by KingC, August 22, 2020
98

China is known for mass-producing dramas per year, may it be low budget wuxia or school romances or high budget political and xianxia dramas. Big budget dramas with well-known cast land in the anticipated lists and watchful eyes of fans. Popular book adaptions have them following every step of its production, increasing the anticipation of waiting viewers. The remainings ones? Some of them are crowd pullers, and a few unlucky ones never get aired. Many of them don't manage to catch anyone's attention and quietly go with the flow, without much promotion. And this was one such drama that sort of got lost in the woods.

Tired of watching 30+ episodes worth of drama with or without filler? Do you need something quick and light to distract you from your troubles? Or are you looking for a short historical drama with some substance? Look no further, fellow drama lovers, here's why you gotta give the Ancient Detective a chance. 


 THE PLOT  

The simple MDL synopsis doesn't give much away. This story has a way lot more than that. As usual, it is not for everyone, the plot is not character-driven, and the level of angst is quite low.  Heck, I myself dropped the drama after the very first episode cause all the names and people were too much for me, and I expected it to be one of those fluffy dramas that China seems to have an endless supply of. 

But I am so glad that I decided to pick it back again on a whim. 

Packed with action, comedy, mystery, the worst eight-year challenge, friendship, and romance all in one, this was a rare gem that I have not seen in CDramaland for a while. And nothing feels off despite the duration being 30-40 minutes of this 24 episodes long drama. 

The drama opens with the Wuxia style cartoon history of the past. 

 In the Jianghu, a group of respected martial artists planned to make an ideal world, but it is cut short after the appearance of a murderer with exceptional skills in martial arts, Wang Hua. To defeat him and stop the blood bath, they go head to head for battle in Shenji Valley. In the end, the eldest brother, Jian Jin Huan ends up sacrificing his life to bring Wang Hua down. And Wang Hua's body mysteriously disappears...

The secret lay buried for 8 years, until finally, Jian Jin Huan's son, Jian Bu Zhi, decides to investigate the truth as he suspects that there is more to the events that happened there than what people believe. So, he sets out for The Martial world, armed with nothing, but a black sword as evidence, to find out the truth from the remaining survivors of the massacre, and hence begins the story...

But, there is a catch. Jian Bu Zhi has absolutely no martial art skills, despite his high intelligence and the fact that his father from Shenji Valley used to be a respected fellow in the martial world.

He also has no memory of any of the events, except waking up with the Jian family seal and finding out who he was from his father's journals. 

On his quest, he meets Zhao Wo Huan, who sees Jian Bu Zhi's good intentions and decides to take him in as a friend. His journey starts at Hanyue villa, where one of the survivors reside. There he comes across an odd bunch of people including a girl called Zhan Shi Qi and once again meets Zhao, all who are there to compete for the ownership of Hanyue Villa. However, things don't go as planned, and we run into the very first mystery of the show...

That is just the beginning...

With Zhao Wo Huan accompanying him, Jian Bu Zhi sets off for the long road to his goal. Their journey together is riddled with mysterious murders, assassination attempts, and everyone they meet seems to have secrets. Worse, Jian ends up on the hit list of the Ten Killing Gate, the biggest organization of assassins after a mission goes wrong at their end.

Moreover, someone seems to be one step ahead of Jian Bu Zhi.

Who is it? What exactly is he/she trying to hide? 


THE SETTING

 I have seen a few Wuxia dramas, but this one is refreshing to watch as it deals with the Jianghu (martial world) from an outsiders'  point of view. 

Hanyue Villa

The main characters, Jian Bu Zhi and Zhao Wo Huan are newcomers to the martial world. As a consequence, the poor souls get beaten up and played around a lot.  Their limits are tested by the selfish desires of people. What's more, we get to see the characters learn and change along the journey, especially for Jian Bu Zhi. 

And typical Wuxia style, this drama is no exception to power-hungry sects and their beliefs. It also showed how cruel the martial world is and how shrewd you have to be in order to survive there. (This helps me understand other wuxia dramas a bit better.) 

That is never the main focus of the drama, but the side dish. So, if you are tired of Sect power play and usual wuxia tropes, you should give this one a go. It made me like the show more. 


THE CHARACTERS

What I loved the most about this show is that the characters were normal, relatable people with flaws. Some of them are not special at all. (In a Wuxia sense.) They have to learn the hard way for survival. It is the lead women and side characters of the show who are actually trained to survive in the pugilistic world. Here is a short introduction, and I listed them in order of their appearance during the opening credits. 

 It's not every day that we come across a hero like him in a Cdrama. Had it not been for Zhao and others, he would already be dead by episode one. At one point, a character directly tells him that he just got lucky. And how he doesn't know about human nature. 

We can see his passion for solving cases right from the very beginning. This also puts him directly in the chokehold many times throughout the drama. Yet, his determination to find out about the past, his regret is losing his memories, his fear of failure, all shine out at some point or another. And the Jianghu has no mercy when it comes to his lack of martial arts.  His inability to fight back leads him headfirst into troubles.

.                                                                                                                     Credits: Mypheralside

Always calm in the face of danger, most people would find him boring, but what I like is that he is not the typical light robbed ice cube super-intelligent dudes that C-dramas are famous for.  He actually talks and expresses emotions, albeit slowly, and it is not easy for viewers to warm up to him instantly.  

If Ron Weasley and Hagrid had a child, you'd get Zhao Wo Huan. He is a simple fellow with a good heart. And also, he is the most normal and relatable character in the entire show. (Dumb, naive, rude and broke.)  He is easily everyone's favourite character. Everything he does is what a normal person would do. You don't need double brains and squinty glasses to see through his actions. That is kinda rare in the Wuxia world. Also, I cracked up a lot during his scenes with Sima Dang, the thief God and the Yan Sect.  

He has talent but had to build up his martial abilities on his own through manuals. Comedic nature aside, he is also a rational person. 

  • Zhan Shi Qi - Former Assassin of Ten Killing Gates. (Wang Ruoshan).

Shi Qi abandons the assassins of Ten Killing Gates in a desperate effort to lead a normal life after she realizes how much she doesn't enjoy her job. Even if it meant that she would be hunted for the rest of her life. On her run, she happens to meet Jian Bu Zhi, who is the only person who doesn't instantly jump to the conclusion that she was a killing machine. Long story short, she decides to save his life and manages to keep him alive for the rest of the drama. She likes pretty clothes and parasols, which is a stark difference from her cold aura.

 

He pops out of nowhere and surprisingly sticks around till the end. Skilled in surgeries, he is also good with knives, needle throwing skills and is one of the intelligent characters of the show.  He is not much of a talker, but is quite quick-witted and stays loyal.  I half expected him to turn his back of them any second. And he may be hiding more than you know... Unsurprisingly, he's got most of his expressions GIFFed even more than the leads. 

Ye Xiao Xiao First Appearance

 

  •         Sima Dang - Official Historical officer (Wang Xing Wei)    

He spends his time noting down events from up above treetops and roofs. (In short, he knows everyone's gossips.) He doesn't know martial arts too, but practices Qi Qong (levitation thingy), as a means for escape. He is a noteworthy character and his strong friendship with the others, combined with his humour, made him one of my favorites. I felt bad every time he was called away for duty. 

  •  Ming Yue - Ming Division of Ten Killing Gates (Ma Zehan) 

We don't initially see much of her in the drama. Her path crosses with Jian and Zhao purely by accident while on a mission. (This accident leads to Jian Bu Zhi being the "It" for the Ten Killing Gates, and the poor guy has absolutely no idea why people were trying to kill him.) But, she is quick to recognize people and would gladly protect anyone she cares about. There are parts where I seriously doubted her, but by the end of the drama, she had my respect. 

A happy go lucky girl who just wants to become the best doctor. Her sewing skills are unparalleled, and her positive aura makes her shine. She too is a surprisingly important character.  What I loved about her is that she never lets her feelings get in her way. She takes her duty seriously.

 She has her own principles of the world and often makes choices that she thinks is right. 

We see many other intriguing characters throughout the show, and hearing their stories and experiences was one thing that made this drama engrossing for me. There were times I couldn't even hate the villains. And we get to meet plenty of interesting people.


 RELATIONSHIPS 

The drama would have no life if they had never met.  And possibly no story as Jian Bu Zhi would be dead if that happened.

Their interactions were pure gold.  Mainly cause Jian Bu Zhi's occupation as a detective gets him into sticky situations from which he has no interest to untangle himself until he finds a solid answer. 

And cause Zhao Wo Huan, who adopts him, is smart enough to know that poking your nose into matters that scream danger is never a good idea. We can't stand against his logic either. Plus, he realizes that despite Jian's knowledge and skills in solving cases, he has zero information about normal stuff. 

Within the first 5 episodes, Jian is attacked, poisoned has things thrown at him, and he himself gets thrown around. But, Zhao is always there for him.

Credits: drifted snow

Their brotherhood made me wish that I too, had someone like them. Right from the beginning, Zhao's willingness to protect his Xiong Di stands out. And perhaps, he has the most difficult task out of everyone. His brother is at a disadvantage in the martial world without any martial arts or inner power, he himself has never had good training, yet he has to put up with his strong, stubborn resolve, tag along and watch him enter dangerous situations.


Credits: Mypheralside

They have stupid fights and misunderstandings as a result. But, at the end of the day, their bond runs deeper than blood. ( I want more friendships like these in dramas!) It was a highlight of the drama. 

                                        Credits: Mypheralside

The rest of the cast, though some are transient appearances, make an impact on the viewer.  Many times, the screen gets overcrowded, but the plot wouldn't move forward without them. Jian Bu Zhi initially starts off as a loner who grew up alone in Shenji Valley, but by the end, he finally gets to be a real person and not just a robotic detective. 

Sima Dang and Mr. Thief (he appeared for like three episodes) and Wicked Woman stole two episodes completely for me.  They were temporary but became my favourite pretty quickly, and their friendship with the leads was fun to watch. 


Every character we meet, grey or white, has a story to tell.  Their experiences and interactions with the leads were another reason what made the Ancient Detective interesting. 

It never made the show tiring. I usually dislike dramas that have many characters, but without a huge cast, this show would be disappointing.

When it comes to romance, it is quite fast-paced given the 24 episode limit, but it doesn't necessarily take centre stage. It had an important part in the plot, too, without many cliches. Both the leads (not the ladies) are dumb in their own ways in this field.


COMEDY

This show doesn't lack that too. The comic scenes reminded me a lot of some good old cliche comedy from my childhood entertainment days. 

Sima Dang and Mr. Thief's conversations were amusing, even when they were serious. 

Anyone having Zha and Da in their names made me laugh a lot. Even some of the evil ones. Almost everyone has a sense of humour or can be inadvertently hilarious at times. Then, there is Zhao Wo Huan... 

Credits: Mypheralside


 CGI, ACTION, MYSTERY 


I've come to the conclusion that a C-drama ain't a C-drama unless there is one scene with crappy CGI. (Excludes Realistic and Modern of course.) There is barely any CGI in this show. And not even many dramatic, typical, blood-throwing-up scenes that are a staple for every wuxia drama. Blood does spill, and there is gore, but not the level you'd expect. And when there was CGI, maybe one scene struck me as completely fake.  Don't you worry, to make up for that we got a golden buddha that was more fake than that Golden Throne Mr. Emperor from Under the Power used which I thought looked more fake than the toy crown I had as a kid. 

Props were reused several times.  Especially Teacups and pots.

The production quality is poor according to more observant reviewers. Some even say that the costumes were not up to the mark. (I have a bias for historical clothing so, I wouldn't mind if the clothing was even 10 years old.)

The budget seemed to go 'whelp'. Does that make this show unwatchable? If you do mind such things, maybe.

But the action scenes were my favourite. Purely based on personal views, as I still have no idea how to recognize a good fight choreography. Possibly because most of the fights we see involved assassins trained with weird weapons and killer skills. (Zhan Shi Qi fights with a freaking umbrella...) 

80% of the time is spent on solving case after case, and at a point, it seems repetitive, but also the only way the story would make sense. The suspects are narrowed down at a place and then cleared off one by one. 

To be honest, even the mystery doesn't seem like a mystery to some viewers, but it hooks you in to know how things are going to finally come to a conclusion. I could also notice similarities to Under the Power (another drama that caught my attention this year) in the way that Jian Bu Zhi solved certain cases. 

The simplicity of this drama is a stark contrast from what I am usually used to, but it was a pleasant change. 


 THE SOUNDTRACK 

 I  can never take any musical instruments seriously... But, this guy's flute music had the right amount of mystery and creepy in it.

It's a shame that there are millions of Dramas released at once cause some of them are worth watching just for the OST alone. And OSTs of CDramas are rarely appreciated. This drama has an OST which was perfect for every scene, from the creepy ones to emotional and funny scenes.  A few of them really touched me, but it's difficult to find, though. 

The opening credits give a modern yet ancient and mysterious vibe to the show. But, the end credits song is what struck me the most. It gave me a feeling of loss even without understanding the meaning. And there were various renditions of its melody throughout the drama. 


FROM THE WRITER'S DESK


The show had me hooked right from the second episode. The soundtrack, the characters, the mystery, friendship, romance… it had been a long time since I saw a drama that clicked all the right buttons. I liked every character for who they were. The culprits were not completely bloodthirsty murderers, the good guys not crystal clear.

 Several times, the theme of human nature is mentioned. Initially, when I first watched the series,  I did not get any emotional sentiments as I was too engrossed in knowing what happens next. However, now that I am done with it and rewatching, I can find the underlying theme behind this tale. 

In the end, we finally understand the choices made by them and why.  Every single scene that you saw, in the beginning, hits different once you have finished the final episode.   

It was a rare treat for me in the Dramaland, and I do not wish for the suspense and intrigue to be snuffed out for future viewers who read this article. I leave the rest up to you to find out. 

I wonder why so many people missed it. (Its posters were displayed on popular drama Twitter accounts, and it was on Youtube for a while.) Was it because the story seemed uninteresting? Maybe not many viewers like detective stories? Or was it cause the lead actors were not with the typical idol like good looks that viewers seem to favour? Or it did not get any promotion it deserved so nobody has stumbled across it yet?

Despite the circumstances, all actors had their own charm and embodied their characters perfectly. 

  A snip of Ye Xiao Xiao's iconic scene. I was in freak mode while watching it.  (Yep, it is not what it looks like, and the actor nailed it.)

We automatically root for them, whether good or evil. 

Everyone leaves an impression and resonates with the viewer. It was fun getting to know them slowly.

Chinese reviewers are more ruthless when it comes to their own shows and have noticed the flaws with a practiced eye. Yet, many seem to agree that it brought a nostalgic feel to them and that the martial arts reminded them of older Wuxia dramas. (I have only watched wuxia stuff from 2017. Yeah… I have no taste.) For such a drama with many shortcomings, its initial score was decent. 

I personally loved this show. It's rare to see a 24 episode drama that satisfies all the criteria I wanted and still be presentable and engaging to viewers — especially a wuxia one involving mystery. There were so many moments that I wanted a gif! It was perfectly imperfect in its own unique way. And as usual, it may not be for everyone, but give it a go for at least three episodes. (Oh. It's on Youtube, Youku, and Viki by the way.) 

Chances of a second season are highly possible and also impossible. (This drama was shot in October/ November 2018 by the way.) 

I rather not know what happens to everyone I care about in the second arc. I am way too concerned about their safety at this point. So… yeah. Also, excited to see where the story goes and whether they'd be able to be on par with the first one. There are so many questions and theories teeming in my mind as I rewatch it. 

Till then, I bid a hearty farewell to all the characters and wish that they are doing well and happy, in whichever universe they might be in.


                                               ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND CREDITS: 

Many thanks to Mypheralside for your inputs about my article and your enthusiasm to help. Also, to the editors. 

Thanks to these amazing tumblrs for letting me borrow their gifs, and even creating new ones!


I do not know the Chinese language, but these sites helped me with the content and gifs. Thank you, writers.

It seems like you reached the end of my article and if you really read through it despite all flaws and my rusty English, I am really grateful. It is my first attempt at this site. The thought of completely discarding the draft crossed my mind several times whenever I revised it. I am glad even if you just took a quick skip at it. Thank you for bearing through my mistakes.  And hope that everyone is safe and finding solace in the endless dramaland. :D

~ Sincerely,
iamconqueror


Edited by: Yuanwei (1st editor), BrightestStar (2nd editor)

Trending