. The original web novel is by Mao Ni, who also wrote Ever Night and like that one, JoL is a wordy, looooong ass novel (some 740+ chapters). Hence the story is going to be told in three parts and what just aired was Season 1. When it comes to Chinese productions you never know if the promised additonal seasons are actually going to materialise but the 1st instalment of JoL was big enough success that at least S2 is going to be made, hopefully with the same cast.I’ve never been much of a fan of dramas with a lot of politics, palace or otherwise but somehow Joy of Life managed to sweep me along and keep me intrigued all the way through. What helped was that Drama isn’t confined in the royal palace and thus never gets overly stuffy. Instead the palace is just one of the places our hero gets to do his stuff. Most of the story is set in the capital of Qing and couple of other areas inside the nation, except that one portion set in Nothern Qi, one of the neigbouring countries. As adaptations go, the screenwriter of Joy of Life did a VERY good job. He streamlined the plot without loosing anything essential and the changes actually made the story flow better. Drama is pretty faithfull to the original content, with few tweaks here and there, both small and couple of more extensive ones. Some are due to censors I believe, others for a better flow and some probably due to technical reasons, as this wasn’t a production that had oodles of moolah to use. It still manages to look beautiful. JoL doesn’t have the sweeping location shoots Ever Night had but the sets are pretty well done and I liked the costuming and props as well. I also LOVED the more humorous take on the story. Drama is laugh out loud funny in places but never OTT or slapsticky. Going forward things get more serious as stakes get higher but I’m hoping they won’t totally do away with the humor. Besides the writing and directing what stands out is the acting. Zhang Ruo Yun is a perfect fit for the character, he totally nails it. He made the role his own and I just can’t see anyone replacing him. Drama Fan Xian is somewhat softer and less ruthless than in the novel but I believe that’s a conscious choice by the writer and fits well with the overal feel of the drama. The veteran actors are all great and make a good counterpoint to our hero. All the different tiers of supporting actors are very well chosen as well, all the way to the bit parts.
Drama is populated with what seems like gzillion characters but all are meaninful and have a proper place in the story. There are no cardboard characters in JoL. They are interesting enough that you keep wishing you’d learn more about some of them. Even though the writer did a good job balancing the different character storylines, JoL is based on a typical male centric web novel and it is foremost Fan Xian’s story. If that sets your teeth on edge, you’ll better move on as no amount of winging will change that. Among the things the writer did tweak, was making Fan Xian’s lady love Lin Wan’er a bit more fleshed out than she originally was. For someone who is truly important to Fan Xian, she was pretty much a non entity in the novel. There are other ladies who are more interesting and who have more of a presence when it comes to moving the story forward. What they do matters. Even if Wan’er seems to be ‘billed’ as one of the mains, I can’t see her as one, the true main characters besides Fan Xian are Chen Dao Ming’s Liu Yu (the Emperor) and Wu Gang’s Chen Ping Ping (Director of the Investigation Center and a master schemer). The comic relief mantels seem to have landed on Gao Da (Commander of the Tiger Troops, Fan Xian’s guard) and Wang Qinian (originally a clerk of the Investigation Center ~ he’s a crafty one 😉 ). Both are very good at what they do though, so there’s more to both than meets the eye. They are the first of Fan Xian’s close circle of friends and associates.
Now about that ending. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not too bothered about the cliffhanger, although I must admit I didn’t particuarly care for it and Drama sure didn’t need the dramatics. I know it it’s a fakeout. But you see, the cliffhanger and most of the stuff leading up to it, are not in the novel. It almost looks like they are going to bypass the “mini arcs” that in the novel happen right after Fan Xian retuns from Nothern Qi and lead up to the reveal we now got in the last epi. If that’s the case, there are several other future story threads that are probably going to go a bit differently or not happen at all. This may also mean that the bit I call “assassination attempt at the temple” is going to be left out as well. It was important going forward, so… I’m a bit flabbergasted here. Guess we’ll have to wait for S2 to find out.
AvenueX has couple of very nice YT videos about the drama. She always has something interesting to add, things we often did not even notice.
Annnnd this may come handy too: Joy of Life Jokes Explaned 😀
The drama OST is perhaps not as memorable as in some of the other cdramas I’ve liked (most of it is quite modern but it fits, oddly enough). I do like both the opening and closing songs.
Opening song // 一念一生 Yi Nian Yi Sheng by Li Chian (not sure of the translation of the song title but maybe A Thought of a Lifetime)
Closing song // 余年 / Remaining Life by Xiao Zhan
A gallery of characters.