The Imperial Coroner (2021)

Without big names headlining this excellent crime series, it’s possibly in danger of going under the radar. The show’s biggest selling point is undoubtedly its tight, disciplined script played out in the context of court politics during the latter part of the Tang dynasty. The titular character is a young country lass skilled at prying secrets from the dead and heads to the big city determined to take up the family business in a male-dominated profession. When she arrives at the hustle and bustle of Chang’an, Chu Chu attracts the attention of Jing Yi, the head of Dalisi, the imperial court of justice. He then promptly expedites her entry into the coroner’s examination. Soon her talent for dealing with the dead puts her in the spotlight, also drawing unwanted attention from those who are curious about the missing Prince Consort, Xiao Heng.

Our hero and hers is the egghead Commandery Prince An aka Xiao Jinyu, a relative of the ruling emperor. He is essentially the top cop in the land and has a Holmesian eye for details and knack for quick-witted deductions. As his best buddy and colleague Jing Yi is wont to say, “His Highness has got a third eye.” Jinyu is not only a peerless intellect but an objective, meticulous investigator. With Chu Chu perhaps he has met a unique woman who shares his enthusiasm for digging deep in pursuit of the truth. On their first encounter he’s immediately taken by her ability and makes up all kinds of excuses to retain her services while maintaining a healthy suspicion of her background. More importantly he discovers that his father Xiao Heng may have been in contact with her at some point.

Their romance though lacking in heat and sizzle, has an inoffensive endearing quality that sees the two having adorable moments from day one. The Almighty Jinyu is quickly captivated by her intelligence and her guilelessness. She is, on the other hand, genuinely in awe of everything he does. A man no matter how work oriented can’t be immune to all this effusive heartfelt praise. Perhaps Jing Yi saw from the first that this young woman with her deductive skills would be a match made in heaven for his sleuthing friend. It has become increasingly clear that Jinyu cares deeply for Chu Chu often going above and beyond the call of duty for her. He certainly didn’t have to spend his nights making her a new set of tools or rush into a fire to save her. As of Episode 18, the young prince has come to the realisation that he has feelings for the aspiring coroner. But as is the case with dramas of this kind, the path of true love is destined never to run smooth.

In a show with this much plotting scheming, there has to be a hierarchy of villains. The man seemingly at the top of the food chain is Qin Luan, an ambitious eunuch who has aspirations of ascending the throne or at the very least destabilizing the current regime. Hence it is not great surprise that he perceives Jinyu as one of his great adversaries. It’s a delightful cat and mouse game as the latter manages to unravel the eunuch’s plots all the way to Qianzhou a place where the Prince Consort was last seen. However, with recent developments there appears to be another contender for the role of Big Bad waiting in the wings.

It’s one of those period detective shows like Miss Truth, like Ancient Detective that I have a lot of time for because there’s fantastic attention to detail and there’s an urgency about what’s at stake. The reenactments are fun and it gives the leads time to get up close and personal. Overall what’s really refreshing are the intelligent characters both great and small, decent and villainous. The show for the most part doesn’t rely on idiocy to push the narrative forward. Most of these characters do their bit and acquit themselves admirably but at the end of the day there can only be one Xiao Jinyu and his beloved coroner, Chu Chu.