Our original plan had been to provide full recaps for the episodes, but since English subs have come a lot faster than expected (YAY!), we will be using this as a discussion thread of sorts and will be sharing short recaps (this one isn’t as short as there’s a lot going on) along with our thoughts! We hope you join us!
We are still trying to figure out the structure, so if you have any suggestions (or questions on the drama/book/actors), feel free to let us know in the comments or on our CuriousCat (for Haoran specific questions, ask here).
For now, we will be going at the same pace as the English subbed vids on YouTube, so this will be for just episodes 1-2.
For those who may have missed it, I did a long, comprehensive introductory post to the drama, the books, and the Novoland universe in an earlier post here.
For these posts, I’m joined by my good friend @songzuers and we’ll be doing our best to help with the viewing experience. Also thank you to @xiaotoumings for her gorgeous tweets/caps! For more NEF updates, including subbed BTS vids, follow @eagleflag_intl!
In the Northern Land, the Zhenyan tribe, whose leader Longge Zhenhuang is accused of treachery against the ruling Qingyang tribe, is completely annihilated in a bloody battle, save for its surviving women, who are taken in as slaves, and a young boy called Asule.
It’s revealed to him that he is actually the youngest son, and heir, of Lv Song, Chief of the Qingyang tribe and ruler of the Northern Land. Born without a heartbeat, he was believed to be cursed from the moment he was born, and was sent away to be raised by Lv Song’s cousin, Longge Zhenhuang.
The physically weak and frail Asule is defiant to his biological father and his new title/responsibility at first, but realizes he must grow stronger if he wants to protect childhood friend Su Ma and the rest of the survivors of the Zhenyan tribe.
With the help of his father’s trusted friend Shahan (Da Hesa), who feels protective over the young crown prince, Asule is assigned two companions and a teacher, and begins his training in fighting. He is also given secret help by an old man that he meets in the dungeons.
Meanwhile, Lv Song is aware of the growing tension in his tribe as his four older sons covet the title of crown prince. Though he puts them off for the time being, adamant that the tribe stick to the tradition of naming the youngest son as heir, he recognizes the threat.
At the same time, his cousin’s recent betrayal reminds him of the dire state that the Northern Land is in due to lack of resources, and he asks Shahan to make a long trip to the prosperous Eastern Land to obtain food.
Time jump to two years later, and the talks are successful as General Tuoba Shanyue of Xia Tang returns with Shahan, delivering an abundance of food with the promise of more to come.
In exchange, Xiatang asks for two of the Northern Land’s treasures: 1) 5,000 members of their calvary to assist with Xiatang’s military needs, and 2) one of Qingyang’s princes, who would be sent to Xiatang for training and education, and eventual marriage to the Duke of Xiatang’s daughter. In other words, a human hostage to secure the alliance.
Lv Song leaves the decision up to General Tuoba Shanyue on which prince he wants, but does not bring Asule out to meet him, saying that the crown prince has poor health and is also considerably less skilled than his older brothers. He also brings the general and the Eastern Land guests to the local hunting ground, and explains a bit of the history. They make camp there for the night.
As night falls upon the campsite, Lv Song and his men find themselves surrounded by wolves, and decide to draw them away from the camp by riding out. However, that leaves Asule by himself, and as he wanders out of his tent, he encounters a gigantic, snarling white wolf. A terrified Asule stumbles and falls, and is only saved when his father arrives and intercepts.
However, the chief is quickly overwhelmed by the power of the white wolf, and as Asule watches his father struggle, in grave danger, it ignites a rage in him (similar to what we saw in episode 1), and he picks up a sword. He tells his father, “I have a sword, I can protect you,” and, fueled by a mysterious power that comes from within, he charges at the sword, killing it in one stroke. However, soon after, he collapses.
The crown prince’s health is in grave danger as he’s diagnosed with a terminal illness, and no doctor seems to be able to figure out a cure. Lv Song orders that the word be spread far and wide that he will generously reward anyone who is able to save Asule. Furious and desperate, he also makes a trip to the dungeons, as he’s figured out now who has been teaching Asule swordfighting.
We learn the identity of the old man – he’s the father of Lv Song, grandfather of Asule. He reveals what has been causing Asule’s powerful outbursts: Asule has inherited the Qingtong bloodline of his paternal side, the Pasu’er family. However, Lv Song is adamant that his son won’t go down the same path as his father did, but his father warns him, “No one can go against fate. Look at me, look at your father.”
Asule continues to lie in a coma for over a month, until one night, a murder of crows fly over the Northern Capital. As if enchanted, Asule gets up and walks away from the city, the crows cawing in the background. Lv Song and Shahan are alerted to the crown prince’s disappearance, and they ride out of the city, where they see a group of hooded figures, and Asule, around a campfire.
The leader of the group tells Lv Song that Asule does not have a terminal illness. The cause is the Qingtong bloodline running through his veins, which every few decades, will affect one child in the Pasu’er family and will turn them into an unstoppable, god-like warrior. The power of the bloodline is too much for a child at this stage in time to bear, so the cure is simple – to suppress it.
With Lv Song’s permission, the mysterious man starts his spell, and is soon able to cure Asule. He warns the Qingyang trio, however, that this is just a temporary cure, and that the age of 24 will be when his life is in grave danger again. The act also came at a price – one of the hooded students’ lives is sacrificed for the spell.
As Asule recovers, General Tuoba Shanyue has made his choice, and he asks Lv Song for the crown prince as the one they bring back with them to the Eastern Land. They, too, had heard of the rumors about the Qingtong bloodline and the crown prince’s mysterious power. Shahan is strongly against the decision, but Asule says calmly, “I want to do something for Qingyang,” and looks over at his father.
The father and son have a final heartfelt conversation, and Lv Song gives Asule a new Eastern Land name: Lv Guichen. He also has some words of wisdom for his youngest son, and a final goodbye, “This is enough for a man’s farewell. I won’t send you off tomorrow.”
As Asule leaves the Northern Capital with the Eastern Land group and Su Ma, Shahan sends him off with a song. They travel through many different (stunning) landscapes. The general decides to make camp on the outskirts of the Li Kingdom.
Asule and Su Ma have a sweet moment by the campfire, but it soon dissolves into a nightmare as Asule dreams of seeing Su Ma crying. As her tears fall on her hand, they become drops of blood. He also dreams of seeing a woman stabbing her horse continuously, and when he wakes up, the campsite is under a surprise attack.
It’s clear Asule is the target, and he is no match for the strong, fully armored enemy. Su Ma makes the ultimate sacrifice when she uses her body as a shield, and a young soldier protects them as a heartbroken Asule cradles her. She writes her name in his hand, hoping that he will always remember her.
The armored enemy recognizes the ring on the young soldier’s finger and identifies him as a member of the Tianqu organization. In turn, the soldier calls him out as a member of the Chenyue organization.
Asule is dragged away unwillingly from Su Ma’s body as the Xiatang group escapes. When the enemy gives chase, a hooded figure flies down from above and kills them. As he takes over the fight, he tells the young soldier, who seems to recognize him, to leave.
ADDITIONAL NOTES/THOUGHTS FROM THE RECAPPERS
- We got a lot of info in these two episodes – the production team made the decision to cram the entirety of the first book, which is all about Asule’s childhood in the Northern Land, into just two episodes. They told audiences during the preview screenings back in late May that they were afraid if they spent too long with Qingyang, the regular TV audience would tune out. So far, this seems to have been the right choice.
- Because of this, the first two episodes don’t quite have the emotional buildup or full introduction to characters that we might’ve liked, and the editing is slightly disjointed (there is speculation these first two episodes is where content was cut), but almost everything packed in it is important for later. We’re even introduced to Tianqu and Chenyue, the secret organizations that will play a major role in the story.
- For those who are curious about the opening scene: we don’t know the identity of the elderly man and the young boy, but the paper boats are a tradition of the people of Xia Tang. The paper boats seen in this scene in particular eature a line from a poem by a Xia Tang emperor who loved to write poetry. It’s a reference to the book.
- Personal first impressions: Love, love, love, and I thought I could only be disappointed given how hyped I was for this drama. The sheer QUALITY – from the cinematography, to the costumes, to the sets. This was a drama that you can just tell had a huge budget, but they used it so well. The cinematography wasn’t just used to be visually pleasing, shots were framed and woven in well and contributed to the storytelling.
- The music has been such a pleasant surprise – I expected it to be good, but it’s integrated so well. One problem for a lot of dramas lately is that the music tends to overpower the scene, or that it cuts off or comes in right at the wrong time, but the use of the score here was absolutely perfect. It added tremendously to the emotion or grandeur of a scene. Not only that, it also incorporated elements of tribal music that works so well for the Northern Land.
- I mentioned on CC that I would’ve liked it if they had used a younger actor for Asule at least in the first episode and a half, and it was an opinion that was widespread online as Liu Haoran was essentially playing a child. However, people said later that they would’ve run into censorship issues as some of the scenes would have been considered too violent for a child actor, so it is what it is.
- I actually quite liked the pacing of the first two episodes – it didn’t drag and was fast enough to keep the audience engaged and wondering what lies ahead. It was also straight forward enough to follow quite easily. The two relationships I loved in the books were also incredibly well executed – Asule and his father, Asule and Su Ma. Just in general, pleasantly surprised and super excited for what’s to come!
- These first two episodes were really easy to follow despite the fast pacing, much of which can be credited to the cinematography. Conversations were packed with a lot of information, but were facilitated by smooth visual transitions within each dialogue.
- A problem that some dramas seem to have is that they’ll use too many angles of a character within the same dialogue and it gets distracting, as though the camera’s jumped from one end of the room to another between cuts. Another is the overuse of unnecessarily wide angles to boast an expensive set. Eagle Flag suffers from neither of these.
- I remember there being some concern over colour grading and CG backgrounds during the earlier post-production days, but these turned out to be unfounded! The CG renderings are practically indistinguishable from the physical set, and the colour treatment dramatises the scenes without diminishing their realism, making for a very visceral experience of the fantasy world.
- Further contributing to the digestibility of the content is the language. It is direct, with a complexity that doesn’t rely on convolution or archaisms. Complex ideas rely on metaphor instead, and are strengthened by powerful and unpretentious line delivery. We see this in lines like, “If a lamb is to survive, it must become a wolf,” and “When leopards fight, they can only become food for vultures.”
- Of course, the drama has its more lyrical moments, too! In fact, simple language actually serves to highlight the invocation of song in other settings. Lyrical chanting seems to charm the scene where Guichen is called out of his illness-induced slumber, and the outcry of the Qingyang tribe against Asule on the night of his birth is impassioned by its pithy verse and forceful rhythm. One is a call to life, the other a call of death — much like his two names.
- At birth, he is named Asule, a gift of ‘longevity’ in the ancient Qingyang language. Before he leaves for the Eastern land and grows into independency, he is given the name Guichen, a reminder that “All things return to dust, nothing is exempt.” They represent a struggling of two destinies within him, as is the jostling between the human and the wolf.
- It’s also interesting that later in the Eastern land, he entrusts Yu Ran and Ji Ye with the name Asule, his longevity. The friendship between the trio seems to be something that Asule clings to for the rest of his life, so it’ll be interesting to see if this holds significance beyond his trust in them! :))
Finally…just appreciating the beauty.