“The Legend of Shen Li” Drama Review

Shen Li and Xing Zhi

Chinese dramas nowadays often follow a broadcast format where the episodes up until the finale are released at once, a setup that practically demands binge-watching. “The Legend of Shen Li” (与凤行) had me indulging in a marathon, which proved to be incredibly satisfying in the end.

It’s the 6th Jiu Lu Fei Xiang Novel Adaptation

“The Legend of Shen Li” unfolds in ancient times where only one deity, Xingzhi, remains after the fall of gods. He retreats into seclusion, his whereabouts unknown. Meanwhile, ShenLi flees a political marriage and is wounded. Mistaken for poultry in her phoenix form, she’s caged by a peddler leading to a chance encounter with a mysterious man who buys hers.

This is another adaptation from a novel by Jiu Lu Fei Xiang 九鹭非香. I’ve been a fan of the author’s work since “The Legends” in 2019, which featured a badass heroine and a devoted male lead. In a way, Shen Li embodies similar traits. This marks the sixth drama adapted from the author’s works, including “The Legend of Shen Li” (2024), “Love You Seven Times” (2023), “Back from the Brink” (2023), “Love Between Fairy and Devil” (2022), “The Blue Whisper” (2022), and “The Legends” (2019).

chicken or phoenix

My Princess Agents Heart

My love for the onscreen couple started seven years ago with ‘Princess Agents.’ I don’t know if it’s made me biased, but The Legend of Shen Li had me hooked from the start. I absolutely adored just seeing the main couple banter and get to know each other. To think, it felt like chemistry was oozing even when it was just scenes of Lin Gengxin and Zhao Liying in “chicken” phoenix form. Then the story moves on to the Immortal Realm, where the human Xingyun, with his deadpan humor, becomes even more stoic as a god. I swear this role is tailor-made for Lin Gengxin since the actor does have that comical side. Then there’s Zhao Liying, who we know can carry all the badassery of Shen Li.

Jackie Li, Liu Guan Lin and He Yu

The Side Characters

Since it’s much lighter than your usual angsty xianxia, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Here, there’s no power hungry Heavenly Immortal, played by Liu Guanlin who’s certainly not old enough to have so much white hair. He’s clearly there as comic relief and he’s not the only one; there’s He Yu’s role as Furong, the “good-for-nothing” immortal betrothed to Shen Li. Then, there’s Furong’s older sister, played by Jackie Li, who’s supposed to be the girl scheming to break the main couple apart. In this story, the siblings turn out to be the main couple’s biggest shippers. Besides, Furong and Mo Fang, Xin Yunlai’s second lead, is a ship worth sailing on its own especially since the latter was never going to get the girl.

Was it perfect? Far from it. Then again, it’s kind of obvious it’s not really that serious of a drama. I admit there were occasionally slow moments where it felt like nothing was happening, but the final arc drew me back.

Spoiler Alert: The following discussion contains spoilers regarding the ending.

Xu Hai Qiao cameo Legend of Shen Li

Xu Haiqiao and Zhao Liying Reunite after Journey of Flower

Just before the big battle, we’re treated to the touching backstory of Shen Li’s parents portrayed by Xu Haiqiao and Xuan Lu. We learn that the demon king known as Chimei Wang was created by the big bad, played by Qiu Xinzhi. The Chimei Wang is not unlike a newborn. Xuan Lu’s character guides him and they fall in love. Who could have guessed their story would be so sweet?

There’s also a poignant revelation about Shen Li’s father. Despite his fearsome reputation, he possesses a kind heart. It’s practically expected that upon learning the truth, he’d come back for Shen Li to sacrifice his own life in her stead. This is a reunion between Xu Haiqiao and Zhao Liying since 2015’s “Journey of Flower,” even if it’s a bit amusing to see them play father and daughter despite their real-life age gap of just four years.

One of my favorite scenes is the emotional meeting between father and daughter, where Zhao Liying’s expressive doe eyes resemble those of a daughter’s longing, and Xu Haiqiao’s character Feng Lai acknowledges her resemblance to her mother. It’s no wonder Xu Haiqiao’s appearance was praised as the most effective cameo; it truly left a mark, especially since his story seems the most tragic. Sealed away for years, only to face his demise in the end, all while losing the love of his life.

Lin Geng Xin fight scene

Lin Gengxin Is Cool Again

The final battle, where everything culminates in an epic showdown, unfolds as the villains manage to unleash Shen Li’s father, Chimei Wang, into wreaking havoc. I found myself on an adrenaline high, replaying the scenes again. Lin Gengxin was too cool as Yuwen Yue in “Princess Agents,” I thought I had moved on, but apparently, I hadn’t. The CGI fight scenes looked good, and I couldn’t get enough of the standout moments: Xingzhi caught between stopping Xutianyuan from imploding and the Chimei Wang’s attacks, and Shen Li’s epically saving him from her father, leading to the battle of two phoenixes. There are countless moments.

And then, more tears follow as Xingzhi “dies” from having exhausted his power. However, I had a feeling they wouldn’t go down the “Princess Agents” route again; there’s simply no way. He manages to return (thanks to the remaining power from his fallen comrades), albeit not as the all-powerful god he once was, but an ordinary immortal. And you know what? I’m perfectly content with that.

Xing Zhi death scene

A Filler for the Finale?

The last episode, surprisingly, evokes no tears. It almost feels like a filler episode, as the main couple assist the heroine’s friend in capturing her future husband’s heart. After witnessing too many abrupt “happy endings,” I appreciated the chance to see the main couple simply living life together as normally as any couple would. The episode ends with Zhao Liying’s character revealing she’s pregnant, just as Lin Gengxin’s character proposes marriage.

If this is where they’re leaving us, could they please film the wedding scene too? Pretty please.

Photos: Weibo

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