Strange Tales of Tang Dynasty (2022) 唐朝诡事录
Summary: Based off a book by the same name, the thriller detective drama follows the seasoned local official Su Wu Ming and young general of the imperial guard from Chang An, Lu Ling Feng solve a series of mysteries that plague the thriving Tang dynasty. This drama follows 8 different cases that this unlikely pair must solve to protect the empire.
Total Episode Count: 36
Initial Airing Date: September 27
Final Rating: 7/10
This drama was not on anyone’s radar when it first aired but has garnered impressive reviews since. Currently it has a 7.7 rating on Dou Ban and quickly became a sleeper hit post the summer craze. While its popularity has not reached the likes of other iQiyi dramas, it’s still done remarkably well from an interest and review perspective overall. So, I’m giving it a shot.
This is a horror detective/crime drama that can be quite dark and gruesome so fair warning for the faint of heart. But perhaps perfect for the Halloween season. As with Checkmate, this drama revolves around a series of cases for the main characters to solve that culminate into a bigger scheme. The set design and costumes are reminiscent of Luo Yang and The Longest Day in Chang’An, which makes sense as these dramas are set in the roughly the same period. You can tell the budget/production was not as large as the two other dramas but that doesn’t detract from the bone chilling cases and fast paced plot. While the drama can raise hairs on the back of your neck, there are still moments of lightheartedness to balance it out.
There is a lot to like about this drama, notably strong acting by the individuals in the separate cases. This brought about a certain level of depth in the world building of this show and kept me watching even if it meant peeking through gaps between my fingers and being wary of jump scares. There is also quite a bit of interesting history and culture portrayed in this drama but even I found it to be a little dense which I guess you can consider is saying something.
However, it certainly took some time for me to warm up to the main characters who don’t have the same chemistry as the two main leads in Checkmate or are not as likeable. Some of the cases were more interesting than others and I did find a couple overly gruesome. But I feel like this is more of a personal preference. If you’re looking for a thrill, this is a great drama but if you’re looking for something to watch casually on the side, as was the case with me, Checkmate is more your speed.
Lu Ling Feng 卢凌风
Yang Xu Wen 杨旭文
A young and handsome general of the imperial guards in the Tang dynasty capital of Chang’An. He hails from the famous Lu family from Fan Yang. Despite his impressive martial prowess, he was not accepted as a student of the famous Judge Di Ren Jie, one of his biggest regrets. This is in part due to his self righteous and entitled nature. He is a member of the Crown Prince’s faction.
Su Wu Ming 苏无名
Yang Zhi Gang 杨志刚
Sheriff of Chang’An and student of the famous Judge Di Ren Jie. Su Wu Ming does not know martial arts but is exceptional in his deductive skills and has an excellent ear. Beyond this, he brings forth intelligence and calmness when solving crimes. Despite trying to stay away from court politics, he is backed by the Princess, sister to the Emperor.
The drama takes place during the reign of Li Dan, 8th Emperor of the Tang Dynasty and son of the famous Emperor Wu Ze Tian. Right off the bat, the drama brings you in to solve the cases of numerous murdered brides on their wedding day as well as a newly murdered sheriff of Chang’An. At the center of this plot is also a popular Chang An Red Tea, a blood red tea that everyone in the capital is paying top dollar or gold to get their hands on.
Su Wu Ming is brought forth to examine the body of the most recent victim who was killed on her wedding day. The mask of a famous exorcist was melded onto the face of victim. He and Lu Ling Feng with their separate orders work together to uncover who is behind the killings but their different approaches to the case cause them to butt heads. Lu Ling Feng, in particular, is displeased to be working with a student of Judge Di when he himself was rejected. Their leads take them to the wild unknowns of the Ghost Market where a mysterious and deadly woman leads the guards into a trap, killing a number of Lu Ling Feng’s men.
In reviewing their clues, Su Wu Ming discovers that the deaths of the brides are connected to the appearance of the Chang An Red Tea. Once a bride is killed, a new batch of tea would appear on the market days after. Thus, Su Wu Ming and Lu Ling Feng set up a trap with the help of Fei Ji Shi, a homeless but brilliant doctor that the pair encounter in the Ghost Market, and Pei Xi Jun, the daughter of an important official at court who fell in love with Lu Ling Feng. Using Pei Xi Jun as bait by pretending she is a bride, Lu Ling Feng and Su Wu Ming were able to track down the main culprit of the deaths to their hiding place in the Ghost Market. Turns out, the real perpetrator had been killing brides and using their blood to create the Chang An Red Tea and cause the nobility and aristocracy in the capital to become addicted to the tea, thereby controlling all of Chang An in the near future.
While Su Wu Ming and Lu Ling Feng were able to apprehend the main perpetrator, Lu Ling Feng was demoted for insubordination and completely stripped of his post. Meanwhile, Su Wu Ming was promoted to Nan Zhou. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, Lu Ling Feng partners with Su Wu Ming to his new post where they work together to solve additional crimes that ultimately bring them back to the Capital and under the service of the Emperor, Princess and Crown Prince.
What I liked
The various cases are certainly highlights of the drama. I thought the Chang An Red Tea case as well as the Ren Mian Hua which tells of a type of makeup that burned the skin off of the wearer to be the most interesting. But this drama isn’t only focused on solving who the murderers are. No, there’s plenty of social and political commentary embedded into the various cases that forces the watcher to think about society both then and now. What led to a poor or wealthy person to behave in a certain way that led to tragedies. What does it really mean to be a scholar? What led to a village to blindly follow a cult? And, as I mentioned, this drama is dense with history that even I feel like I need to brush up on what was portrayed to fully grasp the extent of what I’m seeing and hearing on screen.
Furthermore, despite being a smaller budget drama, you could tell the drama put a lot of thought and care into costumes and set pieces and also tried its best to showcase the grandeur of the Tang dynasty. The dresses, hair and make up for many of the ladies (apart from the main two) were fascinating. The random dance scenes were intricate as well. The Tang dynasty as we’ve seen was an extremely metropolitan and diverse dynasty with merchants from all over the world. In this drama, we get glimpses of that as people of different ethnicities, not just Chinese people, were portrayed on screen.
What is also often most interesting in these types of detective storylines is that the main characters often take a backseat to allow the surrounding cast showcase their skills. There was a diverse cast of individuals spanning different ages which allowed a wide variety of actors and actresses to take full advantage of their limited screen time, and quite honestly, they were often times more interesting than the main cast.
What I Didn’t Like
While I understand that you’re supposed to enjoy the growth storyline of Lu Ling Feng, I don’t think the drama made him sympathetic enough at the beginning to make you want to root for him. He was portrayed as a pompous and condescending individual who needed to tell the entire world that he came from the famous Lu family from Fan Yang. He always acts first with punches and then thinks later. It made this character seem more one sided. When he was punished by the Crown Prince for his actions, I could not help but agree with the Crown Prince. There are good qualities about him for sure but the first half of the drama certainly did not let that shine through which made him less interesting half of the pair to watch. That also cut into the chemistry between him and Su Wu Ming as I often felt like Su Wu Ming was looking after an immature child.
And oh gosh. I do like Pei Xi Jun as a person, but she is so focused on Lu Ling Feng, or the man he pretended to be and the real person died, which led Pei Xi Jun to mistaken Lu Ling Feng to have died. The first several episodes were just her incessant whining that she wanted to find the man she loved and follow him into the afterlife. This was after ONE meeting with Lu Ling Feng… She exhibited top notch art skills after realizing that Lu Ling Feng didn’t die which helped him and Su Wu Ming on a number of cases but still. The first impression was not pleasant.
Lastly, one of the key themes in the drama that was constantly reiterated is that there are no ghosts, demons or gods. Only people and their imagination. With each case, Su Wu Ming especially was able to lift the veil of deception that culprits created to harm their victims by playing to the unknown and the supernatural. Yet the drama did not give me a sense that this is fully to be believed. There are many fantastical elements to the drama that were entertaining to watch but then undercut the message of being more grounded. A shape shifter who could fly on wooden birds that were weaponized to shoot arrows? What about the man who floats and could change gender? To me, those cases were less interesting than for example, the smaller scale reveals of how a woman survived over a hundred years and was a member of the Sui Dynasty court.
Let me know what you think!