I think that picking up once again on this drama may be the smartest decision I’ve made this year when it comes to choosing what to watch. Earlier, I felt conflicted about how it portrayed the various ethnic groups (wondering if this was an oblique justification of the current treatment of Uyghur peoples), but I wanted to take a closer look and evaluate those sentiments. As the story has unfolded it’s been less about the “foreign” group of the Wolven Pack and more about the corruption and betrayals and power struggles within the Tang court, from low ranking officials to the highest ministers and the Emperor, and about human nature and those things that drive us.
By the way, there are no spoilers in this post; it’s really more of an appreciation love letter!
I’m now just over half-way though this continued viewing; I’d be further along but this is one of those productions that is just too full – overwhelming action, complicated decisions, dense visuals. Watching standard dramas versus watching this one is like eating a Hershey bar versus eating the richest Belgian truffle – you can’t take in more than a few bites. I find myself holding my breath with each episode; it’s become that good. Episode 16, in particular, is just stunning.
What makes each block of time (generally 3 episodes is my max before my brain combusts) so worthwhile is almost too time-consuming to explain, but it begins with the cast, especially Lei Jiayin as the unlikeliest of leading men. He’s rumpled, got a blocky build, sports his own scruffy hair and beard (lots of real hair in this drama, btw), but he’s so convincing as the bad-ass soldier with the courage of his convictions. He is called upon to do the impossible 3 times every hour, but he manages to convince me every time that he can do it.
We also get a female character who is smart, resourceful, willing to take chances and do what needs to be done in Reyizha Alimjan’s Tan Qi. Yes, she’s technically a servant to Li Bi, but she’s there to help him in supervising and aiding Zhang Xiaojing and she works and thinks as hard as any man in the story – more than some!
The various characters who are supposed to be working with the Peacekeepers Bureau (but aren’t) and those they’re trying to stop before they set the world afire are not just cartoon characters, which makes them worthy opponents deserving of screen time even if they add to the frustration. One of these who commands your attention every time he’s onscreen is Zhou Yiwei, who’s Long Bo is a mercenary and running the show for his employers (as of this moment in the plot). He reminds me so much of Lee Bum-soo with those eyes and the shape of his face; I’d love to see them go toe-to-toe in something someday.
Most of all, the sheer scope and beauty of this drama is difficult to beat; I’m hard-pressed to thing of many other dramas that are this cinematic, this rich in visual and aural texture and scale. Each episode is like a 40-minute feature film, one that many in Hollywood and elsewhere would be proud to have on their resumes.
I’m not sure how long it will take me to finish at this rate, and I can only hope that each subsequent episode will be as satisfying as those that have preceded it. I’ll be back to let you know what the final verdict is, but for right now, this one is one of the ones to beat for best of the viewing year.