Zhu Yilong first came to my notice when I stumbled on a recent adaptation of Gu Long's Bordertown Prodigal. There was something about his eyes to be sure and I suppose I have some kind of fixation with "eye actors". You know what I mean... those who do magical things with their eyes. I've seen them called "soulful" -- an assessment which I'd agree with heartily if by that one means that there's a well of depth and rich emotion in them. The character he played in that series, Fu Hongxue, was in effect a tortured soul (and not many do angst better than Zhu Yilong) that was raised to do one single thing... to avenge his father. A typical tsundere male. Although he is tasked to make a certain lady fall in love with him he goes and does something silly like fall in love with her. Of course that's not all there is to this drama because there's all kinds of plotting of scheming going on in the background within the martial arts community. The drama is fine for about 2/3s of it but then the wheels gradually fall off in the final act. All that to say that when I first heard that Zhu Yilong was named as the lead character in this, I was more than a little bit interested.
Reunion is the latest in a string of adaptations of the Grave Robber Notes/ Chronicles, a series of Indiana Jones-style adventures revolving largely around a trio of male explorers who as the title suggests go exploring, treasure hunting and solve mysteries in and around ancient tombs around China. The main character, Wu Xie comes from a line of tomb raiders/archaeologists so the spirit of adventure flows through his veins. He is a descendant of the 5th Master in Mystic Nine, the prequel to the grave robbing tales.
In this latest instalment, the show begins with Wu Xie as an older man, inching towards 40, living in retirement with his loyal sidekick, Pangzi (Fatty). Although they're supposed to be in the antique business, they barely get by selling vases and earn money on the side as consultants regarding archaeological matters. The third in this "Iron Triangle" is Zhang Qiling aka Xiao Ge, an enigmatic skilled fighter whose role is to rescue the others from tight spots. He seems to have discovered the Fountain of Youth because he is far older than he looks. He, on the other hand, has chosen to retire in the mountains.
The story really begins when Wu Xie stumbles onto a series of coded messages from his third uncle who disappeared two decades earlier. Wu Xie who is suffering from late stage lung cancer, is up for a last hurrah to find out what happened to the man who was more like a father to him.
To solve the mystery of uncle's disappearance, Wu Xie first of all has to solve another mystery of what happened twenty years earlier during an archaeological expedition that his beloved uncle was involved in. Third Uncle and his team were researching the Thunder God mythology in a south sea underground temple when a series of mishaps occurred.
Much to his chagrin, his Second Uncle insists on being involved. Wu Xie reluctantly acquiesces when he realises that his uncle has got the manpower and the resources to launch a full-scale operation that he doesn't. Second Uncle has got his own agenda. The woman he loved was the expedition leader but she allowed her need to prove something to colour her judgment. Moreover she entangled herself in a love triangle involving Third Uncle and another member of the group.
I don't have much to compare to. I waded through Mystic Nine which fell prey to the censor's sword in the most absurd fashion. As a standalone drama, this one works for the most part except it suffers from the same sorts of issues that C dramas are prone to. Filler that includes bad slapstick to make the episode cut. Badly written female characters. Badly written romances. The usual things. ;)
Apart from all that, I'm enjoying it. Zhu Yilong and most of the gang make it work. Zhu Yilong is especially good. He fleshes out Wu Xie and like all the great ones, he has a whole parade of expressions that he draws on that gives depth to the character. In short, he nails every scene and every moment. The lad who plays Fatty, Chen Ming Hao is pretty good with the comic delivery and inhabits the character perfectly.
This first season splits into two main arcs. The first sees the expedition focused mainly on the south sea region and the second has Wu Xie caught up in a mysterious facility known as Warehouse 11 which I've been told is derived from the US television series Warehouse 13 with less of the spooky but more of the murderous. On some level I'm enjoying the second arc more. While I love the male camaraderie and all the leap-off-your-seat moments of the first, the investigative work within Warehouse 11 with the adorable Xiao Bai, his guide and helper relating to all matters Warehouse 11, is rather a bit more fun. Could there be romance in the air for Wu Xie? A part of me hopes so. Otherwise it would be a waste of those eyes. Besides, Wu Xie gets to show off his detective skills which always goes down well with me.
(Repost... more or less... from Soompi:)
Although I'm largely not a fan of the individual women in this show (Xiao Bai an exception) I can sort of see why they're included in it. It struck me in the last few episodes that the women with varying degrees of intelligence, are attracted to danger on some level whether they are cognizant of it or not. Perhaps there's even a suggestion that they're female versions of their male counterparts. I'm not exactly a fan of Piaopiao (Fatty's love interest) but it occurred to me that despite the jeopardy she's put herself and her daughter in, she has been persistent in continuing with the antique delivery work. This is despite the fact that Pangzi tried to cut off contact with her to keep her out of harm's way. His rationale was that she was someone who could have no part in the antique trade and by extension could never be part of his world. Whatever we think of Piaopiao... she mightn't be the brightest light bulb in the room... she is drawn to that world either by instinct or by necessity. That's the same with Mute Girl and Xiao Bai. Even while they might appear to be "domesticating" influences, they seem to be drawn to men who live on the wild side.
Another reason why I think the women were introduced is because this is also a drama about ageing and death. (Regardless of what the other dramas were like) Wu Xie himself has observed this in recent days especially because he is facing impending demise. The Iron Triangle have been together for a long time but as Wu Xie believes that he's living on borrowed time, he is naturally concerned about how his friends have felt obligated to remain with him. Life after Wu Xie is very much in his thoughts especially in Pangzi's case. As a good friend and brother-in-arms, he must feel some regret that he's dragged the other guys around dark and damp places with him to the point where they have no lives of their own. He even notes that Pangzi has needs that even their friendship are inadequate to the task. This is consistent with the rest of his character. Not only is he loyal to his buddies, he is a thinking person that considers the possibilities. He assumes that he isn't going to be around forever so he wants Pangzi taken care of and happy. Whether or not we think he is going to actually die is irrelevant. He thinks he's going to die and he is on the journey of dealing with unfinished business... Third Uncle's disappearance and his buddy's future.
While I myself noted that the show was using a gaming level up feature in Warehouse 11, I certainly don't think that it's all there is. The levelling up process is to expedite matters for Wu Xie but someone wants him in Warehouse 11 to do some house cleaning. It's obvious that there's a lot of dodgy stuff going on in Warehouse 11. Director Ding for one is dodgy beyond words. Somebody cares about that and wants a good shake up and permanent "restructuring". That is the real reason why he's been brought in. Someone recognizes that he has the drive and deductive skills to achieve this. He's smart and he doesn't back down at all. As Xiao Bai says, he looks at things differently from other people... and a lot of that comes from his experience raiding tombs and chasing "ghosts".
It reminds me a little of the 90s British detective show Jonathan Creek who designed sets for an illusionist. He was able to see behind the "smoke and mirrors" of each case because he has a particular kind of mind that is used to looking at things from a particular perspective.
And we saw that for instance with Wu Xie's entanglement with the Spirit Vase case. It was obviously Scooby-Doo set-up but it takes an out-of-the-box thinker to get to the bottom of things.
I can't say definitively that Xiao Bai is a long-term love interest. But I am sure that she is someone who is meant to make him think about what his life might have been like had he stayed at home and not gone gallivanting around the world with his brothers-in-arms. That's why he refused to answer her question about his "type" and quickly changed the subject to her "type". My guess is that despite the age gap... she is in all likelihood his type. When she brought him into her room the first time, he walked in and made himself comfortable very quickly like they've been a relationship for a while. When she offered him a drink, he took it as if he wanted another reason to spend more time with her.
These days I don't make rules for myself about romance. Whatever it is a show aims to do, my rule is simply this: I want it done well. I don't want females to be included as tokens but if they are included, they have to make sense in light of the bigger picture. We're nearing the half-way mark so there's a lot more to come. We don't know how these women will factor in down the track. Since I've made the decision to watch this show, I'll give it a chance. I have no qualms dropping it if it turns into a train wreck.