‘The Rise of the Phoenixes’ | Netflix Original Series First Impressions

September 14, 2018 (Last updated: September 22, 2018)
Jonathon Wilson 35
Netflix, TV, TV Reviews
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The Rise of the Phoenixes is a handsome, complex Chinese epic, but it’s built for 70 long episodes, and you can’t half tell.

Oh, look, Netflix is making my life difficult again. Here I was, quite looking forward to picking up a weekly show, especially one like The Rise of the Phoenixes, which emerges from the Middle Kingdom with an impressive creative pedigree, including Shen Yan and Liu Haibo as directors, and artistic direction and costuming courtesy of William Chang Suk-ping, who provided the same for The Grandmaster. But let it never be said that anything in my world is so straightforward. Today Netflix debuted the first fifteen episodes, with plans to deliver another 55 in the coming weeks. That’s a 70-episode season order, folks, which is somehow even more ridiculous than Undercover Law, although at least The Rise of the Phoenixes had the decency to only drop the first 15 at once rather than the whole lot.

This, then, is another first impressions piece, so take the score with a pinch of salt. But I’ve watched the first few episodes and can probably give an adequate suggestion of if you might like The Rise of the Phoenixes or not – providing, of course, you have enough time on your hands to sit through it.

And it can be a tough sit, let me tell you. Not that it’s bad – far from it. It’s actually exceedingly well-made and incredibly handsome, adapting a plot (loosely) from Huang Quan, a novel by Tianxia Guiyuan. But it’s a story designed to be told across 70 45-minute episodes, so the pace is glacial and there’s an awful lot of narrative and historical detail to establish before things get moving.

In some ways, it’s your typical meaty romantic drama, with plenty of royal intrigue and such, but it’s also steeped in ancient Chinese culture, with class and gender playing significant roles. Feng Zhi Wei, for instance, played by big-screen actress Ni Ni making her television debut, has to cross-dress as a man to protect her true identity.

But what really stands out about The Rise of the Phoenixes is atmosphere and attention to period detail, which will inevitably go over well with anyone who’s into such things. There are no shortage of such shows, even Mandarin-language ones, but none on Netflix quite like this; not crafted with this degree of patience, care and seriousness. This isn’t binge-watch material, and it isn’t a laidback time-killer – it’s a big, complex, grown-up story, rich in culture and period flourish, delivered by a talented creative team and performed by an enthusiastic cast. If that sounds like your kind of thing, put some time aside. Let me know how it shakes out.

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33 thoughts on “‘The Rise of the Phoenixes’ | Netflix Original Series First Impressions

  • October 4, 2018 at 12:50 am

    I thought it was excellent. Did the binge-watch thing and can’t wait for future episodes.

    • October 16, 2018 at 10:12 pm

      ikr me toooooo. I love it. Obsessed actually, i really hope they have season 2

      • October 19, 2018 at 11:06 pm

        I just finished watching the whole thing. Binged it and now im craving for season 2!

  • October 5, 2018 at 5:52 am

    Love the show… very intense, with so many devious plots to keep up, names and characters to remember! Binged watched it… 30 episodes in 4 days and not quite done yet.

  • October 6, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    I too loved the show immensely and binge watched. So refreshing to have extra culture, grace and a sense of imperialism added to what many contemporary drama shows can (sometimes) lack.

  • October 7, 2018 at 5:45 am

    Binged watched as well….30 episodes….Now mad the new ones are not out yet.

  • October 7, 2018 at 9:25 pm

    Very engrossing, beautifully staged with an absolutely fantastic cast. I started this at 10 p.m. and the next time I looked up it was 7 a.m.

  • October 8, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    The ending at episode 70 is crap. After a roller coaster of emotions, she just fell off?!!

    • October 8, 2018 at 9:18 pm

      I find all the good shows end like that. It would have to be lonely at the top for Ning Yi. For Zhiwei, It was subtly hinted throughout and for “honor”, which is deeply embedded throughout, for the Dacheng this would’ve been the right thing for her to do. (I don’t condone suicide at all, but for the sake of the story and era.) But I totally feel it, with all the flirting and back and forth hope between Ning Yi and Zhiwei I wanted them to have babies too (lol).

    • October 13, 2018 at 3:50 am

      You didn’t understand what the old emperor taught Feng Zhiwei at the end. If you did, you would find the ending appropriate.

      • October 14, 2018 at 1:46 pm

        The ending was dumb! It didn’t make sense! Feng Zhiwei was smart enough not to be “ influenced” by the emperor’s wicked and calculated comment to be influenced by it! 70 episodes and we fall flat in our faces with dissappointment! Bleh!

    • October 16, 2018 at 10:14 pm

      Is it bad that i kinda don’t think Feng Zhiweh is dead. I think Nanyi found some way to save her.

      • October 17, 2018 at 12:30 am

        A raccoon has nine lives and Ning Yi wants all 9 of them forever (swoon!!!).

        On the same boat with ya hoping for the next (nine) seasons lol

    • October 18, 2018 at 10:41 pm

      Me too, I thought really??

      The ex-emperor, who allowed her mother and brother to die, convinces Zhiwei Ning Yi will be just like him? And, the Dacheng leaders in the 18 years since their routing seriously “lost it” as blind fanatics. Smart Zhwei can’t see this even though viewers can? Even Zhiwei’s mother cares more for her misery than Zhiwei’s life – her ghost will haunt Zhiwei if she marries the man she loves, who loves her. Yes, old cultures put people into emotional straight jackets … the story’s developed trade off between being next emperor and personal relationships. Palace intrigue would use Zhiwei as the last Dacheng princess as fodder for whatever. BUT – producing an heir from Zhiwei and Ning Yi – this would have complicated their lives, the rumor mill, and been interesting. (How would Z and N have matured as parents?) Having each other’s backs in a tough world -that’d be positive and encouraging. Jumping off a cliff to float to eternity is a stupid, sexist ending for Zhiwei. It says she gave in to a superstitious fate. Zhwei throughout the series was too strong for someone to write this ending for her. It’s irritatingly incongruous. Leaving Ning Yi alone to suffer the fate of a powerful emperor because smart Zhiwei can’t roll the dice in favor of love, this isn’t tragedy like Orthello and Desdemona.

      If this series does go to Season II – hopefully Zhiwei faked her death to go be a peasant somewhere. Ning Yi gets into trouble and Z does what she always does, tries to help him out.

      • April 8, 2019 at 9:06 pm

        In the original novel, Zhiwei did only fake her suicide. Ning Yi is suspicious as, guess what?, no body is found. It seems this show only covered book 1. So I’m hoping for a return of the show to cover the final two books!!! Come on Netflix, it’s a trilogy!!!!

      • July 9, 2019 at 6:08 pm

        Great comments and I totally agree with you especially on the ending. FZW is a strong willed amazon who walks to the beat of her own drum and who will not hesitate to make a stand for her convictions. It is a travesty that the writers chose to kill her leaving NY alone to face the rest of his life when we cld have watched them evolve against all odds into a future that only them could have the power to recreate. I am hoping for a Season 2 with a happy ending after many struggles perhaps but still a happy ending because their characters had the potential to rise from their ashes like the phoenixes that they are.

  • October 8, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    As of the 60th episode it is my new Netflix favorite and I am very impressed with the attention to detail as if I actually get a chance to look back in time to a very complicated love story set on a stage that is intriguing to watch.

  • October 14, 2018 at 1:45 am

    Obsessed. It was amazing (and yes binge-worthy). The writing and acting were wonderful. The attention to detail is mind blowing and if you want people to believe in the story, you have to commit to the entire effort. But, you will have to go back and watch episodes again to have a better understanding of the sweep and impact of the events. Just another reason to enjoy the series more than once :).

  • October 14, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    It’s ending was a BIG TIME DISSAPPOINTMENT! The viewer was left hopeful throughout the 70 episodes, they kissed only once for heavens sake and it was underwater! I mean, the least the script writer could have done was satisfy the viewer to a triumphant ending instead.. she had to commit suicide? That was dumb! . The show was almost a perfect 10, REASLISTIC- acting, custumes, setting, drama, even the casting was well done! But whoever agreed to make it end that was plain STUPID, it didn’t make sense, UNREALISTIC!!

  • October 15, 2018 at 1:37 am

    Outstanding!! Incredibly compelling. Took me through every conceivable emotion. I love love LOVE everything about it, except the ending which made me want to wail into the clouds. I also could have gone for a little less nuzzling, and a bit more passion as the story progressed. That said, I haven’t been this invested in characters or a storyline for a long time. The character development was amazing, and really skillfully done. Netflix knocked it out of the park with this one! I think I’m obsessed, and I’m slightly embarrassed to say I just finished it, and I’m about to watch it again immediately.

    • October 22, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      Rise of the Phoenixes is 70 episodes x 40 mins (sans opening/credits) or 46.6 hrs. Game of Thrones, all episodes – 55 hr.s. The BIG production difference, per Wiki, RP is one season, principal photography took 5 1/2 months (end of May – middle Dec. 2017) while GT is 8 seasons long, the 8th not airing until 2019 (maybe??). RP’s speed from concept to marketing, considering its energy and quality – amazing!!

      Who are the anticipated fans (demographics) of RP? RP was made for China’s market. Apparently, Netflix (with God like money) bought RP for the US market, no changes/edits. (What happen to “God like” money?) The decision to end with Ning Yi alone, Feng Zhiwei taking her own life, even IF culturally relevant in China, for US audiences, it’s the equivalent of a “what if” redux, Twilight saga (five movies, 10 hr.s): Bella loves Cullen but marries Black to be “safer” (emotionally / physically??), then commits suicide. Obviously – never mind Twilight’s five movies, $2.96 billion net profit. Compare RP vs. Twilight production end (producers, directors, writers) with their male/female ratios: RP all male, Twilight – 1/4 female. (Just saying …)

      The Twilight saga caused media debate about its emerging fan demographics (young woman and their mothers). Who is RP’s targeted U.S. demographics, aside from people with 50 hr.s to spare? (RP is too complicated to skip around.) While Ning Yi’s and Feng Zhiwei’s characters have male/female appeal, absent at least Ning Yi in a scene (The story moves with him.) RP’s episodes are heavy with well acted but explanatory fillers that need a 50% edit. I used FF / FB to sort out the froth from Ning Yi’s, and Feng Zhiwei’s stories. (Note, two stories because of the ending.)

      The episode writing quality, post episode 55 or so, suffered from soap operas “devices”, possibly because there was a scramble to write them, even if the end was determined? Least someone involved with the making and marketing of RP reads this – RP has elements for wider western audience appeal, but absent editing with story massage, this opportunity will be lost. RP did piqued my interest in China, to explore further.

  • October 15, 2018 at 5:54 am

    I just finished watching the show. I prefer happy ending, but I am sure that the writer wants to leave something in the audience’s mind which is sadness and anger. I wish they have another sequel which brings her alive and live happily ever after with Ning Yi. ?

  • October 15, 2018 at 8:54 pm

    I absolutely LOVED this show. I was so upset and hurt that she chose death over being with the man that adored everything about her. I binged watched it…and literally could not stop until I was done. I soooo wish they will have a Season 2…and somehow she will survive, he will find her…and then they will live happily ever after:)

  • October 17, 2018 at 5:13 am

    I think this was an excellent drama, one of it’s kind with plot intricacies comparable to Nirvana in Fire with romance to boot. Plenty of thought provoking dynamics and a good view of Chinese historical culture. Superb acting, costumes and cinematography…. The romance was tragic and different…Ending was a little too rushed and left me feeling unsatisfied that the lead couple had so few moments of ‘happy’ memories.. .Loved it. Highly recommended for people who are looking for more than superficial entertainment.

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  • October 23, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    I saw the whole season in 3 weeks. And now lost my appetite to watch other so called historical series. What a masterpiece. More of this kind of series please

  • October 25, 2018 at 5:02 am

    Why why why does it have to be a sad ending?!? Just finished all episodes & I was very upset about the ending & feeling probably will linger for awhile. I know it’s a show, but truly I have not invested so much time and emotions in any other series for a long time (like +20 yrs). Loved the acting, costumes and the plots’ twists and turns but I WANTED THEM TO “to live happily ever after”………….

  • October 25, 2018 at 7:25 am

    Incredible ! A MASTERPIECE indeed! Can’t wait for SEASON 2… she must be saved by good old faithful Nan Yi & be reunited with my idol LingYi

  • November 3, 2018 at 4:30 am

    Doggone ending! It made strong Zhiwei look weak, after volunteering to go to war instead of Jinshi king. Hope there is a season 2 where she is actually alive and reunites with Ning Yi – watched Season 1 three times already.

  • November 6, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    I loved it. everything was amazing…but the end. HORRIBLE & UNBELIVEBLE!!!! hopping for next season. I need a Happy ending. If Yale was alive, Zhiiwei could too.

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  • November 26, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    I loved it SO MUCH! I watched it three times. In the books, there is a HAPPY ENDING! Why they chose to end the drama series with a sad ending…I have no idea…I read that they felt it might make a better impact, which, honestly, I didn’t like or find comforting. WITH THAT SAID, I say bring on Season 2! It’s called the RISE OF THE PHEONIXES! So there’s no reason that Zhi Wei can’t rise from the ashes. In the book series, it ends with the couple finally being together! I want to see that in Season 2…if we’re lucky enough to get a Season 2 with the Ning Yi and Zhi Wei finally able to find happiness together. I wish there was an English Translation of the books, but there isn’t. If you search the web, there is someone that is putting together on a weekly basis, translations from the book with only pertinent parts of the relationship between Ning Yi and Zhi Wei. Alll I can say is PLEASE HAVE A SEASON 2.

    • November 29, 2018 at 2:02 pm

      Thank you for info on the book. I did not understand why everyone conspired to keep Zhi Wei in the dark about who she was. Ning Yi was 8 when the Dacheng tragedy occurred. Only the irrational, superstitious would assign responsibility to an 8 year old. Yet, he’s “afraid” to tell Zhi Wei because of what she’ll think of him – after all they’ve done together as adults? This weak writing device left her a puppet of the Dacheng fanatics. Season 2 writing can be fabulous. Obviously only Ning Yi is fit to be Emperor. He still needs to bring the provinces together for stable one rule. Zhi Wei isn’t going to run his harem (ewww!). Season 1 ended with their characters getting darker and weaker. Fantasy or not, the weak ending was pointless.

      • April 8, 2019 at 9:16 pm

        In the books, Ning Yi ends up as an advisor, when needed, to his youngest brother who eventually becomes emperor. Remember his mother as she fell to her death in the coach? Her greatest wish for Ning Yi was to follow his heart and his heart is Zhiwei.

  • April 27, 2019 at 8:23 pm

    Great series!! Love, love, it ! Watched it twice and will watch it again. Really hope for a season 2 with a lover ending for Ning Yi and Zhiwei. Everything was done very well except the ending. Great acting for entire cast!

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