WORD OF HONOR: PRESENTING THE ROMANCE THROUGH TRADITIONAL WUXIA TROPES.
There is a reason why to the Chinese audience, WenZhou’s relationship is indisputably romantic. It’s because there are very specific visual cues used to show romance in wuxia, and WOH uses the exact same visual language on WenZhou. These tropes are blatantly recognizable from the wuxia/guzhuang dramas we all grew up watching.
1. Fated meeting in a peach blossom forest.
Although in this case, fate has a name and it is Wen Kexing.
2. Sucking poison from the other’s shoulder.
Worth mentioning that in the book, the wound was on Zhou Zishu’s arm. The drama deliberately took it up a notch and chose the more tropey version.
3. When the disguise (usually the female lead disguised as a man) is removed, the love interest can’t stop staring.
Later on (ep 13) there is a scene where Zhou Zishu is trying on a fake beard that looks exactly like the ones female leads use to disguise themselves.
4. Spinning together in mid-air during a fight, the love interest’s hands on the other’s waist. Slow motion. Eyes firmly locked together.
Usually male lead saving the female lead. For example, there is a very similar scene between Yang Guo and Xiao Longnv from Condor Heroes. In fact, if you’ve seen it, you’ll recognize similarities between the visual cues used for the two couples.
5. Martial siblings falling in love.
Yes, this is a common thing in wuxia. And no, it is not incest, nor does it make the dynamic any less romantic. What the hell. Martial siblings are often coded as romantic in wuxia, and there are actual examples in the show itself: Wen Kexing’s parents were shixiong/shimei and Gao Xiaolian eventually married her shixiong, Deng Kuan.
6. One of them getting kidnapped (usually the female lead) by their sect/family and the love interest swooping in dramatically to save them.
And yes, riding on the same horse.
7. One of them is from an evil/unorthodox sect and it causes problems for the couple. The person is hailed as a villain and the other one challenges all of jianghu to stand by their beloved.
Their confrontation with Ye Baiyi is also a good example: Zhou Zishu defending Wen Kexing despite him being the Ghost Valley Master and choosing to die with him instead letting Ye Baiyi kill him alone. Going against the jianghu is a common trial for lovers in wuxia. Yang Guo and Xiao Longnv went through something similar as well.
8. The male lead fixing the female lead’s hair and putting a hairpin on it. Then she looks at her reflection on bronze mirror. This usually happens the morning after the wedding night
This is a very blatant romance trope in guzhuang, so much that I instinctively went “they got married??” when I first saw it. A lot of us were surprised this even made it in. They even had a lingering shot of Zhou Zishu smiling at a bronze mirror!
9. Falling off a cliff together, or one falling and the other jumping in immediately to save them.
WOH gave us both versions. The first one was before they found Senior Long (which also gave us another common trope: the couple spending time in a cave while the other is injured/knocked out) and the cliff scene in the latter episodes where Zhou Zishu jumps in after Wen Kexing.
10. Dual Cultivation to save/heal the other.
Know who else cultivated in a cold place and also ended up as immortal lovers after going through trials and tribulations for each other? Yang Guo and Xiao Longnv again! (Yes, I am a big fan of Condor Heroes) arguably the most famous couple in wuxia. If you’ve seen the wucai bros reaction series, they all clapped and said “It’s just like in Condor Heroes! They are immortal lovers!”
There is honestly a lot more, depending on how detailed you want to get. The point is that it wasn’t just the flirting, the hugs, or the poetry. Wen Kexing and Zhou Zishu’s relationship itself was presented in the visual language of traditional wuxia romance, but this time in a love story between two men. WenZhou was written in the language of love.
He suddenly laughed, thinking: what, am I a person unfit to be seen? Back in the day, when the previous emperor was still on the throne, the one who set a series of intricately interlocking stratagems in place, the one who swept the second prince’s faction out of the way, the one who ferreted out a string of vermin in among the courtly officials, was me. That year, when the northern barbarians invaded the central plains, all the way to the capital, the one who guarded Chengwu Gate, never faltering for a step, was me. That the empire of Da Qing can slowly recover amidst tumultuous times, can display a bit of life despite being weakened and full of holes, that all of you can live in peace and joy, to be so full and idle that you turn on yourselves–the things that cannot be seen in the light behind the entirety of this flourishing society were all things I arranged. Back in the day, my methods were vicious and lethal, and I harmed many people; today, despite my ailing body and dwindling years, I accumulate merit and do good deeds. From beginning to end, I have asked my heart and found no regret–so what about me is unfit to be seen?!
I was rewatching word of honor as one does and I don’t think I’ll ever be over this scene. It’s about the surprise and relief in Wen Kexing’s voice. It’s about how only two episodes ago, he was broken hearted and playing his role as the villain after hearing Zhou Zishu call him crazy. Luo Fumeng and Gu Xiang also called him crazy and maybe they’re all right and he is, but he still went after Zhou Zishu and then the man says this to him and now he’s just like overflowing with happiness and smiling at the sun and I can’t with this show—
I’m absolutely onboard the idea of “Lan Qiren is super supportive of Wangji’s sexuality, he just happens to be Wei Wuxianphobic in particular”
(In fairness he never specifies WHICH nephew he’s talking about so. Xichen you’re not in the clear either.)
[Image description: a cartoon of Lan Qiren portrayed in The Untamed, holding up a sign that says “I love + support my gay nephew, I just wish he had better taste in men.” He has a rainbow wristband on his right arm.]
[Image description: A continuation of the above art of Lan Qiren with 2 panels: the first has Lan Wangji and Lan Xichen pointing at each other in confusion and asking “Which nephew?” The second has LQR holding up a revised version of the sign that is altered to read “I love + support my gay nephews, I just wish they had better taste in men.”]