Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast where we discuss Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. I am your host for today, Karen. Cathy is currently driving through the mountains of Colorado with some spotty internet connection so we’ll hear from her in our next episode.
In episode 5, things start to get a little bit more complicated with many different factions entering the fray of battle. I do think that it is here where people start to get a little more lost so we’ll do our best to clarify what’s going on. Furthermore, today’s episode will be more plot driven, finally, instead of the heavy focus on history we’ve had for the last few episodes. We will return to our normal plot recap then history discussion format.
As always, this podcast episode is in English with proper nouns in Mandarin Chinese.
There are 3.5 main storylines happening in this episode.
To start for our half storyline and I call it half because it’s only just a quick snippet right now. The mysterious woman from the prior episode is seen in a different outfit. She removed her red robes and is now donned in blue with a decently elaborate headdress. As an aside, I personally think she’s gorgeous. And it’s here we meet Long Bo for the first time, played by 周一围。I’ll be honest 周一围 confuses me a little bit in terms of how handsome he is. And he himself is confusing in this first scene since the woman 鱼肠 is rather handsy with him only for him to turnaround, choke her neck and remind her menacingly that she has worn a woman’s clothing for too long, she’s almost forgotten who she is. Clearly, he’s displeased with what has transpired with her earlier that day. But at least we see that outside of the Wolf Squad, there is another force at play in this story.
We now cut back to Jing An Si. A quick reminder that in the last episode, Zhang Xiao Jing was called back to Jing An Si by He Zhi Zheng in order to avoid further conflict in Huai Yuan Fang but the tides have turned against them with He Zhi Zheng being told he has been relieved of his duty. Li Bi and Zhang Xiao Jing have been only given an additional 2 hours to investigate the case further. Luckily, Yao Ru Neng on the ground was able to discover a token of sorts or placard hidden in Long Bo’s residence.
The time now? A little after noon but still considered in the Wu dual hour
Back at Jing An Si, Xu Bin explains to Li Bi that this token means Long Bo is a regular customer at a brothel in Ping Kang Fang. Only regulars are given this type of token by one of the ladies in Ping Kang Fang. If they find the woman, they might get more leads on Long Bo. Li Bi at first says “ok then just search for the name of this woman” but Zhang Xiao Jing pipes in that none of the information in Ping Kang Fang they have is accurate. The ladies all have fake names or what not. There’s only one person they can turn to to get this information.
With that, Li Bi provides Zhang Xiao Jing with a fast horse and Zhang Xiao Jing gallops off to procure this information. This is where our first main storyline occurs
Outside though, another group of people are closely monitoring Zhang Xiao Jing’s movements and that is the members of 熊火帮. The translation in English is Blaze Gang which I think is fine. The direct English translation is Bear Fire Gang so Blaze Gang is eh close enough. These guys want to take revenge against Zhang Xiao Jing who we learn killed 34 members of the gang. This act ultimately landed him in prison on death row.
Our second storyline is related to Tan Qi’s report. She explains to Li Bi about her most recent discovery. The fragrance leftover from their now dead lead 影女 is said to be owned by a young woman 闻染 who is the only person in Chang An that is able to create such a potent and long lasting fragrance. However, interestingly, this young woman was called away by the general 王宗汜’s daughter 王韫秀. Let’s follow her thread for a bit because this episode gets a little overly complicated with the cuts back and forth between various storylines.
We see that 闻染 and 王韫秀 walking on the streets. Interestingly, both women are armed though also followed by a gaggle of 王韫秀’s bodyguards. I really don’t like 王韫秀 as a character and I often fast forward her scenes since she’s a spoiled brat, always using her father as a threat to get her way. These two ladies are on a mission to find evidence of the Blaze Gang selling military secrets. 王韫秀 is hoping to use this as a present for her father. 闻染 is hoping to enact revenge for her father who was killed by members of the Blaze Gang. This girl definitely has more than meets the eye because she not only is “friendly” with the likes of 王韫秀 but as we heard earlier, she is also connected to the death of Li Bi’s spy 影女。
Yet where does 闻染 lead this group to? The insignia on the side of the door marks that this is not connected to the Blaze Gang but to the Wolf Squad instead. The unprepared group of 2 women and 3 bodyguards enter the premises, guard up, but they are absolutely no match for the threat that is inside. In the dark corridors of the building, the bodyguards hacked to death in a surprise attack leaving just the two ladies left to face the group of Wolf squad members. Our old friend 曹破延 in particular is there to greet these unwanted intruders.
Meanwhile Zhang Xiao Jing wants to cross the city over to Ping Kang Fang but the Blaze Gang is hot on his tail. They chase him through the street but he doesn’t fight back because as 封大伦 mentioned earlier, Zhang Xiao Jing has more urgent matters to attend to and doesn’t have the energy to fight back against the Blaze Gang. Zhang Xiao Jing is chased through the streets by these gang members and only narrowly escapes through the massive crowds after running into 姚汝能. Not only that but we see many individuals dressed in black quickly greet Zhang Xiao Jing and then start creating a human barrier behind him in order to protect Zhang XIao Jing. These men are 不良人, people who used to report to Zhang Xiao JIng when he was the 不良帅 before entering prison.
And through all this tenseness, Yao Ru Neng still manages to crack me up. Zhang Xiao Jing comments that he thinks Yao Ru Neng is rather old and Yao Ru Neng immediately starts freaking out, lamenting how Li Bi forces them to work overnight constantly and that must have caused him to age. Hahahaha. But, for those of you who HAVE watched the drama, this scene is of note, at least for me, that while Yao Ru Neng is jokingly asking Zhang Xiao Jing to elaborate a little more about exactly why he killed all those people in the Blaze Gang, Zhang XIao Jing is quick to pick up on the fact that Yao Ru Neng might be investigating him. Yao Ru Neng shares a harmless reason why he’s interested but I still find Zhang Xiao Jing’s spidey senses going off at this point rather interesting.
Poor Yao Ru Neng. After following Zhang XIao Jing into Ping Kang Fang, he’s relegated to an assistant perfuming the beautiful prostitute Li Xiang Xiang that the two visit in order to procure information about the token. His expression when hearing that this Li Xiang xiang cried for half a day after believing she might not ever be able to see Zhang XIao Jing is Priceless. Despite her attempts at seduction towards Zhang Xiao Jing, he is all business and no play whatsoever. He tries to ask her for information about the woman who owns the token but she says she doesn’t know either. Only 葛老 has the answer. Zhang Xiao Jing is not pleased to hear this at all but has no other choice. He gruffly asks for keys and is directed by a young man called 小乙, alongside Yao Ru Neng, to find this fear inducing Ge Lao.
高叶 – she had the breakout role as 大嫂 in the drama 狂飙 or Knockout earlier this year. But, when she was cast in this role as 李香香, she was just another little known working actress in the business.
Li Xiang Xiang says – you never know where the eyes and ears are in Ping Kang Fang that might be reporting to the Right Chancellor, the camera turns to 姚汝能 as if to implicate him. 张小敬 dismisses this because I mean 姚汝能 has been completely clueless for the past 5 episodes. How could it be him? But….hmmmm why did that happen. My first reaction for this scene was that she was talking about herself. But maybe not.
I also do like Zhang Xiao Jing’s parting words. He tells her to have Xiao Yi fix the windowsill because it’s loose. She likes to lean on that and it’s not safe. Aww…this is why she likes him. He actually cares for her safety!
The 3rd storyline for today is Li Bi’s actions after he splits from Zhang Xiao Jing. He first goes to the secret room to meet the Crown Prince once again. There, he also meets two court ministers clearly in league with the crown prince. Both are chastizing Li Bi’s failure today at Jing An Si and also voicing their displeasure that He Zhi Zheng has been unceremoniously forced from the capital on this special day. Li Bi recognizes the importance of having He Zhi Zheng at least attend the Lantern Festival Banquet tonight but the person who controls the invite list is the Right Chancellor. No way would he want He Zhe Zheng at the banquet. In front of the Crown Prince, he says that he has to be allowed to do things his own way, without rules. Very reminiscent of what Zhang Xiao Jing requested of Li Bi earlier. Only with flexibility and the ability to act rashly can they achieve what they want. Here, we see the two start rubbing off on each other. Li Bi in particular is learning that there is a whole other world out there thanks to the knowledge Zhang Xiao Jing has shared in their brief interactions together.
And Li Bi’s next action? To go straight to the source of power. He wants to speak to the RIght Chancellor himself to request that He Zhi Zheng get a spot at the banquet tonight.
That closes out today’s plot recap. Next episode we’ll meet this mysterious Ge Lao in one of the most riveting and thrilling episodes in the first 3rd of the drama.
Because we finally meet 王韫秀, I think it’s time to introduce her and her father.
王宗汜’s historical counterpart is 王忠嗣, a famed Tang Dynasty general who lived from 705ad 0 749ad. Originally named 王训，he came from an established family in the capital. After his father died in battle, he was semi raised by the Emperor, Tang Xuan Zong, himself and was friendly with the Prince of Zhong Li Heng, our current Crown Prince. Starting in 730 ad, he started his military career. He was a skilled commander and successfully pushed back the Tibetan Empire and then took over as Long You 陇右 节度使 or the regional military commander of Long You. This piece of information will prove important in the drama. He had many successful military campaigns to the west of China, fighting the likes of the 契丹 and ultimately causing the death of the the Özmiş Khagan, the last penultimate khagan of the Second Turkic Khaganate which resulted in its collapse, among many others military successes.
With all of his military exploits and successes came jealousy at court. In history, 李林甫 the Right Chancellor, our 林九郎 in this drama, grew jealous of his power and fame, believing that Wang Zhong Si would return to the capital and vy for the title of Chancellor as well. The general was framed for heralding the crown prince 李亨 as the new Emperor. This triggered the Emperor who almost wanted to kill Wang Zhong Si in 747. Only because of his subordinates pleas was 王忠嗣 demoted to 汉阳太守。
王忠嗣 died in 749, 5 years after the events of this drama at the age of 45. Outside of all of these exploits however, it is documented that he also did predict that An Lu Shan would cause trouble to the Tang Empire. And of course, this proved to be true. We don’t see Wang Zhong Si in the drama but he is always around, mentioned in the background.
As for 王韫秀, I’m a little surprised they didn’t change her name in the drama. She is Wang Zhong Si’s daughter, born in 725ad and died in 777AD. As with most women in history, her story is connected to her father and her husband whom we’ll see in the drama. Because of her father, she is indeed known for being a spoiled and arrogant young woman. But, she loved her husband dearly. She married 元载 a poor scholar who went on to become a chancellor at court. When they first married, Yuan Zai had no choice but to marry into the Wang family because he was poor himself. However, that was unbearable because of how poorly the Wang family treated him so he decided to leave. His wife, Wang Yun Xiu wrote a poem called 同夫游秦 to show her desire to leave the riches of her family behind to live a life of poverty. They went to Chang An where Yuan Zai quickly earned the trust of the Emperor and ultimately became Chancellor. However, Yuan Zai relished his powerful life and became extremely corrupt. We will discuss more about their fates when we meet Yuan Zai in the drama. This pair is probably one of THE most 讽刺 in the drama.
There were 2 officials that were sitting with the Crown Prince Li Heng in their secret meeting room when Li Bi stopped by. They were 韦坚 – 皇浦惟明. For now, all we have to know is that these two people in history had varying connections to the real historical crown prince. Wei Jian’s younger sister is actually the Crown Prince’s wife and was close friends with Huang Pu Wei Ming thus it makes sense they’re part of the Crown Prince’s Inner circle. Both were subsequently demoted from the capital for being too closely allied with him. Both were exposed by the Right Chancellor for supporting Li Heng in seizing imperial power and usurping the throne. You see the pattern here? Both individuals ultimately met gruesome ends in the next 2-3 years.
Outside of these individuals, let’s chat about this red light district 平康坊. It’s located in the eastern half of Chang An or in Wan Nian County which is why zhang Xiao Jing’s 不良ren were able to step in to protect him since he used to cover that county.
平康坊 houses the biggest brothels in the city and is a lively place of earthly pleasures. The distinction between the different ladies and their living locations in the Fang that Li Xiang Xiang described is more or less historically accurate in that different ladies serve different types of clients. Many of the women there are extremely skilled in different talents, whether it’s musical instruments, dancing or singing among others and are trained after entering the Fang to better serve their clients. The clients who frequent Ping Kang Fang can come from all walks of life but of course, many of these ladies serve the powerful and wealthy in Chang An. This place has several love stories written about it.
I feel like we’re in Assassin’s Creed right now, there’s different factions that either aid or turn against our main character