Disguiser 伪装者 is a work of fiction that is inspired by historical events. In fact, the character Ming Lou is loosely based on Yuan Shu, a revolutionary with a very complicated past. I love James Bond archetypes but usually not in the context of the World War II, a subject that is too close for comfort and not my choice of genre. I watched it anyway since the cast are mostly from Nirvana in Fire and it blew my mind. In an epic retelling of a country’s struggle against foreign occupation, it is the simple emotions about the love for family and country that truly hit home and as the saying goes, what’s a home without a country.
Plot Summary: During the puppet regime under the Japanese occupation, Communist and Nationalist operatives take up arms to ignite a revolution. Ming Tai, Ming Lou and Ming Jing are three siblings in this era of spies and deception.
Rating: Must Watch (5/5)
It begins when a good samaritan is forced to become a spy. The good samaritan is Ming Tai (Hu Ge), a college student whose life is turned upside down by Wang Tian Feng, a hardline Nationalist and a war veteran. Their relationship evolves into that of a father and son, twisted by circumstances but no less compelling.
Training goes well in spite of the situation and a beautiful lady comes along. She is Yu Man Li (Song Yi), fierce and mysterious. A good amount is spent fleshing out her tragic past that fades into the background after the introduction of Jin Yun (Wang Le Jun), a love interest who comes out of left field to takeover as the lead.
None of it matters because Disguiser is not big on romance, instead it is about family. Ming Lou (Jin Dong), Ming Tai and Ah Cheng (Wang Kai) are the brains, the brawn and the sidekick but to relegate them to a role is hardly fair since they are multi-faceted and unequivocal heroes in their own right. The head of their household is Ming Jing (Liu Min Tao), also a hot-blooded patriot whose impulsive nature often does more harm than good.
Jin Dong as Ming Lou is hands down my favorite. If you like NIF, then you’d understand. He is a Nationalist parading as a traitor in order to infiltrate the government but he hides another identity. As the mastermind moving the chess pieces, his actions are a testament to his complexity as a character. His relationship with Wang Ou as Wang Man Chun is ill-fated because they were lovers once. She has become crazed and ruthless, yet alluring enough that I cannot look away.
Hu Ge as Ming Tai is the titular lead though I like to think that he is Mei Changsu reincarnated as a happier version of himself, still incredibly intelligent but no longer the puppeteer that he used to be. In this era, he is a spy, trained to kill and trained to obey. Wang Kai as Ah Cheng is packed with so much bravado that it’s hard not to fangirl in his presence but I daresay everyone misses his bromance with Ming Lou more than anything else.
In this story, the villains are forgettable because the good guys drive the conflict. For example, Ming Lou orders his own death in the hands of Ming Tai, knowing full well the weight that it carries. His plan may be impressive but it does not justify keeping Ming Tai in the dark for so long (i call it sadistic) and finding out the truth leads to one of the funniest scenes when Ming Tai goes ballistic, giving the three brothers a stage to duke it out man to man.
The happy picture does not last because the wheels start turning towards the grand finale. It begins when Liu Yi Jun as Wang Tian Feng pays a visit to Ming Lou as equals in rank, in power and in wits. Ming Lou could kill Wang Tian Feng a thousand times for pushing his little brother into the line of fire but he does not because they are past that.
Their meeting is intense, like watching an epic showdown between two brilliant minds or two rabid dogs depending on your perspective. Without giving the details, their tense demeanor is reflective of the bloodbath that ensues.
If a TV series is supposed to engage the heart, mind and soul then Disguiser succeeds, spinning layers upon layers of disguises and unraveling it in a manner that is satisfying on so many levels. There were points when the lies became too much, exhausting not only the characters lying and being lied to but also frustrating viewers in the process. Yet in the grander scheme of things, the unmasking pays off to reveal heroes in the truest sense of the word.