This is part of a series of posts that still overly obsessed yours truly is going to write on the Disguiser, aka my favorite Chinese drama in the past five years.
In Chinese, a common word for country is literally translated as nation-home. It’s only fitting then that the painting by Ming Cheng and Ming Lou is named Home, for it captures the two major themes of The Disguiser – family and country. It’s one of many examples of how the series by scriptwriter Zhang Yong and director Li Xue is a rare Asian drama that actually tries to uses dramatic principles like symbolism and foreshadowing and Chekhov’s gun.
The scene of the painting of Home seemed like just another day of Lou-Cheng cuteness at the time, but it actually set the stage for two major plot points and became a reoccurring symbol.
The painting itself became a major symbol in the series as a “Home” that Ming Lou and Ming Cheng dream of. And who better to begin the painting than Ming Cheng, who grew up in an orphanage, who was loved and then abused by his first adopted mother, who found home again in the Ming family, only to see it torn apart again by war.
Even in its introduction, Home provided foreshadowing. When Ming Lou said that it was better to live in this ideal home without Ming Tai and Ming Jing, little did he know that by the end of the series, the Ming mansion would eventually have no one but himself and Ming Cheng.
The scene of Home’s painting also became the beginning of Ming Cheng’s smuggling business with Liang Zhongchun. And the smuggling business, which seemed like a Ming Cheng side plot, eventually became the catalyst for Ming Tai’s abandonment of the Nationalists.
Ming Tai: My brother painted this. This is his ideal life. It’s not unlike us now, sitting under the sun, chatting, drinking soda … so wonderful that it seems surreal.
Jinyun: If there were no war, this should be reality.
The first time Ming Tai took it to be framed, he met Jinyun and they shared their first kiss. When Ming Tai tried to put up the painting, a call from Ming Cheng forced him to leave to save his sister. I’m definitely over-thinking this, but this can be seen as a caricature of his life. To save his “Home“, he had to leave it. Note how this scene, where Ming Tai and Ming Cheng had to cover for Ming Jing’s security box for the communists, also seemed to be just a random side plot at the time. Yet the scene ended up being necessary when Ming Cheng framed the murder of the bank teller on Ming Tai, leading Ming Tai to be almost captured in the same bank.
When the brothers broke out in argument, it was their “Home” that got shot. When the three made up, the first thing Ming Tai did was try to get “Home” repaired.
Eventually, Ming Tai was to be framed using Home himself (see what I did there?). Ming Cheng used the painting to hide evidence of Ming Tai’s involvement in the murder of Yoko Minamida. And with the explosion of “Home” that came with the explosion of the flour factory, the family, too, became shattered. As Ming Jing said, “If the people are gone, what is left of one’s home?”
This is only one example of how the (Lou-Cheng) plot managed to weave everything together and leave no gun unfired. Others examples include the introduction of Wang Zhongchun’s family, Ming Cheng’s background, which all seemed random at the time but ended up being important in the overall plot. While the Ming Tai plot definitely still has a lot of unnecessary scenes, for the most part, The Disguiser is one of the most thoughtful series I’ve seen and most scenes are woven into the story.
If there was one thing they could’ve done better, they could’ve had a more exciting painting and then merchandised it like crazy. After all, Ming Cheng is a progressive college student who lived in France at the same time as people like Dali and Picasso and Matisse. I would buy a surrealist painting by Ming Cheng and Ming Lou and put it in my home.
GREAT article. ‘A fellow Disguiser Obsessive’ :)
I really want to watch The Disguiser, but I’m severely allergic to anything in the Republican era. I always blame my mom’s traumatic midnight war films, but I reaaally want to watch…. *Rolls back sleeves.* Nobody can stop me! I can do this! Chicken nugget dive!
But, where can I watch The Disguiser lol?
I believe it’s available with English subtitles on Viki. Also available on Sohu and YouTube if you don’t need subs.
What was better more than five years ago? (I guess, why past five years? Was there something better six years back?)
It was more like a choice of five vs. ten? I really like QTXSN in 2007, Semi-Gods and Demi-Demons in 2003, whereas I could definitively say that The Disguiser is my favorite at least since 2010.
The Disguiser had the super weak Ming Tai plot that dragged down the whole show, and had poor characterization in general. I also had a lot of issues with the Ming Tai team’s general disregard for human rights and civilian life. They’re pretty much all war criminals.
QTXSN, while being a red drama and also not super historically accurate, is pretty much perfect. It was cute (Xiang Jingyu!) but extremely thought-provoking, and even minor characters were well-developed.
Excuse my ignorance what does QTXSN stand for? I’m interested in something that you say is better than The Disguiser.
What xingfengzhen said, 恰同学少年. It’s very different from The Disguiser, though. The Disguiser ran on conflict and the chemistry of the characters. QTXSN like a socialist utopia drama with a focus on the role of education.
Do you mind giving me the English version so I can search and watch this show? 恰同学少年 I’m a HUGE fan of Disguiser and have been going through withdrawals. Want something amazingly smart and put together. Thanks in advance.
I personally like the older shows as well, it’s not flashy as disguiser, but somehow the character felt more real such as 潜伏 and 人间正道是沧桑。(this is especially true for 潜伏) But what’s QTXSN.
Just done some searching, are you talking about 恰同学少年?
Did you mean to say Ming Tai’s team was guilty of human rights violations because they gunned down members of the Japanese military and its lackeys?
In the assassination of Wang Fuqu, Ming Tai deliberately chose the attack in a (puppet-government-ran) crowded restaurant/hotel with plenty of civilians. The seven shots for three people clearly indicate a lack of confidence in the aim, and even if they trusted their own aim they shouldn’t trust that of the other guys (aka bad because no one from Ming Tai’s team got even scratched). That scene was also just dumb because unless they killed everyone in that restaurant, there was no way someone wouldn’t recognize Ming Tai.
In the “assassination attempt” of Ming Lou and Ming Cheng, Ming Tai was under the belief that Ming Cheng was only taking orders from Ming Lou. Given that, Ming Tai decided without zero hesitation to kill Ming Cheng even though it wasn’t in the orders. And Ming Cheng was his brother!
My primary issue with the entire camp was the the murder of Yu Manli, hand-coordinated by the “respected” Wang Tianfeng. While Ming Tai and Guo Qiyun consented to give their lives, Yu Manli did not. She was blackmailed into joining, and brought in with the specific plan of being murdered. If the first two existed because the production team just didn’t think about the consequences, I don’t see how this last one could be justified.
I see your point. Wang Tianfeng did say lives had to be sacrificed for the cause. Sad, but true.