Judge Dee’s Mystery (2024) 大唐狄公案

Summary: Di Ren Jie ft Zhou Yi Wei returns home to Chang An to participate in the imperial entrance exams. It is the early Tang dynasty where Empress Wu is enacting reforms. Her phoenix seal is stolen and Di Ren Jie is unexpectedly swept up in the chaos that involves not only the death of one of his close friends, but political chaos as well. After solving the case, Empress Wu sends him to Peng Lai to help resolve other mysteries that threaten the stability of the Tang dynasty.

 

Total Episode Count: 32

Initial Airing Date: Feb 6, 2024

Platform: CCTV 8, Youku

 

*Note – English translations may not match official translations

.

Initial Rating: 7/10 [First 10 episodes]: A high quality production show featuring the famous Judge Dee (Di Ren Jie) set in the Tang dynasty.  This is a historical detective drama with beautiful sets and costumes as well as intriguing cases. Zhou Yi Wei’s portrayal of Judge Dee is more rugged but just as perceptive and just as prior versions. Approximately 4 episodes per case keeps this drama moving at a brisk pace for a fun drama to chase. There are also many familiar faces as guest stars for this show.

 

Final Rating: 6.5/10: Despite the short stints of multiple cases, the second half of the drama became rather muddied and less intriguing compared to the first half. Ultimately, this drama didn’t live up to its potential given the high production value and strong cast. Oh and more importantly, this drama is “unfinished”. I believe there’s a season 2 which added to my frustration. I thought everything would be resolved!

di Ren jie 狄仁杰

zhou yi wei 周一围

Famed judge/detective of the Tang dynasty

cao an 曹安

wang li kun 王丽坤

Skilled with the Pi Pa, she is the eventual wife of Di Ren Jie

Empress Wu 武后

zhong chu xi 钟楚曦

Empress Wu before she ruled China. She sends Di Ren Jie to help stabilize the empire. 

hou yu 侯愈

li chen 李晨

Friend of Di Ren Jie

hong liang 洪亮 

you yong zhi 尤勇智 

Caretaker for the Di Family. 

qiao tai 乔泰

ji ta 姬他

Friend of Ma Rong and Di Ren Jie. He joins Di Ren Jie on his travels and cases.

ma rong 马荣

ling zi 凌孜

Illiterate but skilled in martial arts, she helps Di Ren Jie with his cases.

 

 

 

Initial Thoughts

There’s been a lot of passive buzz around this drama and given the solid cast, I decided to give this a spin. I’m quite enjoying it so far.  What’s not to like about a historical detective drama? It’s not as gruesome as Strange Tales of Tang Dynasty and it’s evident there is a higher production value here. 

Judge Dee or Di Ren Jie is a famous character in history and lived during the Tang dynasty. He was well known during Empress Wu’s era and was famous for his ability to crack cases and give out just punishments. He’s almost fictionalized in a sense because there are many stories written about him over the years. Not only stories but also dramas.

Zhou Yi Wei’s performance shows Judge Dee in his younger years just starting out under Empress Wu’s employ. Though because we’re in another Tang Dynasty drama, albeit several years before the setting of The Longest Day In Chang’An, I’m a little discombobulated at seeing Zhou Yi Wei in this role as Judge Dee vs seeing him as Long Bo in the other drama. I don’t know if Zhou Yi Wei is the best Judge Dee but so far he’s enjoyable if you don’t compare him too much with prior portrayals of the character.

The drama is broken out into a number of cases that Di Ren Jie is involved in. He started out with a major case in Chang An that caught the attention of the Empress Wu and is then sent off to Peng Lai as an official. We get to go along for the ride as he encounters various oddities in his role that he must solve. There’s also added pressure from the Empress as she tasks Di Ren Jie with resolving threats that could destabilize the Tang. 

Zhong Chu Xi is stunning as Empress Wu and Wang Li Kun is also breathtakingly beautiful as Cao An. There are also notable guest stars such as Zhang Ruo Yun, Li Chen, Yang Xue among others that join for various cases. What I could do without though is the supporting character of Ma Rong. I understand her why she’s there, I don’t see a ton of value from her. Or maybe it’s the actress that portrays her makes Ma Rong less intelligent than she should be.

 

Final Thoughts [mild spoilers ahead]

There were glimmers of greatness in this drama particularly in the first half but after Judge Dee left to go to Lan Fang, the drama started losing momentum. This drama aired to only average viewership ratings despite high hopes when it first started airing and also lost many sponsors as it started airing which means that interest wasn’t too high. Popularity from some of the guest stars brought about some buzz but it was not enough to maintain a strong following. 

 

What could have been better

  • Second half muddled cases: In the beginning of the drama, the cases had both the intrigue of the mystery details itself as well as a more varied high level theme. One was about unspoken love. One was about greed in regaining power at court. Another was seeking fame though unjust means. But later on in the drama, the cases became more simple and not as distinct since it felt like the overall conflict revolved on Judge Dee’s focus on upholding Tang dynasty law and order. He arrives in Lan Fang where it became a lawless place run by various gangs after the downfall of the Black Flame organization leaving a power vacuum. The Black Flame or Hei Yan organization was a prevailing theme throughout the drama that became more prevalent in the second half. The cases felt more forgettable than the first half because the Black Flame was more important. 
  • Forced lessons: While yes, the drama does emphasize how hard it is to be a “good” person who has upstanding values and morals, the conflicts in Lan Fang felt almost like I was hit over the head with the message that we should obey the law. Judge Dee touts Tang Dynasty law constantly and we know that the drama/gov’t will only allow that kind of message to endure. Perhaps it was also Zhou Yi Wei’s delivery which felt overly “preachy” so the show didn’t feel as interesting later on.

  • Romantic plotline: I did enjoy the romantic plotline between Cao An and Judge Dee, partly because I think Wang Li Kun is absolutely stunning. But I don’t know if this drama really needed the romance nor did the writers know how to write it. There’s a level of immaturity, particularly on Judge Dee’s part with regards to this relationship that is at odds with his work ability. His inability to voice many things is frustrating and while I understand perhaps the writers were trying to show a more complicated Judge Dee, to me it diminished him some what.
  • Ma Rong’s ineptitude: Throughout most of this drama, Ma Rong was bringing about problems left and right to the main cast. This character existed in the original book the drama was based on but the way she was portrayed in the drama felt like she was more of a hindrance than a help. She may be used as a vehicle for Judge Dee to impart certain lessons but the character and the actress were more irritating than entertaining. 
  • Cliffhanger: I am not fully confident a second season will air but there are many unresolved issues with the drama. Fair warning for those who don’t like unfinished storylines.

 

 

What I enjoyed

  • Guest appearances: There were many familiar faces in the various cases and I thoroughly enjoyed them as it felt like these different characters allowed actors/actresses to have fun. Zhang Ruo Yun’s Diao Xiao Guan was a master archer but also a little manic. Li Chen‘s Hou Yu had a natural friendliness on screen. Chen Du Ling got to show me she had better acting abilities that I previously had seen. Many on screen appearances subverted prior expectations so I feel like having the ability to play someone unique for a short period of time was just entertaining for the cast.  These were truly the highlights of the show and added a lot of color to it. 
  • High production value: I do have to praise this show from a production standpoint. The martial arts was actually quite decent and more realistic than many other recent dramas.  The sets were beautiful, intricate and often times scary. This was a show where you could tell that a lot of money was spent in creating the world and while it doesn’t live up to exactly the splendor of the Longest Day in Chang’An, it is still decent quality.  Plus, the main cast was actually riding on horseback in many scenes! 

Let me know what you think!

Karen

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>