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An Introduction to Novoland: Eagle Flag

Welcome to what is hopefully a comprehensive and helpful introduction to the epic historical fantasy cdrama Novoland: Eagle Flag!

As someone who read the source novels and who has followed the entire drama process from pre-production through now, I wanted to provide an in-depth dive into everything Novoland (apologies in advance for the sheer length of this post) – from the background of the creation of the Novoland Universe, to the original novels, to the pre-production/casting process, the story itself, characters, and general thoughts.

Disclaimer: I read the novels years ago (and my Chinese isn’t perfect to begin with), so if I remember anything incorrectly, please feel free to let me know! This will also be more focused on the drama production overall, but a lot of the story/character analysis comes from what I know from the novels. The drama will most likely be changing quite a bit. Also, as this is a Liu Haoran blog, there is a natural focus on him, but this post covers a lot more than just him.

Because of how lengthy this post is and the number of pictures/videos, it’s best viewed on desktop. Remember to check out @eagleflag_intl on Twitter for more regular updates and translations on the drama!

WARNING: I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum but if you’re the type who doesn’t like reading anything even semi-spoilerish, don’t proceed!

The Novoland Universe

First things first: what exactly is the Novoland (九州) universe?

In the early 2000s, when the Chinese web novel community was just starting, there was a call upon budding web novelists to create an epic fantasy universe in the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (The Game of Thrones) series, except with more Eastern/Chinese influences. Up to that point, the fantasy genre was one that was rarely explored in Chinese literature (not counting xian xia), so it was a project that received a lot of attention in the emerging online community.

A total of seven principal authors eventually signed on for the ambitious task. Two of the novelists were already quite well known for their sci-fi novels, and Jin Hezai had emerged as a prominent web novelist. They chose the name “Novoland” for the world that they would end up creating because one of the authors, Jiang Nan, was working on a book then that he had tentatively named Novoland (this would later become the first of the Novoland: Eagle Flag books). The other authors liked the name and collectively agreed that this would be the name of their fantasy universe.

Novoland, as defined by its creators, consists of three continents (Northern, Eastern, and Western – when I say Norther Land and Eastern Land later, I’m referring to the continent) and nine provinces (九州 can be literally translated to nine provinces). The map shown below is actually a revamped one that Jiang Nan created for the purposes of the drama and is probably not recognized as canon by the other authors, but it gives you an idea of what the basic geography of the universe looks like.

Novoland: Eagle Flag will mostly feature the Northern Continent (up top), which is where main protagonist Lv Gui Chen’s tribe resides, and is constantly in conflict due to a lack of natural resources; and the Eastern Continent (on the bottom right), which is prosperous due to a great wealth of resources.

Jiang Nan’s updated map of the Novoland universe

There are six major races in the Novoland universe. Unlike Tribes and Empires: Storms of Prophecy, which featured many of the different races, in Novoland: Eagle Flag, humans take center stage, though Song Zu’er’s Yu Ran, Jiang Shuying’s Gong Yuyi, and Yu Ran’s grandfather are of the Winged Tribe. Wang Ou’s Su Shunqing also stands out as she’s a Spirit. A friend also pointed out that in the drama clip of the first meeting between our trio, you can see the Heluo people (dwarves).

After setting the parameters of the universe, the seven authors all set out and wrote their own books or short stories within the confines of the Novoland world. Collectively, the stories ended up spanning about sixteen to twenty dynasties and were all vastly different in content and style. Among the many published works, it is Jiang Nan’s Novoland: Eagle Flag series that has been the most well received by both critics and fans. Jin Hezai’s Tribes and Empires and Wings of Wind, while not quite as popular as the Eagle Flag series, also have their following.

Around 2005, Jiang Nan and Jin Hezai, along with some of the other authors, officially launched the Novoland magazines, which serialized several of their works, including the early parts of Eagle Flag. They also set up their own company, which oversaw the publication of the magazines and managed the licensing of the works.

However, as the Novoland fandom became more and more popular online, Jiang Nan and Jin Hezai found themselves arguing over many of the decisions surrounding their co-created world. Eventually, around 2009, the group fell apart and was officially dissolved. Jin Hezai and several of the other authors ended up forming their own company, the Novoland International Cultural Communication Ltd., which would be the main production company for the Tribes and Empires drama. Jiang Nan focused on another series (Dragon Raja) and also established his own company, Linlong Media.

Jin Hezai and Jiang Nan’s disagreements have been so famous that even those who haven’t read the Novoland novels know about their rivalry. They still constantly make subtle jabs at one another – especially from Jiang Nan’s side, since he has a very active Weibo and essentially has no filter when he speaks.

What are the other Novoland drama/film adaptations and are they related to Eagle Flag?

Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy

The most famous Novoland adaptation is 2017’s Tribes and Empires: A Storm of Prophecy, which is based on Jin Hezai’s novel of the same name. The drama received a lot of attention at the time of filming because it had an impressive cast (Huang Xuan, Dou Xiao, and Zhou Yi Wei were the three leads with other notable names playing supporting characters) and an immense budget. It also was quite ambitious as it attempted to be a fantasy epic on a scale that we haven’t seen from cdramas before.

However, the drama was rumored to have encountered budget management issues halfway through filming (the production team didn’t have a lot of experience in that area as this was their first drama) and had trouble selling its final cut to broadcasters. As a result, to get their money’s worth, the drama ended up taking a one book novel and making it into a 75 episode series – which severely impacted the pacing and storytelling. Still, the drama is recognized for what it tried to achieve.

Should make this clear here: Tribes and Empires is not in any way related to Eagle Flag. Firstly, the production companies – not to mention the cast and crew – are completely different, and the stories have no relation to one another (I would say that the Eagle Flag source novels have by far the stronger story and a lot more content to work with). The only link between the two is that both are set in the Novoland universe – so you’ll recognize some of the geographical names and tribes.

Zhang Ruoyun and Guan Xiaotong’s 2016 drama Novoland: The Castle in the Sky is also a standalone drama. It’s actually an original story that was inspired by one of the Novoland short stories and is mostly fixated around the human and Winged Tribed races. (Actor Chen Ruoxuan, who is in Eagle Flag as Ji Ye, did have a supporting role in this drama). Darren Wang and Crystal Zhang Tianai’s 2017 film Legend of the Naga Pearls is also an original story that features the Winged Tribe.

Both leaned much more towards the idol xianxia genre than the epic fantasy that the original Novoland books (and the drama adaptations of Eagle Flag and Tribes and Empires) aspired to be. (On that front, Yang Mi’s upcoming Novoland: Pearl Eclipse is also an unrelated story).

Jiang Nan and the Original Books

Author of the source novels and chief scriptwriter Jiang Nan

Like many of the internet novelists from the early 2000s, Jiang Nan was actually pursuing a career in academia before he changed careers. He’s a graduate of the prestigious Peking University and was going to graduate school at the University of Washington at St. Louis in the US when he started to write. (Personal anecdote: my dad was actually one of these aspiring internet novelists while working on his PhD – except he lost patience and didn’t get very far. But because of this, he is quite familiar with the beginnings of the Novoland universe.)

While Novoland: Eagle Flag is considered to be Jiang Nan’s signature work, he also has another highly successful series under his belt – the Dragon Raja series (rumored to be getting a film adaptation), which is set in a different universe, as well as sci-fi novel Shanghai Fortress (the movie adaptation stars Luhan and Shu Qi and premieres in July). Jiang Nan is one of the wealthiest authors in China.

There are six books in total for the Novoland: Eagle Flag series, but as mentioned earlier, parts of the books were first serialized via the Novoland magazines. As such, many readers are under the impression that Eagle Flag has two main characters in Ji Ye and Lv Guichen. But if you read the complete published version of the books, Ji Ye doesn’t even appear in books one and six. Ji Ye is more central to the Novoland universe in general because of the role he takes on later in the story, but Lv Guichen is definitely the lead for Eagle Flag.

You might have also seen a lot of the book fans complain under Jiang Nan’s Weibo about the incomplete ending. Here’s what interesting about the Eagle Flag books – while it has a beginning, middle, and an epilogue of sorts, there is no climax. We know Lv Guichen and Ji Ye become leaders of their respective countries one day (not sure that constitutes as a spoiler), but we’re not quite told how they fully got there. In other words, their destiny is set, but we don’t get to see their complete journey, just the beginnings. Granted, this might be modified for the drama.

There were several drafts that leaked years ago where he wrote about what happened with Lv Guichen and Ji Ye between where Eagle Flag effectively ends and their eventual destiny, but he said later that those are not canon and that he had destroyed those draft. Jiang Nan announced in May 2018 that in his eyes, the series is officially done. It’s unknown yet whether the drama will help provide some closure on this, but fans are hopeful it will.

Production Team

The team featured a total of more than 3,458 cast and crew members and took a total of 288 days to film

The production company for Novoland: Eagle Flag is Linmon Pictures (though Jiang Nan’s Linlong Media, along with Tencent and Youku, also invested in the drama), which caused some backlash in the beginning among book fans as they don’t have the greatest track record with historical dramas. However, though they’re a newish company, it’s quickly become apparent that they’ve got deep roots in the industry, as every single drama they’ve produced so far has had a TV broadcast.

It’s important to note that there’s a big difference here between the production company and the production team. Companies like Daylight Entertainment use the same team (different directors, same crew) for their dramas, but Linmon dramas usually field their own independent production teams – who are, for the most part, not actually employed by Linmon.

That’s why there’s quite a difference in quality between the well received modern dramas To Be A Better Man and A Love for Separation and idol historical dramas Chronicle of Life and Fighter of Destiny, despite the fact that all four are projects headed by Linmon Pictures. Veteran A-list actors Sun Honglei (To Be A Better Man) and Huang Lei (A Love for Separation) were said to have brought some of their own trusted staff to help with the production. So theoretically, as long as the drama itself has a reliable production team, the quality shouldn’t suffer even if it’s produced by Linmon. Linmon is also the company behind Yang Mi’s The Legend of Fuyao.

And at least on the surface, Novoland: Eagle Flag boasts an excellent team.

Director Zhang Xiaobo

The director of the drama is Zhang Xiaobo, who is the director of the aforementioned To Be A Better Man, which was nominated for a Magnolia Award for Best Television Series at the Shanghai Television Festival in 2016. He comes from a background in cinematography, but has spent the last few years directing modern urban dramas. Novoland: Eagle Flag is his very first attempt at directing a period drama, which is slightly worrying given that this is a large scale production.

However, he is said to be a fan of the original books, and spent quite a long time preparing for this drama (he started working on it as soon as he wrapped up filming for To Be A Better Man in April 2015), so I’m hoping that this is a Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings situation. The producer is Zhang Weiwei, who was also on the To Be A Better Man team.

If you’ve seen some of the BTS/promotional videos and pictures thus far, you’ll most likely have noticed two things. One, the powerful, cinematic score. Two, the beautiful and detailed costumes. The two people who are in charge of these two respective areas both hail from Hong Kong and are at the top of their fields – eight time Hong Kong Film Award winner for best score Peter Kam (there is a chance this may have changed based on recent updates, but no confirmation yet) and the Academy Award nominated Yee Chung Man (for costume design on the Zhang Yi Mou film Curse of the Golden Flower).

Art director Sun Li also comes from a background in film and has worked as the art director in films like Zhang Yimou’s Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, Feng Xiaogang’s Back to 1942, and Peter Chan’s Dragon (I’ve seen two out of the three films and the art direction is fantastic).

As you can imagine, since this is a fantasy epic, good CGI work will be needed, and instead of outsourcing the work, Linmon is taking the opportunity to flex the muscles of its own internal special effects department, which was formed in 2016. Han Lei, who was an employee of Rhythm and Hues Studios and Dreamworks Animation (he was on the teams for Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar), is the head of Linmon’s special effects department. At Linmon’s annual showcase to investors in March 2018, the following title opening sequence was revealed. The sequence actually ended up being nominated for Excellence in Title Design at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

The casting director that Eagle Flag used is also the same person who Daylight Entertainment usually employs for their dramas – including Nirvana in Fire 2.

One of the most impressive parts of Daylight Entertainment’s production of Nirvana in Fire (1&2) was the attention to details and world-building, in terms of establishing the etiquette of the time, the tea traditions, and costume detailing. It seems like the production team for Novoland: Eagle Flag is going a similar route. The video below shows a combination of etiquette and weapon/costume detailing (and showcases Linmon’s CG work).

But for a drama like this, where money isn’t an issue and the rest of the production team and cast are incredibly reliable, the biggest worry has been the scriptwriting team. Author Jiang Nan is the head scriptwriter, though according to himself it sounds like he mostly oversaw the process and was not involved with the details. The production team did confirm at the recent advanced viewings of the drama that Jiang Nan himself approved all major changes from the book to drama adaptation.

When the production team was first announced, it was said that Chang Jiang (The Advisors Alliance, The Secret of the Three Kingdoms) would be the main writer, but rumors have indicated that the production team didn’t like the draft that she had submitted and may have demoted her (or lessened her involvement). It’s not known if this is true, but it does sound like there was more of a team than one or two individual writers.

The exact budget for this drama is not known – I keep seeing different numbers and Chinese dramas are notoriously not reliable when it comes to this kind of stuff – but there’s no doubt that this is a production team that has a lot of money. However, according to Jiang Nan, only 30% of that is going to the impressive cast (the NRTA has a new regulation in place that the pay of actors must not exceed 40% of a drama or film’s total budget). This theoretically should mean that they have plenty of money to spend on ensuring the quality of the production itself.

Pre-Production/Casting Process

As early as 2015, when Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy was filming, it was rumored that plans for the drama adaptation of Novoland: Eagle Flag were underway. In the second half of 2016, Linmon Productions officially announced its intentions to film the drama adaptation, much to the trepidation of book fans.

In an attempt to ease the fears of book fans and to show their sincerity, on July 29, 2016, Linmon Productions held a discussion forum in Shanghai. Though director Zhang Xiaobo was not able to attend the forum in person, producer Zhang Weiwei was present, and Zhang Xiaobo called in via video conference. Linmon Productions disclosed then that they’d been preparing for the drama adaptation for two years before the forum (since 2014).

What everyone was most concerned with, of course, was the casting, and that’s where it got interesting. Unlike Tribes and Empires, which featured main characters that were older and hence could be portrayed by actors in their mid 20s through early 30s, Eagle Flag‘s main trio are preteens/teenagers for the entirety of the series. Even if you were to increase the age of the characters, it couldn’t be by much.

Our main trio played by Chen Ruoxuan (25), Song Zu’er (20), and Liu Haoran (21)

However, relying on young leads who most audiences wouldn’t be familiar with was also a hefty gamble. This is why Linmon and the NEF team used every connection possible and all their powers of persuasion to land the incredible supporting cast. (And despite already going with very young actors for the trio – Liu Haoran was 20, Zu’er 19 when filming – there are some who still think they’re too old for the roles).

As early as April 2017, it was rumored that Liu Haoran and Song Zu’er had been tapped to star (though it wasn’t clear which role Liu Haoran would be taking – at the time, many thought it might be Ji Ye as Linmon did not specifically state which character the drama adaptation would be centered around).

However, filming was slated to start in August 2017, and it was no secret that Liu Haoran was going to be in New York filming for Detective Chinatown 2, so most assumed that the drama was going to have to look elsewhere for its lead. By June 2017, Zhang Fengyi, Li Guangjie, Xu Qing, and the rest of the impressive cast were rumored to be joining by reliable Weibo accounts.

Song Zu’er was confirmed as the female lead in October, and the controversial decision of casting Chen Ruoxuan as Ji Ye was essentially cemented later that month. But as the months passed, and filming was pushed back to September, then to October, it became clear that the production team was either having trouble landing a male lead – or they were waiting for someone’s schedule to open up.

Haoran was the only name attached to the project as the lead from April to November 2017, but nobody could say confidently that he was taking the project. When the booting ceremony was held on November 2, 2017, only Chen Ruoxuan and Song Zu’er were in attendance, and it set off a wave of concerns among book fans that the production team may have casted a complete rookie lead. In the eleventh hour (early November), there were a flurry of rumors that Haoran had officially turned down the project as he had missed so much of school already and needed to head back to the Central Academy of Drama.

And then the following video dropped on November 8, 2017.

The Story

Here is the drama synopsis – credit to the translation on MyDramalist.

“Lv Guichen is the heir of the nomadic Qingyang tribe, and is sent to the Eastern Land as hostage. He meets Ji Ye, an unfavoured illegitimate son who is training to become a warrior, and Yu Ran, the princess of the Winged tribe. The three become close friends, and the boys’ feelings for Yu Ran soon turn romantic.  

At the same time, powerful warlord Ying Wuyi has been maintaining a firm control over the Emperor, giving him unprecedented power over the nobles. Lv Guichen, Ji Ye, and Yu Ran decide to join the decisive battle against Ying Wuyi at Shangyang Pass, but unbeknownst to them, an even darker conspiracy is yet to unfold.”

This is a story about heroes – young ones who are trying to find their place in the world; weary, older ones who are trying to remember what they’re fighting for; and the cynical, middle aged ones who are sick of all the destruction that they’ve seen and are determined to solve it their way. Everyone has something that they’re fighting for – their loved ones, their past, their future, or maybe they simply just want to prove themselves.

The first book follows the childhood of Lv Gui Chen, who is the heir of the Qingyang tribe and is the youngest of five boys. He is a sickly little boy, but is the named heir because according to Qingyang tradition, it’s the youngest who inherits the “throne”. However, due to his extremely weak health, no one in the tribe, including his four older brothers, expects Lv Gui Chen to live to adulthood, and he is just an afterthought as the brothers engage in a power struggle. He has a lonely existence as a child – his mother lost her mind after giving birth to him and his father, as the chief, has his hands full in trying to maintain peace and stability within the different tribes. The only time that he feels the love of a family is when he is put with a foster mother who loves him like he’s her own.

However, due to circumstances out of Lv Guichen’s control, he experiences several childhood tragedies that leaves him determined to get stronger so that he can protect those that he loves. In his preteens, he’s sent to the Eastern Land as a hostage of sorts (those who have read or seen Princess Agents – Yan Xun’s hostage storyline was allegedly taken from this part of Novoland: Eagle Flag). He’s not a hostage in the sense that he is thrown into prison until a ransom is paid – he’s still the heir of the Qingyang tribe, after all, so he studies with the royal princes and is treated well. The Eastern Land is also where he encounters Ji Ye and Yu Ran, who become his best friends and the most important people in his life.

However, the story doesn’t belong to just Lv Guichen, Yu Ran, and Ji Ye. The third and fourth books of the series are centered around the central players in the power struggle of the Eastern Land (the three kids are merely participants – or pawns – at this stage). The events that take place in those books – including the battle of Shangyang Pass – play a massive role in shaping the destinies of the three youngsters (especially Lv Guichen and Ji Ye).

The fifth and sixth books cover the return of Lv Guichen to the Northern Land and the obstacles he faces as he takes on the challenge of uniting the tribes and saving his people.

Want to state this here: the love triangle part of the young trio’s relationship doesn’t play a huge part in the books – there are some great excerpts, but in the grand scheme of things, romance is a very small element. I do expect this to change quite a bit in the drama.

For anyone who’s read The Lord of the Rings trilogy or seen the films, Novoland: Eagle Flag definitely isn’t quite on that level of complexity and attention to detail, but what is similar is that they both serve the purpose of chronicling historical events within the constraints of their respective fictional worlds. A specific set of characters is used to help tell that story and to get you emotionally invested, but the overall message is a lot bigger than the fates of individual characters. With that said, the drama adaptation will make the world view of Eagle Flag slightly smaller with a more concentrated focus on the characters themselves so that the story is easier to follow.

I’ve been asked a lot if the original Eagle Flag series has a happy ending for Lv Guichen. Not sure if this counts as a spoiler – but not sure if there’s really such a thing as a happy ending for a character who’s seen so much war, so much death, and who has what feels like the weight of the world on his shoulders. But that doesn’t quite count as a sad ending either. Because in the grand scheme of things, Lv Guichen’s story is just a drop in the bucket in the ten thousand+ years history of Novoland. Same would apply to our other two young leads.

How will the storyline in the drama differ from the original series?

In an interview that was released in May 2018, Jiang Nan said that while he greatly admires the Game of Thrones‘ scriptwriters to take several story threads and put them all together in a coherent way, he currently does not believe he has that ability. As a result, he chose to focus on one central storyline – Lv Guichen – for the drama adaptation.

So the scriptwriters decided to give Lv Gui Chen and Ji Ye a much more prominent role in the scenes where it was the older generals who took center stage. They also increased the ages of the trio to their late teens/early twenties to make the changes a bit more logical. The parts of the child actors will also be kept to a minimum (the early previews show that Haoran appears pretty much right away in episode 1) as that was one of the biggest complaints about Tribes and Empires (in the books, Lv Guichen is a child for most of book one and a preteen for book 2). As you can see in the BTS video below (as well as the trailers/previews released thus far), the part where Haoran has bangs will essentially be him playing his “younger” self.

Two problems with that though: In the book, at the Battle of Shangyang Pass and in other key scenes, Lv Gui Chen is either not present or has a very small role. Also, he’s only about thirteen or fourteen years old during those scenes.

It’s also been confirmed by the production team and through early screenings that some of Ji Ye’s scenes and threads have been given to Lv Guichen. This won’t take away from the story – the reason for this is merely so that those who haven’t read the books can follow along a bit easier and to give the story more of a “main protagonist” to root for.

From the previews and trailers we’ve seen so far – the biggest thing that’s stood out to me is that they’ve essentially covered the entirety of Book 1 in the first 2 episodes (Book 1 was all about Lv Guichen’s childhood in the Northern Land and in episode 3 we’re already in the Eastern Land). To me, personally, this is actually quite smart of the director – the main focus should be getting the story over to the Eastern Land to get the ball rolling. Lv Guichen will return to his homeland later on in the drama and they can always develop the dynamics there then.

There’s also been some other prominent changes that are already quite clear – the fact that they’ve found a way to bring Yu Ran into the palace, which will increase her scenes substantially, Lv Guichen’s dynamic with his birth father, and more.

Romance is also where I expect the drama to change quite a bit, though it’s unclear exactly what they’ll do with it since they can’t change the fundamental dynamics of the trio or that they’ll each walk their own paths (or at least, I’m assuming they can’t – I very well could be wrong about this).

Jiang Nan did comment that the books’ most memorable scenes have been left intact in the adaptation.

As for the ending – as mentioned earlier, we’re hopeful that the drama will give us a bit more closure. However, I definitely don’t expect it to be a cliffhanger – more like an open ending if it comes to that.

I keep seeing the phrase “铁甲依然在 tie jia yi ran zai” – what does it mean?

It’s both a battle cry and a promise – one that appears often in the original book and is now used as a slogan to unite book fans. The literal translation would be something like “The armor is still here!”, and what it represents is an oath to never back down, to continue to fight and protect what is precious.

On the book fans’ front, it’s their promise to stay dedicated fans to Novoland, that no matter how many years pass, they’ll still remember and treasure the books and the tales of the heroes that they document.

Cast & Characters

Character relationship chart

One of the biggest selling points of this drama is the incredible supporting cast. Jiang Nan bragged in an interview that the cast features eleven actors/actresses who would be leads in other dramas – and he’s not really wrong.

More and more cdramas are implementing the trend of surrounding younger leads with a well known veteran supporting cast (Joy of Life, Ever Night), but Novoland: Eagle Flag‘s supporting cast is still pretty unique because it’s literally composed of an all star cast, not just talented, veteran actors as we’ve seen in other productions. If anything, the cast seems even more impressive now than it did back in 2017 because they’ve all just continued to build up their resumes and are still playing leads.

The production team specifically mentioned that three of the veteran actors – Zhang Zhijian, Xu Qing, and Zhang Fengyi, all initially turned down the drama, but changed their minds after understanding more about the story and what the drama is trying to accomplish.

Note that there are also three pretty well known actors who were originally slated to make guest appearances but seemed to have schedule conflicts: Lei Jiayin (originally rumored to play Lv Guichen’s oldest brother), Li Yitong (originally rumored to play Su Ma – so disappointed that this didn’t work out), and Dong Jie (rumored to play Lv Guichen’s foster mother. Though the drama never stated that they are no longer participating, it is assumed so as there have been no stills released, nor were they seen filming.

Putting a warning here again – if you don’t like even minor spoilers – don’t keep reading! The next part will be a breakdown of the major characters and the actors who are playing them.

Liu Hao Ran as Lv Gui Chen

Lv Guichen is the main protagonist of Eagle Flag, and as as mentioned earlier, is the heir of the Qingyang tribe, who have the tradition of naming the youngest as the heir. He is weak as a child and overlooked by his family and members of his tribe, but never resents anyone and has a quiet, gentle nature. A series of events that occur in his childhood causes Lv Guichen to discover a strength inside himself that he didn’t know he had, and he realizes that in order to protect those that he loves, he has to become stronger.

He is described as resembling the people of the Eastern Land more than those in the Northern Land as his paternal grandmother was a princess of the Eastern Land (just in title – she was not actually related to the royal family), hence is much more delicate in appearance than his brothers. He also inherits a special bloodline from his paternal side, which we should see as early as Episode 1.

There’s this misconception that gentleness and being physically weak are the defining character traits of Lv Guichen, but the truth is that he’s probably more hardheaded than anyone when he feels as if his loved ones are being threatened. (And he’s actually one of the most powerful – in terms of fighting ability – characters.) Because that’s what really drives him – a desire to be able to end the death and destruction that he’s been witness to for so long and to live in peace with the important people in his life.

By the way – you’ll probably have noticed that Liu Haoran’s had two hairstyles in the drama stills that we’ve seen. When he has his hair down, it means that he’s back in the Northern Land with the nomadic tribes. When his hair is up, it signifies that he’s in the Eastern Land, during his time there as a “hostage”.

This is what Liu Haoran said about Lv Guichen in an interview, “It seems as if everyone except Lv Guichen has a motive, but is there really nothing that he wants? The truth is that what he wants is bigger than the desires of anyone. He wants a utopia – a world without massacres.”

He also posted this on Weibo after the first character posters were unveiled, “He is a warm and kind person. He will never forget the kindness that others have shown him. He does not like war or conflict, but will do whatever it takes for those that he loves. He is Lv Guichen. I understand everything that he wants to protect.” It’s worth noting that Liu Haoran is a fan of the books himself and thus has a deeper understanding of the character and story than most.

As mentioned earlier, it’s rumored – and evidence seems to back that up – that Linmon was set on Liu Haoran starring. Though he only had three works under his belt back in 2017 (Detective Chinatown, Beijing Love Story, and With You), he had a stash of mainstream projects that would come out one after another before Eagle Flag finished filming, including as the male lead in Daylight Entertainment’s Nirvana In Fire 2. Many have speculated that Linmon was counting on at least one of those works to launch him to another level of stardom – and they ended up winning that bet (though it was Detective Chinatown 2 which ended up doing that).

Part of Linmon’s persistence is also because Jiang Nan himself recommended Haoran for the role after seeing his performance in Detective Chinatown in 2016. Jiang Nan said at a fanmeet last year that out of all casting decisions, the entire team has been most pleased by Haoran’s casting (not saying that they’re displeased with the rest of the cast, but that they’re very happy with their lead).

Lareina Song Zu’er as Yu Ran

Yu Ran is the only girl in the trio of friends, and is a member of the Yu Zu (Winged Tribe – yes, she can fly). She is highly spirited, curious, and mischievous (girl has street smarts in spades), and is the main instigator for many of the misadventures that the three embark on. It’s not hard to figure out why both Ji Ye and Lv Guichen are both drawn to her – she brings a light into their lives that neither of them have ever had.

Jiang Nan has said before that he’s a big fan of Jin Yong/Louis Cha’s wuxia novels, and I can definitely see traces of The Legend of the Condor Heroes‘ Huang Rong in the character of Yu Ran.

Though she plays a pivotal role in terms of what she means to Ji Ye and Guichen, in the grand scheme of things, Yu Ran isn’t present for the bulk of the story. In fact, she doesn’t appear in more than half of the books (mentioned but not involved in the events that are taking place). She also isn’t your typical heroine because she has no loveline with the hero (not saying that heroines need a love interest, just that it’s how dramas usually work).

From previews thus far, they will definitely be expanding on her character quite a bit – one of the biggest changes is that she’s now been brought into the palace and will have ties to the royal family. Personal opinion is that this is a good change as she’ll be more involved in the story going forward, but I’m also quite surprised that the production team is this gutsy in terms of the modifications they’re making to the characters.

An interesting note here – Yu Ran actually has golden hair and blue (I think it’s blue) eyes in the original novels, but Jiang Nan made a point of saying that they will not give her a wig and circle lenses for the drama as it would look too unrealistic.

Song Zu’er is a former child actress who is most known for her portrayal as the child-like deity Nezha in the 2007 drama adaptation of The Lotus Lantern, but unlike other child actors, she made the decision to leave C-ent for a while (six years) and moved to the US to study. She was re-introduced to audiences when she appeared on the travel variety show Divas Hit the Road Season 3 in April 2017.

Novoland; Eagle Flag means a lot for Zu’er, because while she’s considered to be one of the more well known post-95 actresses, she’s lacking in a strong representative work as most of the dramas her company has gotten for her have been lesser known romance webdramas. Because of the time commitment required for Eagle Flag, she backed out of The King’s Avatar and was filming even as she prepped for her college entrance exams. It’s a hefty gamble for a prominent rising young actress, and it indicates that she and her team are counting on Eagle Flag to be worth it.

This role is quite perfect for Zu’er, as her real life personality is a bit similar to Yu Ran’s (bubbly and bright).

Chen Ruoxuan as Ji Ye

If you took a poll on who everyone’s favorite character is from Eagle Flag, Ji Ye would probably win, especially among female readers. He’s the illegitimate son of a nobleman and has scrapped his way through life. A loner by nature, he is driven by a relentless need to prove himself – even if he dies trying – because he feels as if he’s been looked down upon for his entire life. He has an inferiority complex that no amount of success can ever really chase away.

He channels his anger and frustration over the lot he’s been given in life into fighting and becomes an extremely accomplished warrior. Fear is not a word in his vocabulary, but the truth is that what he really craves for is to be loved, so the time that he gets to spend with Yu Ran and Lv Guichen are some of the most precious moments of his life. He is not a particularly empathetic person, and can be pretty cold and ruthless at times.

In the books, Ji Ye is described as tall and built – which is one of the biggest reasons why the casting decision of Chen Ruoxuan as Ji Ye was absolutely blasted by book fans. Chen Ruoxuan was criticized as being too chubby (he lost a ton of weight for the role), too short (mostly because the production team went with a 185cm Lv Guichen, which isn’t exactly the picture that Jiang Nan had painted in the books), and not “alpha” enough.

Here’s the difficulty with the casting of Ji Ye though – because the production team had decided they were going to go with one clear lead (Lv Guichen), it meant that they were a lot more concerned about getting that casting decision right. And once you go with Liu Haoran as the male lead, you suddenly don’t have a lot of options for the role of Ji Ye, as Haoran’s age and lack of seniority in the industry means more well known actors wouldn’t want to play second fiddle (rumor has it that Jiang Jinfu was approached for the role but turned it down). You also can’t go with someone who is completely unknown and unproven either as it’s still a pretty important role.

94’er Chen Ruoxuan has been the lead of a couple of Mango TV dramas and some webdramas, but his performance in this role might get him more attention and popularity than any of his previous projects simply due to the sheer scale of this production. As book fans have said, the character of Ji Ye is so appealing that whoever plays him would probably blow up in popularity. That’s why this is a pretty crucial project for Chen Ruoxuan – even if it doesn’t have high ratings, the attention it’ll garner might be enough to really change his career.

Northern Land

Dong Yong as Lv Song

Lv Song is the Chief of the Qingyang tribe and the father of five sons, including Lv Gui Chen. He has a heavy burden on his shoulders, as the tribes are constantly fighting over resources, and he has the internal power struggle among his sons to deal with as well, so he doesn’t really get to spend a lot of time with his youngest.

However, despite the fact that his heir is weak and “useless”, Lv Song loves his youngest son in his own way and is protective of him. This is a much different father-son dynamic than Tingsheng and Pingjing had in Nirvana in Fire 2, but their scenes are also going to be emotionally gut wrenching.

(One of the changes already seen from the previews: Lv Guichen has no idea that he’s the son of the chief of the Qingyang tribe until he’s in his teens – in the books, he knew from the beginning.)

Dong Yong, who I will remember forever because of the 2002 drama Black Hole, is guest starring in this role, as he was in director Zhang Xiaobo’s To Be A Better Man.

Li Ye as Lv Shouyu

Lv Gui Chen has four older brothers, but there are only two that play a significant role in the story. Lv Shouyu is the oldest brother, and is probably the kindest to Lv Guichen (though that’s not saying much). He, along with the third brother Lv Yingyang, are at the core of the tribe’s power struggle.

Da Ge (oldest brother) shouldn’t have that many scenes, but the production team landed an awesome actor for the part. Li Ye is a stage actor who is a member of the prestigious National Theatre of China (in China, stage acting is seen as the highest level of performance, and the National Theatre will only take the best of the best).

This was the role that Lei Jiayin was rumored for.

Eric Yang Le as Lv Yingyang

Lv Ying Yang is the third brother. He is someone who is highly ambitious and is at the heart of the power struggle with older brother Lv Shouyu. You could say that this is an antagonistic role, but the world of Novoland: Eagle Flag isn’t black and white, and the character is fairly three dimensional.

This could be a breakout role for Yang Le, who is what the Chinese call a “second generation star”, as he’s the son of well known veteran stage/film/drama actor Yang Lixin. Despite being the son of a celebrity, C-netz tend to be pretty civil towards him because he is a graduate of Duke University (majoring in theater performance) and there’s nothing that ingratiates you more to the Chinese public than a degree from an elite school.

Yang Le was the male lead in Bai Jing Ting’s debut drama, Back in Time, and has mostly acted in campus/young adult webdramas. I think this has the potential to be a really interesting role for him, because it’s a much darker and layered role than his usual fare, which will allow him to show more of his acting abilities.

Lv Guichen’s four older brothers

Lu Yanqi as Su Ma

Su Ma isn’t a central character, per say, but she’s probably one of the most memorable ones. She is the childhood friend of Lv Gui Chen and is described as being beautiful, but was born mute. Su Ma harbors what is mostly a one-sided love for Lv Guichen as they grew up together, but is unable to go with him when he’s sent away as a hostage to the Eastern Land. Her story will be incredibly, incredibly tragic – just be forewarned.

There’s not much on ’92er Lu Yanqi, but you might recognize as her from The Story of Minglan as Xiao Die.

Li Yitong (2017 Legend of the Condor Heroes) was supposed to guest in this role, but schedules apparently did not work out. Still really bummed by this.

Eastern Land

Zhang Zhijian as Lei Bicheng

I’m a little confused how big a role Lei Bicheng is going to have in the drama, as most of his work in the novels was done from the shadows, but he is an immensely fascinating character – mysterious, powerful, and the chess master who orchestrates much of the chaos that occurs in Novoland.

Veteran actor Zhang Zhijian has been around for decades, but his performance in 2017’s megahit drama In the Name of the People shot him to mini-stardom as he was highly praised for his performance.

However, he also belongs to an older generation of actors who haven’t been fond of the way the industry has been trending in recent years, and openly declared in early 2017 that he would never act with a “little fresh meat”, because he said he simply couldn’t deal in scenes with them (implying lack of acting skills) and would rather turn down the project. So it was rather a surprise to netizens when he was announced to be joining the cast!

Li Guangjie as Xi Yan

Aside from our trio of youngsters, Xi Yan and Bai Yi are the two characters that I most look forward to being brought to life, and I think the casting was spot on for both characters.

Li Guang Jie isn’t quite as well known as his bffs Guo Jing Fei (All Is Well, Nirvana in Fire 2) and Lei Jiayin (The First Half of My Life), but he is also considered to be a reliable, talented actor. From the drama stills that have been released thus far, he seems to be absolutely perfect for this role, as he’s fully captured the cynical, mysterious vibe of the always smiling Xi Yan.

Xi Yan is a fan favorite, and plays an incredibly important role in the story. He is one of the Four Great Generals of the Eastern Land, and thus is one of the leaders in the Battle at Shangyang Pass.

He is also the mentor and teacher to Ji Ye and (kinda) Lv Guichen (in the drama, they’re changing this so he’ll be the teacher for just Guichen) as he is an incredibly gifted fighter and strategist, and gives them the skills they need in order to become the warriors and leaders they’re destined to be. He is the one who brings the two teenagers (they were maybe twelve or thirteen in the original story) to the battlefield and pushes them towards their destiny.

He’s not an easy person to read, even to those who know him best, and is always hiding his secret agendas and thoughts behind a smiling, easygoing facade. He likes to dress in black, which is in direct contrast to his longtime friend Bai Yi.

Ken Chang/Zhang Zhiyao as Bai Yi

Bai Yi is another one of the Four Great Generals, and is a master of military strategy. Unlike Xi Yan, Bai Yi likes to dress in white, and is more of a loner, as he’s a bit cold and melancholy. He has known Xi Yan for more than two decades, and the two share an incredibly interesting friendship.

I can’t remember if he is ever described to be handsome in the book series, but that was one requirement that book fans were insistent on when it came to the casting choice for Bai Yi. Interestingly enough, it was when the dram was about to wrap up that the official Weibo announced that Zhang Zhiyao would be playing the part (he had already been filming for months). Book fans were ecstatic about the casting choice.

Zhang Zhiyao is more known for his roles in period idol dramas and is considered to be one of the original “pretty boy” actors in historicals, but the passing of time looks good on him. His Bai Yi has a weariness and melancholy to him that matches the original series’ characterization to a tee.

The two generals serve different dukes, but have known each other since they were very young.

Xi Yan and Bai Yi, our two generals and longtime friends

Zhang Fengyi as Ying Wuyi

Ying Wuyi is a powerful warlord who is incredibly accomplished and intelligent, with an arrogant, cold personality (though he has a soft spot for his daughter). He is responsible for starting the Battle of Shangyang Pass (kind of) as he takes advantage of the weak emperor. He’s a fascinating character because while he can be incredibly ruthless, he also has such a magnetic presence and is a hero in his own right.

Calling Zhang Fengyi just a veteran actor doesn’t seem quite accurate – he was one of the leads for Chen Kaige’s critically acclaimed films Farewell My Concubine and The Emperor and the Assassin. Although he wasn’t ever a superstar, he can be considered a household name and is incredibly well respected within the industry.

Zhang Fengyi was invited to guest star as Ying Wu Yi because in a fanmade video years ago, it was his clips that were used for that character. Eagle Flag’s production team had seen the video and thought it was perfect, so they asked if he would be able to make a special appearance. He is going to be so, so awesome in this role.

Xu Qing as Grand Princess Bai

Actress Xu Qing has had a long and successful career and has won accolades for both her film and television performances. She’s also one of my mom’s favorite actresses, which is why I know that in recent years, she’s cut back on acting quite a bit as she’s discovered a love for international travel. Which was why it was rather surprising that she agreed to appear in this drama (especially not in a guest star capacity).

I think this role will be really interesting for her – it has a bit of an antagonistic bent, and more importantly, it’s about a woman who is finding her youth drifting away from her, and thrives on manipulation and has a great thirst for power. Grand Princess Bai is the sister of the late Emperor, and is essentially the one in power over her incapable nephew, who inherits the throne. Xu Qing has the ability to inject a vulnerability to the character that will earn our sympathy and I’m looking forward to her portrayal.

Zhang Jiayi as Baili Jinghong

Baili Jinghong is a duke who is ambitious and thirsty for power, though he isn’t always smart about his approach. The character is considerably less popular than some of the others on this list, but this is the character I think we’ll see pretty big changes in, and Zhang Jiayi will add a lot to the role.

He serves the emperor, but the emperor is already quickly losing power over his dukes and lords, and they, including Baili Jinghong, are quick to take advantage of this. He intends to use Lv Guichen as his tool in his quest for power, and is the one who insists on having a hostage from the Qingyang tribe.

Who is Zhang Jiayi? Let’s put it this way – there were ten dramas in total nominated for the Magnolia Award for Best Television Series at the 2018 Shanghai Television Festival. Zhang Jiayi was the male lead for four of those. He is pretty much one of the (non-idol) dramaland kings these days. I expect his scenes to be pretty minimal, but his name alone will draw interest (which is the whole point of having him take a guest role).

Maggie Jiang Shuying as Gong Yuyi

Gong Yu Yi is an original character written just for the drama, and her character profile introduces her as a member of the Winged Tribe and aunt to Song Zu’er’s Yu Ran. She is an adviser to Baili Jinghong, and is essentially how the drama explains away bringing Yu Ran into the palace.

It’s pretty easy to see why Jiang Shuying, who is highly sought right now as a leading lady, agreed to participate in this drama. She was the female lead of director Zhang Xiao Bo’s To Be A Better Man and her management agency is a subsidiary of Linmon Productions (it’s also probably why she stepped in for The King’s Avatar, also a Linmon project, when they basically rehauled the production).

Though she’s currently filming Daylight Entertainment’s Held In the Lonely Castle, Novoland: Eagle Flag marks her official debut in historical dramas.

Angel Wang Ou as Su Shunqin

Out of all the female characters in this drama, Su Shunqin will be my favorite if it’s done right. An assassin by trade, she serves Baili Jinghong, her story is probably the most the most heart wrenching among the women.

She is described to have the appearance of a young woman in her late teens, but in reality has gone though so much ugliness in her life. She has a complex relationship with Xi Yan and their story absolutely killed me when I was reading the books. She also has a really sweet kind-of-friendship with Lv Gui Chen, which they appear to be keeping in the drama.

As mentioned earlier, she is of the Spirit race.

Wang Ou isn’t a stranger to this kind of role – it’s actually kind of a blend of her characters in The Disguiser and Nirvana in Fire, except even more tragic.

Amy Chen Haoyu as Xiao Zhou

Xiao Zhou is a child that Lv Gui Chen rescues, and has a pretty important place in the story because she has a very unique background. However, none of that matters because they’re changing the entire character for the drama.

The scriptwriters have raised Xiao Zhou’s age by ten years (she was about ten in the books) – most likely because they need a loveline for Lv Gui Chen and Yu Ran won’t work because it would totally change the dynamic of the trio.

So in other words, we’ll just have to treat this as new character written just for the drama, because it pretty much is one. I’m pretty disappointed by this decision because I loved Xiao Zhou and her ability to bring out the different sides of some of the characters. But her new premise is also interesting – it looks like she’s going to be taking on Xu Qing’s Grand Princess Bai as the emperor (Xu Qing’s nephew)’s (half?) sister.

As for Haoyu, she’s a ’92er who started out as a singer, and was most recently seen in Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace.

Filming Process

Filming for the drama officially commenced November 2, 2017 in Xiangyang, Hubei province, and took 288 days to film.

Most of the scenes that will take place in the Eastern Continent – where Lv Gui Chen is held as a hostage of sorts – were filmed in the Xiangyang Tang City that was built and funded by director Chen Kaige for the film The Legend of the Demon Cat. If you’ve been following Liu Hao Ran’s airport pics this year, you’d have noticed that he’s been popping in and out of the Wuhan airport – it’s the closest one to Xiangyang.

For those who’ve watched a lot of Chinese historicals, you probably know about Hengdian World Studios, which is located in Zhejiang province and is the largest film studio in the world. Xiangshan Studios, also located in Zhejiang province, is where Nirvana in Fire 2 did most of its filming, and is also a prominent film studio.

But the Xiangyang Tang City is relatively new – as mentioned earlier, it was built for the sole purpose of fulfilling Chen Kaige’s vision of what the capital of the Tang Dynasty would’ve looked like. Because of how expensive it was to create, he decided to convert it into a film studio for other dramas and films after he was done with it.

The reason why the Novoland: Eagle Flag crew chose to use Xiangyang instead of some of the other more known and established film studios is because they thought that the Tang Dynasty elements of Xiangyang would be a good match for the flourishing cities of the Eastern Continent. The other reason is that Xiangyang, being newer, is less accessible to tourists and passerbys, and the staff have been doing their utmost to keep much of the filming process under wraps.

Unlike the days of yore when large scale battles and beautiful scenery had to be added in digitally in post production, large scale dramas like this one now have the money to be able to film more and more on site. Hence, a large part of the drama’s budget was set aside for filming in Xinjiang and planning started as early as late 2016 in preparation for filming there.

In mid February, right before Chinese New Year’s, the cast and crew started the migration to freezing cold Xinjiang to begin preparation for the filming of the scenes that would take place in the Northern Continent as well as many of the battle scenes.

Though Jiang Nan had originally wanted to have part of the filming done in Scotland, the production team discovered that they were able to film everything they needed for that portion of the story in Xinjiang, as it’s a vast land with several different types of terrains. Also, I’m sure they realized how expensive that endeavor would be.

The move of equipment, cast, and crew from Xiangyang, Wuhan to Xinjiang was officially completed on March 6, 2018.

Because they needed to capture the snowy mountains and the winter elements of Xinjiang, the schedule was quite tight and filming often went deep into the night. Because many of the scenes would take place on the snow covered grasslands and in the snowy mountains, the sets were not accessible by car – instead, the production team and cast had to walk through the deep snow every day.

They were in such a remote area that Liu Hao Ran fans who drove to the general vicinity couldn’t locate the filming site. This is also the reason why Liu Hao Ran had to pass on Season 2 of variety show Give Me Five – he was quite far from the nearest airport and the production team needed to finish shooting before the snow melted.

At the end of March, the production team left the harsh winter conditions of Shawan County, to the possibly harsher conditions of Kuqa County, which is largely a desert region. In winter, it is extremely cold, dry, and windy.

The photographers who were hired to take the drama stills said on their Weibo that they’ve never had to work in such difficult conditions – but the isolated beauty of the desert made everything worth it. The production team also experienced a two day sandstorm while there. Most of the battle scenes – including the battle of Shangyang Pass – were filmed there as it gave the production team a large, barren area to work with.

It is said that there were about twenty filming sites overall in Xinjiang, including Aksu City and the beautiful cliffs of Dushanzi. The majority of the team headed back to Xiangyang in early April (including the three main leads), and the team that remained in Xinjiang officially wrapped up filming later that month. The remainder of the filming has been done in Hubei province, including in Enshi City, which is a city surrounded by lush mountainous scenery, and Shennongjia.

Right after the new Novoland: Eagle Flag trailer was released, Linmon Pictures CEO Su Xiao conducted a brief interview with Dushe on the production process and what they have changed about the drama to ensure that it might appeal to audiences more. She specifically mentioned that while there are a lot of stories that center around young heroes, Novoland: Eagle Flag wants to be a heroic epic.

When the script was being written, the production team and head scriptwriter Jiang Nan (also the author of the original novels) agreed to use Lv Gui Chen’s perspective in telling the story. As the sickly young heir who hails from the Northern Land but is sent as a hostage to the Eastern Land at the age of 12, he is the character that connects all the countries and their corresponding threads.

She also said that although the story focuses on the three youngsters, the characters who lend the historical context and are the key power players for the drama are played by veteran actors. The director had multiple conversations with each actor about their characters, and a lot of actors were touched by the sincerity of the production so were willing to take on less pay or work around full schedules. The total pay for actors (including extras) did not exceed 30% of the overall budget for the drama.

The filming conditions of Xinjiang were extremely rough. When the cast and crew were filming in Kuqa County, the food that the production team had delivered from the city would be cold by the time it arrived on set. As a result, the team had a stash of naan as backup food.

The drama spent 14 months on pre-production, 9 months of filming, and she said at the time that they would 9 more months for post-production (this was exactly how long it took – more on this later).

Miscellaneous FAQ

How do book fans feel about the drama adaptation?

General rule of thumb: people never like it when there are drama or film adaptations of their favorite novels. However, Novoland: Eagle Flag book fans can be described, in general, as more apprehensive than anything else.

The content of the first book was published more than a decade ago, so most book fans read the series during their teenage years. Most are adults now and see the world a bit differently than they would’ve had a decade ago. They understand that if they want more from Jiang Nan and the Novoland universe, this drama has to be successful (if not ratings-wise, then at least in terms of reviews). This drama is essentially seen as Novoland’s last chance – not just Jiang Nan’s part, but the franchise as a whole – to prove it has commercial value to the film/drama industry.

As a result, the logical book fans have been the ones who have been leaving messages under Jiang Nan’s Weibo in the past year, urging him to change the story if he needs to. They understand that if the drama was filmed in exact accordance to the books, it will flop terribly. Points that they have been reiterating: focus on one central story line and forget about the other threads. Make the story’s tone more uplifting and inspirational – no one wants to watch the protagonist struggle and fail, time and time again. Don’t use child actors for too long.

In general, the casting has been well received as well (Ji Ye aside). There are many book fans who don’t think Liu Haoran quite fits the character of Lv Gui Chen, but almost everyone has acknowledged that as long as Haoran puts in a good performance they won’t be too fussed with that. Xu Qing and Zhang Fengyi have been the most well received casting decisions – even more so with the reveal of the trailer.

Of course, there’s always going to be the book fans who hate the idea of the adaptation and some of the changes that have been announced.

What do C-netz think of the adaptation?

In a nutshell: they’re not optimistic in terms of ratings/popularity. It’s not a reflection on the production team or the cast though; it’s more about the state of dramaland right now. Drama ratings have been pretty low across the board for the past year, but male-centric historicals especially are really struggling to reach the TV audience.

Linmon has been doing something pretty interesting though to help the hype get going among potential viewers – since April, they’ve hosted multiple advanced screenings. Think early movie premiere, except with a drama, which meant they were only able to show the first couple of episodes and some clips. They’ve also held Q&A sessions at these screening sessions.

Those invited have been from a mixture of demographics – book fans, fans of specific actors, and those who may have never heard of the series or read the books. This is why you may have seen some early Douban reviews floating around – early feedback is mostly positive, with most of the comments on the surprisingly fast pace of the early episodes.

While early audience tests are pretty common for dramas, the advanced screenings have been frequent and pretty grand in scale in terms of how serious the production team has treated them – they’re definitely going all out with this drama!

How many episodes are there? Will there be a Season 2?

It’s been officially confirmed there are 68 episodes! The production team said very early on that the drama is expected to cover all six books, and based on what we’ve seen, I believe that is the case, so we shouldn’t have a case where there’s a sudden cliffhanger (whether the ending will be open ended or not is another story).

As for a Season 2, back in July 2016, Linmon had mentioned if the drama was well received, they would produce a “Season 2” – but it would essentially be a sequel story with a different set of main characters. Jiang Nan did start writing a spinoff story a couple of years ago that was slightly related to Eagle Flag, so they would have material for a potential drama if they chose to proceed.

Why did it take so long to air?

Believe it or not, Linmon had showed a stunning efficiency for this drama. As mentioned earlier, the CEO had originally said in late August 2018 that the drama would take about nine months of post-production and was aiming for a summer release – and they basically got the earliest slot right after they wrapped up post-production. That’s amazing.

As we know, the drama was originally supposed to premiere June 4, but ran into terrible luck as it was right when the environment was quite politically sensitive, so the drama was pulled less than half an hour before its slated premiere.

Linmon Pictures and Zhejiang TV then spent the next month (and almost a half) fighting to get the drama re-approved for broadcast. Kudos especially to Zhejiang TV, who left its summer weeknight slot (probably its best weeknight slot of the year) empty for over a month without airing a new drama. Rumors are that they had received a TON of commercial money for NEF (and also that they very much believed in its quality), so really went to battle for it.

The drama finally aired on July 15, in a quiet premiere without any official promotions, and honestly, it’s quite surprising to me because I was quite sure we wouldn’t see this until late this year or even next year. Just really thankful to everyone who made this happen, including fans who stayed quiet and waited patiently while the production team and the broadcasters figured things out.

Thanks for reading! I’m teaming up with @eagleflag_intl on Twitter to provide recaps/short reviews for the drama, so stay tuned!

Related links:

Novoland (Wikipedia)

Online novel of Novoland: Eagle Flag (in Chinese)

Official Weibo of Novoland: Eagle Flag

MyDramaList page of Novoland: Eagle Flag