This Chinese drama was definitely not on anyone’s radar. I happened to see it pop up while on the Viki website and after reading the synopsis, I had to watch it. The period in which the drama takes place is one of the times which not a lot of information has been told to us here in the U.S. Yes, before you say it, it probably has been sanitized and cleared through proper channels; but life for the Chinese people during the 30-50s is really an unknown period which is why it is so fascinating to watch for me.
It didn’t help that I read somewhere that this drama rivaled The Disguiser (2015) which I am sure anyone reading this has already seen; if not, you must. So, with that one little sentence, I was compelled to watch the drama immediately. Decoded is based on a book written by Mai Jia (Jiang Benhu). Jiang has written several novels with military intelligence themes that have sold millions of copies. Decoded is also the first novel of his to appear translated in English. After whizzing through 42 episodes in a very short time, here’s hoping that other novels of his are soon translated both to English as well as the “silver screen”!
Genre: Espionage, period
Network: Hunan TV
Episode Length: 45 min.
In his gripping debut novel, Mai Jia reveals the mysterious world of Unit 701, a top-secret Chinese intelligence agency whose sole purpose is counterespionage and code breaking. Rong Jin Zhen (Cheney Chen), an autistic math genius with a past shrouded in myth, is forced to abandon his academic pursuits when he is recruited into Unit 701. As China’s greatest cryptographer, Rong discovers that the mastermind behind the maddeningly difficult Purple Code is his former teacher and best friend, who is now working for China’s enemy―but this is only the first of many betrayals. Brilliantly combining the mystery and tension of a spy thriller with the psychological nuance of an intimate character study and the magical qualities of a Chinese fable, Decoded discovers in cryptography the key to the human heart. Both a riveting mystery and a metaphysical examination of the mind of an inspired genius, it is the first novel to be published in English by one of China’s greatest and most popular contemporary writers. ~credit Soompi
Chen Xue Dong as Rong Jin Zhen
Ying Er as Zhai Li
Jing Chao as Zhao Qi Rong
Zhang Zhe Han as Han Bing
Guo Jing Fei as Zheng Dang
Yin Xiao Tian as An Neng
Ady An as Shen Yu Er
Bai Qing Lin as Lei Ting
Yu Heng as Meng Xiao Yun
Yang Yi as Yan Shi
Wang Yan Yang as Pan Sen
Wang Tong Hui as Liu Yi Ping
Liu Tao as Gao Tie
Yuan Wan as Wang Dao Zao
Yu Bo as Lu Run
Gao Ming as Principle
Li Nan as Chen Jian Nian
Sun Xiao Xiao as Ying Yan
Little did I know that I would start this drama one day and the next day reached the point that the English subbers were on! Yes, I literally marathon watched 20 episodes in 2 days! I was totally taken back with the story which was somewhat unique in that the lead male wasn’t some strong, overly confident male but a simple guy who happened to be brilliantly smart but at the same time had a child like persona as some people would call an individual with autistism! I thought the premise of a large intelligent organization, 701 that would consciously use a math savant was a unique proposition and I could not wait to see how that turned out.
The first thing that comes to your mind is “How will they even get him through basic combat training?” This question is answered pretty fast with some really comical scenes as Rong Jin Zhen is taken through the physical ringer, if you will and is expected to perform just like everyone else. Maybe that was a blessing but at the same time, it truly was a curse that had you guiltily laugh when he fails the physical training run because he got tired and took a nap; failed the weapons firing because guns scared him or even when he failed the martial arts training because it simply hurt! As you can expect, this period of the drama was really funny but you couldn’t help feel sorry for Rong Jin Zhen as the commander as well as his fellow comrades expected way too much from him.
But it is Trainer An Neng that takes Rong Jin Zhen in hand and guides him through the training. He literally pushes Jin Zhen to the edge but also encourages him not to quit but to strive on. It is this man’s friendship and guidance that helps Jin Zhen to complete the program, even though he isn’t promoted to the main campus (North) where everyone goes to actively work on cases. An Neng was definitely one of my favorite characters.
Actor Yin Xiao Tian who I’d never seen before did a stellar job as the rough and tough trainer who had a soft side at times but remained a strict disciplinarian when necessary. Him and Zhai Li had a love for each other that he kept hidden because of his involvement in the 701 organization.
Zhao Qi Rong was a character! His friendship with Rong Jin Zhen was two fold: He genuinely liked Jin Zhen and he was a ways to a means! Zhao Qi Rong didn’t think twice about using his friendship with Rong Jin Zhen to get into the 701 Organization; you couldn’t fault him for that. He was comical at times because of the way he would tell (or instruct) Rong Jin Zhen to do things. Like bribing instructors to pass some of the test; talking to the females to convince them to wash his numerous amount of red underwear. Red you say? Well, his mom said it won’t show when he pees his pants! Not kidding! And there were an abundance of them! One for each day! Initially, Zhao Qi Rong and An Neng were Rong Jin Zhen’s true friends. Even in his selfishness, Zhao Qi Rong cared deeply for Rong Jin Zhen; it just took him a little longer to disperse his selfishness but he remained a true friend to the end.
I admit for quite a long time, I didn’t care too much for Zhao Li. Her attitude and treatment of Rong Jin Zhen was mean and sometimes down right nasty. She didn’t understand and was actually jealous of Rong Jin Zhen and An Neng’s friendship. She resented him being in the program and wouldn’t recognize his intelligence; she only focused on what she perceived to be bad. It took the capture of her and Rong Jin Zhen during one of their missions together where they played a married couple that her attitude as well as feelings changed drastically. Let’s just say that the change was so drastic that she attempted suicide because she thought he was dead after they were captured and Rong Jin Zhen had disappeared.
I really didn’t care for the romance that was thrown in later between these two. You have to watch the drama to understand why I felt that way; however, I assume that if this was in the original story then the writer, Mai Jia thought it was necessary. For me, of all of the main actors, I would put Ying Er at the weakest. That’s not saying that her acting was bad; but it is definitely letting you know just how strong all of the characters were in the drama!
Han Bing was such a tortured man! He witnessed the brutal murder of his mother, he resented his father because of her death and never forgave the man. By the time there was forgiveness in his heart, his father had already been killed reportedly by the same man who he witnessed burying his mother alive. His determination to train hard and work hard in 701 Organization so that one day he may find the man that killed his parents was admirable; however, his skills in everything physical from weapons, hand to hand as well as martial arts made his character thrilling to watch. Again, another actor, Zhang Zhe Han, I had never seen before but it is because of this performance, I’m willing to give Demon Girl drama a try; he’s the lead!
The rest of the cast did a stellar job in supporting this drama. Just take your pick of characters and there are memorable moments for every single one of them. I liked how some of the characters provided us with some comic relief to lighten the story at times but also provide enough substance to the drama that you really feel that their absence would be felt.
I like that the women featured were strong comrades in the organization and not just window dressing! They shoot, they run just as hard as their male counterpart. This is one of the aspects of Chinese dramas that I’ve always liked. That you can have female leads that are just as mentally and physically strong as the males and not necessarily need “rescuing” all the time.
Of course, this drama wouldn’t have been as effective if not for the lead, Cheney Chen. His acting as Rong Jin Zhen was off the charts! There was no way that throughout this drama that you were not convinced that he was not only an autistic man but also a sheer genius when it came to mathematics, to caring about his friends and being in love. When he laughed, you chuckled; when people were laughing at him, you felt guilty but when he cried, I was a blubbering mess! His ability to run the gamut of emotions through his character was amazing to watch.
Cheney Chen never let his acting guard down from scene to scene. He remained in character to the end. Even has Rong Jin Zhen transformed into the super sleuth decoder Commander towards the end, there were still the remnants of the old Rong Jin Zhen and the look in his eyes that reminded you where he came from. The character Jin Zhen was a very loving person. His love for his family that adopted him after the death of his mother was astounding!
Even with his limitations, they treated him just as equally, if not more than their own daughter. The people around him loved and cared for him; even to sacrifice their lives in the end. It was the character of Jin Zhen that carried the story to the end and continued to remind you what a great drama this was. Some might think that Commander Zheng Dan used Rong Jin Zhen but I look at it as the man gave him an opportunity to use his God-given talent for what was the good for the country. This chance made Rong Jin Zhen one of the most valuable assets to the 701 Organization; so valuable that people were willing (and did) give up their lives in protecting him. I have to say that again. This was how important he was. But the one thing you must remember about Rong Jin Zhen, that he was also willing to return the same loyalty.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the character that held the most effect over Rong Jin Zhen and probably the audience: Shen Yu Er. Ady An’s portrayal of her which the character was only in 4-5 episodes was just plain wonderful! As the female Chieftain for a mountain tribe, it is Shen Yu Er that saves and nurses Rong Jin Zhen back to health after he escapes captivity. It is also Shen Yu Er that teaches and shows him what love between a man and woman is. It was with sadness that I am sure ALL viewers had when her character was no longer in the drama. Her silent disappearance from his life left a big whole in Rong Jin Zhen’s heart as well as ours. Ady An really did a great job! She could have stayed to the end and been Jin Zhen’s one true love (actually she was) and we the viewers would have been very happy indeed!!
Overall, this drama kept me entertained and waiting daily for each episode to be subbed. I enjoyed the story, the story telling and looked forward to more from this great Chinese writer. I also will be looking forward to more dramas from some of the cast here. A lot I had never seen but quite of few earned my respect as a result of their roles and acting. Good job! Decent Drama!
Rating:8.5/10, simply because my girl Ady An left (*tears*)
I literally started watching for Ady! I have to go back and finish it but Im literally there just for Ady😀 but Ive heard amazing things on weibo about it and ADY IS LIFE💓💓💓
Ady was wonderful!! Sadly she doesn’t show up until ep 26-27 but the impact she made makes me even more excited to watch Epiphyllum Dream!
Im watching that now and I LOVE IT!!!
Fabulous review! But. Must. Resist. Starting. 😉
You barely have time for K-Dramas! But this one was very good!
eonni, well written review XD All thanks to you I got hooked on this drama but sadly, the last three eps have been forgotten? Subs not completed and I am still waiting to watch the ending 😦
Yes, it’s like they totally forgot about it!😩
Thank you for the article! Now I want to watch this even more. Zhang Zhe Han was young Lin Shu in Nirvana in fire.
I knew he was in it but for the life of me I cannot remember him! When they get into those period costumes, sometimes they are recognizable to old me!