by Cho Na, January 30, 2021
66

Warning: Minor spoilers for the dramas listed below,
mostly from the introductions in the early episodes. 
None of them tells the end/main plot. The dramas discussed:
Ever Night 1 and 2, Ancient Detective, 
Qing Qing Zi Jin, The Sleuth of Ming Dynasty, 
The Eight, My Roommate is a Detective, 
The Gifted and The Gifted: Graduation,
Mue Prab Khao Saan Sek, and Mystic Pop-Up Bar.



INTRODUCTION

While looking over all dramas I watched in 2020, a recurring favorable theme showed up over and over again: friendship. Although my preference (sub)genres are romance, romcom, and comedy, and yet without a group of supportive supporting characters (should I coin it as SSC?), even a great looking couple with sizzling chemistry won't make me endure watching the whole drama without the strong bond of SSC.

Based on the friendship theme, I wrote two parts of articles on my favorite friendship groups of 2020 released dramas I watched. I divided the article into two parts: This part contains my 9 favorite friendship groups in historical and supernatural dramas. The other part contains my 9 favorite friendship groups in modern youth and adult-life dramas. Unbeknownst to me, number 9 has a special meaning that I found out after I selected 9 dramas of each category. In Chinese tradition, number 9 (九, pinyin: jiǔ) sounds like "long-lasting" (久, pinyin: jiǔ) (source: Wikipedia). That's what friendship should be: long-lasting.

Since all these dramas were of 2020 release, I will minimize spoilers as much as possible. I also included the countries, number of episodes, duration, and genres, that may help you decide if you want to watch any based your preferences. And instead of posting the official posters with their formal poses, as much as possible, I rather showed their friendship through informal pictures that express the affinity of their bonds. Lastly, I included links to drama review articles if there is any. Therefore:

 I hope you enjoy the article!


HISTORICAL: THE IMPERIAL ERA

Ever Night and Ever Night: Season 2

Country: China. Episodes: 60 (S1), 43 (S2). Duration: 45 min (both). 
  Genres: Action,  Adventure,  Historical,  Romance,  Wuxia,  Drama 

Though this drama mostly tells about the journey of the main characters Ning Que (Season 1: Arthur Chen; Season 2: Dylan Wang) and Sang Sang (Ireine Song), these elite students from the hidden Back Hill or Upper Story of Tang Academy are an exciting bunch to watch. They were chosen through tough examinations and trained by the academy founder and headmaster Fu Zi (Adam Cheng) to become top cultivators of Tang Empire. Each possesses special cultivation skill that either work together in pairs or individually. In Season 1, after their introductions, we didn't see much of the depth of their unity and friendship than them living peacefully while practicing their skills and eating meals together. The drama shows how their care towards their youngest Thirteenth Brother Ning Que though, for example when he was disciplined into seclusion by Fu Zi and arguments on who Ning Que's future wife should be, lol. 

In Season 2 we see more of these student's individual stories, notably of Elder Brother Li Man Man (Marco Chen), Second Brother Jun Mo (Dylan Kuo), Third Sister Yu Lian (Kang Keren), and Twelfth Brother Chen Pi Pi (Hu Yu Xuan) who is Ning Que's best friend. Moreover, not only that they worked together to help Ning Que accomplish his missions, but also defending their school from outside attacks when the Tang Empire is in war with surrounding nations. Especially, some of the students are not citizens of Tang but from those neighbouring nations, making it challenging to decide where their loyalties placed.

There will be Season 3 of this drama rumored to be released in 2022.


Ancient Detective

Country: China. Episodes: 24. Duration: 45 min. Genres: Historical,  Mystery,  Romance,  Wuxia 
According to the synopsis, the story follows the amnesiac detective Jian Buzhi (Tim Yu) - yes, we can't get away from amnesia trope, can't we? - on a quest to finding the truth. On the way, he finds a love interest and a good friend who help him solving mysterious cases. Actually, the story is more than the short synopsis since the detective met a bunch of interesting people he befriended with whom went together in a mysterious journey: Wo Huan (Wang Yan Yang) who's loyal by his side fighting all attacks towards him (since Jian Buzhi doesn't have any martial art skill), two fearless female assassins Shi Qi (Rachel Wang) and Ming Yue (Miranda Ma), two skilful physicians Thousand Faces Man Xiao Xiao (Du Ya Fei) and Wicked Woman Yao Nu (Huang Ri Ying), and finally, the flying historian Sima Dang (Wang Xing Wei) - his entrance on the scene is always sitting on the rooftop or a tree. I purposedly picked this beyond the scene group photo, since it shows the core group characters clearly.

Personally, I like this drama because the storytelling style is similar to the way my favorite detective novel writer Agatha Christie wrote, where a bunch of people are entrapped in a remote place, and murders happen consecutively until the detective hero solves the cases. There were several cases Jian Buzhi solved with his friends' help, gradually steered him towards the truth he's looking for. All murder cases were solved neatly; however, I wonder if there will be a second season of this drama.

To know more about this drama, here's a link to review article: Beyond the Radar: Ancient Detective.


Qing Qing Zi Jin

Country: China. Episodes: 40. Duration: 45 min. 
Genres: Action,  Adventure,  Historical,  Romance,  Wuxia,  Drama 

This is a light-hearted costume drama with some modern flair. The story follows the notorious mountain bandit Luo Qiu Chi (Kris Fan) who, one day, captured a bunch of students from the imperial college Zhuxiu Academy. One of them is Ren Juan (Rain Lu), whom Qiu Chi discussed with about literature/poems. Admiring his intelligence, Ren Juan advised Qiu Chi to study at the academy through an entrance exam specifically designed for commoners. Qiu Chi then studied at the academy using a different identity, but the path towards gaining knowledge is not easy due to his commoner background, as he was despised by the students who mostly came from the noble/official government families. Slowly he gained favor using his brain and martial art skills, and he bonded in friendship not only with the kind-hearted Ren Juan, but also his aloof roommate Ru Xue (Xie Bin Bin), Ren Juan's friend kind-hearted Qing He (Yan Yi Yi), and the school gang of Four Young Masters led by Zi Yun (Jeremy Wang). Together they not only helped each other with class assignments and school issues but also solved problems arisen in the country.

Here I found my favorite emperor character from all historical Cdramas I watched: the 10-year old Emperor (Chen Yu Han) who is funny, witty, dignified, and yet still maintains his boyish attitude. Though knowing our heroes/heroines but not in the circle of friends, he gave edicts that effected the school and student's life.

I am glad that this drama production team marketer did not change the native title into an English title with overused crappy words like 'love' or 'romance' as usually Chinese romantic dramas. The title Qing Qing Zi Jin is the first line of a poem and literally means "Blue-Collared Lad" that came from an ancient famous Chinese song "Book of Ode". Blue collared refers to the standard blue student robe of the imperial period.


The Sleuth of Ming Dynasty

Country: China. Episodes: 48. Duration: 45 min. Genres: Historical,  Mystery,  Drama 

The sleuth here is the genius pretty boy government official Tang Fan (Darren Chen) - they who watched this drama would confirm of his prettiness - and the imperial guard Sui Zhou with PTSD (Fu Meng Bo) who joined together to solve from usual criminal cases to cases with political entanglements. Once it's political, included in the team is the powerful, arrogant eunuch Wang Zhi (Liu Yao Yuan) who is their frenemy and has a close relationship with the royal family. In their friendship/investigation team joined also the little maid Tang Fan's best friend with exceptional memory Dong Er (Huang Yang Tian Tian), his gentle sister Tang Yu (Sookie Pan), inventive doctor Pei Huai (Mao Yi), fearless Duo Er La from tribal group Wala (Her Nan), and marksman Wu Yun Duo Er La's friend (Zhang Yi Long).

You may need to have a full stomach when watching this drama since the story not only full with mysterious cases to solve, but also tons of cooking and sharing meals since Sui Zhou loves to cook as a hobby and stress relief of his PTSD, in which perfectly matched with Tang Fan and Dong Er who are foodies. As Tang Fan stated, quoted above in the first image, no matter how bleak and dire the situation is, eating first is the most important. Their mealtimes together strengthened their friendship further into a familial type of bond.

This drama was Jackie Chan's initial effort as a producer to tackle a period drama work. The Jackie Chan Stunt Team created the action sequences that punctuate the hilarious scenes with intense martial arts performances; therefore, we see many hilarious action scenes in Jackie Chan's style. 


HISTORICAL: THE REPUBLICAN ERA

The Eight

Country: China. Episodes: 34. Duration: 45 min.  Genres: Action,  Historical,  Romance,  Drama,  War,  Political 
This is another drama produced by a big name in the Chinese entertainment industry, and this time is Chen Kai Ge who presided as the Executive Director. The drama tells about eight Chinese martial artist communities that have survived for generations since ancient times and live underworld peacefully during the Republican era: scholars, entertainers, merchants, assassins, herbalists, craftsmen, thieves, and spies. Each is lead by our heroes and heroines in this drama, starring Seven TanQin LanChin Shih ChiehXiu QingCici Wang, just to name a few. To not spoiling the story, I cannot tell who is who since there are hidden identities and plot twists in the drama. The main hero, however, is not one of the trade's leaders but merely a young student just returned from overseas Hua Min Chu (Oho Ou), who was picked to become the Ten Walker Scroll holder, as his neutral position benefit the group in solving the community problems in turbulent times of China and dissolve the trades into the modern society. 

I like the interactions between the trade leaders, like the characters, who come from a different background that sometimes clash with each other, bonded together and enter the life of each other communities to solve the problems that brewed from the start. We also get to know how each trade operates and their living environments.


My Roommate is a Detective

Country: China. Episodes: 36. Duration: 45 min. 
Genres: Action,  Thriller,  Historical,  Mystery,  Comedy,  Romance 

The trio consists of the newly appointed police inspector Qiao Chu Seng (Leon Zhang), the jobless brilliant and eccentric Lu Yao (Hu Yi Tian), and the ambitious and independent journalist Bai You Ning (Shane Xiao). They also came from different backgrounds: Chu Seng is an orphan, who was raised by a gang boss Mr. Bai (Zhang Hui Zhong), thus he was also a gangster prior to his police career. Lu Yao comes from a rich and reputable family whose members are prominent in the government.  Bai You Ning comes from a triad family and the only child of Mr. Bai (Chu Seng's former boss). At first, they were at odds with one another: Chu Seng caught Lu Yao since he was in the wrong place at the wrong time during the first murder case. Lu Yao had to share the house he lived in with You Ning (she ran away from home) since he was jobless and couldn't pay the rent (hence the drama title came from). And You Ning kept bothering Chu Seng to get the first scoop of news on the murder cases for her newspaper articles.

They came to term with each other soon as case by case emerged quickly that required them to unite and solve the cases. Some of them were the classic murder schemes; some of them seemed full of mysteries and horror. The trio worked together harmoniously. Chu Seng sent out the police force to do the fieldworks, Lu Yao got to the bottom of the cases using his deduction skills, and You Ning gathered information with her wide source network. With their coherent and expeditious teamwork, many criminal cases were solved quite fast, sometimes a case per one or two episode(s) which I like.

To know more about this drama, here's a review article: My Roommate is a Detective Drama Recap.


SUPERNATURAL

The Gifted and The Gifted: Graduation

Country: Thailand. Episodes: 13 (both seasons). Duration: 55 min (both seasons).
Genres: Thriller,  School,  Drama,  Supernatural,  Investigation 

This drama setting is in high school, so we assume there would be school lifestyle happening here, right? Wrong. That's what the main protagonist Pang (Nanon) thought too. He was just an ordinary student at Ritdha High School from the lowest rank of the class system that's based on grades. The school then offered a placement test for students to advance to a higher class rank, which Pang registered. While taking the test, he saw an invitation to a meeting behind his exam paper. He attended the meeting, which turned out to be the first session of The Gifted Program class. This is where a handful of students were trained to discover their hidden supernatural and superhuman abilities, led by Teacher Pom (Victor). In the group, Pang closely befriended Namtarn (Lilly) and Ohm (Sing), and the three of them formed a Harry-Hermione-Ron type of trio, as they discovered horrible secrets behind the Program. Pang also made friends with others and frenemy with Wave (Chimon). Together they helped each other find their abilities and clean up the aftermaths of the showdown of their powers, as well as tearing down the suppressive system from the villain.

After two years passed all students from the prequel came back as the heroes and heroines in Season 2. Added to the core group are a few more students from the new Gifted Program class. I like the sequel more although it's more confusing with many plot twists, as it seems in every episode the audience was gifted with surprises! What I noticed in Season 2 that the core group grew stronger, as their friendship was taken to a higher level: mutual trust. As the villain's oppressions continued in Season 2, a lot of events happened that left the group members question whom to trust, even among themselves!


Mue Prab Khao Saan Sek

Country: Thailand. Episodes: 28. Duration: 45 min. Genres: Action,  Horror,  Comedy,  Romance,  Drama 
Before explaining about this drama and the friendship, may I loosely translated the title into Rice Spell Ghost Buster, lol. Khao Saan Sek is a Thai ancient magical spell using rice or rice flour, either scattered around a building as supernatural protection or thrown into evil spirits. 

So the ghostbuster here is Son (Ball), a detective who possesses a supernatural ability to see ghosts. After publicly being recorded in the marketplace of his exorcism showdown, he was sent for a psychological evaluation to psychiatrist Dr. Rung (Namwhan) who gave him a bad report, so he was grounded. Karma followed afterwards, Dr. Rung was involved in an incident and went coma, but her floating spirit could communicate with Son. Nowhere to go, Dr. Rung followed Son home, much to the annoyance of a female spirit who didn't want to share Son with another female spirit: Gaga (Chaba Kaew). Baby Gaga is a kuman thong, a household spirit in Thai folk religion that is believed to bring the homeowner luck and fortune if revered. Later on, they formed a great bond of the trio to investigate a major case that not only caused Dr. Rung's incident but also involved evil spirits. They also worked together with Son's new detective team that was led by Insp. Nat (Ton) and consists of several members who also possess their own special powers: Lt. Pong (Pok), Lt. Trai (Petch), and Sgt. Sarapong (Anant).

I love the ending of this drama regarding the trio's friendship, especially for the adorable Gaga.


Mystic Pop-Up Bar

Country: South Korea. Episodes: 12. Duration: 1h 8min. Genres: Mystery,  Comedy,  Drama,  Family,  Fantasy 

This is a circle of friendship that originated from the Joseon Dynasty, lol. A feisty woman from 500 years ago, Wol Joo (Hwang Jung Eum) can't die in peace until she pays off her sin by settling the grudges of 100.000 living souls. To do that, she and her afterlife friend Chef Gwi (Choi Won Young) - who later served as the bar manager - opened up an outdoor tent bar to lure customers in then given a special drink to get them opening up about their problems, thus enabling the two immortals to settle their grudges in dreams. By chance, Wol Joo found out than the mortal Kang Bae (Yook Sung Jae) has a supernatural ability (to his disadvantage) making people confess the truth by touch. She then employed him to work part-time at the bar to help her accomplish her mission. 

At first, the kind-hearted Kang Bae wanted to quit. He disagreed with the operation and also was afraid of their mysterious employers and the spiritual world they were dealing with. However, the lonely outcast (since people are afraid of his touch) soon found solace and attachment to the mystical duo. Especially after he was found to also being able to visit people in dreams and come to the afterlife gathering together with Wol Joo and Chief Gwi

I like the ending of this drama as what happened to the bond that lasts the longest from all drama friendship groups I watched: 500 years!

To know more about this drama, here's a link to review article: Review on Mystic Pop-Up Bar.


Credits: I do not own any of the images used. Credits go to the respective owners. The cover image and the first image were put together from screenshots of The Sleuth of Ming Dynasty. Other images are taken from official posters, stills, and screenshots found in MyDramaList and Google search. 


Which one is your favorite group?
Which friendship group do you want to watch?
Do you have any other drama with great friendship to recommend? 

Tell us about it! 

Thank you for reading!


Edited by: Yuanwei (1st editor)  & Jojo (2nd editor)

historical supernatural ever night detective ming dynasty mystic pop-up bar ancient detective qing qing zi jin the sleuth the eight my roommate the gifted costume republican dynasty

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