MILD SPOILERS on characters and scenes.
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Craving for ancient crime solving?
Is your curiosity piqued by criminal investigations and conspiracies? Do you have a penchant for smart law enforcement professionals like detectives, criminal profilers, and medical examiners? Are clever antagonists and evil masterminds with nefarious schemes your kind of thing?
Or could it be that you're a fan of historical C-dramas infused with mysteries and the search for the truth? Are you a team player who simply loves watching a band of friends decipher riddles and clues to catch the villains? Did you enjoy watching (and fell in love with) Ancient Detective, Under the Power, Young Blood, Miss Truth, and Maiden Holmes recently?
If your answer is a resounding YES to any or all of the above, then we're happy to put forth our case for your consideration - this drama, in our most humble opinion, will absolutely satiate your craving!
Come join us as we perform a forensic examination on why this drama would be worth watching...
Title: The Imperial Coroner (also known as Yu Ci Xiao Wu Zuo, The Story of the Imperial Gift).
Native Title: 御赐小仵作
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Romance, Medical
Number of Episodes: 36.
Duration: 40 minutes
Aired: April 29 - May 20 (2021)
Where to watch (subbed): WeTV, TencentVideo
Watch official trailer (subbed)
The Imperial Coroner is a drama adaptation of the novel The Works of the Imperial Gift Parts 1 and 2 (御赐小仵作), published in 2014. It is written by Qingxian Ya Tou (清闲丫头), a nom de plume that translates to Leisure Girl. She has been credited as having written two other notable novels: Mrs. Catcher (名捕夫人) and If Love Can't Hear (假如爱情听不见).
What is it all about?
The drama tells the story of five outstanding individuals who form a team dedicated to solving criminal cases and bringing the perpetrators to justice during the late Tang Dynasty. Through their combined individual talents and specific skillsets, they will unravel mysteries and uncover the truths of the many unusual and complicated cases that they encounter. Unbeknownst to them, all these criminal acts are somehow intricately connected to a longstanding conspiracy from the past that bears serious implications for the great Tang Empire.
This drama features detailed investigative procedures comprising the following aspects:
- Medical Investigation - Chu Chu's exemplary skills in conducting autopsies to discover shocking causes of deaths
- Forensic Investigation - Ancient crime scene investigation to ascertain clues and evidence from the scene of the brutal crimes committed
- Detective Investigation - Following the trail of evidence, deductive reasoning, and finally discovery of the truth behind the crimes
Although the subject matter revolves around coroners, detectives, and dead bodies, this drama is so much more than just about exploring the macabre. Viewers get to observe the following themes as well:
- Action - Wuxia elements are depicted through decent martial arts choreography. Expect exhilarating scenes of sword fights involving assassins, constables, and soldiers.
- Politics - The power dynamics of the differing factions at the royal court resulting in clandestine acts of aggression and political maneuverings. These factions include the various judicial ministries and departments, governmental officials, eunuch faction, regional military commanders, and the royal family.
- Romance - There's ample display of evolving chemistry and growing attraction among our lead characters that appear endearing and adorable.
- Friendship - The team of young investigators develop strong bonds during their adventures together in the search for the truth.
- Humour - There are a number of well-timed and light-hearted moments of levity infused into the storytelling that blend very well with the overall serious tone of the drama.
Who are the characters and cast?
Chu Chu (Su Xiao Tong)
Chu Chu is the daughter of the prominent Chu family that has produced generations of coroners. She hails from Qianzhou, the mountainous southwest prefecture of the great Tang Empire. Possessing the talent and passion for forensic science, she dreams of becoming a certified medical examiner. To this end, she sets off to the capital of Chang'an to undertake the annual coroner qualification and selection test. She is meticulous, observant, and extremely knowledgeable when it comes to examining corpses. She appears calm and level-headed with a strong sense of responsibility and integrity.
Su Xiao Tong has been active in the industry for a number of years now and fans of Young Blood (another under-the-radar gem from back in 2019) would recognise her as the actress who portrayed the adorable Pei Jing as part of the lovable young team of secret agents for the department of espionage, Section 7. She has been predominantly cast in period dramas including historicals and Republican-era productions. She is scheduled to re-appear as Pei Jing in Young Blood 2, and has been cast in a contemporary slice-of-life drama, Win The Future, alongside award-winning star Chen Kun.
The Prince in charge of An Commandery (An Jun Wang), translated as Commandery Prince An, Xiao Jin Yu is the head of the Three Judicial Offices, which oversees the Ministry of Justice, the Court of Judicial Review and the Office of the Imperial Censors (Censorate). He is a member of the royal family by virtue of his mother, Princess Xi Ping. His father, Prince Consort Xiao Heng, who was a member of the Censorate, had been presumed killed in action 18 years prior while investigating a rebellion in Qianzhou, just before Jin Yu was born. He is a respectable and upright official who dispenses his duties without regard for rank and nobility, to the point that he is much feared, even despised, by criminals and other officials alike. He makes up for his lack of martial arts skills and claustrophobia with supreme intelligence and calmness.
Wang Zi Qi has recently appeared in two notable productions, Love is in the Air and Novoland: The Castle in the Sky 2, which is part of the hugely successful and popular Novoland series. This is his second lead role and he is slated to appear as the lead in Once We Get Married, a rom-com set in modern times.
Jin Yu (Wang Zi Qi)
Jing Yi (Yang Ting Dong)
Jing Yi, Vice Minister of the Court of Judicial Review. Suave and witty, with a hint of mischief and cheekiness. A self-proclaimed expert on chasing ladies, this is one very amusing magistrate indeed. A capable martial artist ('Qing Gong' expert) and a competent investigator who leaves no stone unturned when he's on the trail of evidence, he is very close to Xiao Jin Yu and is profoundly attracted to childhood friend, Leng Yue.
Leng Yue is the granddaughter of Leng Pei Shan, the Military Commissioner of Qianzhou. Born into a family of military commanders, she is a bona fide female warrior who is as adept at wielding her longsword as she is well versed in battle stratagems. Her exquisite swordsmanship manifests into mastery of the elegant sword dance and tea art as well. She has travelled the jiang hu extensively, sometimes performing the bidding of Xiao Jin Yu, to whom she places her trust and loyalty wholeheartedly. Possessing an abundance of street smarts, she is friendly and easygoing yet disciplined and solemn when the situation calls for it.
Zhao Yao Ke - This prolific young actress, who is also a member of Chinese girl group KOGIRLS, has starred in a string of romance-themed youth dramas, including the high-profile production Long For You (with Song Wei Long, Riley Wang, and Zhou Yu Tong). Her upcoming dramas will be the highly anticipated The Outsider (with Zhang Yu Qi and Vengo Gao) and Mirror: Twin Cities (alongside Li Yi Feng and Yukee Chen).
Leng Yue (Zhao Yao Ke)
Jin Li (Wang Yan Bin)
Xiao Jin Li, Marquis of Duyu and General in the Imperial Army who is commissioned in Guanling County. He joins the team in their investigations upon receiving instructions from the Imperial Edict. He is also Princess Xi Ping's eldest son and Xiao Jin Yu's elder brother. Loyal and upright, he is extremely protective of his younger brother, whom he deeply cares for and feels a debt of gratitude to ever since Jin Yu risked his life to save him from drowning during a childhood incident. He is a martial arts fanatic and prefers serving in the military, which paved the way for Jin Yu to take up the post for Three Judicial Offices.
Wang Yan Bin - This prolific actor is very much in demand in the industry, having starred in many productions since 2015. He has won acting awards at the 23rd Beijing University Student Film Festival and 17th University Student Original Film competition. He was most recently involved in the popular crime drama, To Love.
What's so great about it?
We have a very positive impression of what we've watched. There are numerous delightful features that fascinate, intrigue, and excite us in equal measure. We really don't want to take away the suspense and the thrill so, without spoiling the plot, here's what we absolutely love about it...
Cleverly written cases, mind boggling mysteries, and ingeniously conceived conspiracies that leave us desperately guessing for answers. Bonus points as well for not being illogical or too elementary. Almost every case will involve a dead body (sometimes more than just the one) and it is up to our gifted coroner, Chu Chu, to discover clues left behind on the corpse in its various forms - burnt beyond recognition, rotting mound of flesh, or just bare skeletal remains.
Crime scenes, on the other hand, may appear seemingly devoid of any clue, but not to our team of special investigators. Their remarkable powers of observation and logical deductions will astound us with revelations that are hidden from our naked eyes.
And of course, we have the overarching mystery that remains unsolved for 18 years. We simply can't wait for the big reveal!
Realistically written and very likeable characters with a convincing depiction of all the inherently human qualities of having flaws, insecurities, complex emotions, richly layered motivations. This is one drama where you will not come across annoyingly clueless airheads and damsels-in-distress, irrational and feeble minded characters, villains that are stereotyped cardboard caricatures or toxic relationships.
The female lead in particular is an inspiring character without being portrayed as a Mary Sue, while the male lead isn't the overly self-righteous and cold character that's lacking of gentlemanly conduct. The supporting characters who act as sidekicks and the second leads are not just there for comic relief or to make up the numbers. They have real skills that complement the efforts of the team and make solid contributions to the cause.
For a refreshing change, the opening title sequence does not contain spoilers or clips of scenes, which most C-dramas are fond of. Instead, the drama uses a couple of versions which feature a rendering of conceptual art and character profiles with the accompaniment of dramatic original score. Every episode also begins with brief recap of the preceding episodes from Chu Chu's point of view, complete with her narration.
Throughout the series, scenes depicting verbal explanation of technical findings from the medical examination of corpses are accompanied by informative title cards and onscreen diagrams that provide further clarity to viewers. In addition, our two leads frequently engage in impromptu role-playing where the re-enactment of a crime is vividly visualized for our benefit. Long story short, you won't lose your braincells figuring out the technicalities of what they're conveying because everything is clearly shown.
What's fascinating to know?
Although this is a limited budget web series with almost non-existent publicity, this is most definitely not a drama of inferior quality by any means. The production values may not spell big money but the attention to details and technical execution are worthy of praise. There are notable aspects that we feel should be acknowledged and would interest you to know.
Interesting historical facts
Despite being a drama adaptation of historical fiction, the themes, elements and characters presented do have factual historical basis behind them.
The story takes place in the imperial capital of Chang'an during the mid-Tang Dynasty circa 9th century CE under the reign of Emperor Xuanzong (source: Wikipedia). In addition, references are made to his predecessor and nephew, Emperor Wuzong, who had briefly ruled the Tang Empire until his untimely death. The conspiracy written in the story dramatizes the suspicious circumstances leading to Xuanzong's succession to the throne.
The period was notable for the great power wielded by the powerful Eunuch faction that had total control over the formidable Shence Army, the imperial guards based in the capital. Although their rampant abuse of power during the early part of the dynasty had been curbed, this faction remained in contention with the Imperial Scholars and Officials for influence over the Tang court.
For the most part, the administrative governance as depicted in the drama rightly follows the ancient system of 3 Departments and 6 Ministries, where the Ministry of Justice is central to the story, along with the independent Imperial Censorate. What is fictional, however, is the 3 Judicial Offices, which simply did not exist, and the exaggerated powers of the Court of Judicial Review.
1. We usually see red robes, but the purple robes worn by officials in the drama are indeed factually accurate and primarily reserved for honourable high ranking officials only.
2. The famous Hanlin Academy, which was established in early Tang, also gets a mention in the drama.
Delightful fusion of evocative and upbeat music
No respectable C-historical would be complete without compelling music that fits the mood of the production, and this drama is certainly no different. Featuring a relaxing blend of love ballads and uplifting songs, the comprises 4 tracks to be savoured (listen here).
- This Life Unfinished (此生未了) by Audio Monster , HITA (音频怪物/HITA)
- Parallel Worlds (平行世界) by Wang Ye (王野)
- Heart's Fate (心缘) by Wang Mo Han (王莫涵)
- The Rest of My Life (余生) by Chi Yue Han C.J (池约翰C.J)
So, what do you think?
Have we got your attention? Are you intrigued to know more? Will you be watching this C-historical? Or are you already watching it?
Having presented at great lengths our exposition on The Imperial Coroner, we rest our case. Without further ado, come join the journey and see where the drama takes you! Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts on the drama. :)
Thank you for reading!
Credits: We do not own any of the images; credits go to their respective owners. The images are from drama screenshots, official posters and stills. Gifs are made by Cho Na from drama screenshots.