Ming Cheng is best known as the handsome and diligent butler of the well-connected Ming family in 1940s Shanghai. He also happens to work for the KMT intelligence agency – and as an undercover operative for the Communist Party of China.
The fictional star of TV drama The Disguiser, a hugely popular spy drama that aired in China last year, Ming Cheng quickly became beloved by viewers as a brave and resourceful patriot. He was a character whose very appeal seemed to spring from the dramatic period in which he resided – until, that is, this spring, when Ming walked out from the screen into the real world.
In May, news began to spread online about the construction of a 1.5-kilometer dirt road in an impoverished, mountainous area of Sichuan Province that was to be a boon for the village, allowing for students to attend school and the local economy to develop. The project in and of itself wasn’t so unusual – what was, was the plaque naming its benefactor. It read, “Donator: Ming Cheng.”
Fans of the show were abuzz – who really donated that road on behalf of Ming Cheng?
I cried when I first saw news of this because Ming Cheng is so close to my heart, and it was incredibly touching to see that a fan chose to do this in his name. Since then, a few of Wang Kai’s fans have individually donated roads in the names of Xiao Jingyan from Nirvana in Fire, Fang Mengwei from All Quiet in Peking, and a school library in the name of Qi Yong from Educated Youth in his home-province.
More on Global Times’ article on fans of Chris Li Yuchun, Lu Han, Kris Wu, and TF Boys doing charity here.
P.S. The caption is a hint to the next Disguiser Discussions post.
First up – the script for the film has been completed. I was super excited for it, then super against it, and now just conflicted. (In the “drama version of the book” that advertised itself as “how the scriptwriter wants to present the story” , Ming Cheng was repeated kicked by the Ming’s and at one point felt ashamed that as a servant, he would dare to make fun of the young master. Yes, the USSR-trained and French-educated communist felt like he was acting above his class, and a family of righteous protagonists made a habit of abusing an abused child. I’m counting on my suspicions that these parts were written by a ghost writer, otherwise I take back every nice thing I’ve ever said about Zhang Yong.)
A lesser actor would’ve found it hard to express one emotion at a time, but Wang Kai told Ming Cheng’s entire life story in 2 seconds in this scene here as he finds out the true identity of Ming Tai’s father.
Somehow Wang Kai is able to show that Ming Cheng feels genuinely happy for Ming Tai and his father while expressing emotions that are clearly not all joy. While the first half of the sentence was intended to comfort Ming Tai’s father, as he shifts to the final phrase, his expression and tone of voice changes. The concerned, comforting voice of “this is a good thing” becomes distant in “A wonderful thing” as he is lost in his own thought. At the same time, his eyes also look away from Ming Tai’s father to the distance, perhaps to the father he had never met.
This is a series of posts of me over-analyzing The Disguiser. This one’s really short since I had originally planned to talk about it with the next post, but that scene deserved its own post so I kicked this one out. I’ve looked at a painting, a conversation, next time it’ll be what I consider the best acted scene of the entire series. Can you guess which one it is?
Aristotle once said the key to good dialogue is to “Speak as common people do, but think as wise men do.” See how in this example here, Ming Cheng took exactly one line to hint to Liang Zhongchun of his ambitions upon their first meeting.
Liang Zhongchun, somewhat synchophantly: “I’ve long heard the fame of Mr.Ming.”
Ming Cheng, with a slight raised tone and eyebrow: “Which Mr.Ming?”
Posing as a simple question, the subtext is Ming Cheng’s hint to Liang Zhongchun of his own (faked) ambitions and wish to be distinct from Ming Lou, luring Liang to eventually join Ming Cheng’s camp. And if you read too much into it, it defines Ming Cheng’s ambiguous status and relationship in the Ming family that became essential to his multiple disguises.
This line would’ve been perfect if it was somehow tied in with the recorder at the ending when the question of which Mr. Ming is on the tape becomes one of life-and-death.
This is a series of posts of me over-analyzing The Disguiser. Last time I looked at a painting, this time it’ll be a conversation, next time it will be exactly one line. Can you guess which one?
When a sample of Nirvana in Fire 2’s script was put up by producer Hou Hongliang last week, he got so many complaints about the awkward dialogue and requests to have a co-writer to work with author Hai Yan that he deleted the post. With so many book adaptations, one of the worst aspect of many recent dramas is their inability to translate descriptive writing into scripts. Luckily, The Disguiser did not fall into that trap.
Here is a closer look into one of my favorite dialogues in The Disguiser, the reunion of Ming Lou (Jin Dong) and Wang Manchun (Wang Ou) here in episode 1. See how natural the dialogue flows while setting up the story and revealing character at the same time, and how much better it is than the lazy method of using a random bystander conversation to introduce the characters.
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.
This is a plug for one of my favorite novels I’ve read last year, Until We Meet Again/Jusqu’a ce qu’on se revoit/别日何易 by mockmockmock. Romance, humor, history, culture, and philosophy are blended flawlessly in this travelogue across Europe and China. The reader follows The Disguiser‘s Ming Lou and Ming Cheng on a journey of self-discovery in mostly the lead-up to the drama. Even if you, like me, haven’t read fanfic since 2010 , I highly recommend it.
The story begins in Vienna on Easter 1933. In true spy style, the Mings meet in front of a painting at a museum. Ming Lou had just finished chatting about Keynes and ism’s. Ming Cheng had just returned from military academy in Leningrad. They eat cake, listen to opera, exchange intelligence, and brush hands. The joys of reunion cannot hide whispers of the recent election in Germany.
They celebrate Christmas with a jovial Seville family, but do not miss the underlying tensions of the impending Spanish Civil War. They share their first kiss by the Neva river, but the beating of their hearts cannot quieten Ming Cheng’s questions about his friends’ mysterious disappearances. They shower in the British rain and sing on Qinhuai River, but always in the back of their minds is the war brewing both around them and back home in China. Continue reading
Despite a weak first six months, 2015 produced some of the best dramas in years. Here are some of my top picks. What are yours?
Best Make-up and Styling: Empress of China: Wu Zetian
As the woman with probably the most outfits in drama history, Wu Zetian’s stylist also does a great job of making Fan Bingbing look gorgeous in all outfits and ages, many of the stylings being based on history.
Best production design: Nirvana in Fire
Ashtray and Jade Porcelain 烟缸与青瓷 is the side story of The Disguiser that was recently published with the drama-version of the book, set when Ming Lou (Jin Dong), Ming Cheng (Wang Kai), and Wang Tianfeng (Liu Yijun) were still in Paris. I want an extension of this as The Disguiser movie so much.
photo cr: yky
Oh, Wang Kai, how do I describe thee? He’s the only young drama actor I know who has never had someone else dub for him in a drama (minus a brief dub-over by Jin Dong when his character sung opera in The Disguiser). Be it the flaming director in Ugly Wudi, the rugged soldier who murders for love in A Murder Beside Yanhe River, the metro detective in New Detective Squad, the teary-eyed officer in All Quiet in Peking, the Prince who risked his life for the truth in Nirvana in Fire, or the traitor, the revolutionary, the secretary, the assassin, the smuggler, and the miser in The Disguiser, Wang Kai has successfully portrayed a string of characters with vastly different personalities, slipping under the radar until this fall.
Marked by a rare honesty (he will respond to literally any question), here are a few selected interview responses to him. He’s actually a lot more silly in interviews than the translations imply.