Lighter and Princess: A case of how C-drama could overtake K-drama—in romance

It stays grounded in reality without losing the thrill and seeming frivolous

Lighter and Princess
Chen Feiyu and Zhang Jingyi as opposites falling for each other in 'Lighter and Princess. Chen Feiyu is the son of famous director Chen Kaige ('Farewell My Concubine') who's making a name and buzz for himself in films and social media, named by Forbes as among the top young celebrities in Asia. (Image from @netflix)

Li Xun is a red flag, or so goes the general impression on the Internet of the fictional character. But the coder genius of C-drama Lighter and Princess (2022) shouldn’t be quickly dismissed. Chen Feiyu’s depiction of the somber, brusque Li Xun might have upended the restrictive green flag- boyfriend tag, but he gave the romance series a verisimilitude that’s relatable. He and co-star Zhang Jingyi showed what real love is and its hard push of recklessness.

Love and logic are antithetical in a romance series where the world’s problems are solved by the time-honored panacea of love. But the world is chaotic, and love, depending on people’s choice and situation, either aggravates or tempers it.

This is how C-drama appears to have overtaken K-drama in the game of romance story-telling. C-drama has stayed grounded in reality without losing the romantic thrill, and K-drama has lately been in a quagmire of frivolity and silliness.

Lighter and Princess

Lead couple Li Xun and Zou Yun choose each other and seal it with a kiss. (Image from @lighterandprincess)

Li Xun and Zhu Yun’s relationship didn’t happen in a bubble but against the background of life. They lived in a society powered by technology, making viewers privy to the IT industry (Internet, software and hardware, coding, apps, video games, and hacking). C-drama writers tapped into a new audience—the generation raised and taught by search engines and social media—while stringing the troglodytes along for the ride.

C-drama’s storyboards have dealt with the virtual world before Lighter and Princess. Yang Yang’s The King’s Avatar is on the competitive world of e-sports, while his Love 020, and Lin Yi’s Everybody Loves Me are about the cutthroat field of computer programming and game design. Derailment, another Lin Yi starrer, explores the storyline of memory alteration via a microchip embedded in the brain.

Back to Lighter. They held strong friendships. Li Xun helped his friend, Ren Di, financially in her music career as an idol when she was starting out, and she returned the favor when he got out of prison. Shu Maio’s unrequited love for Li Xun was no friendship breaker with Zhu Yun. Li Xun’s friendship with his cell mate Hou Ning, a hacker, underscored Li Xun’s compassionate side. He understood Hou Ning’s situation all too well given his experience with his erstwhile best friend, Gao Jian Hong: Hou Ning was betrayed by a friend twice.

Li Xun, Jian Hong, and Fang Zhi Jing illustrated the “bad boy” trope. Li Xun’s misdeed in high school—he changed a friend’s failing grade—earned him that label. It was an unjust tag because he wasn’t depraved despite his grim family situation, or immoral like Jian Hong and Zhi Jing, a rival programmer.

His punishment of social death was meted out, ironically, by Zhu Yun’s mother, who believed that his recalcitrance was beyond redemption.

Lighter and Princess

Li Xun, the blond enfant terrible, has arrived. (Image from @chenfeiyuintl)

Admittedly, Li Xun wasn’t personable. His classmates detested him for his lack of the requisite student spirit of cooperation and camaraderie, yet were in awe of his programming genius. He didn’t kowtow to senior students as the university norm dictated, he flouted rules, and missed classes. His blond hair—his symbol of rebellion—and his nonchalance solidified his bad boy image. His friendship with Jian Hong had a rocky start because he formed his own coding group after rejecting Jian Hong’s invitation to join his group, and later dominated Jian Hong’s group.

Yet Li Xun’s image belied a caring soul underneath all that haughtiness. He was just focused on getting his gaming company off the ground. He changed, however, when he fell in love with Zhu Yun, but bucked the norm of a starry-eyed man whispering sweet nothings. Action was Li Xun’s love language: He visited Zhu Yun in her hometown during Chinese New Year, gave her a dress, and, even if he didn’t want to, joined a competition on her request. His most romantic action was taking revenge on Zhi Jing for Zhu Yun, when he exposed the mediocrity of Zhi Jing’s software program. Zhu Yun blamed Zhi Jing for her best friend’s suicide in high school.

Jian Hong and Zhi Jing were cut from the same cloth. Their villainy knew no bounds in trying to cause  Li Xun’s downfall. Jian Hong had resented playing second fiddle to and being belittled by Li Xun while they were in university. These feelings continued to rankle him even when he worked at Light and Power (L&P), Li Xun’s start-up; eventually he wrestled control of L&P. (Li Xun entrusted L&P to him while he served time in prison for assault.)

Jian Hong’s depravity escalated: He ordered his rich wife, Xu Li Na, who had initial feelings for Li Xun, to get close to him and get the codes he needed to salvage his bootleg gaming programs. Next, he threatened Zhu Yun, saying he’d release a video of their “affair.” Zhu Yun beat him to it and uploaded the fake video herself.

Zhi Jing dealt his revenge on Li Xun by leading Li Xun’s sister to a fatal accident. That her death was judged accidental and he wasn’t remorseful pushed Li Xun to assault him; that was how Li Xun landed in prison. As if that wasn’t enough, Zhi Jing joined L&P.

The girl-in-love-with-a-bad boy trope was seen in Zhu Xun who’s led a sheltered life, her future mapped out by her mother. Actress Zhang Jingyi didn’t do a trite portrayal of an inane girl in love, but instead depicted Zhu Yun as an intelligent and decisive young woman willing to take risks for her man.

Like everyone else, Zhu Yun was initially annoyed with Li Xun, but her impression slowly changed. She saw the class brat’s good side and ingenuity in coding—her professor and computer technicians couldn’t uninstall the virus he’d installed in her laptop.

Maturity was a hallmark of Zhu Yun’s character. Pushed by pain, she became emotionally stronger and a formidable programmer—showing up Li Xun at one point—after studying in America. She didn’t have a histrionic outburst when she met Li Xun three years after their breakup. Amazingly, his frosty reception didn’t deter her, but moved her to get them jobs at Flying Heart, a nondescript gaming company, to help him secure his foothold back in the industry.

Lighter and Princess

After a painful separation, Li Xun and Zhu Xun come together. (Image from @lighterandprincess)

She also finally made decisions on her terms, the biggest one being marrying Li Xun. She stood up to her mother, who was still against Li Xun. (The opposite outcome in K-drama comes to mind—the verbal and physical abuse Son Ye Jin’s character is subjected to in Something in the Rain for having fallen in love with a guy not to her parents’ liking.)

Love gone right

Lighter and Princess wove romance seamlessly with technology, friendship, and family, into a 36-episode series that wasn’t fantastically remote from reality. It wasn’t a tragedy, and so the writers gave Li Xun and Zhu Yun an ending that was happy but not mawkish. Li Xun and Zhu Yun’s life journey was now less turbulent. They got L&P back, Flying Heart thrived, and their friends celebrated their marriage. Li Xun found a father figure in Dong Si Yang, Flying Heart’s proprietor, and loyal colleague-friends in Zhang Fang, Zhao Jeng, and Guo Shi Jie. Hou Ning followed the straight and narrow. Ren Di was a successful musician and Zhu Yun’s best friend Shu Maio an accomplished lawyer.

A love gone right is always a welcome ending, more so when the leads are at home with their characters. Chen Feiyu and Zhang Jingyi delivered performances as embattled lovers with natural ease, their chemistry moving the storyline smoothly. Fictional though they may be, Li Xun and Zhu Yun are reasons to watch Lighter and Princess. Their story is a vivid lesson on love in the real world.

Read more:

Meet the green-flag boyfriends of Chinese drama

Yang Yang, Xiao Zhan, Gong Jun—Chinese actors can be your C-drama biases, too

About author


She has clocked years of overseas work and living. On the second year of the pandemic she returned and settled back in the Philippines after 20 years.

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