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Rise of Phoenixes poster

The Rise of Phoenixes (Tiānshèng Cháng Gē)

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What it’s about:

This Chinese historical drama set in the fictional nation of Tiansheng is full of political manipulation and palace drama.

Why it’s worth your time:

Romance and intrigue, offset with intense action scenes, make this a thrill ride from start to finish.

Chinese historical dramas are enjoying a Golden Age, and while that may be a state-endorsed attempt to boost China’s “soft power” through cloying cultural exports, this is propaganda you can sit back and enjoy. Lead actress Ni Ni is mesmerizing as Zhiwei, a cross-dressing, studious girl nicknamed the Civet Cat for her mischievous ways.

Wry, handsome, calculating Ning Yi (Chen Kun) is an exiled sixth son who’s perfected a wily façade of his own—for his own obscure ends. His mother was charged with high treason, and Yi has created a secret information network with the aim of taking down his enemies and overturning the charges against his mother. He befriends Zhiwei, who’s loyal to the reigning emperor—until she is manipulated into thinking that the current kingdom was built upon the corpses of her loved ones. That leads her to take revenge against her enemies.

The takeaway:

Appealing characters, dazzling costumes, lightning-fast martial arts–and a plot with so many twists and turns, you’ll need a notebook to keep track.

Watch it with:

Anyone who likes their romance star-crossed, with a strong dash of court intrigue.

Worth noting:

Without spoiling anything, a major character’s suicide late in the series left some viewers feeling betrayed. A discussion of cultural differences concerning death, reincarnation, and sacrifices for family might be in order.

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