I have a new guilty pleasure, thanks to my friend Jenny: a kung-fu costume drama comedy soap-opera adventure show called Tian Xia Di Yi (天下第一) — which really means something like “World’s Finest,” but they call it “Hero” in the English program listings.
It is an international production with stars from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China. In the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s on KTSF channel 26 every weeknight at 9. It’s also available on DVD. The version I’m watching is subtitled in both English and Chinese.
Sadly, as far as I can tell there is no English-language website devoted to the show, but here’s the basic premise: During the Ming Dynasty, the emperor’s uncle runs the titular quasi-official spy agency, which employs some of the country’s best young kung-fu warriors as secret agents. The story focuses on four of those agents as they get tangled up in imperial court intrigue involving a conniving power-hungry eunuch, go out on missions, and get sidetracked by demons from their pasts. Sometimes literally.
I love it for a whole host of reasons:
- It has something for everyone! Corny romance for the chicks, cheesy wire-fu swordfighting for the dudes, references to Chinese mythology and poetry for the hyper-literate, slapstick physical comedy for the kids, and lots of supernatural gobbeldygook for the geeks.
- It is a strange adventure in dubbing. Some of the actors are speaking Cantonese on set and some are speaking Mandarin, so depending on which country’s version of the show you’re watching, different actors get dubbed over. It took me a while to figure out why it seemed slightly off: in a single scene, two of the actors’ lips will be in sync with what they’re saying, while a third actor will seem like he flunked the ADR class at acting school.
- The actress playing Princess Yun Luo is a total cutie.
- It’s a big complicated story but it seems to have been plotted out from the beginning. I’ve caught foreshadowing that didn’t pay off until 15 episodes later, the sort of thing I dig in a TV show. But it should still be pretty easy to jump into for anyone who’s willing to spend a few episodes working out who everyone is and how they all relate.
- It makes no apologies about demanding your suspension of disbelief. You either run with it or you don’t. One of the female leads spent most of the beginning of the series wandering around in male clothing and only a handful of people realized she was a woman despite it being rather obvious from her looks. Oh, and the special effects are ultra-cheesy.
- It’s educational! Gotta test my listening and reading comprehension. (Result: I am going to be learning for a long, long time.)
I can occasionally make sense of an entire line of dialogue, but it takes me so long that two more lines have gone by in the meantime. But even when I’m stuck reading the English subtitles for an entire scene, it’s still a very fun, spirited show. Can’t wait to see where the story goes.