Title: The Imperial Coroner
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Setting: Late Tang Dynasty
Production year: 2021
Current rating: 4.75/5
The Three Judicial Offices in Chang’an, managed by the reserved Lord Anjun Xiao Jinyu, is hiring a new coroner. Chu Chu, the youngest child in a family of coroners, arrives determined to pass the exam with flying colours and become the next Imperial Coroner. A chance encounter with Lord Anjun’s best friend, Jing Yi, gives Chuchu the boost she needs to get into the exam hall.
Despite impressing the judges, Chuchu has two major points against her: her strange background, and the stone token she carries around with her. Lord Anjun decides to personally employ Chuchu until he can verify her background, and find out why she is carrying a token that shouldn’t be in her hands. As Lord Anjun and Chuchu work together to autopsy bodies, they realise that there is a pattern to the killings and that the next victim may be closer to home…
Of the few C-Drama series I’ve watched, this one has again raised the bar. The blossoming romance between Lord Anjun and Chuchu feels natural, and the ups and downs in their relationship don’t feel formulaic. In addition, there hasn’t been one moment (thus far) when I have wanted to reach through the screen and tell Chuchu that the male lead is abusing her, and that she needs to leave. Overall, the acting is superb.
Side note: Jing Yi (the second male lead) is incredibly handsome in this series. His naturally smiling face and head tilts remind me of Xiao Zhan’s Wei Wuxian. HOWEVER I’ve not yet fallen victim to the infamous Second Male Lead Syndrome as Lord Anjun’s character makes him even more wonderful as the ML.
The plot, and sub-plots have cut out a lot of pointless sub-plots that usually leave me wondering why the heck I’m still watching. Instead they choose to focus on the storyline and characters’ development. I have several sneaking suspicions about possible “dramatic reveal” scenes based on previous visual cues they’ve given.
Visually, where do I start? The Imperial Coroner is a historical fiction drama produced by Tencent. The landscape shots have me swooning, the sets are sumptuous, and the use of… I don’t know what you call it exactly… the additional text and images that are layered on as visual aids (eg. a small picture of an almond appearing in a thought bubble when a character thinks about it). I want to call it “visual clip art” but that conjures up images of the Microsoft Office paperclip from the early Noughties.
Anyway! Those CGI things are smoothly inserted into the frames, fit in with the vibe of the series, and add an extra layer of visual interest.
The sets deserve an extra mention. Without giving any spoilers: the Emperor’s throne room made me gasp when I first saw it. When the new War Minister finally sees it, his reaction is pretty similar to mine. I really hope that it feeds into the plot later on- it’s one of those Sneaking Suspicions I mentioned earlier. Frankly it deserves its own storyline.
The music and sound effects are the areas that lets the show down. Other series like MDZS and The Untamed (also produced by Tencent) had theme songs that had me listening to the very end of the credits and singing along. The closing song for The Imperial Coroner leaves me unmoved.
In addition the canned sounds that are meant to indicate whether a character feels embarrassed or amorous feel cartoonish when they appear. I understand that this is a regional preference, and have noticed that they are prevalent in K-Dramas (South Korea is definitely a more influential market than me alone in my living room), but they frustrate me as I read them as undermining the actors’ performances.
The canned sounds are frustrating, but the voice acting is utterly superb. (If you’re reading this and have never watched a C-Drama before: they dub the actors. And it’s very rarely the actor who dubs themselves.) Whoever is doing the voice of Qin Luan deserves double praise for creating a whiny pitch that can change from risible, subservient eunuch to terrifying mastermind-villain-who-will-end-you in a heartbeat.
The sound effects are the one fly in the ointment. Glossing over that, the casting is perfect, the acting is brilliant, and the plot. My gosh, the plot is a joy to watch unfold!
In spite of my current love for TIC, I know how quickly my love for a wonderful series can turn to ash. (I still feel heartily betrayed by the psychological cruelty in the last few episodes of The Heiress [ 女世子 ].)
As such I reserve the right to change my opinion of The Imperial Coroner series as a whole, but so far… I adore it.