This was one of my anticipated dramas for 2017 but after watching about 10 minutes of the first episode without subtitles, I realised I was in over my head as got a little lost with no backstory or context. Picked this up again recently after Nirvana in Fire 2 as it was fan-subbed up to ep10 on https://siantlark.tumblr.com/post/168222628416/tientsin-mystic-english-subtitles and on https://dostforu.blogspot.com/2018/02/english-subs-for-tientsin-mystic.html for ep11-24.
I would say that I only watched the subtitled episodes until ep5 to give me some background and perhaps my Mandarin has improved since Sept 2017 (probably due to Princess Agents) that I realised I could follow the story reasonably well (albeit some minimal gaps). By the way, the show has been picked up by Netflix this year so anyone with Netflix (I don’t subscribe unfortunately) can watch it there too.
And how is show? I absolutely loved it!! Its adapted from a novel written by Tian Xia Ba Chang (same dude who wrote Mystic Nine) and while it has the same elements of mysticism and suspense, it is a much, much better produced drama. Much tauter, less clunky storylines and no unnecessary repetition – also helped there were much less censored scenes hence making the storyline more fluid and organic. I liked the somber but not dreary setting and the slightly surreal, but not fantastical, way the show was shot too.
Li Xian was spot-on in his role as Guo De You, the little River God, head of the rag-tag undersea salvagers of bodies and anything else in the Hai River (I think that’s what the river is called) attached to the police who can hold his breath unnaturally long underwater. and is a street-smart, righteous kid with investigative skills to boot. My first time watching him and he nailed the character with his slight cocky swagger befitting a highly observant (but not unrealistically so) and intelligent urchin – think a streetsmart, Oliver Twist all grown up and savvy. He becomes besties with Ting Mao, heir to the Ting family who runs the Shipping Association which essentially is a gang who controls the ports, a recent returnee from Germany who wants to pursue a career in forensic investigation. Ting Mao is played by Zhang Ming En, loyal Lt Zhang in Mystic Nine, and although adequate in his role of a rich man son who wants to pursue his own dreams while carrying out familial responsibilities, could definitely use more experience (the same could be said for many, many more experienced c-actors too…)- there was some minor overacting in the first episodes but he got better once he settled in the role.
While I enjoyed Guo De You, I was really rooting for Gu Ying, the daughter of the town’s shaman lady, and a little shaman in her own right. She had a kind heart, a brave soul and can hold her own much better in a fist/knife/outright fight better than both De You and Ting Mao combined. She never came off pathetic even when it seemed that De You had no romantic feelings for her (but she and the viewers know that he does!) but just forlorn in grace. Kudos to Wang Zi Xuan who did a really good job as it would have been easy to overact and overdramatize (esp with the outlandish clothes) given the role and its really fitting she won the female NextGen award at the 2017 Anhui TV Awards. Rounding out the quartet is Xiao Lan Lan, the female counterpart to Ting Mao, also an heir to wealthy and politically connected Xiao family who dreams of becoming a reporter. I like Chen Yu Mi too – she had that really cute 1920s bob and was every inch the elegant, respectable scion albeit one with integrity in her work and an inquisitive mind.
All 4 had great chemistry with each other and there was enough humor to offset the darkness of the story. The supporting characters executed their parts well – I particularly liked the ineffectual police head who uses his smarts to protect his job rather than solving real police problems – and they gelled in with the entire storyline and the main cast rather than a distraction (a problem many c-dramas seem to have).
The show unfolds slowly with all the parts coming together and I couldn’t wait to watch what was coming next. What it did particularly well was to interweave Chinese culture and myths into essentially a Sherlockian tale quite seamlessly and I found it to be absolutely delightful. For me, definitely one of the best c-dramas of 2017!