The story focuses on the nine founding families of Old Nine Gates and their valiant heroism against the Japanese during the 1930s. If Indiana Jones were to get a wuxia makeover, then this action adventure certainly makes a likely candidate.
Episode 1 begins with a monologue by Wu Xie (Li Yi Feng) as he turns the pages of his grandfather's journal. In 1903, Japan sent spies to China under the guise of archeological exploration only to flee from an unknown threat.
It is 1933 in Changsha and a train pulls up to a station in the dead of the night, scaring the daylights out of the guard when he sees corpses through the window.
General Zhang Qi Shan (William Chan), Master of Old Nine Gates, and his men in uniform conduct an investigation and he sends for 8th Master (Ying Hao Ming), an expert in the occult.
His lieutenant comments that the cowardly 8th Master would never set foot inside the eerily daunting train so Qi Shan adds, "if he doesn't come, I will shoot him," which the lieutenant chucklingly relays to its unwilling recipient.
After searching for clues in every nook and cranny, the trio deduce that the corpse-laden train must be related to Japanese experiments of some sort and they enter the final cabin to discover a casket unlike the rest.
Zhang Qi Shan calls in the Zhang Family Squad for assistance and the scene cuts to an elaborate attempt at opening the grand coffin only for the hullaballoo to end with a man losing his arm and Qi Shan having to accomplish the deed himself anyway, quite effortlessly in fact.
He finds a ring that 8th Master recognizes to be an artifact from the North South Dynasty, which is a subject matter familiar to 2nd Master Er Yue Hong (Lay Zhang Yixing).
Er Yue Hong is an unassuming Chinese opera singer who is more than he seems. Qi Shan explains his predicament and attempts to show the ring but Er Yue Hong pushes back, leading to a pitting of strength between the two that ends with the ring being thrown from their grasps.
Er Yue Hong declares that he cannot help because he no longer touches anything from beneath the ground though he is left visibly distracted after the earlier events.
However, tomb raiders and the like is not my cup of tea so in spite of its potential, the first episode felt unceremoniously boring especially since most of it was much ado about finding clues and answers.
Nonetheless, the characters are charismatic and William Chan is simply on fire, thankfully redeeming himself from the awkwardness that was Legend of Zu.
One thing though is that as much as I like Lay Zhang Yixing as Er Yue Hong, I can't get over how young he looks, which takes him out of character whenever he tries to act as teacher to Chen Pi who in reality is played by Hu Yunhao, an actor two years older.
I am on episode 8 and there are still a number of quirky personalities to meet and of course Zanilia Zhao Liying's introduction on episode 10. Given my soft spot for ensemble casts, I will definitely tune in till then.
Off topic but is anyone else noticing the ads because they're hilarious, cleverly reinventing scenes from Mystic Nine to endorse all sorts of products, marketing genius!?
For more synopsis, cast and ratings, see 2016 c-dramas.