She dies the first time they meet. He dies the last time they meet. Team TBR Challenge Review: An Ancient Love Song


This is one of the rare times I’m “in line” with the TBR Challenge prompt – July is “opposites attract” and while this maybe isn’t what one would think … I feel it fits here. I might also be a little off with the second sentence of the post title, but it’s pretty safe to assume. So this is a love story but it is NOT an American genre romance. Obviously.

The premise is … what if you and your soulmate were trapped in reverse timelines.

I want to talk about the details of this drama for once – because the way An Ancient Love Song came into existence is SO COOL. As far as i know it’s a short, low budget “low production” series. However, I saw some interesting buzz about it, and had liked the FL (female lead) in another drama I’d watched before. Initially I saw a trailer and was like “while the visuals are beautiful it looks sad, so pass” but then I heard about the origin. So apparently someone made a random but intense fan music video (FMV) years ago. They took clips of different dramas and put them together (very impressive – they made the visuals seamless and it really looked like it could’ve been one show) –  and even hired voice actors for new dialogue/a story. It went viral, and eventually someone decided to turn it into an actual series. The original creator was even brought on as a scriptwriter. I believe someone said it’s the first time this has ever happened.

Another aspect I loved about An Ancient Love Song is it addresses the questions of history – as in … looking at what was written, who wrote it, and why. And maybe it isn’t really what happened. Our hero, Shen Bu Yan (SBY) is a writer and vlogger (and … maybe history professor?). I’d say this is more a low fantasy story because it involves time travel. SBY lives in modern China, our heroine, Lu Yuan (LY) lives in ancient China (in a made up dynasty). They’re fated, but opposite in multiple ways. (He’s a pacifist, she is highly skilled in martial arts, he’s very educated, her background is a poor country girl – literally originally a slave.)

I debated not talking about it, but there’s no real way to discuss this series without details, and also I don’t think any of you will watch it, so I’m not that concerned about spoilers. BUT ALSO AND MORE IMPORTANTLY – because in my opinion, watching Chinese dramas (like reading romances), 95% of it is the journey not the end, because a lot you can guess. (Although on the other hand, with Chinese dramas, nobody is safe. Nobody. Even something that seemed straight Hollywood romance for 30+ episodes could have the female lead (FL) or ML die in the last few minutes.)

ANYWAY. SBY wrote a book about this evil empress – one who supposedly seduced the emperor, took control, isolated him from his consorts and everyone else, and killed the loyal prime minister. What an awful person, right? The first time he travels back in time is as I said above, to see her die. He doesn’t know who she is at that point because it’s a very short and of course shocking thing. It’s the first ~minute of the drama. Then things actually start. The second visit, he’s back in ancient China for a slightly longer time. (I think about four hours?) He actually spends time with the empress, and is quite curt with her. (Actually he’s a straight asshole.) However he sees what really happened, and how it was vastly different from the history books. It’s actually the prime minister was attempting a coup and the empress stops him. (SBY had no idea and criticizes each and every move she makes though, as he thinks she’s being domineering and capricious and selfish. Ouch.) And imagine the person you love most in the world, who you only get to spend short periods of time with, are separated from for years at at time, comes back to you as a stranger who thinks the worst of you. They know less about you every time you meet. I’m clutching my heart just thinking about it.

The next time he travels back in time, it’s ten years prior to the first time he truly met her. He doesn’t pick the time it just happens. (Incidentally history has changed. I think this might actually be a plot hole but I’ll have to watch again. Our ML is desperately trying to change FL’s fate – to tell her what happens in the future. How to help her, how to save her. This time she pretends not to know him, to save them both pain, but she thinks she’s going to die [this time] so she writes him a letter telling him actually of course she remembers him, and she thought it would just be easier this way. She’s also trying to protect him. I think at this point he realizes they’re on an inevitable opposite course. They even think they succeed in changing things … but oof. They do not.
They do not.

The next time they meet, it’s five years earlier (so about 15 years earlier in the timeline than the first time he interacted with the empress in person.) He’s desperately trying to warn her about [future] bad actors but she doesn’t believe him because as I said, opposite directions. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating and so thought provoking. At one point our hero just wants to live with the heroine – he asks her to stay with him at LY’s original home, and to ignore other things like governance or entering the palace – the country can be left to others. He’s so frustrated and says “why do you ancient people bear such a sense of responsibility? You’ve already stopped a war and helped ensure an elite army gets set up. Can’t you just stop?” And she basically responds “I don’t know about people in your time, but I can’t ignore my country when I know there is need.” … but then she thinks about it and says what she wants most truly is to just live a quiet simple life with him. There’s so much hope … but our ML [dies]. We’re jerked back into modern times with him in an ambulance – I think he had a heart attack or something. It’s so sad.

The time after that, the “last” time (we think) … our hero is dying. It’s three years earlier than the previous time for LY – I think our heroine is 18 here. SBY’s given up on reversing her fate but insists on trying to teach her everything he knows, in order for her to protect herself, and to be able to best handle everything that is coming her way. There wasn’t any time in the series for it to be addressed but I did wonder … if this actually did all stem from him. If she hadn’t had the knowledge and skills for some of the things she did … would she still have had such a life? Did he actually unwittingly set everything in motion?

Anyway, ML is jerked back into his own timeline/the “real world” and he’s determined to write about what actually happened in history. It (of course) just so happens the empress’ tomb is discovered, and in it a document describing what actually happened at the time. (The next emperor in LY’s time was her adopted son, and through the series he’s asked her a few times – you’re so misunderstood and reviled, why don’t you explain the truth? So he specifically wrote down the truth in hopes one day his mother’s name would be cleared.) SBY feels the same way – he’s so frustrated on the behalf of our heroine. (But she understands it’s basically too late/pointless, and also the bigger picture is the stability of the country and the happiness of the people, not how she’s wronged or people unfairly and unjustly hating her. At the end – which is the beginning of the series – when she dies/is executed, it’s a way for the people to vent their anger at the turmoil and mismanagement of the country the past years, and for her son to have a new start and distance himself from this “evil empress.”) [😿 this poor woman.]

At one point she’d tried fighting destiny too but … as he says. They’re trapped in a reverse timeline. He actually “told” her that (it seemed like the ramblings of a deliriously ill person) when she was 18, so it didn’t mean anything to her at the time. Why and how could it?

SBY, in the modern world has aged, and finally there’s a big exhibit about the empress, and he goes and finds that the empress had left him a coded message in the konghou – a harp like instrument that he’d bought her their “last” time together. (It might be the same one in E1 though I’m not sure. If so … then extra crushing.)

… I kinda wish the series had ended here, because I feel like the ending got “weird”/cringe – because … SBY is transported back in time, and … now LY is actually just a little girl. (Seriously she looks like she’s four or five at most.) And she doesn’t even have a given name. So like … any “tender feeling” is … beyond creepy into disgusting. She actually calls him “uncle” [it’s a cultural sign of respect/something you would call a “senior to you” person] and he’s like “uncle?” And the little girl is like “look at how old you are! You can’t mean for me to just call your big brother?” But he basically tells her she’s going to accomplish great things. Initially he’s going to walk her back home but then he decides she needs to do all the things on her own, and no time to start like the present – and she can handle walking that distance herself.

He disappears (again) – not sure if this time he really dies or not, but anyway, the little girl smiles into the camera, and …finis.

Watching the whole thing actually makes the beginning even more heartbreaking, and it’s already sad. I can’t remember what episode I started but I was flat out crying by episode 3. There’s still humor though and such emotion and it’s BEAUTIFULLY done. The actors are also all excellent, and in watching it I realized I’d seen ML in a different series too, and he does a great job/is so very different. (I started rewatching the series to write this review and now that I know everything … it makes episode one/their first seen meeting even that much more devastating. It’s so sad for our heroine and it feels like my heart is getting mulched.) The symbolism, items that have even more meaning and impact than we thought …

Our heroine is a boss. She plays every age so well, and she has great action scenes too. (Viewers had complimented her on her crisp fight scenes and I definitely see why. She was also excellent in FuYao. In An Ancient Love Song she kicks someone by extending her foot over her head and I cheered when I saw it in the series despite having previously seen it in clips.) The fight scenes are not only well choreographed they’re beautifully done with her flowing robes and skirt. The soundtrack, the acting, the sets and locations, everything about it is gorgeous. This seems to be a new age of excellently done [low budget] series that look high budget. (There’s a tiny bit of that in my opinion goofy wirework but nothing egregious/nothing like other series that are too much.)

An Ancient Love Song is also pretty short – just fourteen episodes (and thank god because I literally binged it – I started watching it Sunday evening and finished watching it at 5 AM :X). They’re also only about 30 minutes, as opposite to ~40. (So also forgive me if I got the ages/some details wrong. I’m actually trying not to spoil too many things, and brain is sieve.)

The scenes, the story, the lines … it just felt like I was getting punched in the heart – but O_o in a good way. And the line “魚在水中游. 是尾也是頭” … the perfect symmetry and flow of it when he’s delirious and it’s also the jade pendant and it’s them and it’s so perfect and so tragic and I can’t. Heh. I even KNEW this series would be sad. I walked around my house going “ahhhhh” at a high decibel. (987.77 Hz to be exact – for a full minute to brace myself before diving in, then after 3 episodes so as to not explode.)

I’m definitely going to be rewatching this drama, and hope you watch it too.

You can watch the first part here:

The first two parts are up – the third hopefully soon? Anyway the second part is here:

7 thoughts on “She dies the first time they meet. He dies the last time they meet. Team TBR Challenge Review: An Ancient Love Song

  1. Limecello Post author

    Eeee I noted it but my brain didn’t make that final connection/click – but someone else mentioned EVEN THEIR CLOTHES correspond to their respective love timelines! Just nearly every little thing about this series is *chefs kiss* – The deeper the love, the darker the color of their clothing IT LITERALLY CHANGES AND I CAN’T. Ahhhhh.

  2. Pingback: What if the “Villains” Were the Heroes? A belated TBR Team Challenge Review of Dong Lan Xue | Limecello

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