Amazing Detective Di Renjie
#1
   
This is a 5-season Chinese serial drama based on a series of novels about a popular figure from ancient Chinese history. Although Wikipedia serves as my only source of information, I have a rough idea of how history is connected to the literary tradition and the film and TV traditions.

There are quite a few movies and TV shows based on the fictional character, who originated in the 18th century in a Chinese mystery novel.

The real Di Renjie was an official who lived in the 7th Century CE. He served Wu Zetian through her regencies for her husband and sons, and through her own reign as China's own Empress. The historical Di Renjie was very intelligent and widely respected for his honesty and integrity. He was also reputedly fearless and ruthless, both serving the Empress and being willing to risk her anger in advising her against some of her own wishes.

He was never a detective in the Sherlock Holmes style that has become popular in Chinese film and television, but part of his career did include serving as an Imperial investigator. He mentored many officials and occasionally led troops in war.

I've never read any of the books - I don't know if they have been translated into English. Some of the film and television stories have been produced outside of China. There was a British television series based on one or more of the books in the 1960s.

Di Renjie is - from a Western perspective - the Chinese Sherlock Holmes. However, since Di Renjie was a real person who was first fictionalized in the 1700s, I'd say it's more appropriate to think of Sherlock Holmes as the British Di Renjie. I don't know if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was aware of Di Renjie or his fictional career. But it's a fair 2-way comparison, in my opinion.

The show I recently discovered and began watching is Shen tan Di Renjie, starring the excellent  Guanhua Liang as Huaiying Di Renjie. This show was produced in a total of 5 seasons that were originally broadcast in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2017.

Unfortunately, I've been unable to find the first season. The show was released to western markets in 2018 and I know I can watch at least seasons 2 and 3 on Amazon Prime. According to Wikipedia the show was made available on at least one other service, and it's possible all 5 seasons are available to western audiences.

You must watch it with English sub-titles, though.

In my review of The Longest Day of Chang'an (See https://forums.sf-fandom.com/thread-35445.html ), I compared that production to steampunk - in that it utilized very clever steampunk-like ideas of unlikely technology set in a historical time period more than 1,000 years ago.

The Di Renjie show is obviously a historical drama utilizing less elaborate but still impressive sets and costumes, without the pseudo-steampunk feel. However, people who enjoy Hong Kong Kung Fu movies and shows will appreciate the action sequences in Di Renjie, where the Gong Fu masters fly around and do impossible things.

In my opinion, the acting is well above the campy style of most Hong Kong KF movies. Maybe I'm being unfair to the genre because I don't follow it closely, but I think the acting in this show is as good as any dramatic acting you'll find in typical western drama, be they cop shows, detective shows, medical, or military themed shows. Everyone is serious when they should be. Everyone laughs when they should laugh. And you don't sit there wondering how the actors keep a straight face delivering their lines.

Many of the characters are based on historical figures, although a few seem to be placed in the wrong timeframes. In fact, with only a cursory knowledge of Chinese history (most gleaned from online sources including Wikipedia), I can tell the writers moved a few things around. I don't know if students of serious Chinese literature, drama, or history are bothered by these discrepancies but I don't think a typical western viewer will mind at all. I didn't find myself sitting there thinking, "Wait, that doesn't seem to fit into this period." I only learned about some of the discrepancies after looking up a few of the characters.

Season 2 is divided into 3 parts, but the entire season is written to be continuous over about a 2-year period. Characters who are prominent in the first 1/3 of the season show up in the 2nd and 3rd parts, but with roles of lesser or greater importance.

The 2 characters who are most consistently present besides Guanhua Liang's Di Renjie are his bodyguard and close friend Li Yuanfang (played by Zhuohan Wu) and Di Renjie's "niece" Di Ruyan (played by Jiang Xinyan). I don't want to explain why I put "niece" in quotes - it would give away a major plot point.

A few other characters play important roles throughout the series, including Di Renjie's servant Di Chun (played by Zhao Zhigang).

The Empress Wu Zetian is admirably played by Lü Zhong. She is convincing to me, although I won't presume to know how well the Chinese audiences liked any of their performances. I suspect that because 5 seasons were produced the show must have been very popular.

One thing that impresses me is the attention to detail the show reveals. The real Di Renjie traveled throughout China on various tasks, and I must assume that the books probably follow that tradition with their various plots and mysteries. The show also takes Di Renjie to many towns, and even another country.

In fact, the first part of the season deals with a war that is loosely inspired by a real historical conflict, although the fictionalized war unfolds differently from what little history I could match to it.

There are 3 major players: Khitan (I think that was in Mongolia), a Turkish Khanate to the west, and China. The war brings in characters from the 1st season, and despite a few flashbacks I could not figure out what actually happened in the 1st season. It seems that Di Renjie unmasked some kind of conspiracy, but I don't know how much continuity there was between the 2 seasons.

What I can be sure of is that the 2nd season unravels some mysteries that started several years prior to the fictional beginning of the season. That is, the war at the beginning of the season is part of a larger, longer plot that rolls over into the middle of the season.

The 3rd part of the season follows Di Renjie into one of his occasional periods of retirement, where he is drawn into a mystery that is also rooted in the past.

One of the best aspects of the show (for me) is how the characters evolve. I don't know if the producers set out to follow a hybridized career for Di Renjie and his associates, following the series of books from the mid-2000s that inspired this show, as well as Di Renjie's actual career, but it seems to me that someone planned out a very lengthy character arc.

I think there were 17 books in the series on which the show is based. I don't know how many of those books were covered by the 5 seasons.

Li Yuanfang and Ruyen are an interesting couple. They meet and fall in love early in the season and they stay with Di Renjie throughout the rest of it. There are scenes where their growing feelings for each other are touchingly revealed. And then there are scenes where you see their other sides. Both characters are clever, resourceful, perilous, and engaging to the audience.

The show is filled with plot twists, clever revelations, and more betrayals and shocking turns than one might expect. Everyone has some kind of ulterior motive. Di Renjie wades through a sea of questions and clues, and he occasionally stops to think things through.

Because he is the star of the show he's almost always right about things, as one would expect, but the producers occasionally introduce people or events that catch him off guard. Half the fun in watching the show is following Di Renjie as he adjusts his thinking to new, unpredictable developments.

One thing I hate about many (American) detective shows is they sometimes choose NOT to reveal clues to the audience that tip you off too soon into the story about someone or some thing. Although I struggle to keep up with the plot in a few places because the subtitles change so quickly, I can back up the video and re-read things.

Even so, there were a number of scenes where something significant happened and I missed what they were hinting at. This was intentional - that is, the producers were giving the audience clear hints about something to come. The hints aren't intended to help you solve the mystery, but mostly to let you know that Di Renjie or his associates are always thinking about things, questioning what's going on around them, and preparing for the worst.

By the middle of the 40-episode season I found myself thinking, "This should be the point where s/he is about to trick so-and-so." And yet things didn't play out exactly as I expected.

The show is just formulaic enough to get you used to some things happening in each episode, and just sneaky enough to slip a few things by you. No matter how many times you remind yourself that "Di Renjie is the hero - he wins in the end", it's hard to keep up with all the surprises and twists.

What I really enjoy about the storylines is they set these things up well in advance.

Because these are 40-minute episodes, they must occasionally remind the audience of what has happened in the past. The show uses two methods for this.

1) You'll see occasional flashbacks. They sometimes use footage from prior episodes, but sometimes the flashbacks are footage you're seeing for the first time.

The coolest thing about the reconstructive flashbacks is they may be told from multiple perspectives (sometimes in different episodes). And in one crazy scene Di Renjie reconstructs an important event with multiple flashbacks, where things happen slightly differently each time. So the audience is never 100% sure they're seeing everything they need to know in any 1 flashback.

2) Di Renjie (and sometimes other characters) stops every now and then to recap what has unfolded so far, what important questions the audience should focus on, what clues have been revealed so far, and who he's most interested in.

Sometimes these recaps are told by 2 or more characters, either to correct something that a major character has wrongly concluded or to bring the audience up to date on important details that Di Renjie doesn't yet know.

The recap scenes can be a bit wearying if you binge-watch the show but this is a good, time-tested story-telling method. It's impossible to keep all the details straight all the way through 40 episodes.

I heartily recommend this show to anyone who enjoys Chinese drama, good mystery shows, and character growth in episodic television.

Because of the violence and gore the show is not appropriate for young children, but it's a PG or PG-13 level production. There's no nudity, very little profanity, and all the characters are immensely polite.

They do kill a lot of people (mostly bad guys). And some of the deaths are quite gruesome in context, even if they aren't shown in full detail. For example, several criminals are beheaded.

There is also some cruelty and brutality. But the good guys mostly win in the end. They suffer some sacrifices. And some of the bad guys do survive, but not without paying some kind of price.

One theme that recurs throughout the season is that Di Renjie believes in the basic goodness of people, and he's willing to give everyone a chance to reform. I think the historical Di Renjie was like that, too.

You'll probably become attached to some characters who don't make it all the way.

You'll probably start out liking some characters who turn out to be bad guys.

And you'll probably cheer when some of the bad guys change their ways.

There isn't always a happy ending. The final episode ends on such a bittersweet note that you can't help but feel sympathy for the characters. And yet it has to be that way because of what led to that final scene.

I'm looking forward to watching season 3 and I'll follow up in this thread with some more thoughts about season 2.
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#2
Sounds interesting. I hope it isn’t stereotypical like Charlie Chan mysteries.
Don't insult the precious, my precious!:book:
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#3
Well, it's not racist like the Charlie Chan shows were. These are real Chinese actors in a Chinese production.

But there is absolutely a formula to the story-telling. I don't know enough about Chinese drama to know if this is just the way the shows are done. Given the political situation in China, I suspect even the Hong Kong-produced shows must walk a fine line.

The government is never really portrayed in a bad way. There can be corrupt officials, incompetent officials, even cowards working for the government. But everyone eventually perks up and does their job or they are dealt with. Whether that is only because Imperial China was that way or that is how the government must be portrayed, I don't know.
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#4
   
I've now watched the 3rd season. It's 48 episodes long and spans 2 cases.

The first case deals with the Black Cloak Palace conspiracy and runs for 18 episodes. The second episode deals with a disruption in the Imperial salt supply.

The Black Cloak Palace case unfolds in northern China near the Ganliang desert. I don't know if there is such a place although Ganliang is a region in modern China.

Following the end of the 2nd season, Di Renjie (played by Liang Guanhua) is traveling north to a distant city where he will live in retirement. He is accompanied by a few friends and Imperial guards, including Li Yuanfang (played by Zhang Zijian).

Meanwhile, an army charged with transporting the annual payroll for several hundred thousand soldiers in a distant border province beyond the distant vanishes before reaching its destination. Not to worry, Di Renjie had already taken a detour toward that provincial capital to visit an old friend and student.

Events unfold in different parts of the empire as the story unfolds. Di Renjie makes his way across the desert and through the mountains. He passes through small villages that are built around temples dedicated to the Black Cloak King. Along the way he finds a wounded soldier in the desert, visits a mysterious castle whose inhabitants appear to be intriguing against each other, almost rescues a young woman who dies while delivering only part of a message for someone in the city, and meets a young girl (Xiaotao, played by Yuan Ran) who defies local custom.

The Black Cloak King is considered to be a local god who was once a young woman (she lived about 100 years in the past). She raised an army to drive out invaders from the west (Europeans) and was revered by the local people ever since. Di Renjie's party is attacked by the Black Cloak King's servants. Of course, Li Yuanfang and the imperial guards have no problem dealing with the enemies.

When Empress Wu Zetian (played by Lü Zhong) learns that the army conveying the payroll was lost - and the payroll with it - she sends a messenger with a new commission for Di Renjie, ordering him to investigate immediately. However, the messenger doesn't know that Di Renjie took a detour, so he spends a couple of days advising his old student (the provincial governor) on how to handle the case. That frees Di Renjie to act independently, so he is able to win some people's confidence.

By the time the commission catches up to Di Renjie he is deep in the mystery and already forming his strategy for discovering who took the payroll, where it was hidden, and what else is going on.

Meanwhile, people are dying all over the place from a mysterious cause. When discovered, the dead people look like they are still alive - they are literally frozen in their tracks. Soldiers standing guard remain standing, people eating or cooking food remain poised in mid-action, and so forth. It's a creepy mystery.

Part of the fun is that as soon as the government starts addressing one problem another one crops up. And people are running back and forth between the city and other locations, either in disguise or in pursuit of each other. You never really know who is good or bad because the characters are all suspicious of each other.

There are multiple agendas at play. A few trite plot devices creep into the story towards the end. They're necessary to fill in the audience's gaps in knowledge because the characters all know why they are doing what they do but the audience is kept in the dark until Di Renjie starts putting the clues together for his associates.

Although it's a trademark characteristic for Di Renjie and this style of story-telling, he spends a lot of time explaining things. And that is why the story appears to drag in a few places. But, honestly, you kind of need the explanations because things happen so quickly in-between the explanations that you can easily get confused about what has happened, what has been resolved, and what's still in doubt.

By the time Di Renjie confronts the Black Cloak King, everyone believes they have the upper hand. People spring their traps and then become trapped, and the tides of war and fortune swing back and forth.

The second case begins after Di Renjie has returned to the capital to report to the Empress on the Dark Cloak Palace conspiracy. A convoy of ships in southern China is conveying salt up the river Han. It's not immediately apparent to the audience how important the salt is but basically it's part of the empire's revenue stream. Only Imperial merchants are allowed to sell salt and iron throughout China, and they must sell at specified prices (deemed fair and affordable).

The salt ships hit hidden reefs in the river and sink. All hands are lost. Hundreds of men drown. Tens of thousands of piculs of salt (basically, big barrels) vanish.

When the Empress hears about the lost salt convoy she loses it and starts ordering executions. Di Renjie steps in to save the life of one of his friends, the head of the Imperial Water Commission whose subordinates are charged with keeping the rivers and canals of the empire clear and navigable.

The Empress explains that the salt convoys have been vanishing for about 2 years. Things are getting desperate and some provinces have virtually no salt. So she commissions Di Renjie to take a strong force south to figure out what is going on.

This case is a much more complex conspiracy than the Black Cloak Palace conspiracy. There are so many people involved that it's obvious from early on (and literally stated by several characters) that a lot of local provincial officials have colluded together to steal the salt.

The big mystery is WHY they would do this. Everyone knows that the Empress won't tolerate corruption. She's already sent inspectors to find out what is going on. The last one is reported to have committed suicide on the night that the convoy (12th in succession to be lost in 2 years) sank.

The cast of players grows substantially as Di Renjie makes his way from the capital southward. He sends Li Yuanfang to find and protect the widow of Li Han, the inspector who is supposed to have killed himself. Li catches up with Lady Ning, who has just barely escaped from one group of kidnappers while being chased by another group of would-be kidnappers.

As Li Yuanfang gets to know the distraught Ning, they are joined by Lu Jinyang, who is a government official from a district in the south. The audience also knows he was commanding the 2 men who kidnapped Ning, but he tells Ning and Yuanfang that he was a friend of Li Han who was sent to get a letter from her.

Li Han had sent the letter to Ning and told her to keep it safe in case something happened to him.

When the second group of kidnappers arrive they are led by Aunty Yun (Dong Xuan, aka Michelle Dong). She is a high-ranking member of the Iron Hand Gang, China's most notorious group of outlaws. Li Yuanfang easily defeats Aunty Yun's henchmen in a bar fight but she proves to have formidable Gongfu. Still, she realizes that he is the better fighter and decides to retreat.

From this point forward, Li Yuanfang sets himself against the Iron Hand Gang. Their reputation is so daunting he's not sure he can defeat them all. So he sends Lu Jinying and Ning south by secret paths. He also sets up a decoy to distract Aunty Yun from the fugitives.

Li Yuanfang then takes ship to draw out the Iron Hand Gang, and they send 12 of their best killers to take him on. They silently kill everyone on the ship except Yuanfang, and he fights them, killing 8. The others withdraw and have their henchmen set fire to the ship.

Di Renjie arrives in the provincial capital, suspicious of everyone. He knows many of the officials are corrupt but he doesn't know who can be trusted. So he goes off on a secret mission to interview the local "boat trackers", families who have tended the canal for generations. Many of them have already been killed or driven away, but Di Renjie met one in the capital and gave him protection.

That's just the set up. The case unfolds slowly because every time you think the stage is full new characters are brought in to widen the story. Di Renjie visits several cities and towns. Li Yuanfang finds himself on a dark journey and falls in with a wealth salt smuggler's family.

It's a long time before Di Renjie and Li Yuanfang are reunited, and when they do finally meet again things are not what they should be. Di Renjie must deal with an ever-widening net of intrigue, murder, and betrayal while trying to figure out what to do to help his friend.

The audience is occasionally allowed to see how the Iron Hand Gang works. Their leader is called "Headmaster" and he is believed to be a Gongfu master who is Li Yuanfang's match. It doesn't take the audience long to see where the endgame leads everyone. You spend a lot of time anticipating confrontations that sometimes happen and sometimes don't.

It's never quite clear until the last 2 episodes just exactly who is on whose side, or even who is masterminding the entire conspiracy. The top villain is gradually revealed through hints and clues but the audience must wait for him to reveal himself to understand who did what to whom, and why.

There are many fights along the way. Not all of them involve Li Yuanfang.

Many characters are killed, many are arrested, and each time someone confesses something to Di Renjie you get the feeling he is making progress. But then he reveals that whatever he's just learned only deepens the mysteries more.

As with the Black Cloak Palace case, Di Renjie spends a lot of time explaining things to his companions. But there are a few scenes where Di Renjie is honestly surprised, and sometimes it's his companions who put clues together for him.

Unfortunately, Ruyan doesn't appear in the 3rd season. I tried to find out why but can only say for sure that many fans of the show in China also wondered why she didn't return for the 3rd season. I think that Jiang Xinyan (who played Ruyan) may have gotten married and had a child in-between season 2 (2006) and season 3 (2008). I found a rumor on one site that suggested she may have returned in the 4th season, but I haven't watched it yet.

Unfortunately, IMDB doesn't have much information about these shows and Wikipedia's articles are very poorly written and confusing.

Dong Xuan steals much of the season, in my opinion. She plays twin sisters (Xiao Qing and Aunty Yun). I didn't realize she was playing both parts for a long time because the sisters rarely appear together (and only toward the end of the season). They dress and act very different. Also, the English subtitles give the impression that Aunty Yun is much older than Xiao Qing, but all Xiao Qing means is that Aunty Yun was born first.

There are betrayals aplenty, but also some humor. It's questionable whether Li Yuanfang falls in love with anyone or merely feels deep friendship. I don't want to dwell on that relationship because it would give away too much about the plot.

I think if the audience wants to imagine Ruyan waiting for Li Yuanfang somewhere in the capital, it's okay to do so. He doesn't betray her. But this inference would only matter if she returned in the 4th season.

I don't know if I'll be able to watch that. It's not available on Amazon Prime. I did find many episodes from the various seasons on YouTube but I don't know if they are all there, or if all 5 seasons are there.

I really enjoy this show and I get the sense that its Chinese fanbase was very passionate about it.

The Di Renjie character has been played by many actors. There is more recent series of movies or TV seasons called the Amazing Detective Dee or something like that. From what I can tell, these shows are set much earlier in his life and Dee is the action hero as well as the detective. I don't know if I'll try to watch any of them.

I really enjoy Liang Guanhua's performance. The scene where he is reunited with Li Yuanfang is (in my opinion) one of the best parts of the entire season. Liang Guanhua really brings out his acting skills.

Some people may not enjoy Di Renjie's lengthy explanations, but that does go with the territory. This is an action-suspense-thriller-detective show, set hundreds of years in the past in an idealized Chinese empire ruled by a benevolent Wu Zetian. The character of Di Renjie has enjoyed a long literary tradition, but the real-life Di Renjie seems to have been pretty amazing, too, if history tells his story correctly.

I think I can see why so many Chinese fans love the character. He takes the audience on a whirlwind tour of history, imagination, and mystery. And you get to meet a lot of interesting characters along the way.
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#5
Hi Michael, thanks for sharing all the thoughts of these series. May I ask that where did you find the english subtitle for Season 4? 




(November 21st, 2020, 05:11 PM)Michael Wrote: This is a 5-season Chinese serial drama based on a series of novels about a popular figure from ancient Chinese history. Although Wikipedia serves as my only source of information, I have a rough idea of how history is connected to the literary tradition and the film and TV traditions.

There are quite a few movies and TV shows based on the fictional character, who originated in the 18th century in a Chinese mystery novel.

The real Di Renjie was an official who lived in the 7th Century CE. He served Wu Zetian through her regencies for her husband and sons, and through her own reign as China's own Empress. The historical Di Renjie was very intelligent and widely respected for his honesty and integrity. He was also reputedly fearless and ruthless, both serving the Empress and being willing to risk her anger in advising her against some of her own wishes.

He was never a detective in the Sherlock Holmes style that has become popular in Chinese film and television, but part of his career did include serving as an Imperial investigator. He mentored many officials and occasionally led troops in war.

I've never read any of the books - I don't know if they have been translated into English. Some of the film and television stories have been produced outside of China. There was a British television series based on one or more of the books in the 1960s.

Di Renjie is - from a Western perspective - the Chinese Sherlock Holmes. However, since Di Renjie was a real person who was first fictionalized in the 1700s, I'd say it's more appropriate to think of Sherlock Holmes as the British Di Renjie. I don't know if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was aware of Di Renjie or his fictional career. But it's a fair 2-way comparison, in my opinion.

The show I recently discovered and began watching is Shen tan Di Renjie, starring the excellent  Guanhua Liang as Huaiying Di Renjie. This show was produced in a total of 5 seasons that were originally broadcast in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2017.

Unfortunately, I've been unable to find the first season. The show was released to western markets in 2018 and I know I can watch at least seasons 2 and 3 on Amazon Prime. According to Wikipedia the show was made available on at least one other service, and it's possible all 5 seasons are available to western audiences.

You must watch it with English sub-titles, though.

In my review of The Longest Day of Chang'an (See https://forums.sf-fandom.com/thread-35445.html ), I compared that production to steampunk - in that it utilized very clever steampunk-like ideas of unlikely technology set in a historical time period more than 1,000 years ago.

The Di Renjie show is obviously a historical drama utilizing less elaborate but still impressive sets and costumes, without the pseudo-steampunk feel. However, people who enjoy Hong Kong Kung Fu movies and shows will appreciate the action sequences in Di Renjie, where the Gong Fu masters fly around and do impossible things.

In my opinion, the acting is well above the campy style of most Hong Kong KF movies. Maybe I'm being unfair to the genre because I don't follow it closely, but I think the acting in this show is as good as any dramatic acting you'll find in typical western drama, be they cop shows, detective shows, medical, or military themed shows. Everyone is serious when they should be. Everyone laughs when they should laugh. And you don't sit there wondering how the actors keep a straight face delivering their lines.

Many of the characters are based on historical figures, although a few seem to be placed in the wrong timeframes. In fact, with only a cursory knowledge of Chinese history (most gleaned from online sources including Wikipedia), I can tell the writers moved a few things around. I don't know if students of serious Chinese literature, drama, or history are bothered by these discrepancies but I don't think a typical western viewer will mind at all. I didn't find myself sitting there thinking, "Wait, that doesn't seem to fit into this period." I only learned about some of the discrepancies after looking up a few of the characters.

Season 2 is divided into 3 parts, but the entire season is written to be continuous over about a 2-year period. Characters who are prominent in the first 1/3 of the season show up in the 2nd and 3rd parts, but with roles of lesser or greater importance.

The 2 characters who are most consistently present besides Guanhua Liang's Di Renjie are his bodyguard and close friend Li Yuanfang (played by Zhuohan Wu) and Di Renjie's "niece" Di Ruyan (played by Jiang Xinyan). I don't want to explain why I put "niece" in quotes - it would give away a major plot point.

A few other characters play important roles throughout the series, including Di Renjie's servant Di Chun (played by Zhao Zhigang).

The Empress Wu Zetian is admirably played by Lü Zhong. She is convincing to me, although I won't presume to know how well the Chinese audiences liked any of their performances. I suspect that because 5 seasons were produced the show must have been very popular.

One thing that impresses me is the attention to detail the show reveals. The real Di Renjie traveled throughout China on various tasks, and I must assume that the books probably follow that tradition with their various plots and mysteries. The show also takes Di Renjie to many towns, and even another country.

In fact, the first part of the season deals with a war that is loosely inspired by a real historical conflict, although the fictionalized war unfolds differently from what little history I could match to it.

There are 3 major players: Khitan (I think that was in Mongolia), a Turkish Khanate to the west, and China. The war brings in characters from the 1st season, and despite a few flashbacks I could not figure out what actually happened in the 1st season. It seems that Di Renjie unmasked some kind of conspiracy, but I don't know how much continuity there was between the 2 seasons.

What I can be sure of is that the 2nd season unravels some mysteries that started several years prior to the fictional beginning of the season. That is, the war at the beginning of the season is part of a larger, longer plot that rolls over into the middle of the season.

The 3rd part of the season follows Di Renjie into one of his occasional periods of retirement, where he is drawn into a mystery that is also rooted in the past.

One of the best aspects of the show (for me) is how the characters evolve. I don't know if the producers set out to follow a hybridized career for Di Renjie and his associates, following the series of books from the mid-2000s that inspired this show, as well as Di Renjie's actual career, but it seems to me that someone planned out a very lengthy character arc.

I think there were 17 books in the series on which the show is based. I don't know how many of those books were covered by the 5 seasons.

Li Yuanfang and Ruyen are an interesting couple. They meet and fall in love early in the season and they stay with Di Renjie throughout the rest of it. There are scenes where their growing feelings for each other are touchingly revealed. And then there are scenes where you see their other sides. Both characters are clever, resourceful, perilous, and engaging to the audience.

The show is filled with plot twists, clever revelations, and more betrayals and shocking turns than one might expect. Everyone has some kind of ulterior motive. Di Renjie wades through a sea of questions and clues, and he occasionally stops to think things through.

Because he is the star of the show he's almost always right about things, as one would expect, but the producers occasionally introduce people or events that catch him off guard. Half the fun in watching the show is following Di Renjie as he adjusts his thinking to new, unpredictable developments.

One thing I hate about many (American) detective shows is they sometimes choose NOT to reveal clues to the audience that tip you off too soon into the story about someone or some thing. Although I struggle to keep up with the plot in a few places because the subtitles change so quickly, I can back up the video and re-read things.

Even so, there were a number of scenes where something significant happened and I missed what they were hinting at. This was intentional - that is, the producers were giving the audience clear hints about something to come. The hints aren't intended to help you solve the mystery, but mostly to let you know that Di Renjie or his associates are always thinking about things, questioning what's going on around them, and preparing for the worst.

By the middle of the 40-episode season I found myself thinking, "This should be the point where s/he is about to trick so-and-so." And yet things didn't play out exactly as I expected.

The show is just formulaic enough to get you used to some things happening in each episode, and just sneaky enough to slip a few things by you. No matter how many times you remind yourself that "Di Renjie is the hero - he wins in the end", it's hard to keep up with all the surprises and twists.

What I really enjoy about the storylines is they set these things up well in advance.

Because these are 40-minute episodes, they must occasionally remind the audience of what has happened in the past. The show uses two methods for this.

1) You'll see occasional flashbacks. They sometimes use footage from prior episodes, but sometimes the flashbacks are footage you're seeing for the first time.

The coolest thing about the reconstructive flashbacks is they may be told from multiple perspectives (sometimes in different episodes). And in one crazy scene Di Renjie reconstructs an important event with multiple flashbacks, where things happen slightly differently each time. So the audience is never 100% sure they're seeing everything they need to know in any 1 flashback.

2) Di Renjie (and sometimes other characters) stops every now and then to recap what has unfolded so far, what important questions the audience should focus on, what clues have been revealed so far, and who he's most interested in.

Sometimes these recaps are told by 2 or more characters, either to correct something that a major character has wrongly concluded or to bring the audience up to date on important details that Di Renjie doesn't yet know.

The recap scenes can be a bit wearying if you binge-watch the show but this is a good, time-tested story-telling method. It's impossible to keep all the details straight all the way through 40 episodes.

I heartily recommend this show to anyone who enjoys Chinese drama, good mystery shows, and character growth in episodic television.

Because of the violence and gore the show is not appropriate for young children, but it's a PG or PG-13 level production. There's no nudity, very little profanity, and all the characters are immensely polite.

They do kill a lot of people (mostly bad guys). And some of the deaths are quite gruesome in context, even if they aren't shown in full detail. For example, several criminals are beheaded.

There is also some cruelty and brutality. But the good guys mostly win in the end. They suffer some sacrifices. And some of the bad guys do survive, but not without paying some kind of price.

One theme that recurs throughout the season is that Di Renjie believes in the basic goodness of people, and he's willing to give everyone a chance to reform. I think the historical Di Renjie was like that, too.

You'll probably become attached to some characters who don't make it all the way.

You'll probably start out liking some characters who turn out to be bad guys.

And you'll probably cheer when some of the bad guys change their ways.

There isn't always a happy ending. The final episode ends on such a bittersweet note that you can't help but feel sympathy for the characters. And yet it has to be that way because of what led to that final scene.

I'm looking forward to watching season 3 and I'll follow up in this thread with some more thoughts about season 2.
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#6
Sorry for taking so long to reply.

I found the 4th season episodes on YouTube. It may have been pulled since then.
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#7
Hi Michael,

Thanks for replying! I also found it on YouTube but unfortunately it doesn't come with English subtitles. 


(January 18th, 2023, 11:51 AM)Michael Wrote: Sorry for taking so long to reply.

I found the 4th season episodes on YouTube. It may have been pulled since then.
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#8
I think I at one time found the 4th season with English subtitles, but I could be mistaken. These kinds of videos can be taken down. But it could be I am misremembering what I watched. I tried to watch the 1st episode of the 4th season. YuanFang tracked down Ruyan (indeed played by a different actress) in a field on a dark night. I think she had killed a bunch of bad guys. But I didn't have time to watch the episode and never returned to it. So I'm not sure if there were subtitles but I think there were.

Maybe the 4th season will be made available to American viewers one day.

I've never found the 1st season with English subtitles. Tried watching that a couple of times without them and lost interest.
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#9
Likely there is no English subbed S4 as I almost turned every stone on Google. 
I only found this company ever released the DVD of english version of S4, but it was discontinued Sad
https://www.yesasia.com/us/detective-di-.../info.html

In any case, thank you very much for replying! 

(January 18th, 2023, 12:19 PM)Michael Wrote: I think I at one time found the 4th season with English subtitles, but I could be mistaken. These kinds of videos can be taken down. But it could be I am misremembering what I watched. I tried to watch the 1st episode of the 4th season. YuanFang tracked down Ruyan (indeed played by a different actress) in a field on a dark night. I think she had killed a bunch of bad guys. But I didn't have time to watch the episode and never returned to it. So I'm not sure if there were subtitles but I think there were.

Maybe the 4th season will be made available to American viewers one day.

I've never found the 1st season with English subtitles. Tried watching that a couple of times without them and lost interest.
Reply

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