A League of Nobleman (2023) 君子盟
Summary: Set in the fictional Yong Empire, Lan Jue 兰珏 (ft Jing bo ran 井柏然) is a Vice-Minister in the Ministry of Rites. He’s locked in constant battle with the other officials at court. During a secret operation, Lan Jue’s operation is thwarted by Zhang Ping 张屏 (ft Song Wei Long 宋威龙), a young idealistic man, who came to the capital to take his imperial entrance exams. Zhang Ping surprises everyone with his logic and reasoning abilities and accurately solves the case in record time. Lan Jue is disappointed that his operation failed but is also bemused that this young man was able to so easily upend what he thought was a fool-proof plan. As the drama continues, the two become both friends and teachers towards each other. They, along with a group of young gentlemen, jointly investigate cases and the mysteries of their own pasts to bring peace to the Empire.
Total Episode Count: 29
Initial Airing Date: Jan 30, 2023
*Note – most English translations are my own and may not exactly match Tencent’s official translations
Initial Rating: 7.5/10 – A fast past case-solving drama that revolves around political factions at court and a mysterious decimation of a village is led by two well-matched characters. The beautiful set design and costumes make for an entertaining watch. Warning! There are some jump scares along the way!
Final Rating: 7.0/10 – 7.0 – A visually beautiful and satisfying drama with intriguing interlocking mysteries. Jing Bo Ran truly shines as the elegant and noble gentleman who is haunted by his father’s death. However, Song Wei Long isn’t able to match his costar in this lead role. The lack of female characters and obvious cuts to the drama left me frustrated for a full cut of the drama.
张屏 Zhang Ping – 宋威龙 Song Wei Long
The intelligent but bright young scholar makes a living of selling noodles on the street in the capital city to support himself as he prepares for the imperial exams. His dream is to enter the Court of Judicature and Revision so that he can meet the author of his favorite detective stories. He surprises and impresses everyone when he is able to solve a cleverly devised operation by Lan Jue. The two team up to solve mysteries in the Empire.
王砚 Wang Yan – 洪尧 Hong Yao
A Vice-Minister in the Ministry of Justice, he is Lan Jue’s best friend. He also helps solve cases whenever he is needed and always has his friend’s best intentions at heart. He develops a friendly rivalry with Zhang Ping to see who can solve cases the fastest.
陈筹 Chen Chou – 郭丞 Guo Cheng
An enthusiastic fellow scholar who dreams of becoming passing his imperial entrance exams and become gentleman, just like Lan Jue. He met Zhang Ping in the capital and the two poor students support each other to make a living and prepare for the exams. He is eager to help his friend solve mysteries along the way.
辜清章 Gu Qing Zhang – 汪铎 Wang Duo
A enigmatic gentleman who once rescued the destitute Lan Jue on his road towards passing his entrance exams a decade ago. The motive for his sudden return to the capital is quickly questioned by Zhang Ping who suspects something nefarious is afoot.
景启赭 / 永宣帝 – Emperor Yong Xuan – 张舒沦 Zhang Shu Lun
The young and motivated Emperor trying his best to consolidate power despite the iron grip the Empress Dowager has on court. He can only turn to the young gentleman at court and aspiring scholars to try and achieve his ambitions.
In the Yong Dynasty, Lan Jue (played by Jing Boran), the servant of the Ministry of Rites, mediated in court disputes all the year round. He seemed gentle and elegant, but in fact there was a little-known growth history hidden behind it. During a secret operation, Lan Jue ran into Zhang Ping (played by Song Weilong), a young idiot who came to Beijing alone to rush for an exam and pursue his ideals. The honest and straightforward Zhang Ping solved the case with his genius reasoning ability, but it also disrupted Lan Jue It was originally a well-planned and unmistakable plan. Since then, the two people with different identities and personalities have also become teachers and friends, and they have cooperated tacitly with a group of young gentlemen to jointly investigate cases and protect the peace of the people.
Lan Jue is impressed with Zhang Ping’s abilities and offers him a job as an accountant at his manor. Zhang Ping refuses, stating that he only wants to join enter the Court of Judicial Review to meet his idol, the author of a compilation of cases, who must be employed at that office.
Lan Jue must ward off deadly accusations from his political enemies, and, on the surface uses questionable methods. Zhang Ping, who is only intent on finding the truth, oftentimes finds himself at odds with Lan Jue. However, the two begrudgingly become friends as Lan Jue recognizes Zhang Ping’s talent and Zhang Ping realizes that Lan Jue’s methods were not as dark as he had previously believed. The two each have their own personal burdens of a tough childhood. Lan Jue is intent on clearing his father’s name while Zhang Ping can barely remember his past.
More and more murders happen in the capital and the two must race against time to find the real culprit. However, as they solve each mystery with the help of fellow gentlemen Wang Yan and Chen Chou, they uncover a far more mysterious secret dating back decades and is closely tied to both of them.
The return of the enigmatic Gu Qing Zhang raises questions to his true motive and is the final piece to the puzzle of what happened to both Lan Jue and Zhang Ping’s family.
I enjoyed the case-solving murder mystery aspect of the drama, and they pulled me in for the first 10 episodes. This drama cleverly pits Lan Jue and Zhang Ping against each other in the beginning to solve the same mystery so we get different angles of how they are each able to come to the same conclusion. As the drama progresses and the two join forces, the drama then highlights each of their strengths.
However, my interest began waning towards the latter half of the drama because of the pacing and odd cuts to the drama. It seemed like everything that Lan Jue and Zhang Ping encountered conveniently tied to their own backstories and we had little time to breathe. Some of the coincidences in the drama were also hard to believe.
This was one of the first heavily male oriented idol dramas to release in 2 years (the last being Word of Honor) but was released with little fanfare and honestly didn’t get much buzz. It was released over the course of 3 weeks, 10 episodes each. I think Tencent just wanted to get it off its books but it really had bad luck with its airing. It had to compete against the finale of The Knockout when it first aired and Arthur Chen’s scandal took a lot of eyeballs away from the drama too.
This drama is only 29 episodes long with roughly 30 minute episodes. I do recommend a watch if you want to see Jing Bo Ran as the handsome gentleman solving some intriguing mysteries. I am a scaredy cat and there were some jump scares that I wasn’t expecting!
What I liked：
- The atmosphere and costumes – The atmosphere of the drama is very quickly set in the first episode. It’s gloomy but bustling. People go about their lives, but there’s an eerie menace in the air. That really set the tone, at least for me, that something is wrong with the empire. Although, the atmosphere might get a little too eerie at certain points. The costumes especially for the gentleman and upper class all are exquisitely done. Whether it was for Lan Jue, the Empress Dowager, or Gu Qing Zhang, each had a distinct style that was a reflection of their personalities. The red court attire was especially really striking against the overall gloomy atmosphere.
- Jing Bo Ran – Jing Bo Ran was the true standout for me in this drama. He truly embodied Lan Jue, a gentleman who was trying to do right for his country, his father, and the people. Jing Bo Ran was able to showcase the different layers of this seemingly elegant and noble Vice-minister to the poor young boy who lost everything because his father committed treason and his struggle to reach his position. I always preferred his scenes in the drama because he was able to emote so much despite having to remain stoic in several situations. His friendship between Wang Yan and Gu Qing Zhang also were also a great plus to watch.
- Intriguing mysteries – I thought the mysteries were rather unique, especially paired with the eerie atmosphere. How each is presented is quite beautiful and while there are some far-fetched murders, most do make logical sense. As I mentioned earlier, I also enjoyed the different angles present to solve several mysteries. Each also builds up to uncover a larger plot with a final big boss that mostly seemed organic (I’ll talk about pacing in my dislikes).
What I didn’t like：
- Song Wei Long – Unfortunately, as the other male lead, Song Wei Long really could not keep up with his costar. His acting was wooden and emotionless. Oftentimes, it seemed as though he was just reciting his lines as he was solving each case. It doesn’t help that he was out-acted by basically every other actor in the drama. On paper the character of Zhang Ping should have been a stubborn but compassion solver of mysteries. The end result was an annoying man-child who literally did not care about the reason behind people’s actions and was only hung up on finding the “truth”. I basically skipped his scenes in the end. For a drama that was supposed to have some homoerotic undertones, I got nothing between Lan Jue and Zhang Ping mainly due to the lack of any emotion from Song Wei Long.
- Rushed and odd pacing – this drama was cut down from its original 40 episodes to pass the censors and it shows. I felt like we were just moving from one mystery to another and each just so happen to conveniently be related to Lan Jue and Zhang Ping’s past. I wanted more Sherlock and Watson vibes and have them solve mysteries, but it was just go go go! I understand that focus should be to close out the story for our main characters, but I couldn’t help thinking, how is it that the main characters are able to conveniently find all these long lost people after 20 years? Zhang Ping’s supernatural abilities are also weirdly explained at the end.
- Lack of women – I understand that this is called A League of Gentleman but the complete lack of women in this drama was very striking. There were basically 2 women who had minimal speaking roles. The rest were either killed or quickly discarded. I was also rather disappointed with the characterization of these two women. One was a power-hungry woman who discarded her child to gain power. The other sacrificed herself for her children. This then is the foundation for the trauma for basically all our male characters. Could we have at least one female character that isn’t traumatic to the men in this drama?