The ancient historical series "The Long River (天下长河)" released on November 11, 2022, tells the story of the Kangxi Emperor unconditionally promoting Chen Huang (陈潢) and Jin Fu (靳辅) to take control of the flood in Yellow River flooding. After working despite winds and rains, and dealing with countless turmoils from the court for almost half a century, the emperor and the ministers gradually pacified the flood, leaving the future generations a legacy to be praised for the great achievements of the true historical story.
The three main actors are Luo Jin, Yin Fang, and Huang Zhizhong. And the six supporting actors are Xi Meijuan, Liang Guanhua, Su Ke, Lu Siyu, Gong Lei, and Zhao Qi, all of them have their own strengths. Every character in the series has distinctive character traits, and each actor's grasp and interpretation of the characters is perfect.
The Long River puts emphasis on the interpretation of history and flood management strategies. Unlike most of the costume dramas today, which are dressed like historical stories but with a core of loving stories, the Long River focuses on the flood in the Yellow River and values the tradition of historical dramas, telling the legendary story of Jin Fu and Chen Huang, the Qing dynasty's flood governors, who governed the Yellow River and pacified the flood, bringing a sense of freshness and simplicity to the audience in the current Chinese costume series market, which is dominated by a lot of fantasy or romance stories.
Novel subject and attractive actor group
“A history of the Yellow River equals to half of the history of China". The Yellow River governance is the key project of the ancient Chinese dynasties but was rarely touched by the previous film and dramas. So, the subject matter of "The Long River" is quite new.
In addition, the previous historical dramas mostly start the narrative from the emperor's perspective, taking the emperor as the core of the dynasty change or power struggle story like "Kangxi Dynasty", "Young Zheng Dynasty", "The Emperor in Han Dynasty" and so on, while the "The Long River" starts the narrative from the point of view of the two flood management Chen Huang and Jin Fu, taking these two people helping Kangxi to control the flood in Yellow River as the main storyline, linking up a lot of characters from the court officials to local people.
The story begins in the 15th year of Kangxi’s domination, which is a year of heavy rains and frequent flooding of the Yellow River. The episode begins with the roaring of the Yellow River, which is not a landscape, but a disaster, as the people are repairing fortifications on the dike to prevent it from breaking. There are people making Big Sao (大埽) which is made of firewood, bamboo and other soft materials, sandwiched by mud and stone rolled bundle, used to build dams, shore protection works, and emergency plugging.
And suddenly, hearing someone shouting "the yellow dragon came! the yellow dragon came!", the guys stopped work and stand still. The so-called yellow dragon is the flood. On this moment, it was almost beyond the extreme of the embankment. The water across the dike was flooding toward the people who were carrying the Big Sao and lots of them were quickly knocked down.
Until now it is enough to see the ferocity of the water. Seeing the situation was not good, the villagers stopped their work to withdraw. Obviously this time the flood did not break the dike, but if once the dike is broken, no one would be able to run away from the flood.
With the arrival of governor Jin Fu, the situation was once under control. But when they learned that the river officer owed the wages and ignored the river dike, they were pretty angry and heartbroken. So, Jin Fu made a promise that he would not abandon people who were in the disaster and flee, but be with the people to fight against the disaster.
At the same time, Kangxi Emperor was praying to the ancestors for atonement, may the dam can behold and the people can escape from this disaster. Apparently, the whole country was working together to fight the flood.
The front line was in full swing, the rear is also escorted by the emperor. Everything seems to be fine, but this is only the appearance. The so-called natural disasters and floods, in addition to some are unpredictable, most of them can be defended. But now the reason why it had become so unpredictable and bad and even the people were complaining was the river officials’ longtime indifference which means it was actually a man-made disaster.
In the subsequent episodes, the river officer Wang Guangyu was not trying to find ways to fight against the floods but only going around to seek shelter around, make connections and keep his official position, then deceiving the emperor that everything is fine. It was clear that the court had allocated a large amount of silver every year to repair and strengthen the dam, but finally dam was still unbearable and the floods ravaged the invasion. That was because the majority of this silver have already been embezzled by these officials.
And when disaster strikes, they can do nothing but pray for the blessing, deceiving the court and concealing the people. If they survive, everything would be peace and quiet and they would continue to scrape people's money and embezzle the disaster relief silver. But if not, they would have to admit that it was their own bad luck or maybe they would continue to deceive the public and bribe the upper government with more silver, seeking to protect themselves. So the natural disaster is not simply a natural disaster. And the "The Long River" unfolds the story with such background.
The opening scenes, the use of filming special effects, and the editing greatly highlighted the urgency of the situation, the concerns from all parties about the river disaster, and of course the power struggle from the court, the conflicts are numerous and drive the development of the story.
This is Huang Zhizhong again acting as a loyal minister. The public is mostly impressed by his acting in "Ming Dynasty 1566" as Hai Rui. And now the governor minister Jin Fu also has the temperament of Hai Rui, with the concern for the country and the people, as well as the certainty of faith and the steadfast posture fighting against the flood with the people which is quite admirable.
There are many details in the drama to portray Jin Fu's ideal of river governance and his righteousness. When the corrupt officials pandered to him with ginseng, he gave out the ginseng to the local people; when the yellow dragon crossed the border, he resolutely chose to blow up the dike to release the flood, not afraid to take the blame; when he was wrongly escorted to the capital, he did not make too much defense and was not afraid but only thinking about the flood; when Mingzhu was ordered to interrogate him, he was righteous and generous, even if it was a matter of his life and death, he cared not about personal life and death, but seizes the last opportunity to recommend the book of river management to Kangxi and a great talented man of river management - Chen Huang.
Chen Huang, acted by Yin Fang, was a genius in flood management. He was able to judge the tidal floods based on hydrology and climate, and at the age of twenty, he was able to write a book on river management that both Jin Fu and Kang Xi admired. But he was repeatedly ridiculed as an idiot in his official behavior. The straightforward characteristic and unawareness of the officialdom was interpreted quite well by Yin Fang.
Deep theme and outstanding approach
“When all the officials of the court are incorruptible, the water of the Yellow River will also become clear”. "The Long River" focuses on river management and digs deeper into the plight of the times behind river management.
This dilemma is divided into two storylines by the scriptwriter. The first storyline unfolds with Jin Fu, Chen Huang, and Kangxi taking care of the flood. While Mingzhu and Suo Etu's power struggle, imperial examinations and the court ecology is other storylines.
In the story of river management, the director gets a good start in the first episode with gruesome water management of the real battle with the flood. The vision is magnificent and smooth, both the scene of the monstrous flood and the river workers wearing straw raincoats and hats in the pouring rain truly reproduce the ancient scenes of river management and rescue.
In order to shoot these flood scenes, the filming crew completed the artificial flood through the hook machine, and searched the historical materials, consulting the water experts. They also not only restored the architectural structure, dike structure, and water flow structure but also restored the unique traditional river technology formed in the process of the Yellow River management at that time, including the ancient Big Sao and the plugging works.
And in the official management story, through the river officials' embezzlement of wages, Wang Guangyu framing Jin Fu, Wang Guangyu’s suicide, three students of the examination, Mingzhu and Suo Etu’s power struggle, and other scenes, present the deep-seated reasons for the difficulty of governing the Yellow River: the difficulty of governing the river is also the difficulty of governing officials and people.
Trying to summarize the rules from history and portraying the human form in history is always the highlight of director Zhang Ting's work. Adding comedy elements to make historical series less serious and boring is another characteristic of Zhang Ting's works. In "The Long River", Zhang Ting tries to add the serious issue of flood management and official rules into the thrilling scenes and the light-hearted rivalry scenes to play a role of relief, which is a dramatic device on the one hand, and on the other hand creates a dramatic tension to a certain extent.
The conflict between the seriousness of historical series and marketability is exactly the problem that all the historical series have collectively faced in recent years. In the ranking of historical series, "Kangxi Dynasty", "Young Zheng Dynasty", "The Emperor in Han Dynasty", "The Great Qin Empire" and other historical costume series occupy a high proportion, especially "Ming Dynasty 1566" with a high recommendation, which is still the pinnacle of historical series with "Journey to the West" and "Dream of the Red Chamber". However. Most of these high-scoring classics were released between 2000-2010 and are serious and heavy. In the last decade, the number of historical series has declined sharply, the reputation has gone and some are gradually mutating in the fusion of genres such as palace fighting, power struggle, romance, etc.
Back to "The Long River", it is unfolding in a grand narrative but finally settles on a few key characters, showing through them the struggle for interests, but at the same time shows the courageous commitment and dedication through the collaborative efforts of two competent ministers of water management.
It also shows the courage and dedication of thousands of people to overcome the hardships of the disaster, which is undoubtedly relevant and valuable. Of course, this spirit is stretched to stay long until today. The so-called river management is not only the management of the Yellow River floods, but also the inheritance and continuation of the spirit of national self-improvement and struggle.
Therefore, "The Long River" not only relies on the strength of the whole team to support the scene and the heart-warming, compelling story to capture people, but also the inherent spiritual qualities which directly touched our hearts.