The Imperial Coroner (2021) 御赐小仵作
Summary: In the late Tang Dynasty, the aspiring coroner Chu Chu 楚楚 (Su Xiao Tong 苏晓彤）heads to Chang’An to take the Imperial Coroner’s exam. In the city, she meets the young but powerful Xiao Jing Yu 萧景瑜 (Wang Zi Qi 王子奇），Prince of An Jun who currently oversees the Judiciary Branch. Intrigued by Chu Chu’s attention to detail, the two work together to solve crimes and uncover threats to the Tang empire with their group of trusted friends and family.
Overall rating: 9/10
Initial thoughts: Binge-worthy drama that does not insult the audience’s intelligence. Mysteries are thoughtful and challenges understandable. A small production that has been met with rave reviews in the first half of 2021. You’ll be surprised by this show.
This rather unknown drama premiered quietly in April 2021 but quickly garnered interest by viewers. Both leads are early in their careers and the funny story is that they didn’t do much marketing for this drama as it was airing because both Su Xiao Tong and Wang Zi Qi are both in school! I remember a trending weibo post from the female lead saying she still has to write essays, no time to pay attention to much else! How adorable.
In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the drama. Only 36 episodes, it wastes no time in getting to the conflict and it doesn’t drag out plot points unnecessarily. The story progresses organically and plot holes I would say are kept to a minimum. You can tell the production quality of the drama is on a much smaller scale than other historical dramas but that does not mean this is a low quality drama. The story, the characters and the intrigue are all top caliber.
The drama reminds me of the US show Bones quite a bit. Had absolutely no expectation going into this show and ended up loving it. The drama is not bloody or gory which may turn people away as the topic is about evaluating dead bodies but the drama cleverly uses drawings to depict the examination scenes which I thought were done quite well.
Set in the late Tang dynasty under the rule of Tang Xuan Zong (唐宣宗) named Li Chen 李忱 who ruled between April 25, 846 – September 7, 859, this drama focuses on the partnership between a righteous and justice seeking Prince Xiao Jing Yu, and a talented female coroner from a faraway village, Chu Chu in helping uncover plots against the empire. They are aided by the Prince’s childhood friends, Jing Yi, son of a powerful court official and Leng Yue, daughter of a renowned general, as well as the Prince’s own older brother.
The drama begins with the imperial coroner examination taking place in the Tang capital of Chang’An where Chu Chu dresses as a man to take the exam. Her dream is to be an imperial coroner and is discovered by Jing Yi who recommends her to the prince, Xiao Jing Yu. Xiao Jing Yu heads the Judiciary Branch which pretty much means he oversees various crimes. Through the imperial examination, he sees that Chu Chu is highly talented in her skills and hires her to help him solve murders that are tied to larger plots including one against the throne (typical), fake currency, the death of Xiao Jing Yu’s father, among several others.
History: The reign of this Tang Xuan Zong is an interesting time to set this drama. It’s what one calls the late Tang dynasty and there are certainly cracks to the foundation of this once venerated empire. This emperor is probably one of the best in the the late Tang dynasty as he tried to correct levels of corruption that had seeped through his imperial court. One of the biggest challenges during this time, and is something the drama touches upon, is the rise in power of eunuchs. Emperors relied too heavily on eunuchs in a variety of areas which helped them to a league of their own and led to the demise of the Tang dynasty. In this drama, Qin Luan is the head eunuch that conspires to amass as much power as possible which made for a worthy adversary.
Why I liked the show:
- The main character Chu Chu is naive but not stupid. She was raised in a family of coroners which means she was looked down upon all her life for their craft. She doesn’t have many friends but is kind hearted and loving towards her family. She is dedicated to her profession and never let her gender stop her from achieving her dreams but she keeps a pure heart. The entire drama, her primary focus is to be a good coroner. This is quite a refreshing take on the female lead.
- The main male lead, Xiao Jing Yu, is a young but powerful prince with astonishing deduction abilities. He solves cases with sharp insights and is extremely learned. The most important quality trait that he possesses though, is that he respects and trusts Chu Chu fully. Even though their upbringings are backgrounds are disparate, that does not stop him from treating her as an equal.
- This drama made me read up on another period of history I haven’t really paid attention to. Dramas may be set in the late Tang dynasty but did not pique my interest.
- Everyone operates rationally. The drama avoids a lot of cliches and where there are areas of mistrust, it’s very logically and easily explained soon after. There is no overarching miscommunication that is not resolved in a convincing manner.
- The relationships between characters are very heartwarming. The two main female characters don’t fight and be jealous of each other but rather help support each other. That is the type of female empowerment we need. Xiao Jing You and his brother also do not fight against each other for meaningless squabbles and avoid the regular fights over titles. The older brother actually lets his younger brother take title of Prince. Even though the group is solving mysteries and fighting crime, there’s a warm fuzzy feeling to the interactions between characters.
- I learned what Wu Zuo meant. I never read those words in my life and now I learned that there is a specific term for Coroner in Chinese.
Overall this drama was a fun and breezy one to watch. It may not be something I return to all the time like I do The Story of Ming Lan or Empresses in the Palace but I’m so glad I watched it and highly recommend it. The writers are working on a sequel and I am eager to see the next adventure for these characters.