Popular Chinese streaming portal IQIYI has certainly upped its game plan for producing and marketing outrageous and daring Chinese BL content. After the recent success of their sports-based drama “Hikaru Na Go,” IQIYI has set the screen ablaze with their latest offering, “Ultimate Note.” Following the adventures of “The Iron Triangle,” the latest installment of the hugely popular “The Lost Tomb Series,” has our main lead Wu Xie starting on a new expedition with his love interest Zhang Qi Ling and best friend Fatty. As they resume their journey to rediscovering some shocking clues left behind by their past generation, it leads them to a long-forgotten secret. Also, joining them on this dangerous yet riveting adventure is the second main lead couple Yu Zhen and Mr. Black, who could very well be the definition of a “Power Couple.”
—Edited by TheFNGee
Ardent fans of this show will recognize that “The Lost Tomb Series” is an adaption of Kennedy Xu’s novel series “Grave Robbers’ Chronicles.” If you are a fan of Angelina Jolie’s “Tomb Raider,” then this show should definitely be high on your list. The journey begins with the first drama in this series, “The Lost Tomb” (2015), where main lead Wu Xie discovers a secret within his grandfather’s notes. Together, with his third Uncle Wu Sansheng and a few other experienced tomb robbers, he goes in search of the treasure. Throughout the years, the series has added several installments that are in tandem with the novels, the only notable difference being the cast. Each show has a different set of actors playing the main leads, and comparisons are inevitable. However, that doesn’t lessen the suspense or thriller elements that seem to be the primary reason for this adventure series’ popularity.
Joseph Zeng plays the main lead Wu Xie, who’s the sole survivor of the Wu Family’s current generation and has had a sheltered upbringing. Xiao Yu Liang plays the mysterious Zhang Qi Ling, Wu Xie’s apparent love interest. He is in search of his past life and accompanies Wu Xie on most of his expeditions.
Liu Yu Ning plays the riveting Mr. Black (Hei Yan Jing). He is presumed to be blind but has strong senses. Playing his love interest is the Xie family heir, Xie Yu Chen, portrayed by the beautiful Liu Yu Han.
Fan Ming portrays the role of Wu San Xing. He has many of his own secrets and does his best to make sure that Wu Xie doesn’t join in the current expedition. San Xing’s real identity is revealed in the latter half of the show. Cheng Fang Xu plays the role of Fatty. Along with Wu Xie and Zhang Qi Ling, he forms the fan-favorite “Iron Triangle.”
As Wu Xie receives some mysterious videotapes with clues, he sets off on a journey to the Golmud Sanatorium despite his Uncle Wu San Xing’s persistence. There he is met with a mysterious creature who is supposedly his family’s old friend Huo Ling. She has lost her sense of humanity and turned into a monster. As Zhang makes a sudden appearance and saves him, they set off an expedition to Tamutao, searching for “Heavenly Queen Mother’s Palace.” On the other hand, Xie Yu Zhen is gathering clues for the same and meets Mr. Black. Both of them form an unlikely alliance as they join on the expedition to search for the Palace. On the way, they are met with severe mishaps as they keep running into different levels of danger. From fighting “Corpse Bugs” to the poisonous “Tiger Keelback Snakes,” our team is met with different levels of casualties. The team gets split up often; however, in the end, they manage to assemble at the entrance of the real Queen Mother’s Palace. Inside the Palace, they learn the secret behind Queen Mother’s lifelong pursuit, and in the ongoing attempts, Zhang once again loses his memory. He is hospitalized for a month when they return to civilization; the second half of the storyline begins where the Iron Triangle explores Zhang’s old Manor to figure out the truth behind his apparent memory Loss and real identity.
Relationships in This Series
Wu Xie and Zhang Qi Ling
Since Wu Xie and Zhang’s closeness is the main focal point of this series, Ultimate Note doesn’t even pretend, trying to pass off their relationship as “Bromance.” Popularly known as “Pingxie” on the social circuits, they are surely the most famous onscreen Chinese BL couple ever. Wu Xie’s sudden declarations of love will leave you appropriately stunned and surprised. While Zhang seems lost and talks less, Wu Xie never fails to express his feelings openly. It could very well be the scene where Zhang is morbid about the fact that no one will notice his absence if one day he suddenly disappears. Wu Xie flares up and accepts that “If you are gone, I will notice.” Throughout the series, Zhang’s main focus remains on protecting Wu Xie. With or without his true memories, Zhang never fails to ensure Wu Xie’s safety.
There might be times when they get separated due to various circumstances, and yet Zhang would always make it back in time to shield Wu Xie from the dangers surrounding him at each twist and turn. Their chemistry is quite poignant because Zhang’s default setting is always on “mute,” and Wu Xie never stops talking whenever he is nervous or scared – totally opposite personalities and yet held together by their love for each other.
My personal favorite is the scene where Zhang enters the Jade Meteorite to check on Chen Wen Jing. Despite Yu Zhen’s advice to leave the Palace, Wu Xie decides to stay back and wait for Zhang. How he solemnly declares that he will stay put until Zhang returns will put other Chinese romance dramas to shame. He patiently waits for Zhang’s return, and despite their declining food supply, his persistence doesn’t wane. When Zhang returns, the sheer joy and relief on Wu Xie’s face cannot be expressed in words. When Zhang suffers from amnesia again, Wu Xie spends his time nursing him back to health. #PingXie has undeniable chemistry between them that makes this onscreen couple very popular on social media. Joseph Zeng and Xiao Yu Liang certainly live up to expectations. Watching them together is sheer joy.
Mr. Black (Hei Yan Jing) and Xie Yu Chen
I’m completely biased and have no qualms about it. Popularly known as “#HeiHua” on social media, this couple is giving “PingXie” a run for their money. Playing on the romance between a rich heir (Yu Chen) and a formidable con artist with a mysterious past (Mr. Black), this couple’s chemistry is off the charts. This romance follows a unique curve because Yu Chen doesn’t trust Black’s conman ways or untrustworthy attitude. So how do they manage to fall for each other? Tied together on a dangerous expedition, they are left with no choice but to act together when caught in inappropriate situations. Yu Chen slowly begins to trust Black’s intuition and learns to respect him.
On the other hand, Black is primarily portrayed as a money-minded character, but Yu Chen manages to break through his defenses. He is insanely protective of our resident Flower Boy (Yu Chen is described as beautiful because he is an opera singer). Yu Chen might look pretty, but he is trained in martial arts as well and doesn’t need any kind of protection (unlike our clumsy main lead Wu Xie). This situation is the first time in the history of Chinese Bromance, where we have a second main lead couple with a popularity that is far beyond the main leads.
You’ll slowly fall in love with these two, and although it isn’t an easy journey, you can’t help but adore their odd dynamics. Black might be frisky with others and never gives things freely, but Yu Chen is the only exception to the rule. On the other hand, Yu Chen is totally besotted with Black by the end of their first expedition. I remember that one scene where they both got caught in a swamp. Black is worried about Yu Chen’s safety and asks him to leave. But obviously, Flower Boy won’t leave his man alone, and despite the danger involved, Yu Chen pulls him out safely. Black is perceived to be blind (or maybe his eyesight is declining). No one has ever seen his eyes, yet when Yu Chen is stubborn, Black reveals his eyes to Yu Chen (to warn him about the impending dangers). It’s hugely personal, and Black wouldn’t do it otherwise if Yu Chen’s life weren’t in danger.
I just love how Yu Chen’s arrogant demeanor changes whenever Black talks to him in softer tones or how he gazes at Black lovingly. All good things come to an end, though. As they return home, Yu Chen wants to hire Black, who resolutely refuses the offer. Black is a pretty mysterious character, and at times he seems otherworldly. He knows things that even the most adept and experienced explorers wouldn’t. There are times when Black lets it slips by mistake, but he is also always on guard. These two will get back together in the second half for the next expedition, and I’m waiting for the resulting fireworks. Hei Hua’s romance is loud, flirtatious, and totally audacious!
The Iron Triangle
Wu Xie and Zhang’s adventures would be incomplete if Fatty weren’t around. Their friendship is encompassing and leaves you with major feels. Although PingXie’s love for each other is incomparable, Fatty plays an important role in keeping them both alive. He is the silent support that keeps Wu Xie sane in the worst kind of situations. Running for their lives, in the middle of the most dangerous pursuits, Fatty always remains level headed and makes sure that Wu Xie is safe and sound. That care extends to Zhang as well, because everyone in the Lost Tomb Universe knows that PingXie is a whole package. Fatty loves both of them, and that’s what makes this friendship unique. From standing guard over Wu Xie as he waits patiently for Zhang’s return to nursing Zhang in Wu Xie’s absence, Fatty does it all without any complaints. Wu Xie might be entirely clumsy, weak, and needing constant protection, yet he has the best relationships in this drama. I’m jealous and oddly surprised by their enviable friendship.
Wu San Xing and Wu Xie
On the other hand, Wu Xie’s dynamics with his third Uncle Wu San Xing is extraordinary. Both have a bittersweet relationship. Although Wu San Xing does everything to prevent Wu Xie from following on their expedition, San Xing’s persistence is a major issue of dispute between them. In the latter half, Wu San Xing’s real identity is revealed to be Xie Lian Huan. He is actually the Xie Family scion (an heir-apparent to a wealthy family) and Yu Chen’s Uncle. But he switched his identity with Wu Xie’s Uncle 20 years ago and has been watching over both the kids while the real Wu San Xing’s whereabouts remain unknown. Although Wu Xie feels betrayed by this sudden revelation, it doesn’t change his affection for his Uncle. They have a beautiful relationship because Lian Huan cares more about Wu Xie than his own nephew Yu Chen. Like I have already mentioned, Wu Xie has a whole cadre of people willing to risk their lives to safeguard him.
My Thoughts About This Drama
The only words that come to my mind when I think about Ultimate Note are dangerous and scary. I will admit that I only started watching this show after reading the online tweets about the two main couples. Of course, at times, the dangerous elements overshadow the mystery, and you feel bored. Like in the scenes where the “Tiger Keelbacks” keep making continuous appearances to wreak havoc on our main leads, and you are left with a major foreboding feeling. This show is a mystery thriller, and I’m unsure of the original novel’s content, but repeated depictions of the snakes might put you off.
That doesn’t deter the suspense in the first half, where the team tries to piece together the clues left behind to figure out the exact location of the “Heavenly Queen Mother’s Palace.” You are left stunned with the kind of booby traps set by this 3000-year-old civilization because they appear far too advanced. We are taken on a journey where we get to see different timestamps. Starting from the shipwreck, which turns out to be a burial site, to figuring out the mystery behind the bluebird man statues that use sound resonance to kill intruders, this show takes you for a ride into the unknown.
The Iron Triangle, coupled with Ah Ning, Pan Zi, walk a different path than Yu Chen and Mr. Black. Our main leads travel different pathways, which lastly converge at the same place, “The Real Queen Mother’s Palace.” The show focuses primarily on her insistence to do research on Shibie Pills and attain immortality. The CGI effects might not be outstanding but are satisfactory enough. Instead of just focusing on the romance between the main leads, the show beautifully outlines the mystery behind Queen Mother’s dreadful secrets and ties it into a neat package.
I was left a little disappointed at the result of this long journey because immortality is a huge price to pay when you are left all alone in a jade meteorite after your entire civilization has been lost for centuries, and you are the only sole survivor. I actually felt sorry for the Queen Mother because although she attained her immortality goal, the Queen is left resolute, alone, and most probably suffering from side effects. The first half of the storyline stresses the fact that going against Nature can have disastrous results.
Other shocking elements in the drama are the strong female protagonists. It could be Ah Ning, who doesn’t bat an eyelash while fighting the sneaky creatures on the island to safeguarding Wu Xie at critical times. I barely notice the female characters in BL drama, but Hankiz Omar played Ah Ning with such a strong conviction that I was left brokenhearted by the character’s sudden death. I absolutely could not resign myself to the fact that a strong character like this faced such a disappointing end.
Chen Wen Jin, portrayed by Tao Luo Yi, requires a special mention as well. This entire storyline is tied to her existence. Although she disguises her true self, and there are times when Wu Xie mistakes her for the enemy, she silently lends them her support and leaves behind major clues to lead the way for our Iron Triangle. Zhang was in cahoots with her, and that speaks volumes about her character’s strength because Zhang never trusts people easily. Chen Wen Jin got unknowingly infected by the Longevity Pills on her last expedition, and finding Queen Mother’s secret is the only way of salvation for her. She plays an important role in the first expedition, and I’m guessing her story is somehow tied to Zhang’s memories.
If you are suffering from withdrawal symptoms after watching “Hikaru No Go” and want to binge-watch another Chinese Bromance with strong BL undercurrents, then “Ultimate Note” should be top on your watch list. Certain scenes are cringe-worthy and repetitive, but the show has a talented star cast and a gripping story arc that keeps you on edge. Not to forget the handsome main leads, because I spent an inordinate amount of time swooning over Xiao Yu Liang and Liu Yu Han!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. [See our Review Guide]