After the trailer that had everyone chomping at the bits for months on end, Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy 九州·海上牧云记 finally premiered. I wasn’t sure how it would measure up to the overwhelming hype that has snowballed over time, but a few seconds into the drama and I knew that it was worth the wait. We first meet an impulsive and young Shuofeng Heye of the Northern Tribes, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Quick Summary (Episodes 1-2)
It opens with a marvelous sight of shifting palettes as a man travels from rocky mounds to a bone-dry desert. He may as well be nameless because he is significant only to convey a dark foreboding. He is rescued by a young Shuofeng Heye, the future leader of a warrior tribe, who wishes to claim his prized catch as a slave. While meeting Shuofeng Da, Shuofeng Heye’s father and the leader of the tribe, the man reveals secrets about a half-demon and half-human prince and the abandoned son of a general. He is captured and killed on the spot by his masked pursuers, a god-like presence in the area, and the tribe is punished for harboring a fugitive.
Pushed to the brink, Shuofeng Da rallies his men to pillage another village, ultimately bringing about their own demise as they fall in the hands of the masked pursuers. Shuofeng Heye is spared because he is not yet of age and he is taken to Tianqi City to be sold as a slave.
A Chinese Game of Thrones
Maybe this post should really be titled ‘Why Tribes and Empires reminds me of Game of Thrones’ because I can count so many ways. Forget what you think you know about Chinese dramas because this one sets the bar insanely high and soars with a visual opulence of epic proportions. I’m recalling personal favorites like Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms and Nirvana in Fire which are absolute gems in their own right, but Tribes and Empires plays on a whole other level that can contend in Hollywood big leagues. It seriously reminds me of Game of Thrones and as a fan of both, I’m more than a little proud.
A realistic high fantasy with blood, sex and gore
The death toll starts rising within the first two episodes as a man is burned at the stake, a tribe or two are massacred in cold blood and children are hunted down like cattle to be taken as slaves. In an environment where even the best c-dramas are often made for general patronage, this one dares to be different. It’s still toned down considerably to cater to Asian conservatism, but even the intensely passionate kiss in the first episode is bolder than your average c-drama. There isn’t much fantasy to be had in the beginning but the ambitious undertaking by the production team to recreate a fictional reality is impressive while remaining distinctly Chinese.
Powerful performances in small moments
With so many characters to keep track of, some of which die before you even become familiar with their faces, I love that every one of them makes an impact. Grandpa barely had any speaking lines but his acceptance of death was poetic and courageous while the level of attention to the intricate details does a lot to make the viewing experience immersive. I literally feel like I’ve been transported to Novoland where a large ensemble of leaving breathing characters have an even bigger story to tell. I don’t know whether the magic will last through all seventy-something episodes, but I don’t see any reason that it won’t. I’m really more than a few episodes in as of the writing of this post, and the younger cast members have blown me away, adding to my anticipation for the adult cast led by Huang Xuan, Shawn Dou and Zhou Yiwei.
By the way, DramaFever picked it up to air with English subtitles on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 (thanks to those who share the info?).