Age of Legends is a crime drama about scheming drug lords, the police who try to catch them and, caught in the middle, a man trying to remember the last eight years of his life. Revenge, secret identities, murder plots and really bad karaoke abound in this drama which is careful to balance the love story with the story of a man who aspires to be a Chinese Pablo Escobar.
This is the first modern C-drama in a while that’s really impressed me. Despite some rather melodramatic episodes, overall the first 19 episodes have been pretty fun and exciting for me. And after having watched some dramas this year where actors I’ve loved in other shows have underwhelmed me in more recent series, I was really happy to see William Chan and Sandra Ma’s characters actually engage me and keep me interested.
After his father is murdered by a junkie, Liu Ziguang (William Chan, “Lost Love in Times”), not sure how to cope with losing the only family he has, jumps on a bus to anywhere. He ends up meeting Nie Wanfeng (Liu Yujun, “Legend of Fuyao”) and they end up traveling together to Myanmar, becoming waiters at a bar and sworn brothers. But quickly their differences become apparent.
While Wanfeng aspires to be just like Pablo Escobar, Ziguang, remembering his father’s death at the hands of a junkie, wants nothing to do with the drug business. When Wanfeng ends up impressing a mob boss who recruits the two, under the names “Sang Kun” (Wanfeng) and “Sang Bo” (Ziguang), Wanfeng is enthusiastic, but Ziguang refuses to join the gang and ends up a prisoner of the drug lord, spending years locked away in a cage and being beaten, while training himself in the same martial arts and weapon skills he sees the gang members learning. Eventually Wanfeng helps Ziguang escape and then takes over the gang for himself.
Ziguang ends up working at a bar along with a street kid named Arthur (Ye Liu) who is still mentally a child, but skilled with a whip. The bar owner, Huang Zhenwu, an undercover narcotics officer from Jiangbei, has been tracking the drug lords. To do this, he’s had to give up a life with his daughter. Hu Rong (Sandra Ma, “Oh My General”), who thinks her father is the chief of police who raised her, and has, herself, joined the police force. When Zhenwu finds out that Ziguang knows Wanfeng, he recruits him to act as his informant. Ziguang is at first reluctant, but then hopes he can save his friend. Later, though, he realises that his friend, who admits to murdering his own wife, has no qualms about being a bad guy. When Wanfeng starts becoming suspicious of Ziguang and then discovers Zhenwu’s true identity, he sends Ziguang to kill the cop and prove which side he’s on.
Later, Ziguang returns to his hometown of Jiangbei eight years after he left when he is found unconscious on a beach. Diagnosed with a concussion and amnesia, he tries to figure out what happened to him. His first day back home, he ends up helping save a little boy who was kidnapped. But Hu Rong, an enthusiastic rookie cop, is certain he’s involved and has him arrested. Even when he’s cleared of the kidnapping, she still finds him suspicious and starts following him around, certain that the tattoo, scars and bullet wound on his body means he was involved in something bad.
In the meantime Ziguang is reunited with his father’s friend, Master Guo (Li Jianyi, “In the Name of the People”) as well as his childhood friends, Bei Xiaoshuai (Ye Zuxin, “Forever Love”) and Zhuo Li (Wang Fa). Arthur also turns up in Jiangbei and is the only clue Ziguang has about his life before. Of course, he is also reunited with Wanfeng, whom he doesn’t recognize, when it turns out the boy he saved was Wanfeng’s son. Wanfeng also wonders if Ziguang’s amnesia is real or not and keeps an eye on him as he tries to figure out if having his old friend return from the dead is a good thing or not.
Ziguang also ends up getting on the wrong side of one of the local gang bosses, Zhang Zong (Hun Junzhuang, The Bodyguard), a karaoke-obsessed gangster who plotted the kidnapping of Wanfeng’s kid. As Ziguang continues to be a thorn in his side, the boss tries to find ways to get back at, and then get rid of, Ziguang. Some of his attempts end up being thwarted by Wanfeng, who is well aware of what the man has been up to and wants to take advantage of their conflict to help himself.
Of course, as always happens in these shows, the two people who don’t get along at first end up falling in love. But as Hu Rong starts to fall for the mysterious Ziguang after watching his frequent acts of heroism and good deeds, her (adopted) father, Hu Yuejin (Wu Gang, “Perfect Wedding”), and her captain, Han Jin (He Minghan, “Double Sweet Life”), start investigating Zhen Wu’s disappearance. Their only clue is an unknown man named “Sang Bo” who worked as part of the drug gang he was tracking. Ziguang is also slowly starting to remember things from the last eight years.
Of course it’s not a really C-drama if you don’t have a couple love triangles going. A pampered princess, Li Wei (Chen Yao, “Wu Xin: The Monster Killer 1&2”), who is both Ziguang’s boss and not-so-secret admirer, tries everything she can to help him and try to win his affections. In the meantime, Han Jin, with help from Hu Rong’s parents, hopes to win over the rookie cop, even though he can tell her eye is on someone else.
Despite having a lot of story threads going on, the writers have managed to keep them all going smoothly so far, with everything ultimately focused on the main story: Ziguang rediscovering the missing part of his life, and how his and Wanfeng’s relationship will affect everyone around them. And while we, as the audience, know most of the answers to the questions the characters have, there is still the mystery of who really did kill Zhenwu. (Or is he even really dead?)
Production value on this show is pretty good and most of the actors were recorded live on set rather than dubbed, though some of the ADR can be a bit obvious. (But not nearly as bad as “Guardian”.) The soundtrack is also really good, including William Chan’s own song for his character, “Guang”, which plays over the closing credits.
The actors, for the most part, do really well, though whenever there’s a more emotional storyline, the production can get a bit heavy with the melodramatics (i.e. almost all of eps. 19). But that may just be my own personal taste.
Of course my favourite actor, besides the leads, is Liu Yujun. He was my favourite villain in “Legend of Fuyao”, playing the scheming royal advisor, Qi Zhen, and in this series, he makes for a formidable bad guy. Though right now he has spent much of his time observing and quietly watching how things go, there is this steady undercurrent of tension as we wait for Ziguang to finally remember his old friend and for him to stop sitting on the sidelines. Not to mention there is a bank account with a million dollars that needs Ziguang’s password and Wanfeng’s thumbprint to access that I’m sure is going to come into play at some point as well.
But the story is ultimately held together by the leads. William Chan can shift from cold and menacing to friendly and goofy and both are believable. I also have been a fan of Sandra Ma’s since “Oh My General” and like her combination of tough and vulnerable. While they aren’t my favourite C-drama couple, after watching “Martial Universe” it’s been nice to see a relationship that is much more well-developed. It’s also nice that the only character doing the petulant child routine is the second female lead, which is how it should be. Plus I like that the two women, though eventually acknowledging their shared affection for Ziguang, are able to avoid resorting to the usual cattiness we’d normally see on these shows.
I enjoy modern C-dramas that aren’t solely focused on the romantic story line and can offer a lot of suspense and action. This series balances those elements well and have kept me intrigued. I’m looking forward to see Wanfeng and Ziguang face off as adversaries and see how their former friendship will add to the suspense.
You can see the raw episodes on Croton Media’s YouTube Channel with two episodes being released almost every day. And the series is being subtitled on Dramafever with two episodes being released every Thursday, Friday and Saturday (they are up to episode 8 right now).