If you have watched “The Untamed” and enjoyed the subtle romance between main leads Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian, then Guardian should be on your playlist. Despite the blatant censorship by the Chinese Government that prohibits depictions of same-sex relationships on television, the drama manages to clearly spell out the love that the main characters Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan have for each other.
– Edited by TheFNGee
Although their relationship is shown in the platonic context with homoerotic subtext, the producers have cleverly managed to mask the Bromance, so the romance is clearly visible to the delight of Chinese Bromance drama lovers. A love saga that spans over 10,000 years, they both betrayed time and evil to stand beside each other to guard and protect humanity. Truly a promise of a lifetime!
Guardian (Chinese: 镇魂; pinyin: ZhènHún) is a 2018 Chinese web series which premiered on the popular video platform Youku on June 13, 2018. It is an adaptation of an originally BL fantasy web novel Zhen Hun written by Priest. Starring famous Chinese actors, Bai Yu and Zhu Yilong, as the main leads, the web drama was widely popular and received a total of almost 2 billion views by August 2018. Guardian won the “Most Popular Web Series” at Golden Bud – The Third Network Film and Television Festival.
Zhao Yunlan / Kunlun
Bai Yu plays Zhao Yunlan, the Chief of the Special Investigation Unit, or SID. As the leader of the unit, he is tasked with investigating supernatural cases involving Dixings (superpowered beings who live deep underground.) He is cunning, passionate about his work, extremely protective about his team who he has assembled himself.
However, his relationship with his father Zhao Xinchi is a major point of discord. Xinchi is the former Chief of SID and co-habited by a Dixing. When Zhao Yunlan was young, he witnessed his mother getting murdered by a Dixing. Instead of trying to save his wife, Xinchi instead tries hard to apprehend the suspect. After his mother’s death, their relationship gets complicated. Yunlan learns much later about the Dixing co-habiting his father’s body. Although he accepts that, he never trusts his father entirely.
To save Shen Wei, Zhao Yunlan travels to the past and pretends to be Kunlan, a fictional hero of the Yashou tribes and humanity. There he meets Shen Wei’s past self and works with him to stop the villain, Ye Zun.
Shen Wei / Black Robe Envoy / Ye Zun
Zhu Yilong plays the dual character of the protagonist as well as the antagonist. As Shen Wei, he is a famous Bio-Engineering Professor at a leading university. He meets Zhao Yunlan when serial murders occurred at the university. Yunlan has strong doubts with him in the initial episodes, because of Wei’s strange tendency to appear at the crime scenes. Despite that, Zhao Yunlan can’t seem to bring himself to arrest Shen Wei or deny the mysterious connection he feels from the moment they meet.
Shen Wei is the civilian identity of the Black Robe Envoy, second in command to the King of Dixings. He is entitled to the honorific of “His Royal Highness” and revered by the Dixings. He is the harbinger of Justice. Whenever any of the Dixings escape to the surface and cause chaos in Haixing, it’s his duty to apprehend the suspects and bring them back to the Dixing Prison. He is also the Ambassador of his race and hence must maintain the peace between humans and the Dixings.
Shen Wei first met Kunlan, almost 10,000 years ago when a war broke out between the Dixing and Haxings. They both worked together to stop the war and bring peace to both the races. The one fact that is shockingly admirable about Shen Wei is that he kept searching for Kunlan for almost thousands of years. He never gave up on believing that they will meet again and the first time he met Zhou Yunlan again was magical. Dixings normally display only one magical power but being an Ancient, Shen Wei has quite a lot.
Zhu Yilong also plays the antagonist, Shen Wei’s evil twin Ye Zun. He is ambitious and complete opposite of Shen Wei. He was locked up in a stone wall by Shen Wei after the war. His sole purpose is to escape, instigate fellow Dixings for a war and bring Haxing under his control. Most of the supernatural cases that Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei are faced with, are caused by Ye Zun lackey’s.
Jiang Mingyang portrays the character of Chu Shuzhi. He is a very powerful Dixing and one of the best Field Agents at SID. He shoots psychic marionette strings to fight. He is also excellent martial arts fighter. But he has a bad temperament and hence Zhao Yunlan pairs him with the kind and gentle new intern, Guo Chang Cheng. At first, Shuzhi finds Chang Cheng very annoying and coward. But slowly Chang Cheng grows over him and they get closer.
Shuzhi has a painful past which is revealed in the penultimate episodes. His twin brother was murdered and to avenge his death, Chu Shuzhi kills the men involved. Convicted for his crimes, he is given a second chance at life by the Black Robe Envoy. The Envoy recommends him to the SID. Chuzhi is loyal to him and hence acts as a spy within the organization. Also he is quite arrogant and never respects Zhao Yunlan as his superior.
Guo Chang Cheng / Xiao Guo
Guo Chang Cheng is an orphan who was bought up lovingly by his Uncle and Aunt. Quite sheltered all his life by his Uncle who is high ranking Ministry Official, Chang Cheng is assigned to the SID by Zhao Xinchi’s Dixing inhabitant for an important yet mysterious purpose. Zhao Yunlan partners him with ShuZhi, to test his abilities. He might seem unimportant at first, but as the series progresses, we see how he positively affects the characters with his optimistic attitude, gentle demeanor and caring nature. The SID members are all very protective about him. ShuZhi and Chang Cheng are the second lead couple in this series, but as usual their love story is glossed over as Bromance.
Gao Yu’er plays the role of Zhu Hong. Censorship in Chinese Bromance is so bad to the point that producers have to hire women to play male leads, who happen to have been written as gay men in the original book. The character Zhu Hong is the victim of such cowardice. The character, as a woman, works as the Secretary at SID. But being Yashou Snake Shifter, Zhu at times also participates in the field missions. She can hypnotic powers on common humans but doing that mostly drains her energy. She has been in love with Zhao Yunlan since she left her tribe to join the SID.
She is also the first person to realise the apparent truth about Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei’s relationship. Although extremely jealous at first, after multiple failed attempts of proposals, she accepts that Zhao would never look at her the way he does with Shen Wei. I’m glad the show didn’t show her as a negative character out to ruin their relationship. Instead she was portrayed as a strong woman who boldly speaks her mind and never let’s anyone boss her around. I really loved this character and truly admired her. To my utter delight, Gao Yu’er is also a part of yet another popular Chinese Bromance drama, Winter Begonia, where she plays amateur Opera Performer, Yu Qing.
Wang Naichao plays the villainous Dixing leader Zhu Jiu. Did I say he is stylish and I love his hairstyle? He is Ye Zun’s right hand man and the Dixing leader. He is extremely suave, cunning and treacherous. He plans and executes most of the moves required to free Ye Zun from his imprisonment.
He was formerly a Dixing Royal Guard but due to mistreatment by his Senior Official, he joins the Dark Side when Ye Zun completely brainwashes him. He mostly pairs up with Wu Qing, a Yashou and the Leader of the Crow Tribe. Despite his negative attributes, he is extremely loyal to Ye Zun, going as far as to sacrifice his own soul’s essence to free his Evil Master.
Guardian is a sci-fi fantasy drama that takes place on an Earth like planet called Haxing. The upper world is inhabited by the ordinary humans, devoid of powers. They co-exist with alien races, the Yashou tribes who are shape shifters and can transform into plants or animals. The other powerful race is the Dixings, who are blessed with supernatural powers but cursed to live deep underground where there is no sunlight. The three races have existed in peace for ten thousand years. But a sudden meteor strike on Dixing land depletes their resources and hence they declare war on the humans.
There are two factions within the Dixings, one lead by the evil twin Ye Zun who wishes to control Haixing and the other faction lead by Shen Wei who wish for peace. The Haixings along with Yashou tribes pair with Shen Wei to fight the war. Yashou tribe have been awaiting the arrival of their Legend Kunlun who is actually a time traveling Zhao Yunlan.
We also get to know little more about Ye Zun in the flashback. He was timid and actually had a power deficit which gets triggered when he is mistreated by the earlier Dixing Rebel Leader. He kills the Rebel Leader and takes over his Position. He has misconceptions about his elder brother abandoning him and hates Shen Wei.
Kunlun becomes a close comrade to Shen Wei during the war and they fight Ye Zun together. The war is won by the Haixings with the help of the four holy tools crafted from the meteor. The Yashou tribes and Haixings continue to live in peace while Dixings are exiled to their underground world. While Kunlan disappears (Yunlan time travels back to the present), Shen Wei becomes the Ambassador and maintains peace between all the three races, while waiting for Kunlan’s return.
In the present, Zhao Yunlan is the hot tempered Chief of SID, which investigates cases related to supernatural happenings. While investigating a murder case, he meets the Black Envoy who is disguised as Professor Shen Wei. Although Zhao doesn’t remember seeing him before, Shen recognizes him. From that day onwards, Shen Wei assists and protects Zhou Yunlun in both in his forms. Each episode stems up a new problem which Zhou Yunlun solves with his quick wit coupled with Shen Wei’s wisdom and powers. As they both start working on the cases, a web of controversy comes forth. Honesty and loyalty are tested, as Ye Zun tries everything possible to free himself and recapture Haixing. The story has a tragic and heartbreaking ending for our favorite couple, as they bring Ye Zun to justice.
The main highlight of Guardian was the heart rendering music which coupled with the main lead’s chemistry made the show hugely popular. “We Won’t be Falling (Opening theme)” was one of the most appreciated OST.
As part of their campaign to purge “harmful and vulgar Television and Internet Content”, the Chinese Government took down the popular drama series barely two months after it’s release, sparking fury among the ardent fans. Youku officials merely commented that the series was pulled down “content adjustments”. The officials however did not comment on what kind of content was readjusted or when the hugely successful web drama would stream online again. Eventually the show was reloaded on Youku’s YouTube channel but some scenes were edited or entirely deleted.
Digging for Romance in Bromance
We have been antagonizing forever about the Chinese restrictions that turn passionate, happy romances into lackluster “Bromances.” Guardian wasn’t an exception. The writers tried hard to follow the directives, but it seems like they failed on a major accord. Because the love stories they wove for our two main couples were irrevocably romantic. It was a bold attempt because for country reeking of homophobia and societal niceties, making a Bromance drama with such strong portrayals by their main leads was unheard of. Guardian, as such, became a “Legend of Untold Love.”
Zhao Yunlan & Shen Wei
Shen Wei, played by Zhu Yi Long and Zhao Yunlan by Johnny Bai, bought to life the characters and their undeniable attraction as portrayed in the novel. Their interactions are honest and open, no masking their emotions or feelings. Although Zhao Yunlun is more expressive in this regard, like here, he buys an entire suitcase of reference books for Shen Wei to bribe him to join SID. He openly and shamelessly flirts with Shen Wei, leaving our poor Professor flustered or speechless.
Although faced with the same person most of the time, while Zhao Yunlan feels respect for the Black Coated Envoy, his feelings for Shen Wei are entirely different. Shen Wei, on the other hand, is faced with the dual responsibilities of guarding his people as well as protecting the person he loves. He has to hide their past from Zhao Yunlan while trying to help him fight unruly Dixings. This relationship starts off with suspicions, but the most important thing is that Zhao Yunlan trusts Shen Wei more than himself.
Shen Wei has a hard time resisting Zhao Yunlan’s attempts to get closer. The way he stares at Shen Wei like he is some mystery he wants to solve leaves us breathless. Shen Wei, on the other hand, might speak less but is unwaveringly devoted and loyal to Zhao Yunlan.
Like in this particular scene, Zhao Yunlan loses his eyesight, and the Doctor with magical abilities refuses to treat him. Shen Wei is unable to reveal his true identity to the Doctor and hence kneels for an entire day outside his clinic, to convince the Doctor to treat Zhao Yunlan. Shen Wei is a Dixing Royal, not used to bowing down before anyone, but he would do anything for the love of his life.
They work together to solve the cases, getting closer with time until Zhao Yunlan figures out about Shen Wei’s dual identity. Your heart will break towards the penultimate episodes when their journey grows gruesome, and the love story meets a tragic end. But you cannot deny the fact that their relationship is so pure and powerful that no explicit scenes are required to portray its intensity.
Chu Shu Zhi & Guo Chang Cheng
Ocean Jiang plays the role of Chu Shuzhi, and Xin Peng plays his love interest, Gao Chang Cheng. Chu Shuzhi is like the “Untouchable Wall.” He doesn’t do emotions or feelings. While Chang Cheng is his complete opposite. I had major doubts about these two ever getting together because of Shuzhi’s bad temper, coupled with his attitude. Chang Cheng is a gentle soul. How could this equation ever work? But it did work, and you could never find a more compatible pair.
Chang Cheng first breaks through Shuzhi’s walls when he sympathizes with a victim’s husband. At that moment, he reminds Shuzhi of his twin brother, who had the same gentle demeanor, and you can actually see the gratitude reflected on Shuzhi’s face. But actual cracks are viable when the team fights the Master of Nightmares. A change of personality takes place overnight. Shuzhi starts behaving like Chang Cheng and vice versa. It is only then that Shuzhi accepts his attraction to his cute co-partner.
Chang Cheng continues to amaze and makes Shuzhi feel humble. Chang Cheng introduces him to his family and makes the lonely Shuzhi feel welcome in his world. Shuzhi shares details about his twin brother when Chang Cheng follows him to the underground Dixing world, despite being warned of the various dangers.
In Dixing, again, Shuzhi is assuaged by Yi Zun, who wakes up his inner demons. Shuzhi actually goes onto attack Chang Cheng, but he doesn’t give up, and gradually Shuzhi returns to his normal state. Their love story has many ups and downs, but that doesn’t change the fact they always stand beside each other. Chang Cheng might be ordinary, but Shuzhi would always look at him like he hung the moon.
My Opinion On Guardian
Guardian isn’t perfect, far from it. There are too many glitches, many inconsequential backstories, and CGI effects which border from the worst to absolutely terrible. Then what is the reason to watch this show? Simple, you watch Guardian because you can’t resist falling for the guy who spent 10,000 years searching for the one true love of his life. Shen Wei is intelligent and sharp as a Professor. From his tailored tuxedos to keen wisdom, he makes a forlorn impression. Watching him play the dual roles is like a dream come true because Zhu Yi Long effortlessly embodies both the identities and you empathize with him.
Bai Yu, on the other hand, literally brings Zhao Yunlan to life. He is witty, arrogant, and protective of the people he cares. So naturally, when it comes to the one he loves, he goes all out. He is handy when it comes to solving the crimes; you definitely can’t find fault with it. Even his team members find his sudden obsession with Shen Wei strange. Like I said, Zhao Yunlun never does things halfway.
However, can only the romance between the main leads hold the audience’s attention for 40 episodes? The show’s highlight is the cacophony of emotions it delivers. I appreciated the strong messages that the show conveyed after each case was solved. Each case is a testament to the inherent strength of its characters. It might be the strength that a Granddaughter displays, by using the holy tool to extend her Grandmother’s life span by reducing her own. It could also be about a Father-Son duo from Dixing who get separated because of treachery but are reunited by our team and also granted mercy by the Black Envoy. We might come across a Student who goes on a killing spree to avenge her favorite teacher’s rapists or follow up on the story of Ethereal Lovers separated by time who are reunited because of their pure love. They have all faced horrible things, committed crimes, but they redeem themselves and try their level best to make their lives better.
After each case is solved, Chang Cheng records the happenings in his Diary. But he always adds his own opinions, and hearing his thoughts makes you question your beliefs. He might seem dimwitted. But truly Chang Cheng is the most sensitive of them all. His questions resonate and make you think about how fickle humans are.
Guardian is undoubtedly not one of the best Bromance dramas out there, but it certainly isn’t the worst. The storyline might seem to be dragging in some parts, but the characters slowly grow on you, and you learn to appreciate their quirky nature. It is idealistic, romantic as well as heartbreakingly tragic. Not the perfect mix, yet you simply watch the show for the main leads who, unlike Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian from “The Untamed,” aren’t each other’s Confidant. Nor are they “Bosom Friends” like Shang Xi Rui and Cheng Feng Tai. Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan are “Everything” to each other, and their love is undying.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. [See our Review Guide]