This review may contain spoilers
A highbrow production with broad appeal.The Longest Day in Chang'an is an immersive, visually stunning, culturally authentic and thrilling journey back over 1000 years in time to Lantern Festival in Chang'an at the peak of the Tang Dynasty. This is a highbrow and very demanding drama that is immensely enjoyable even if taken simply at face value. The viewer gets to decide how much they wish to invest in it. The production basks in rich historical and cultural detail that marvels over the intellectual, political, legal, administrative, military, cultural and scientific sophistication of Chang'an and the Tang Dynasty more broadly. The faithfulness to historical accuracy and strong edu-drama aspect to this show has history buffs raving with ecstasy. As a layman, the finer nuances would be lost on me were it not for the many knowledgeable insights on this and other sites. That doesn't appeal to everyone and some have remarked on the frequent historical and cultural digressions that interrupt the story-line. My simple take is that "smart fillers" are better than the nonsensical fillers that other dramas spam us with.
The absolutely stunning cinematography is the first and most consistent impression throughout - every frame is beautifully angled to create a visual, vibrant feast for the eyes. Even flames from explosions burst in an artistic pattern of controlled natural assymetry. The production is not shy about indulging in artistic license and is littered with lithe and gorgeously willowy Tang ladies with only one small section acknowledging more ingrained images of the classical, prosperously rotund Tang lady. A number of Chinese manhua worthy characters are almost casually dropped in among the otherwise characteristically Tang dynasty cast including Djimon Hounson's Gao Le, the menacing African slave-trader and lord of Changán's underworld; a deadly female assassin who is fanatically devoted to her radical master; and a wildly improbable Western Persian Prince priest with impressive kung fu and building leaping skills. At the end of the day, this is very much a work of fiction and suspension of disbelief will be required as the lead characters achieve superhuman physical feats and survive certain death. All of which make for gripping, visually compelling and heart stopping action scenes.
The drama is not an easy, light watch. The first season (24 episodes) opens with the intense urgency of a fast moving, action packed thriller as the two leads Zhang Xiaojing (Lei Jia Yun) and Li Bi's (Jackson Yi) race against time to foil a terrorist plot during the Lantern Festival. The constraint of the 24 hour timeline forces the narrative to alternate between the high speed chase, political machinations around a power struggle and flashbacks that set up the backstory; all threads which converge in the unraveling of the conspiracy. The many plot twists interact with an extensive cast of complex characters from various factions with unclear and/or malleable loyalties in the power struggle between Li Bi's patron the Crown Prince and his powerful rival the Right Chancellor. In short, there is already a lot to take in so the occasional non sequitur cultural or historical digression can come off as one thing too many.
It took me a long time to care for any of the main characters in this show. Even relatively "good" characters are flawed, primarily driven by self interests and had questionable loyalties and morals. It wasn't obvious that Li Bi' s cause, the Crown Prince was more worthy than the Right Chancellor. Zhao Xiaojing's dealings with Gao Le alienated me; especially when it appeared his real motive was to protect the reckless and misguided Wen Ran. That episode and short lived character stayed with me for a long time because it is the first of many times that bad things happen to good people. And that is how good people can end up doing bad things. Thus there are no outright good or bad characters in this show, they are all products of events beyond their control. Time and again the drama explores how circumstances can push any character to act against his innate nature and self interest. It is a very realistic portrayal of the complexity of human nature's capacity for both good and evil and was acted out compellingly by a truly superb cast. I started to understand the true spirit of the drama when the plight of the common man of the Peacekeeper Corps moved the phlegmatic Li Bi to tears and made him their reckless champion. The real "heroes" in this drama are the common people; that is why it intentionally neglects the main characters and does not attempt to make you root for them and does not care if they have a happy ending. It celebrates the hardships and unrecognized capabilities of the nameless, faceless, powerless, voiceless man - from the forgotten soldier that gives his life for king and country to the ordinary citizens of Chang'an. It wants you to see them, hear them and care about them.
Season 2 (episodes 25-48) was much more enjoyable for me as the intensity of the chase abates and the narrative focus really zeroes in on the power struggle and the unvieling of the conspiracy and ulitmate mastermind. Finally the lead characters are also allowed to shine and shine they did. Zhao Yi Wei's Long Bo was the most provocative and masterfully portrayed character in the drama. As his path converges with that of Zhao Xiaojing, we see the many parallels between the one who seeks vengence and the one who fights to keep dreams alive.
I was surprised by how much I fun I had unraveling the conspiracy. It was very well done and largely kept to the unspoken bargain of hiding enough clues in plain sight that I was able to figure much of it out on my own. The motives of the ultimate mastermind were not convincing. While I had my eye on him as a suspicous character early on, I assumed he was just a link in the chain but not "the guy". It was a stretch that was probably one plot twist too many. One of the other suspects may have been a more credible choice.
Of course it is a foregone conclusion that the emperor was the ultimate villian. While the power dynamics between a manipulative and insecure emperor and his most trusted advisor and his heir has been done before, it was still extremely very well done here. I was completely satisfied when the son takes a leaf out of his father's book in the ultimate act of emotional manipulation. Checkmate. This was the most satisfaction I got from the ending. The bigger question of whether good things happen to good people is left open.
This is definitely the most epic, most idealistic, substantive and thought provoking drama of 2019. Its biggest flaw is that it is overly ambitious and tries to take on too many themes. That it came together so well is a feat in and of itself but as a result, it was not always easy to watch and certainly not something I wanted to dive right into after a hard day at the office. That said, I truly believe it is a must watch and may even be more enjoyable if taken more simplistically just for its stunning aesthetics, intrigue and action.
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With each episode at 30 - 40 minutes a pop, this is easy to binge watch.
Speaking of watching, the subtitling Gods and Godesses thought enough of the Amazon Prime users to give us the whole season complete. Viki is catching up, but again on Prime it is complete.
If you make it to episode 10, then you may as well watch the whole thing because curiosity will kill the cat, and only viewing satisfaction will bring it back.
I do understand that my review does push for viewing, but to really understand what you are getting into...you gotta see for yourself.
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This review may contain spoilersFor fans of the espionage genre, this drama gives a rare glimpse into the MI-5 of ancient China; the imperial secret service, the Peacekeeper Corps of Chang 'An, and its solitary field agent. The COO (…chief operating officer) is Li Bi, the young genius and ally of the Crown Prince of the Tang Dynasty. Li Bi has his pulse on every street, every alley, every house, every waterway of the capital city, via an impressive scale model that was designed by the famous architect, and he has a database manned manually by his underlings. (Roger that!) The lone secret service agent underdog hero is Army Captain Zhang Xiao Jing, a force of one, who bulldozes his way through throngs of soldiers who are armed with sword and crossbow. Everyone else shows up for a day's work, and their compensation is to live or die another day. (Spoiler alert!)
Conspiracy in the court, revenge plots, invasion, loyalty, villains popping out of the woodwork, and a grand scale Lantern Festival (that rivals the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony), are components of the plot. Forty-eight episodes are a very generous representation of twenty-four hours in the Tang dynasty. That translates into an average of two episodes per hour, however, the timekeeper's random declaration of the time contradicts the equation. One might become curious of the timekeeping system employed by the Tang dynasty. There were a few draggy parts and lengthy chatty scenes and generous close-ups, but the clock stopped ticking many times, when flashbacks and flashbacking sequences interrupted the crucial minutes of the Chang 'An day.
The directing, writing, casting, acting, costume design and set design, music and the majority of the editing, score high marks. This is one drama where the Director pulled in all supporting departments to work in unison toward a common goal; achieving high entertainment and high quality in television drama production. The story could easily have been told in twenty-four episodes, at the expense of character and plot development. The planning and execution is apparent in front of, and behind the camera.
The marvel and lynchpin of the drama is the indomitable Zhang Xiao Jing, whose motto is “Never give up the fight.” In fact, he might have fought a few hundred soldiers in the course of twenty-four hours, without breaking a sweat. Emperor, give that man a promotion and the title of God of War.
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What's the rave about?I am into the third episode and about to give up. It is produced in a very old Chinese style - with dim indoor lighting and rugged clothings. Realistic - yes, appealing - no. The audio recording was muffled and difficult to make out so I have to rely on the subtitles. All I see up to now was a lot of people running around, horse galloping, shouting and drum roll in an attempt to create an ambience of urgency and excitement. But the story is not developing fast enough and it is not keeping me interested.
One of the earlier reviewers advised to watch until the tenth episode into the story but I do not think I have the patience. Also a reviewer did not declare there is a spoiler in her reviews which spoil it further for me. I do not understand why it was so highly rated on mydramalist.com. It is not my cup of tea.
Unlike 'The Untamed' which I did not like it much initially, but I got to like it very quickly by the second episode.
I am going to push on for a little while. If I change my opinion about it, I would come back to correct this review.
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