In the Name of the Brother (2024) 哈尔滨一九四四

Summary: In Ha Er Bin in 1944, railroad police officer Song Zhuo Wen ft Qin Hao tries to rescue intel from a fellow undercover agent only to be confronted with Guan Xue ft Yang Mi, who mistakes him for her rescuer many years before. In reality, it was Song Zhuo Wen’s older brother (also played by Qin Hao) that saved her. She brings Song Zhuo Wen back to the intelligence/spy department of the puppet government where she is currently a director. He uses his new gained access to undermine the regime.

 

 

Total Episode Count: 40

Initial Airing Date: April 21, 2024

Platform: iQiyi and multiple television networks

*Note – English translations may not match official translations

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Rating: 6/10 – Yang Mi’s attempt to transition into more serious roles unfortunately doesn’t particularly land in this drama. The spy thriller is mired in plot holes and overstuffed storylines but moves at such a fast pace that viewers can just go along for the ride if they are so inclined.  The bright spot is Qin Hao and several other supporting cast members but even they are limited with the plot they are provided.

Trigger warning – This drama is more gruesome and has instances of sexual assault. 

Song Zhuo Wen/Zhuo Wu 宋卓文/卓武

Qin Hao 秦昊

Twin brothers lost and reunited, Song Zhuo Wen goes undercover in the Intelligence Unit

Guan Xue 关雪

yang mi 杨幂

Director of the Intelligence/Spy unit of the puppet government in Ha Er Bin. Ruthless and calculating, she has a seemingly soft spot for Song Zhuo Wen.

Hu Bin 胡彬

LUan Yuan Hui 栾元晖

One of Guan Xue’s direct reports and leads the manpower efforts for the department. 

Pan Yue 潘越

zhang zi xian 张子贤

Another one of Guan Xue’s direct reports, focused on gathering intelligence. 

 

Plot

Song Zhuo Wen ft Qin Hao is a railroad worker, but talented spy, in Ha Er Bin in Northeast China in 1944. It is a tumultuous time in history with multiple different factions at play. There is the Japanese government, a puppet government, and two additional parties. Song Zhuo Wen is an underground agent who tries to protect intel from the spy intelligence agency of the puppet government and comes across Guan Xue, ft Yang Mi. She is a ruthless and coldhearted director of the agency but is stunned to see Song Zhuo Wen because he saved her many years ago. She is relieved to see him alive.

In reality, the man who saved Guan Xue many years ago was actually Song Zhuo Wen’s twin brother, Song Zhuo Wu. Guan Xue doesn’t know this so Song Zhuo Wen takes this mistake in stride. Acting in his brother’s place, he is given the opportunity to test into the intelligence agency which he passes and uses his role to help members of his party escape capture from the intelligence agency and the government. Within the intelligence unit, Guan Xue has 2 lieutenants – Hu Bin and Pan Yue. Hu Bin is the brawn while Pan Yue is the brains. 

Song Zhuo Wen must navigate with his fellow undercover party members to ensure his safety while gathering intel against the sharp members of the intelligence unit including Guan Xue who is highly distrusting despite her nostalgic affections of Song Zhuo Wu. Song Zhuo Wu does eventually appear and the two brothers reunite and work together to try to achieve various plans.

 

Overall Thoughts

In the Name of the Brother is what people online are calling Yang Mi’s transition into more serious roles and out of the romantic idol roles. It seems that she placed a lot of emphasis on this role, saying in interviews that she specifically hired an acting coach to help with her acting and voice enunciation to fit this role better. Not only that, she was willing to be second billing to this role, behind male co-star Qin Hao. She has been top billing for all of her recent dramas so the fact that she was willing to be “second” also is an indication of her willingness to focus on the role rather than title.

Naturally, because this is Yang Mi and because this is her big transition role, there’s been a lot of interest around it. Buzz for this spy thriller has breached 9000 on iQiyi’s popularity index already and this drama is airing on three network stations at the same time. While perhaps still not as broad based as a CCTV8 airing, but still, 3 network stations choosing to air this drama is sign of strength.

Unfortunately, this drama is not necessarily getting the positive feedback that I think Yang Mi is hoping for. Since the first day of airing, her character of Guan Xue has been compared to a number of previous intelligence spy antagonist characters. Most notably, it is Wang Man Chun played by Wang Ou in 2015’s The Disguiser or 伪装者. That drama, while not a full on classic, has many fans since there were several breakout roles in that drama, including Wang Ou’s Wang Man Chun. Tao Xin Ran’s Feng Man Na from 2016‘s 胭脂or Rookie Agent Rouge which stars Zhao Li Yi, and somehow I actually watched that drama, is also brought forth for comparison. Yang Mi’s fans are highlighting how this is a strong improvement for Yang Mi while other audiences are saying it’s not enough and that Yang Mi’s Guan Xue pales in comparison vs these other characters. 

In a double whammy for Yang Mi, her new film that hit theaters during the May 1 labor day holiday season was pulled from theaters for poor box office performance. This is certainly not the result Yang Mi hoped for this year.

 

What are the issues for this drama:

  • Yang Mi’s acting: You can tell that Yang Mi IS trying to act this role well and HAS worked hard to improve her enunciation in order to play this ruthless intelligence officer well. However, I really don’t think she lands the role well. Many comments online say that she is “overacting”. What I guess this is trying to say is that she is TRYING to make you think she’s this terrorizing threat but instead of fully embodying that aura, she seems out of place in this serious and bloody environment. Her posture and demeanor overall does not give the gravitas that she is a woman who most likely suffered heavily to climb her way to where she is now. How she reprimands her subordinates, especially when she is yelling, comes off as almost childish rather than menacing. Her ruthlessness does not reach her eyes which makes her gaze often times seem empty or else still too “nice”, as if I’m watching her in a romance role again.  Ultimately, she seems very out of place in this drama and often times quite overwhelmed in the role. 
  • Questionable competency of the antagonists: The intelligence unit, despite its bloodthirsty name and gruesome torture chamber doesn’t always feel very competent. As the drama progresses, it seems like Guan Xue’s department constantly is one step behind or is making mistakes. While yes, this sometimes is the result of Song Zhuo Wen’s quick wit but ultimately, I don’t get a sense of why Guan Xue was promoted to her role and why this intelligence unit is all that powerful and scary.  The one person who is more of a threat is Pan Yue, one of Guan Xue’s direct reports. He is quite sharp and detail oriented which means trying to trick him is a challenge for Song Zhuo Wen. The moments where Pan Yue is on Song Zhuo Wen’s tail are more thrilling but when Hu Bin and often times Guan Xue is involved, that sense of urgency is diminished.
  • Too many storylines/threads: Perhaps this is because I am not too familiar with this time in history but the multiple factions added quite a bit of confusion on what thread of the drama we’re following. One moment we’re looking at the puppet government agency, then we’re looking at the Japanese soldiers/gov’t, and then we head out into the wilderness to the party members fighting against the Japanese and after there is another cohort of people trying to murder Guan Xue that is unconnected to any of these groups. Add all of these factions in, AND throw in the school students where Guan Xue’s brother attends plus other excursions out in the country with Song Zhuo Wen/Song ZHuo and it becomes difficult to follow. Problem is, once we hone in on Song Zhuo Wen with a certain storyline, we might be forgoing another storyline with Song Zhuo Wu. It is difficult to keep all the storylines straight for one end goal because we haven’t even touched on the personal issues that Guan Xue faces with Song Zhuo Wen/Zhuo Wu. My least favorite storyline of the lot is anything that involves Guan Kai, Guan Xue’s brother. 
  • Can’t think too closely about the plot: I found myself watching many episode with my brow furrowed because I found many things implausible. Song Zhuo Wen and Song Zhuo Wu survive multiple times in events that should have resulted in their deaths. Out of all the people there are in Ha Er Bin, people manage to run into both Song ZHuo Wu and Song Zhuo Wen to start potentially piecing things together. Song Zhuo Wen’s undercover crew are able to act extremely swiftly to conduct rescues and save information just in the nick of time to help Zhuo Wen in a time when technology was poor.  There are moments where the drama really tries to be clever especially when covering Zhuo Wen’s tracks but overall you just have to go with the flow that all of this really did happen or is achievable.
  • Dislikable romance threads: I really dislike that Hu Bin is so possessive of Guan Xue. He clearly has the hots for her and pesters her nonstop. If set in modern times, his actions would be grounds for workplace harassment. This obsession is not attractive and hinders his competency. Guan Xue’s affections for Song Zhuo Wu also clouds a lot of her judgement. The drama tries to show that even though she is a member of the puppet government, she has a soft spot given she was rescued by Song Zhuo Wu, but it doesn’t quite land because we didn’t see Guan Xue’s transformation into the ruthless spy leader she is today. Instead, she seems quite easily manipulated by Song Zhuo Wen which then leads back to her competency. 

 

What’s been decent:

  • Fast paced story: This drama moves at a very fast pace with different crimes or conflicts to solve almost each episode. The director and screenwriter certainly does a decent job at keeping the storyline engaging, especially when focused on Qin Hao’s character of Song Zhuo Wen. I’m on the fence about how I feel about his brother Zhuo Wu but the two make a decent pair though it is clear that Zhuo Wen is, as his name suggests, the brains of the two. 
  • Qin Hao and supporting cast members: I enjoy Qin Hao’s acting in general because he is able to give off very natural vibes. When you see him on screen, you don’t get the sense that he is “acting”. Unlike Yang Mi who is overacting. Do I think Qin Hao is knocking it out of the park in this role? Probably not. But at least he’s earning his paycheck especially with the dual role of playing both Song ZHuo Wen and Song Zhuo Wu. People online say that Qin Hao actually phoned it in with this role. I don’t fully agree with that since he IS the captivating force on screen. Outside of that, the actors for Hu Bin and Pan Yue are interesting and fit their roles quite well. 

Overall, this drama is…fine… Not the worst drama since I’ve chase it into episode 30+ but pales in comparison with next door’s War of Faith.

Let me know what you think.

Karen

 

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