There are shows I like a lot. There are shows I re-watch from time to time. Then there are those elusive shows I re-watch… no, I’m almost compelled to re-watch right away, after I’m done with the last episode. That is a very rare unicorn indeed. Of Monks and Masters is one of those. Which is why it’s more or less the only drama I’ve watched since before Christmas. I’ve been totally captivated and nothing else compares.
Of Monks and Masters is as perfect a trifecta of writing, directing and acting as you may hope to find these days. It’s intelligent, thought provoking and feels surreally real, an AU Song Dynasty China set in a wuxia world, populated with interesting, flawed characters – some more than others. These are not a bunch of pretty people overly made up so they look like something right out of a wax museum. There’s enough blood, sweat and tears to make them seem like people who actually exist. The cast is absolutely wonderful! There are no weak links. I don’t know where they found Han Shu but I’m glad they did. He makes Shao Bai’s journey such a compelling watch, bringing the character to life from start to finish, through all the life-altering trials. I’m pretty sure I’m now crushing on SB almost as much as missy LingEr. The plot is intricate and you wait with baited breath what each episode brings along. This story packs a hefty punch, it doesn’t let the viewer off the hook easily and even after the final curtain falls, the effect lingers. I’ve now watched the final episode about 4 times and it still affects me in some profound way. It’s like being hit hard by one of those fabled Wulin Masters. The impact leaves you reeling. Halfway through the latest re-watch I suddenly started to well up, tears falling for no obvious reason. Maybe it was my subconscious mourning… for what, I couldn’t tell. Wŏ bù zhīdào.
As I said in my initial intro post, there are no subs, so it was inevitable that to get a full version of the story I would need some help. Thankfully my wonderful internet chingu Mookie has graciously helped out by answering countless questions and by transcribing parts of the drama for us linguistically lacking in the comments section @ this post. (episodes 1-4, you may want to hop over some MAJOR spoilers for the finale in the first comment-string though and avoid the later discussions for ep 5-8 as well, while you are at it). Well, I did get a little help from Mr. Google and an online dictionary as well, painstakingly translating each of the episode summaries I found. Some of the sentences proved to be too tough to crack and some of the stuff written made no sense what so ever. And sometimes I just guessed, ha. Anyways, the “translations” were helpful during the re-watch, giving me a better idea about some of the things going on.
Of Monks and Masters is one of those dramas best watched without spoilers. If you are interested in checking it out and want to experience the full impact, it works incredibly well even if you don’t understand Chinese. Luckily the director is very, very good and has the ability to tell the story visually in such a way that you catch a lot even without the help of the dialogue. Then you can just hop over to Mookie’s blog to find out what you missed. She has started to re-cap the drama from EP 5. The post I linked in the paragraph above also has a segment of background info (from the point of drama’s name in red, up to the “laughing man” screencap), which a is very usefull, non-spoilery read.