This is part of a series of posts that still overly obsessed yours truly is going to write on the Disguiser, aka my favorite Chinese drama in the past five years.
In Chinese, a common word for country is literally translated as nation-home. It’s only fitting then that the painting by Ming Cheng and Ming Lou is named Home, for it captures the two major themes of The Disguiser – family and country. It’s one of many examples of how the series by scriptwriter Zhang Yong and director Li Xue is a rare Asian drama that actually tries to uses dramatic principles like symbolism and foreshadowing and Chekhov’s gun.
The scene of the painting of Home seemed like just another day of Lou-Cheng cuteness at the time, but it actually set the stage for two major plot points and became a reoccurring symbol.
The painting itself became a major symbol in the series as a “Home” that Ming Lou and Ming Cheng dream of. And who better to begin the painting than Ming Cheng, who grew up in an orphanage, who was loved and then abused by his first adopted mother, who found home again in the Ming family, only to see it torn apart again by war.
Even in its introduction, Home provided foreshadowing. When Ming Lou said that it was better to live in this ideal home without Ming Tai and Ming Jing, little did he know that by the end of the series, the Ming mansion would eventually have no one but himself and Ming Cheng.
The scene of Home’s painting also became the beginning of Ming Cheng’s smuggling business with Liang Zhongchun. And the smuggling business, which seemed like a Ming Cheng side plot, eventually became the catalyst for Ming Tai’s abandonment of the Nationalists.
Ming Tai: My brother painted this. This is his ideal life. It’s not unlike us now, sitting under the sun, chatting, drinking soda … so wonderful that it seems surreal.
Jinyun: If there were no war, this should be reality.
The first time Ming Tai took it to be framed, he met Jinyun and they shared their first kiss. When Ming Tai tried to put up the painting, a call from Ming Cheng forced him to leave to save his sister. I’m definitely over-thinking this, but this can be seen as a caricature of his life. To save his “Home“, he had to leave it. Note how this scene, where Ming Tai and Ming Cheng had to cover for Ming Jing’s security box for the communists, also seemed to be just a random side plot at the time. Yet the scene ended up being necessary when Ming Cheng framed the murder of the bank teller on Ming Tai, leading Ming Tai to be almost captured in the same bank.
When the brothers broke out in argument, it was their “Home” that got shot. When the three made up, the first thing Ming Tai did was try to get “Home” repaired.
Eventually, Ming Tai was to be framed using Home himself (see what I did there?). Ming Cheng used the painting to hide evidence of Ming Tai’s involvement in the murder of Yoko Minamida. And with the explosion of “Home” that came with the explosion of the flour factory, the family, too, became shattered. As Ming Jing said, “If the people are gone, what is left of one’s home?”
This is only one example of how the (Lou-Cheng) plot managed to weave everything together and leave no gun unfired. Others examples include the introduction of Wang Zhongchun’s family, Ming Cheng’s background, which all seemed random at the time but ended up being important in the overall plot. While the Ming Tai plot definitely still has a lot of unnecessary scenes, for the most part, The Disguiser is one of the most thoughtful series I’ve seen and most scenes are woven into the story.
If there was one thing they could’ve done better, they could’ve had a more exciting painting and then merchandised it like crazy. After all, Ming Cheng is a progressive college student who lived in France at the same time as people like Dali and Picasso and Matisse. I would buy a surrealist painting by Ming Cheng and Ming Lou and put it in my home.