A Slice of Life in Xinjiang: A Review of TV series “To The Wonder” (C-Drama 2024)

To The Wonder (我的阿勒泰) is a coming-of-age Chinese drama adapted from Li Juan’s (李娟) award-winning essay collection of the same name. It stars Ma Yili, Zhou Yiran & Yu Shi in the leading roles.

The drama offers a unique glimpse of the Altay region of Northern Xin Jiang Province especially focused on herding communities of the Chinese Kazakh minority including slow-burn romance.

  • My ratings: 9/10
  • Genre: Life, Urban
  • Episodes: 8
  • Release Date: May 2024
  • Language: Mandarin, Kazakh

Synopsis: Basically, viewers are introduced to a young girl named Li Wen Xiu whose dream is to pursue a literary world in a bigger city like Urumqi. But when she runs into a problem and loses her part-time job, she is left with no choice but to return to her hometown. There, she relies on her mother, Zhang Feng Xia’s (played by Ma Yili) provision store for a living.

C-Drama 'To The Wonder' 2024

After returning to her hometown, Li Wen Xiu is pleasantly surprised by the community and the natural beauty present there in Altay. During this period, she also meets a Kazakh boy Ba Tay (played by Yu Shi). While getting along, she finds herself falling for him.

All the love from her family, that butterflies-in-her-stomach feeling of first love, being surrounded by all these different cultures & people – it all become a wellspring of inspiration for her writing.

This newfound purpose leads her to change her plans and stay with her mother in the idyllic pastoral area. Here, she embraces the opportunity to learn, grow, and gather new experiences every day.

Main Characters

Li Wen Xiu (played by Zhou Yiran)

Li Wen Xiu, a 19-year-old young girl, is somehow shy and reserved but also strong-headed. Her passion is to write. Simply, writing provides her joy, and holding a pen gives her a sense of empowerment. Just like when martial artist feel confident and powerful when they wield their swords.

While spending time in her hometown and preparing herself to get back to the city, she discovers the unique charm and beauty of her hometown she previously overlooked. Inspired by her surroundings and the rich cultural diversity, she embraces her hometown as the source of her writing.

Li Wen Xiu fills the pages of her diary, step by step recording the sights, sounds, and emotions of her experiences.

Even though there were several challenges like not having a proper shelter to financial instability, and living a kind of nomadic life afterward, she did not hesitate to follow her heart.

The interesting part is she finds real happiness there. Considering she was originally grown up in a town, this part pleasantly surprised me. Perhaps her struggles in the city helped her appreciate the beauty and possibilities closer to home.

Zhang Feng Xia (played by Ma Yili)

Zhang Fang Xia is the mother of Li Wen Xiu. She runs a provisional store in the village and supports a family of three; daughter Li Wen Xiu, elderly mother-in-law, and herself. Although it is hard to make a living, her strong spirit and hard work help her to run her daily life.

Ba Tay (portrayed by Yu Shi)

Kazakh Boy, Ba Tay is the youngest son of his family. Just like Li Wen Xiu, he has also got a dream. But after his brother dies, he is asked to give up his dream of cultivating the best horse breed in the world and comes to work on the ranch inheriting his father’s legacy.

To The Wonder Ending! (Spoiler Alert)

Considering this show was inspired by real-life events, I was quite unsure about how the ending would turn out. Surprisingly, it did not disappoint me. The rest of the first 7 episodes were lighthearted but the last episode somehow was way more roller coaster. But luckily, it was a happy ending or a satisfying ending. In the end, Li Wen Xiu and Ba Tay eventually reunite.

What I loved about this series at the end was how all the characters changed for the better. It was heartwarming to see Su Litan finally let his son, Ba Tay, choose his own career. And even though he didn’t like it at first, he let his daughter-in-law start her own family! Even if Li Wen Xiu and Ba Tay were not in contact for three years, they grew, learned, and evolved so much in that time.

so what happened at the end?

Before the horse riding archery competition, Gao Xiao Lang suddenly appears doing some business. Seeing this, Li Wen Xiu loses control and chases after him on horseback, riding “Snowshoes.” This leads to a fight between the two parties.

Gao Xiao Lang speeds off on his motorbike towards Li Wen Xiu and her mother after being humiliated in front of everyone. Luckily, the police manage to stop him just in time. However, it spooks the horse, causing it to bolt. Li Wen Xiu gets dragged along with a horse after being unable to control it.

Faced with a life-or-death situation, Ba Tay had no choice but to euthanize his horse to stop it and save Li Wen Xiu. This tragic incident creates a rift between them that lasts for almost three years.

During this time, Li Wen Xiu finds her dream work at a publishing house. Zhang Feng Xia returns to her hometown and resumes running her provision store. Ba Tay focuses on his studies. The story ends on a hopeful note, with everyone enjoying fireworks. A surprised smile appears on Li Wen Xiu, when she sees Ba Tay not so far from her, hinting at a potential reconciliation.

Acting & Chemistry

Yu Shi as Ba Tay fits the character very well in ‘To The Wonder’. His role as a Kazakh boy seems to be loved by the viewers. According to the production team, Yu Shi performed all his own horse-riding stunts and archery scenes in the drama. Also to play the role of Ba Tay, he hired a Kazakh teacher before filming started and learned the Kazakh language for more than half a year.

After playing a memorable character in the movie Fengshen Part 1 (Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms), Yu Shi, 27, rose to fame in 2023. Thereafter, he has been consistently appearing in different or unique projects one after another showcasing his acting prowess.

Zhou Yiran, a rising star, is best known for her performance in ‘Song Of Life’. She exudes the charismatic charm required for the character Li Wen Xiu. Yiran, 27, is gaining a lot of praise and attention for her performance for the role of Li Wen Xiu in the drama.

Talking about Zhou Yiran as Li Wen Xiu and Yu Shi as Ba Tai, their chemistry is natural and effortless. The romance is beautifully written, giving it a realistic vibe. Their interactions or conversations are simple, pure, and low-key – different from the typical modern dramas.

For Ma Yili, she nailed her character very well too. As a veteran actress, this performance of her as a single and hard-working mother and daughter-in-law was another captivating performance from her.

Not only these 3 main actors but every actor in the series like Alimujiang (Character Sulitan), Li Wen Ling (character Li Wen Xiu Granny), Jiang Qi Ming ( Character Gao Xiao Liang), and more have an impactful performance and great acting in the series.

To The Wonder – Scenery & Cultural Differences

To The Wonder C-Drama Review

Meeting new people, and slowly getting familiar with them through your screen, doesn’t that sound wonderful? I had a feeling of being transported to their world, closely observing their everyday lives.

There are crisply enveloped snow-white and tall mountains rising above vast alluring green grasslands. Large flocks of sheep and horses graze while camels carry loads in that scorching heat of the desert before entering to summer ranch.

The horse riding competitions from the Kazakh tribe, their melodious music, and dance accompanied by unique instruments, small tented houses, and inside living a large/small family in a peaceful and harmonious manner – it all left me speechless. Having watched a bunch of C-dramas over the years, this was the first time I felt such a deep connection to the story and its culture.

To The Wonder C-Drama Review
landscapes of the Altay region in ‘The Wonder’

“To The Wonder” reminds us of something missing in our fast-paced lives: that genuine warmth and closeness between family, friends, lovers and even neighbors. The show portrays these bonds beautifully, especially through the heartwarming relationship between Zhang Fang Xia and her mother-in-law. Their love, understanding, and care for each other is truly inspiring.

While watching the series, To The Wonder, viewers are introduced to rich culture and diversity. From the very first episode, you’ll feel like you yourself are visiting all those places by yourself.

Impressively, all these things are shot meticulously and immerse viewers into the story. If one has ever been to places like these or spent life in these kinds of areas before, one can feel deeply connected to the story despite some cultural differences.

But audiences who are not really into these countryside dramas especially those focused on various ethnic groups, rural life, and where romance is the subplot might not enjoy this drama.

Two languages are used simultaneously in To The Wonder

Those audiences who are familiar with Mandarin only might get a little confused at the start. Since the series presents various cultural or ethnic groups, especially Kazakh people, it has different cultures and languages. For instance, Kazakh families will be speaking their native language, Kazakh, when the scene focuses on them.

Once you get past that, the story will steadily move forward. As this is a miniseries, there are not so many characters in the series. Even if some characters are introduced, they don’t have much significance to the plotline and will not linger long. That means the story will flow smoothly and focus on the main characters. By getting acquainted with a new culture and its differences, you are less likely to feel bored.

A Look at the Undiscussed Aspects of Li Wen Xiu’s Life

Except for Li Wen Xiu’s writing inspiration and cultural exploration with many thought-provoking elements, there is not much background story in the drama. It could have been better if the production team further explored or revealed a little bit more about Li Wen Xiu’s family background or her childhood upbringing.

Also, thinking about, Ba Tay’s incredible horsemanship and archery skills,it make me wonder if he could have saved Snowshoe. It almost feels like the screenwriter deliberately created a difficult situation to heighten the drama.

However, these unexplored aspects don’t diminish the overall quality of the drama. Even viewers with no prior knowledge about the region’s lifestyle can still enjoy and learn a lot from the show’s portrayal.

Major Key Events

  • Episode 1: Li Wenxiu returns to Altay, and Sultan goes to the city to find Batay
  • Episode 2: Li Wenxiu’s demand for payment leads to a misunderstanding, Su Litan sends camels to pay off debts
  • Episode 3: Grandma is lost in the City, Tokan wants remarries and fights for custody rights
  • Episode 4: Sulitan kills a wolf to save Li Wen Xiu and her mother but Chao Ge is stopped from marrying Tokan.
  • Episode 5: Zhang Fengxia rescues Guo Xiang Liang in the desert
  • Episode 6: Ba Tay confesses his love to Li Wen Xiu
  • Episode 7: Li Wen Xiu reciprocates Ba Tay’s confession and Gao Xiao Liang cheats on Zhang Feng Xia
  • Episode 8: Reunion of Ba Tay and Li Wen Xiu after 3 years of separation

My Verdict – Give It A Try

This is a short-mini drama each episode spanning 45 minutes. The pacing might be quite slow at a time but during 90% of the scenes, it’s fine. I would rate this a 9, for its unique perspective or vivid portrayal of Altay’s community including its aesthetically beautiful cinematography.

So, if you’re a fan of coming-of-age stories, love beautiful natural scenery, or are into slice-of-life shows, then I would say give it a try. One thing I can affirm here is, that while chasing the drama, you’ll not only be entertained but also learn many interesting facts and knowledge about Northern Xin Jiang.

“To The Wonder” initially received a high rating of 8.5 on Douban, a popular Chinese review platform, and has steadily climbed to 8.9, suggesting strong word-of-mouth and growing popularity among audiences in mainland China. This positive reception likely stems from the show’s accurate and resonant portrayal of Northern Xinjiang culture.
The show is available on iQIYI.

Leave a comment