Tientsin Mystic 河神 - Episode 1 (Recap)

SakiVI: Here we go! Finally, a show I've been wanting to watch all year gets subbed by the lovely siantlark. Youtube's AvenueX raved about it, and I am so excited to watch it after a looooooonnnnng wait, that I have to recap it to get out all my feels.
kakashi: Not on my radar except for you, SakiVI, fangirling before it even started. Loved the first episode though! I'm glad you fangirled.
JoAnne: I wasn't paying a LOT of attention, I admit, but I did notice Saki's excitement. I thought this was going to be like a CIT story, but with water. Imagine my surprise to discover that THESE are the 'river gods' of which folks spoke. And then...it was kinda trippy with the many frozen screens and such, although I realize that might just have been crappy internet that night. I was a bit tipsy, so it was hard to tell.
But first, a summary via www.mydramalist.com: during the Republican era, a river is haunted by inexplicable occurrences. Guo De You is a policeman who succeeds his master 'Old River God' and has inherited his ability to weed out the guilty whenever he lights the pipe. He ends up being suspected for the murder of a distinguished chairman whose son Ding Mao joins hands with him to uncover the truth. Together with some unlikely partners, they begin an investigation that leads them to an incident twenty years ago.
A policeman?! Well, not so far...
Should be good!
Yes! Let's goooooooo! 
He's not a policeman!  He's part of an underwater salvage team in a busy port city!  But I know where the policeman bit comes in because I've watched ahead.

Episode 1

The show opens with an incredibly pretty fellow chased by some not-pretty thugs on a misty, dark night. It's Ding Mao (Zhang Ming En), one of our two leads. Cornered, he jumps off a bridge. Underwater, where he's not sputtering for air or anything and is quite calm, in fact, like he's a natural merman, he looks around and sees a zombie baby. No really, that happened. There was this mysterious bunch of grass, and when Mao turned it around, there was the zombie baby, who looked right back at him. Chincha.
Creepy shit. So. These people that chase him, they're his father's men, aren't they?! Strange. Well, I guess he had daddy issues, our pretty Mao.
Except this didn't really happen. Right? He never mentions it later when something else happens that would make you think he might have mentioned it. See? Trippy.
Then, he is face to face with another young man who is perfectly vertical and upside down under water. (Seriously, this also happened.) That's our other hero, Guo Deyou, also known to people as Xiao He Shen, or, the Little River God. Deyou pulls Mao up and out of the water.
Love this guy. He has natural charisma. And he's basically brand new! 
Also, part of the reason this was surreal for me is the guy completely reminds me of GDragon (hair and crazy clothes, mostly.)  So when I'm watching this, I can't help but think if it was GD in the role, and I laugh.
Cut to some rather creepy yet fun credits. The characters are all saying something, but what?
No subs! 

Next, we get a little lecture on the Tientsin river: "All rivers lead to Tianjin: between these three bridges and these two roads are people who rely on and die by the river. The people who are sustained by the water must pay their respects to the water. The annual river festival weighs heavy on the minds of every person in Tianjin."
Great setup. Also, a pink something was hatching.
Was it...a cartoon? It was, right? This is so confusing.
The festival rocks. It's a rocking festival with a rocking lady shaman called Gu Ben Xian MC'ing the party. Some guys in black are dancing with an orange bundle. A young shaman lady in red is cheered. She is one of our heroines, and her name is Gu Ying, and she is lady shaman's daughter. And woah, that orange bundle is a sleeping baby. How on earth did they get it to sleep throughout all that dancing?
They might have drugged the baby with poppy seed milk. Hey, Gu Ying is damn pretty. As is this whole festival. 
I don't know but her dress makes me think of boiled lobster.
Swimmers have gathered for a race. They have to catch a turtle, and this is because they all worship a turtle god, who Gu Ying is setting free in the water with instructions to flee and not be caught. Apparently, the champ in this swimming competition is Gu Deyou, who is abstaining this year to give someone else a chance to win. Off go the the turtle and then the swimmers. Swim, turtle, swim!
Gu Ying doped the turtle, buahahaa. 
We have a lady reporter there, another heroine, called Xiao Lan Lan. She covers the news on the river. Her colleague tells her that a Boss Xiao, probably her father, said to avoid the river ceremony this year.
Uh-oh. Why? Does he know something?
So far we have two people avoiding the festival. I smell a plot point.
And the swimmers suddenly return and run off from the water. Oh dear, they found a dead baby. That is seriously sad. And yet, Mama Gu (I'll just call her Mama Gu) simply says to bury the child and not let its death ruin the festival. Mama Gu, I'm not too sure about you! Then, the swimmer who brought the body up, Tie Niu, says, "the bastard killed someone." This can also be "the turtle killed someone" since "Wang Ba" can mean either.  Mama Gu says the turtle deity, Xuanwu, would never do that. Tie Niu says there's a second body as well. Yikes.
Was it the same baby Pretty Mao saw? I guess and hope so. Because if not, there's more dead babies in that river.
Am I seriously the only one who can't get past the fact that turtle and bastard are the same word?  WHY? What about a turtle would inspire such ire?
Ying rushes to find Deyou, our little river god. At his interestingly ramshackle house is a massive lopsided Buddha head. IS IT FO YE's???? Perhaps that symbolizes something. She shouts to him something went wrong during the ceremony, that there was a dead child under the water and that there is still another body there. But then, she notices Deyou's clothes and is furious. Stalking through the house, she sees a full bathtub and kicks it hard. Deyou pops up!
They're not really brother and sister are they? Just well acquainted for her to call him "Brother"? 
She doesn't seem particularly flustered later when she sees his junk so I think we can safely say this is not a love line at least.
Ying demands to know where he was yesterday. He is furious she's kicked a hole in his bathtub, pffft. Ying demands to know where he got those expensive new clothes, and who his new girlfriend is. Oh, so she likes this guy. She does?! I didn't get that impression. Okay, fine. Yeah, he is. GD. Another sexy little shitWhen Deyou refuses to say, Ying says, fine, I'm burning them. Then Deyou admits it was Ding Mao, who we met earlier, and who we now learn is the eldest son of Ding Yiqiu, head of the Canal Shipping Committee, who bought him the clothes.
Oh, he did? I wonder what happened...... Plus, should we ship these two?
I'm not convinced, but I do like her. Do their clothes seem...out of place? They follow some of the SHAPE of clothing you might expect to see, but they are very modern. 
We cut to an unshaven Mao dreaming how the Committee is in disarray and how he has to go back with that bloke who was chasing him earlier, and of meeting Deyou under the water. He wakes to find himself mostly clothed, but in bed with two young women, also fully clothed. Okay, that's not too awful. Looks like they all passed out drunk before anything actually happened. Mao, being a cutie, is horrified.
He is showing a bit of skin though. I wouldn't bet nothing happened. He may have been tasted. 
It would have been rude not to.
Cutting back to Deyou and Ying, Ying says everyone was looking for Mao. And Deyou is all, I fished him out, and he paid for dinner.
Ah ha, so it DID happen. But why didn't he say anything about the baby?
And Ying then wants to know where because she knows Deyou likes sketchy places. It was indeed a sketchy place. It was Cang Cu, the local sketchy place, in fact, and not exactly known for its good dinners. Ying kicks the bathtub again, making more water burst out. Deyou stands up naked, and she sees more than necessary. But she doesn't mind, pffft.
Hehehe, I liked this scene. So, if she's seen his thing, does that mean he is hers? 
It really did not seem that way at all. But I'm open to it.
Deyou, on the other hand, is annoyed and says Ying will die old and alone. Jerk. He asks why no one else could get the corpse out of the water.
Yes, why? 
Cuz he's the GOD, duh.
Cut to Mao prettily trying to get quietly out of Cang Cu. He does have to sign for the bill because Gu Deyou told them Mao would pay. The madam says she knows he's from the Canal Shipping Committee and if she didn't know who was who, how else could she have opened a brothel? This apparently confirms Mao's deep suspicion that he got up to no good the night before. Me, I'm going to put this out of my mind because it's tainting my Visual Zhang.
Well, he wasn't exactly himself.
OMG this is Visual Zhang?
And cut to a gambling house, which is where an elderly man called Master Guo, Guo Deyou's teacher, is gambling.
He's interesting. A bit like a shaman! 
He kind of reminds me of David Carradine, ha. If he calls someone Grasshopper I'll die.
Someone interrupts. It's the thug, Yu Si, from the beginning of the episode. The whole table clears. A dapper older man in a fedora comes in. This is Butler Hu. Butler Hu notes Master Guo is good at gambling. He says that if he wins at a game, then Master Guo has to search the river for Master Ding, Mao's father. Master Guo does some sort of shaman thing and says Master Ding cannot have more than three of these coins. Butler Hu asks if that means Master Ding is still alive. Me, I've no clue. Seems like one big riddle to me.
Hm, me too. 
Me, I'd like to know why the butler thinks the master is in the river.
Back to the dock. The river festival is clearing out, and a cop, Captain Fu (subtitle calls him Captain Zhang, but the character description calls him Captain Fu), is telling Reporter Lan Lan that the baby probably died naturally. (Sidebar: Oh yes? So where are the parents?) And he asks her not to write about it.
Hm, why exactly? (the policeman looks like an older version of William from this angle)
William would never be this big a dick, though.
A dapper gent says to Lan Lan that her father, the secretary general, wants her to come back. She has to be back by lunch, despite all the work she has to do.
I want to meet her father! Hey, I'm sure we eventually will. 
When is this? The 30s?
Oh, Xiao He Shen, the little river god, aka Deyou, is here!  He is swaggering.  Quite the local hero, isn't he? Swoon. Tie Niu tries to stop him saying there's a river demon. Deyou scoffs and says it's his job to go as a salvage diver.
I'm telling you, GDragon.
Mao runs down. The police try to stop him and, because Deyou is such a local hero, when Mao says he is Deyou's friend, they scoff and say nah, bro, no way. Mao feints and dashes through. But when he is stopped again, Captain Fu lets Mao through because he's from the Canal Shipping Committee.
They're the bosses around here?  
Seems like. Must be a one-company town. Cue thoughts of corruption.
Back to Tie Niu discouraging Deyou because oooh, it's spooooky down there! And then Mao shouting for Deyou, and the police captain saying to his subordinate to tell the Canal Shipping Committee they were the ones to find Ding Mao, who was missing. Mao rushes down to Deyou who decides it's a good time to jump and jumps. And wow, Deyou is a fast swimmer! And it's a whole other world down there.
Now we understand why he's called Little River God! 
So is Grandpa the Big River God?
Mao is exasperated and then Butler Hu shows up. Master Guo also shows up with Ying holding onto his arm. Mama Gu greets him. Then Butler Hu slaps Mao. Never a dull moment on the docks, is there? You'd think while they wait for the salvage divers to come up, it'd be quite quiet, but no, there's slapping to keep us busy. Why the hell can the butler slap the young master? Anyhoo, everyone notes that slap while Mao looks terribly pretty, if stunned. Butler Hu is embarrassed and says he is glad Mao is safe. Aw, was Butler Hu Mao's nanny?
I thought that he was Mao's father at first! The slap made more sense that way. 
At first I thought father, then grandfather.  Later I learned he was the butler. And in the casino (here too) - I thought, oh, bad guy.  Anyone else?
Deyou comes up, and amidst all the cheering, Mao grabs him, demanding to know why they ended up in that place. Dude, if it was so bad for you, then you don't want to raise this matter of visiting Cang Cu in front of a big crowd. The boys glare at each other in an intense sort of way meant to play up to fangirls, and then, Mao sees the body in the water. Oh no. It's the Committee Chairman, Ding Yiqiu, Mao's father. Yu Si starts crying. Butler Hu sends him to clear people away and he's all shocked and teary, poor thug. And Mao, he just falls to his knees by his father's body, and then, crying, bows.
Awww, sweetie. 
So, daddy issues? I'm guessing?
Deyou says that there a shrine to Xuanwu under the water. Seems it is not normally there. And the body was tied to the shrine by a strong knot that was also stuck under the shrine. That's why the other divers weren't able to bring it up. Listen, Deyou, swaggering is going to make you look an ass in front of other people's grief.
He's not full of himself though. Just somebody who knows how talented he is and not willing to hide it.
Speaking of hiding, why does he have that ratty tank on? All this water and a girl is still THIRSTY.
And Mao demands to know why Deyou could get the body up if others could not, and says maybe Deyou is insane from oxygen deprivation. Deyou says he is skilled because this is his livelihood. Okay, fair enough. But Mao finds it weird that Deyou saved him yesterday and then brought up the dad's body today, and, to be honest, I'm not sure how that doesn't actually make Deyou less suspicious, but Mao is grieving and angry, so whatever.
What the fuck does he have ON?
Deyou says he shouldn't bother rescuing the living, they are like ungrateful dogs, and Mao zips out a scalpel and holds it to Deyou's neck. Very cool moves. Then, Mao swings around, throws the jacket covering his father's face off, and tries to start an autopsy! No, really, he did! But Yu Si holds him back, and Butler Hu says over my dead body (more or less). Mao cries he needs to know how his father died.
Seriously, an autopsy right then and there?! Boy, calm down. 
I think his hair is growing. It might be alive.
Captain Fu says all rivers lead to Tianjin and that Master Guo can help with his Smoke of Insight.  (yeah, okay, sure, why not, hmmm.) Master Guo tries to leave, but Captain Fu insists he stay and Smoke some Insight.  People don't like to hear the insight, though, says Master Guo. But he sets it all up, stops Deyou from leaving, and starts the ceremony, adding in that Deyou's body won't handle the smoke.
Totally a shaman. 
I am pretty sure I had some of that back in the 70s.
The smoke swirls, and Master Guo says "a heart is crying out for justice, a body revived by smoke, a soul separated from the water, laid to rest too early." And when he finishes, Master Guo says this death (I think) is the will of the gods and the hatred of a demon. So, Master Ding was murdered? Master Guo just says we can't question gods and demons, so we have to take the chances we find. In other words, he had a nice smoke, and wants everyone to do their own work, pffft.
Nice trick. I think he saw more than he let on, but figures it's pointless to say anything, or perhaps he doesn't want to get dragged into the mess.
Back at diver headquarters, Deyou asks Master Guo what was wrong, since both bodies were suspicious. He also asks him if he knew both Dings, and why he didn't say anything. Master Guo says, "If you can explain it, use logic. If you can't, use emotion." Super-not-helpful, that. He does tell Deyou to stop relying on him so much. Be alert, be free, youth! Or something like that. Maybe he knows he's going to die soon. Anyway, Deyou doesn't look happy about being more independent. He protests that they have to protect their reputation as River Gods, and Master Guo sensibly points out that they are human beings, not deities. Exactly. Finally, Deyou tries one more time by saying they have no work, and should have stayed on the dock. But Master Guo tells him to go to sleep, where, Deyou thinks of Master Guo's cryptic words from the dock.
Nice shoulder.
Over at Ding Mansion, Mao tells the servants to leave him alone with his father.  He has his doctor's bag, and he thinks how his father was so insistent he take over as Chairman despite his having studied forensic medicine. All this is looking suspicious to him now. (Sidebar: Mao is really pretty when he's angry.)
That hair is starting to make me think about octopus tentacles though. (Not in the pervy Japanese way, more like 'escape from the soup pot' way.)
Ooh, out come the medical tools and the steampunk apron and rubber gloves. Ding bows three times, puts on those cool steampunk goggles with one extra big goggle, and starts checking Ding Dad's teeth, bruises on his wrist, and opening his clothes. Oh gross, he cuts the chest! I seriously hate surgery scenes. All this while, Butler Hu is walking to the funeral home. Hurry up, Butler Hu! Er, no! Don't! Stop this surgery! I'm gagging here!
Do we call Visual Wang Ding Son? Oh wait, you called him Pretty Mao. That works.
But when Butler Hu comes in, he sees Ding standing in normal attire by his father's corpse. Mao looks sad and pretty as he asks for his father's final words. How would the butler know, unless he was present when Dad was getting tied to the statue? Butler Hu says Ding Dad planned to tie up Mao so he could never leave again. Oh, so Mao was missing for a while? A runaway child. Butler Hu goes on to say that Ding Dad was working hard to keep the canals operating what with the new choochoo trains and Westerners interfering and demanding taxes. How could Westerners demand taxes on goods travelling in China? Ding Dad was very concerned about the common people. So, he was a very good person. Butler Hu cries as he thinks of Ding Dad under the water.
I don't know, but Butler Hu seems a bit suspicious to me. 
See, for that scene I started thinking oh wait, was I wrong about Butler Hu? But you know what they always say...the butler did it.  Maybe that's only in English period pieces, though, not Chinese.
Cut to the next morning and Deyou and Ying looking for the pipe and drugs of insight. Ying asks if the smoke of insight technique actually works, and Deyou says she should know, she's a shaman!  She says all river peace is because of their rituals, and they argue because many people died this year on the river. Deyou also suspects she fed the turtle amphetamines or something, because no one caught it, not even him. (Did he try?) (Nope.) She doesn't deny it, though she doesn't admit it either, and natters on about people not being as good as Deyou in the water and how he is Master Guo's only student.
I'm seriously digging her styling. Actually, all of it. I get a bit of A Knight's Tale feel from it, visually, if it were translated into a Chinese story.
Over at Ding Mansion, Hu is telling Mao that his father disappeared overnight. The maid brought breakfast, and he wasn't there. Next, he was found at the river festival. Mao notes a horse pinata going into the funeral home. (Sidebar: seriously, a horse pinata? Ahahahaha) (Is it something like when they give money for the dead? Like, the horse pinata gets burned and it's so he has something to ride?)  It's Deyou carrying the pinata to hide that he's going into the funeral home to smoke weed. (We used to smoke it in the graveyard. If you were quiet, no one would know you were there, and the rent-a-cop didn't normally drive through. Safest place in town.) Then, he drops to his knees, crying, Sweet Prince, may angels carry you to your rest! Pffft. I guess the servant doesn't know Hamlet. He lies to the servant there that Master Ding had once saved him and his family when their fishing boat was caught in a storm. The servant leaves him to grieve.
As soon as the servant leaves, Deyou goes back to his usual swagger, and he burns the drug, breathing in the smoke. In a voice over, we hear Child Ying telling him he's not allowed to do the Smoke of Insight technique (drugs are bad for you) and and it takes him to another dimension, where he dives into water. In this world, he falls onto the ground. And that's how Ding Mao finds him.
He saw something there though! Methinks our boy is quite shamanistically talented at this as well...


I think I pretty much liked everything! The characters, the costumes, the murder, the mystery, the river spook, the zombie, and the turtle. And of course, Zhang Ming En looks very pretty!
Me too, nothing to complain at all. A great introduction to all the characters, many of which I instantly liked and/or want to know more about. 
As I mentioned, I was a bit disoriented to begin with, but I didn't exactly mind that.

So, a bit of information that I recall from Avenue X's explanation: the voiceover in the beginning of each episode is a traditional Chinese storyteller telling the tale to us. If any of you recall in Old Nine Gates's Chen Pi's childhood story arc, he went to one of those storytellers for a story after he finally made some money with his crabs. That adds an extra dimension to the drama, as if we are in a theater, listening to the tale. It's charming.