As soon as iQiyi, one of the most popular streaming portals, started promoting “The Silent Criminal,” I had a feeling that this show would be slightly bent towards the regular “Romance Wrapped in Bromance” genre. I was suffering from Chinese Bromance withdrawal symptoms after popular dramas “The Sleuth of Ming Dynasty” and “Winter Begonia” finished their run and was on the lookout for new promises. Although as a part of the Psychomilk Team, I get to review Boys’ Love dramas from all over the South East Asian Subcontinent, Chinese Bromance dramas have a certain charm that never fails to excite my senses. For me, this drama was a weird crossover between “The Untamed” and “The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty” series.
—Edited by TheFNGee
This show marks the first time Leo Li (Shi Jing Yao), and Wen Sheng (Long Yao) play the main leads in a mythological drama, and their enviable chemistry is truly amazing. Some might have been disappointed with the storyline because it suddenly veers into unknown territory and doesn’t make sense most of the time. Then why do I watch this show? Firstly, the drama has a stellar cast who manages to hew the loosely written script very well and perfectly deliver their lines. Secondly, the odd friendships that might seem shallow on the surface but run deeper than blood-ties. Lastly, for the solid chemistry between our main leads, who will go to any extent to save each other!
Long Yao, played by Wen Sheng, is an Upper-Rank Jinyiwei Guard. He is uptight, stoic, and always upholds justice. He is also skilled in martial arts and is a remarkable swordsman. He has a secret identity, which he keeps well hidden under his guise of the Royal Guard. Although he hates Shi Jing Yao’s character initially, they grow closer with the passage of time.
Shi Jing Yao
Shi Jing Yao, portrayed by Leo Li, is a County Constable working under the Magistrate. He is street smart yet unreliable . Most of the time, he is portrayed as greedy and dumb, but he has dormant swordsmanship skills, which ultimately help him rediscover his true purpose in life.
The Silent Criminal is a “Wuxia” Bromance based on the famed Jinyiwei Guards whose sole purpose is to punish the evil and safeguard the Government officials. In one such instance, Jinyiwei Guard Long Yao and his partner are called to safeguard General Pei Zhang’s residence from Centurions. The General has been bestowed with the famed “Dayintuya” by the Late Emperor, which the Centurions want to steal. When Long Yao’s partner needles the General about the mystical weapon’s sudden disappearance, he ends up dead. While investigating his death, Long Yao crosses paths with Shi Jing Yao, a young constable working for the County Magistrate. They both embark on a journey to find the famed weapon, which is the key to the disastrous “Bainasa” treasure. It becomes their life’s mission to try and stop the Centurions as well as their dreaded Leader Feng Bao from succeeding in his nefarious plans. All the while, our heroes grow closer and become an integral part of each other’s lives. New friendships are forged and tested, Long Yao’s secret dual-identity is revealed, and major revelations skew the storyline.
The Chemistry Between The Main Leads
The show was hugely marketed as “Bromance,” which in terms of Chinese Censors means “Romance with a Portrayal of Brotherhood.” So, that’s what we get here. This show doesn’t really portray their relationship as “Soulmates” like in “The Untamed” or “Bosom Friends” in “Winter Begonia.” Their relationship is more subtle, with tiny smiles, stoic signature poses, and an utter lack of personal boundaries. What makes their chemistry so special? Long Yao and Shi Jing Yao are both on the opposite sides of morality. Long Yao is an upholder of justice, while Jing Yao is all about making easy money. Their relationship has a tumultuous start, and yet Long Yao can’t help but protect Jing Yao. Their conversations often veer into BDSM territory and are hilarious.
Despite their mutual hatred and disparity, Long Yao and Shi Jing Yao have no respect for personal boundaries. From clinging to Long Yao whenever he is afraid of leaning in too close, Shi Jing Yao is never afraid of the Jinyiwei Guard, who normally reins terror in other people’s minds. For some reason, Long Yao doesn’t scare him. On the other hand, Long Yao singularly offers liberties to Shi Jing Yao and despite their odd relationship, protecting Jing Yao is always first and foremost on his mind. Shi Jing Yao might be street smart, but so is Long Yao. They are perfectly balanced in solving crimes, and their closeness can easily be perceived as more. There is a particular scene where Jin Yao teases Long Yao about his friendship with a female bandit with whom they’re working. Long Yao dismisses the claims and instead points that Jin Yao is his “Perfect Match.”
Yes, we have two female leads who are poised as their potential love interests, and there are hints of romance. But there is no “love confession,” and their relationship rather ends up being an obscure “love quadrangle.” I was glad that the female love interests didn’t make it to the finale episodes. I have nothing against them, and even appreciated Li Huang Wu (Female Bandit Warrior) for her gutsy nature. But I just felt that both of them were dragged unnecessarily in as a plot twist and inserted between our main leads to soften the edges of their “love for each other.” Maybe it was done to make the show more palatable to the Chinese Censor Board; you never know.
Despite their different backgrounds and huge differences of opinion, Long Yao and Shi Jing Yao always gravitate towards each other. So much so that Shi Jing Yao ends up turning into a drunken mess when Long Yao is perceived dead. The guilt drives him crazy, and the moment he meets the resurrected Long Yao is surreal. The scene was rather painful to watch because although Jing Yao is relieved and happy with Long Yao’s return, they are standing as opposed forces due to the sudden twist of fate. Long Yao changes Shi Jing Yao’s character more than ever, while even putting his own life at risk; Jing Yao trusts Long Yao immensely. There is significant character development, and it is basically because Jing Yao can’t help but follow in Long Yao’s footsteps.
My Opinion About This Series
I was oddly intrigued by the premise of “Bromance,” which was marketed as the highlight of this show. I admit that I was quite disappointed with the first episode, but something kept me going. I do not have the patience for shows with a badly written script, but this drama is the exception. The storyline doesn’t serve its purpose per se. There are loopholes and plot holes the size of boulders, and you wonder where the story is going with this angle? So what makes this drama a worthwhile watch?
Long Yao is the main attraction of this show. You can’t help but fall in love with this character. For some reason, his cold demeanor reminds me of Lan Wangli from “The Untamed.” He is like the famed hero from fables who becomes part of the legends. That he wields the legendary “Tempered Sword,” which belongs to the Royal Family, is a major plot twist. Long Yao is an enigma; he holds his ethics and principles close to his heart. He is handsome, and you can’t help but swoon whenever he fights onscreen. His secret dual-identity was a shocking reveal. I was expecting something on the lines of he might be distantly related to the Royal Family. However, the reality was vastly different, and it added to the charm this character already holds.
Shi Jing Yao is largely perceived as a character with flaws. He might seem an overt coward, and his intelligence is questionable at times, but his loyalty draws attention. Nothing is intriguing about Jing Yao; he is a simple Constable who wants to make some quick money. His life and perceptions undergo a drastic change when Long Yao invades his world. For some reason, he draws comfort and strength from Long Yao. Their relationship might seem unbalanced, but it is not. They are each other’s anchors, and Long Yao makes him a better person.
The odd relationships in this show are another plus. It could be the sibling bond that Shi Jing Yao shares with his stepsister Mo Ji, or his tumultuous relationship with his own Father, Shi Zhan. Even Feng Bao, the primary villain in this show, gets a chance to show his humane side and seek redemption. However, at the center of all this is Long Yao. He touches each relationship in a different light and somehow ends up changing the dynamics. When I said that he is enigmatic, it was for this very reason. Long Yao lost his parents at a young age, and he seeks and forges new relationships and life long bonds.
Feng Bao is like the sword hanging over our main lead’s head for most of the series. He was projected as this “almighty villain” who easily controls his army of Centurions. Centurions were once warriors with magical powers who helped safeguard the nation. However, because of rampant misunderstandings, Feng Bao declares war against the Late Emperor and unexpectedly changes his life. Although Feng Bao has a mysterious aura and only makes his presence known in the penultimate episodes, he leaves you with an odd feeling. Feng Bao is the perfect example of how legends can be misleading. He was supposed to be the famed hero but ended being the dreaded and hated villain.
General Pei Zhang is at the center of this entire crisis. This character is deceptive and evil. He spins the entire storyline into a different direction with his skill, and he is hatred for the Dynasty. Everything he says or does is carefully crafted lies and deceits from planning ridiculous schemes to fool the Emperor to seeking redemption. The fact that he rose to the rank of the General from a simple soldier is perceived to be a well-calculated move meant to impress the Late Emperor. He seeks to destroy the very foundation of the Dynasty and has no respect or loyalty towards the current Emperor.
If you are looking for a show with a well-written script, then “The Silent Criminal” will fail to impress you. The crimes are easily solvable, and we do not require a super-intelligent detective to solve them. But the narrative is fast-paced, and the chemistry between the main leads keeps you hooked. The secondary characters do their job well and hold their own. Especially Li Huang Wu, the Bandit Leader, deserves a special mention. For some reason, she reminds me of Dora from “The Sleuth of Ming Dynasty.” The similarities are pretty apparent, and they are both brave as well as talented. I appreciate female lead roles who manage to hold their own and aren’t a “Damsel in Distress” looking for rescue. In that case, the Damsel here is surely Shi Jing Yao. He is ridiculous and spends most of the first half hiding behind Long Yao. But the character development is well-plotted, and he grows to become legendary. Long Yao is the one who holds this narrative together. From being mysteriously deceptive to forging odd friendships, Long Yao does it all. If you are looking for a Chinese Bromance with brilliant cinematography and lighter moments with some good martial arts scenes, then “The Silent Criminal” will certainly keep you sufficiently entertained.
“The Silent Criminal” is streaming on IQIYI and available on Viki starting November 23rd, 2020.