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In 2020, the Boys’ Love (BL) phenomenon hit full swing, with film and TV producers buying up the rights to 59 BL titles. One such adaptation has seized the internet’s attention — Word of Honor.
Just like recent successes The Untamed and Winter Begonia, Word of Honor is also adapted from a web novel. The author Priest remains one of the most well known Chinese web novelists of all time, having also penned the source material for the 2020 Wang Yibo drama Legend of Fei, and the 2018 BL webseries Guardian.
Word of Honor currently ranks as the highest rated BL drama on Douban — China’s online community of film, book and music lovers — averaging a score of 8.6 with over 200,000 reviews. When it first came out, the drama failed to hit the magic 8.0, but gradually climbed in rank as word spread on social media.
“I was so taken aback by the show’s courage and effort,” reads one of the top-voted comments on Douban. “It doesn’t feel like a fake bromance, but rather a genuine and loving relationship. Just that one fact means it deserves my respect.”
According to Fandometrics on Tumblr, Word of Honor is currently the 19th most talked about show worldwide, its debut episode drawing an audience of over 3.6 million on YouTube.
In comparison, the YouTube debut of The Sword and the Brocade, another recent historical drama with a far more recognized cast, received just below one million views.
Congratulations! #WordOfHonor has hit over 10 MILLION views within only two weeks! Your love and support for WOH is really appreciated! We are also grateful and happy to learn how to say "Thank you" in different languages! You are all sweet besties and great teachers! pic.twitter.com/06ftBnPUbe
— 优酷Youku (@YoukuOfficial) March 10, 2021
Amidst the worldwide hype, wholesome interactions took place as Chinese fans explained some of the show’s cultural subtleties.
In the comments section, one user explained in English the implication of the show’s “sleeve-cutting” scene:
“[Wen Kexing] cut A-Xu’s sleeve, in Chinese is duan xiu (断袖), which also means boys’ love. The word comes from a story. The Emperor Han Ai Di had a lover named Dong Xian, a boy. After spending the night the emperor wanted to get up, but Dong Xian did not wake up. The emperor did not want to disturb him, so he cut off his sleeve.”
While the show is still marketed as a historical “brotherly bromance”, fans were able to use lipreading to discern some of the actors’ original lines through the censorship. In China and abroad, fans are loving it.
In one line of dialogue, the main character whispered that his dream was about “putting a dead rat in his mom’s sheets.” But upon closer inspection, the actor’s lips read “I went to bed with my lover and we could not get enough of each other.”
Cover image: Youku
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