Ardent fans of “The Lost Tomb” adaptations are currently going through withdrawal symptoms. Why you ask? The recent, popular Chinese Bromance “Ultimate Note” ended with trepidation, and fans worldwide were left with a sense of foreboding. While comparisons are inevitable, Ultimate Note managed to stay true to the original storyline while infusing strong hints of romance. The book’s author Kennedy Xu was not involved in the scriptwriting process for this show. Loyal fans are surprised that the scriptwriters surprisingly did a good job recreating the original magic.
—Edited by TheFNGee
“The Lost Tomb Series” adaptations are always characterized by a marked difference in the cast. Each adapted story has a different set of actors portraying Wu Xie, Zhang Qiling, and Fatty Wang. Ultimate Note’s popularity stems from the fact that the actors portraying the lead roles have become widely popular. So much so that there is widespread demand for Joseph Zeng, Xiao Yu Liang, Cheng Fang Xu, Liu Yu Ning, and Liu Yu Han to reprise their roles in the upcoming sequel (which is the last show in this series, adapted from books 8 and 9 of “The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles”). Ultimate Note’s director responded to the fan’s demand on Weibo, stating that “The show’s producers are trying their best to rope in the same cast for the upcoming sequel.” Liu Yu Ning and Xiao Yu Liang have already expressed their desire to reprise their roles, and we may get to watch these talented actors portray those same roles in the sequel.
To help Zhang recollect his memories, the Iron Triangle travels to Banai to figure out the mystery behind the old expedition undertaken by Chen Wen Jin and her team. However, they are met with severe trials and tribulations when Zhang and Fatty are siphoned into the mountain lake, and Zhang is forced by the foreigner Cox Hendry to search for the “Zhang Family’s Old Pavilion.” Dark secrets are revealed, and Wu Xie is forced to visit an old family ally – Granny Huo. Mrs. Huo tries to manipulate the situation to her advantage and seeks their help to solve the Old Pavilion mystery. As the Iron Triangle is swept into the dangerous arena, Wu Xie gets separated from Zhang, and unfavorable events tear them apart.
Wu Xie’s Growth As A Character
Wu Xie’s character remains the focal point in all adaptations, and comparisons cannot be avoided. Joseph Zheng’s portrayal of “Wu Xie” is far different from Li Yi Feng’s (The Lost Tomb) or Neo Hou’s (The Lost Tomb Season 2) interpretations of this widely popular Explorer. While Li Yi Feng infused his characterization with youthful innocence, Neo Hou played the role with odd layers of maturity. On the other hand, Joseph Zheng plays “Wu Xie” with childlike exuberance and utter honesty. You learn to appreciate his acting talents because as the storyline grows more severe with unexpected twists and turns, Wu Xie’s character undergoes many changes. Joseph Zheng must be applauded for effortlessly performing the myriad of expressions as Wu Xie goes from being a pampered spoiled kid to a true Wu Family heir.
Zhang Qiling and His Memories
There is also a marked difference between Zhang Qiling’s character portrayal in each adaptation. You have to understand that Zhang is an amnesiac and his micro-expressions betray his complex thoughts. In “The Lost Tomb,” Yang Yang was much appreciated for evoking the mystery regarding Zhang’s identity. On the other hand, Cheng Yi managed to steer the character into a more positive light with his schooled expressions in “The Lost Tomb Season 2”. Xiao Yu Liang’s Zhang Qiling is an odd mixture of both. There are times when his refusal to speak might grate on your nerves, but after losing his memories for a second time, that’s bound to happen. Despite that, Yu Liang manages to raise the bar by depicting Zhang Qiling in the most emotional way possible. It will be difficult to express it in words because Yu Liang’s subtle facial expressions will leave you unable to speak a cogent thought.
“I’m the Real Zhang Qi Ling”
The Iron Triangle
Ultimate Note must be appreciated for the intense portrayal of relationships that truly touch your hearts. “The Iron Triangle” is at the center of these varied friendships. In the earlier installments, more screen time was afforded to Pingxie while Fatty Wang was relegated to playing a subordinate role. Fatty Wang has been largely perceived as a grave robber who loves to tag along with our main leads. But this show has managed to stir this relationship in the right direction towards being friends.
It could be the scenes where Fatty Wang risks his own life to save Wu Xie or the scenes where Zhang follows Fatty Wang like a lost puppy (Fatty Wang’s potential love interest dies, and he goes through major heartache). Ultimate Note stresses that Fatty Wang is a definitive part of “The Iron Triangle,” and Zhang truly values him as a close friend. Apart from Wu Xie, Fatty Wang has undeniably become a part of Zhang’s quiet world. Their interactions are hilarious, and Cheng Fang Xu’s steadfast portrayal of Fatty Wang will leave you in high spirits.
The Mysterious and Alluring Huo Matriarch
Fairy Huo, or Granny Huo as she is addressed, is the Huo Family Matriarch. She is crafty, manipulative, and extremely envious of Wu Xie’s Grandmother (She might have been in love with Wu Xie’s Grandfather). She also loves to test Wu Xie’s patience and put him through hell. It can be described as childish revenge or her way of testing Wu Xie’s limits. Her endgame remains to decipher the entrance to the “Zhang Families Old Pavilion,” and she uses every deceptive trick in the book to force Wu Xie to join her planned expedition. Despite her high-handed attitude, her loyalty to the Mystic Nine Organization is unquestionable. It was truly shocking to watch her fall down to her knees and bow down before Zhang (Zhang is supposedly the Mystic Nine Leader, and the fact that he hasn’t aged at all shocks her). The realization that Zhang might be their lost long leader certainly changes her behavior. She goes from being exceedingly arrogant to oddly respectful.
Wu Xie and his Difficult Familial Relationships
Wu Xie is presumed to be the pampered kid of his family. As the only male heir of the current generation, our adorable main lead has led a sheltered life. Even though Wu San Xing has disappeared, his second Uncle Er Bai still acts as the Family Scion protecting the Heir. You will be very impressed with Wang Jin Song’s portrayal of Wu Er Bai. Er Bai is a wealthy businessman, unconcerned with the Mystic Nine Affairs. But that doesn’t stop him from charging into Cox Hendry’s camp when he learns that Wu Xie’s life might be in danger and threatening anyone who tries or even appears to endanger his nephew’s life.
“I can ignore Mystic Nine. But I will never ignore Wu Xie”.
The character Pan Zi, while not being a true member of the family, the audience will appreciate his steadfast loyalty to Wu San Xing and absolute devotion to Wu. Wu San Xing’s sudden disappearance makes things difficult for Pan Zi and their business. Despite that, Pan Zi doesn’t give up on waiting for Wu San Xing or guarding his properties. This loyalty extends to Wu Xie, and Zi stands by him in the most difficult situations.
Wu Xie and Xie Yu Chen have an odd friendship. Both are childhood friends and are tied together by one person – Wu San Xing (who is actually Yu Chen’s real Uncle, Xie Lian Huan). Yu Chen is ruthless when it comes to handling the Xie family affairs, and yet, he is always magnanimous when it comes to helping the people he likes – Wu Xie and Black. While his affections towards Black are obvious, his loyalty towards Wu Xie is equally unwavering.
Romance Between The Main Leads
There is a world of difference between the Ping Xie in this show and earlier installments. Compared to prior installments where both Wu Xie and Zhang are getting to know each other, Ultimate Note is more demonstrable of their relationship. It is in the subtle touches, dialogues, or the longing gazes they share. Wu Xie’s panic sets in whenever he loses sight of Zhang while Zhang spends most of his time guarding Wu Xie against all possible dangers. Even when they are warned that being together will ultimately lead to their death, Wu Xie and Zhang cannot be deterred from standing beside each other.
While the first half had Zhang playing the ardent protector, the second half of the storyline switches gears where Wu Xie gets multiple opportunities to act as Zhang’s savior. Their relationship is based on mutual respect and even adoration. Wu Xie works hard to help Zhang recollect his memories, and these efforts will leave you impressed with this friendship. Wu Xie always does his best to mitigate Zhang’s fears and insecurities. They are each other’s biggest strengths and source of support. I felt surprised with Ultimate Note’s honest depiction of their love affair. The show’s producers have made no attempts to disguise their relationship as “Bromance,” with flashbacks of memorable and beautiful montages of their romantic moments. This romance is obvious, over the top, and will move you towards the end.
Words wouldn’t suffice to describe this relationship. Xie Yu Chen and Black are one loud couple. Yu Chen will give you fuzzy feelings because his emotions are always on the surface when it comes to Black. The naked desire and adoration are quite obvious, and although Black retreats quite a bit, he is definitely under the spell. Their flirting involves banter and cursing at each other. They are hilarious and so rambunctious that you’d wish they had more screentime. Liu Yu Ning’s “Black” is as mysterious as in the earlier editions; the only marked difference is his relationship with Liu Yu Han’s “Xie Yu Chen.”
They are still protective of each other in the second half, with Yu Chen acting annoyed most of the time. However, you can easily attest that his annoyance is but a mask to hide his affections. Black also has a habit of retreating into his shell whenever Yu Chen makes his emotions more obvious. Both play a game of “cat and mouse” throughout the rest of the show, where Black tries his level best to protect Yu Chen while acting nonchalant towards his flower boy’s subtle declarations of love.
The Tragic Ending and the Everlasting Wait
The show’s tragic ending swept like a disconsolate dirge throughout the fandom, and loyal fans were devastated. Wu Xie’s slight mistake and Black’s attempt to safeguard Yu Chen leads to a major catastrophe. Zhang, Fatty Wang, and Mrs. Huo are reported missing while Yu Chen is left behind to manage the family affairs. Ardent fans of the books have reported that it would take almost a decade before PingXie reconcile. The ambiguous ending has left most of the loyal fans disappointed, and with the main leads missing, I’m wondering how the sequel will handle both romances.
While Yu Chen is more vocal in his attempts to search for Black, the fact remains that as Xie Family head, he is bound by restrictions. On the other hand, Wu Xie seems lost and is devastated by his mistake. He is worried about Fatty Wang, but he is more desperate about losing Zhang. He decides to move heaven and hell to bring back the man he adores and loves. His attempts fail miserably, and he is forced to choose a difficult path.
Ultimate Note is the second-best adaptation in this series after “The Lost Tomb Season 2.” While it is inconsistent in pacing and repetitious in some places, the cast and their stellar acting talents will keep you hooked. The screenwriters for this show have done a better job than even the author of the book series. While the show’s success can be majorly attributed to the actors and their chemistry, the myriad relationships in this show are tied neatly into an entertaining package. The audience anticipation for the next sequel is already building, and I’m hoping that the show’s producers manage to procure the same star cast as promised.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. [See our Review Guide]
Some more promotional photoshoots from the drama, as we bid farewell to this hugely successful adventure saga for now!