The Imperial Coroner
The dark horse that captivated me
Have you ever gone to your favourite store looking to buy something you want, only to discover a better quality version of it at another store you usually ignore? Well, that is exactly how I felt after watching The Imperial Coroner. I have never been a huge fan of crime mystery dramas eg. CSI, NCIS, Elementary etc, let alone something set in Ancient China! But after watching this, I was like, how could I have missed this masterpiece?!?
In a Nutshell
This 2021 drama is set in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), where our main female character Chu Chu travels to Chang’An to take the Coroner entrance exam in order to work for the Capital’s legal department. The man in-charge of the Judicial Office is Prince Xiao Jin Yu (official title: Commandery Prince An), who takes a special interest in Chu Chu’s natural talent for fact-finding and novel methods of performing autopsies. He hires her as his Coroner to help solve a string of murders involving several high ranking officials. In the process of unravelling those mysteries, they uncover historical State secrets which cause both of them to question their own positions in the Empire.
The Imperial Coroner is one of those rare gems with a coherent plot and merticulous screenplay that scrutinises every detail in the script, editing, production, costume, and animation with a fine-toothed comb to make sure all 36 epsiodes follow a logical sequence of events. The result is a drama that doesn’t contain random filler episodes of long drawn out scenes that add no value to the overall plot. Character motivations remain consistent from start to finish and there is a good balance of comedy, action, suspense, slow burn romance and drama.
Despite this drama being promoted as a whodunit murder mystery, the heart of what drives its narrative is the timeless theme of identity and family relationships. The story connects with our innate desire as human beings to know where we come from, who we consider as family, and what our purpose in life is.
The drama is also a good example of an ensemble cast that work well together, with everyone playing their role to perfection. You can almost believe that these characters would exist in real life. Su Xiao Tong perfectly encapsulates the bright eyed and bushy-tailed curiosity of Chu Chu, yet at the same time is able to convey her natural knack for critical thinking and problem solving. Wang Zi Qi gives us a refreshing take on a male lead that doesn’t fall into the boring C-drama trope of an ice cold brooding dude who never cracks a smile, but is secretly in-love with the female lead. On the contrary, his character Xiao Jin Yu is not just highly intelligent and respectful of others, but is witty and actually has a sense of humour.
If there was one thing that bugged me throughout the whole drama, it was the caricature portrayal of the Eunuch and his goons. Perhaps it was intended to be a comedic portrayal, but whatever it was, the performance of the roles just didn’t gel with me.
The OST/music was also pretty mediocre and largely forgettable.
The Imperial Coroner was certainly the dark horse of 2021. With little promotional marketing and no big names attached to the production, the show definitely deserved its unexpected popularity and global success amongst viewers.
1. How many episodes? 36 episodes; each about 45 minutes long.
2. Where can I watch? All 36 episodes with English subtitles available on Youtube. See link below.
3. Will I become addicted and end up binge-watching this drama? Yup!
4. Will the theme songs and music from the soundtrack be stuck in my head? Nah, you will be fine!