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Daily Helping for May 16th, 2021 – Word of Honor

A promotional photo of Word of Honor, featuring lead actors Zhang Zhehan wearing blue and holding a sword, and Gong Jun wearing red and holding a fan.

Okay, fair warning. It’s time for some more all caps screaming, because today’s helping is the television show Word of Honor. There are simply not enough adjectives in the English language to express my love for this show. But I’m going to try.

Word of Honor came to my attention through the same podcast that sent me to The Untamed, so I should have known what I was in for. And yet, somehow, this show managed to catch me by surprise and completely sweep me off my feet. Which is remarkable, considering that it had a lot going against it. But before we get to that, I’m going to attempt to do a quick plot summary. Attempt, being the key word there. This was my first foray into the wonderful world of wuxia stories, so I know there’s a lot that went right over my head. But what didn’t go over my head, I love unabashedly.

The two leads of this show are Zhou Zishu, the former leader of an assassin organization called Window of Heaven, and Wen Kexing, the greatest, flirtiest, fan waving troll I’ve ever seen. Yes, you read that correctly. In all my many years of consuming media, I have never seen a character who flirts as hard as Wen Kexing. And it is positively glorious to behold. The magical MacGuffin of this story is the Glazed Armor, basically a multi-piece key, that when assembled, will open the doors to a legendary and all powerful treasury. Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing eventually get caught up in the many, many conspiracies and plots to find this treasury, all while trying to reconcile with their pasts.

That’s the plot in a nutshell, but I assure you, it’s way more complicated and complex than that. There’s inter-sect politics and assassination plots, shifting allegiances and pledges of fealty, and a Scorpion King with serious Daddy issues. There’s multiple groups of assassins and ghosts, found families and burgeoning young love. And Cao Weining, played by Ma Wen Yuan, who just may well be the purest, most innocent ray of light character I’ve ever seen. Seriously. Every single time this sweet boy was onscreen I couldn’t help but smile.

But the heart and soul of this show are its two leads. Similar to The Untamed, Word of Honor is based on a novel that is an explicit romance between the two males leads. But once again, Chinese censorship won’t allow that relationship to be depicted onscreen, so their relationship has to be told through subtext. Except that it isn’t subtext. At least, not from where I’m sitting. Remember how I said that Wen Kexing is the flirtiest fan waving troll the world has ever seen? I was not exaggerating. Literally from the first moment he lays eyes on Zhou Zishu, the look on his face reads as clear as day, “I am going to bed that ASAP.”

He then proceeds to follow Zhou Zishu around, flirting extremely aggressively, and waving his fan seductively the entire time. All the while making insistent bedroom eyes at his would be paramour. By the third episode they’ve basically adopted a son together, and by episode eight, they’ve had multiple conversations about the fact that they’re soulmates. Either something has gone very wrong with the translations, or soulmate means something different in Mandarin. Either way, their relationship is pretty darn explicit. Almost every episode left me shaking my head, wondering how the hell any of this got past the censors. But it did, and it is glorious.

As I said above, Word of Honor had a lot going against it. According to reports, no one thought this show had much potential, so its budget was a fraction of what a wuxia costume drama would normally be. They also had their episode order cut by ten halfway through filming, meaning the final stretch of episodes are a bit of a mess narratively. But I still loved it. It had action, romance, political intrigues, and a fantastic cast of supporting characters. And the ending made me cry, but in a good way.

However, all of this pales in comparison to my favourite part of this show. Wen Kexing. He’s easily the most fascinating character I’ve encountered in years. I know I’ve only described him thus far as a fan waving flirt, but he’s so much more than that. And nearly everything about this character is a contradiction. He’s equal parts ruthless and soft, hardened and vulnerable. He’s stubborn and vindictive, but possesses extraordinary depths of compassion and empathy. He raised an adopted daughter when he was just a child himself, and his own family is the source of wells of trauma. And just when you think you’ve got him figured out as a character, the show adds in more layers that reframes everything in a new light. It’s fascinating to watch.

And all of this is possible because the actor playing him is outrageously good. I’d never seen Gong Jun before this, but I will absolutely be first in line for whatever he does next. There are very few actors who can switch between carefree flirt and psychopathic killer and make it believable. Gong Jun does it in one scene, and it is incredible to behold.

So yeah. I absolutely adore Word of Honor. I wish their episode order hadn’t been cut, because I JUST WANT MORE. But what we do have is pretty darn great. I already know that a rewatch is in my near future. The only question is, just how many times that will happen? More than once, that’s for sure.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!