Recently, the historical suspense drama "Ripe Town" has been released. The drama tells the story of the 37th year of the Wanli period in the Ming Dynasty, when a series of murders occurred in the Jiangnan Duxian County. The young constable Qu Sangeng, along with the historian Song Chen, his companions Gao Shicong, Leng Gui'er, Feng Kezhui, and others, delves deep into the investigation, unexpectedly uncovering a twenty-year-old unsolved case. In the first three episodes, each episode features a victim with an extremely bizarre cause of death.
The first victim is the head constable Leng of the county yamen, who was dragged to the field by the killer and impaled with a sedan pole, creating a scarecrow-like figure. This victim happens to be the master of the male protagonist, Qu Sangeng.
As a result, he suffers from indescribable psychological trauma. The process of investigating the case becomes even more challenging as he not only has to confront the mastermind behind the scenes but also delve into the intricacies of society, bowing to the laws of operation and the complexities of human relationships. He is like a pedestrian traversing the dark night, having to lift the torch to illuminate the path ahead.
What captivates the audience in "Ripe Town" is the series of peculiar cases that are both eerie and thrilling, enveloping the entire Duxian County in darkness. For example, in the case of the deceased head constable mentioned earlier, according to the autopsy performed by the coroner, he was hanged and impaled with a sedan pole.
The second victim is Wang Fuzi, the uncle of the scholar Feng Kezhui and a respected teacher at Wulei Zhai. His cause of death is equally mysterious. His body was bound and suspended, holding a beloved seal stone, while something was stuffed in his mouth.
The third victim is even more perplexing. Chen Wang, the household servant of the Lu family, was rumored to have had a period of great luck, even going to the provincial capital to gamble and buying a house in Yanzi Lane. However, his luck eventually ran out, drowning himself in the river due to mounting debts. What's strange is that even though only his skeleton remains, it was found suspended above the water.
When these three perplexing cases are placed together, many commonalities can be observed: the presence of a classical phrase, quoted from the same classic work, near each victim, and their connections to the massive fire at the Lu family's estate twenty years ago. Upon closer examination, it sends shivers down one's spine.
How did the killer manage to hang the highly skilled head constable to death? What deep-seated grudge compelled him to invest such great effort in his elaborate plan? And what purpose does he have in orchestrating a series of serial killings? Faced with everything before them, Qu Sangeng and his companions find themselves trapped in a dense fog. The even greater challenge is that in order to solve the case, they must confront people from all walks of life, from scholars and farmers to artisans and merchants, and even the lowliest of individuals.
And even in this small county, there exists a realm of the underworld. For instance, the street thugs in society form two gangs: Fanghang and Dahang. Fanghang engages in dirty deeds such as deception, extortion, and fraud, while Dahang specializes in gathering enforcers for debt collection, kidnapping, and running illegal gambling dens. Furthermore, they serve as a natural information network.
Within this county, there are five gangs known as the "Wu Hou Fu", which have a close relationship with the local authorities. The constable Leng must maintain his position by both regulating and relying on them for investigative purposes.
His identity determines that he must skillfully navigate between the realms of good and evil, thereby upholding rules and order, and maintaining harmony and stability. This also leads to different perceptions of the constable Leng depending on the individual.
Qu Sangeng sees his master as an exemplary figure, not only possessing remarkable martial prowess and acute perception, but also an understanding of human affairs and a sense of duty. However, in the eyes of his mother or historian Song, the constable Leng has undoubtedly engaged in many actions out of necessity, making it difficult for him to maintain a clean conscience.
This is the unique aspect of character development in "Ripe Town", where different perspectives reveal different facets of human nature. People are often complex and multifaceted, making it challenging to simply categorize them as good or evil. For example, Wang Fuzi, who presents himself as a teacher with refined manners, harbors a private penchant for being whipped.
What actions did the cold-headed constable and Wang Fuzi undertake that led to their demise? These are the mysteries. It is evident that "Ripe Town" not only focuses on intriguing cases but also further weaves together the diverse lives of people from different backgrounds, highlighting their complexities and the rules by which society operates.
Likewise, the pursuit of justice is a process that involves entering the depths of society and a journey of personal growth. In the first two episodes, the constable Leng utters a line twice: "Justice takes a longer path." How should we interpret this statement? Let us begin with the transformation of Qu Sangeng's character.
Initially, he saw himself as a low-ranking constable, possessing a straightforward personality and disregarding the rules of society's operations. He acted based on his master's principles, unwilling to lower his head to the constables Yi Youkao. What were the consequences? The constables Yi Youkao created numerous obstacles and even immediately dismissed Bai Yigao, a talented scholar. Gradually, Qu Sangeng changed. He began to understand the principle of "being rigid is easily broken, being flexible is easily bent; it is better to seek within the curved path than to take directly from the straight path."
First, he showed respect to the constables Yi Youkao by presenting them with account books that recorded the movements of the Wu Hou Tang, thus provoking a financial dispute between the constables and the Wu Hou Tang.
Then, Qu Sangeng used members of the Wu Hou Tang to instigate the constables of the constables Yi to bribe historian Song. He was certain that the upright and resolute historian Song would dismantle the power of the constables.
Subsequently, Qu Sangeng, using the influence of historian Song, coerced the constables Yi to reveal his whereabouts on the day his master was murdered, eliminating any suspicion that he was the culprit.
The constables Yi is a villain, but he also wields power. It is difficult to directly defeat him, but one can leverage the strength of others to achieve one's goals through indirect means. And so the story continues.
The evil in the world is often structural, intricately connected to the functioning of society. To pursue the truth, one must delve deep into it. Understanding and applying the rules are essential in finding the cracks for breakthroughs, even if it means lowering one's head and bending one's body, for in walking through the darkness, one must adapt to the dark.
The case in "Ripe Town" is exceptionally captivating, with a peculiar layout and a prosperous portrayal of society's myriad facets. The narrative structure is also daring. At the end of the first episode, the director employs cross-cutting editing to blend information from two different timeframes together.
On one hand, this portrays Qu San Geng's sense of helplessness and aimlessness when lacking substantial information. On the other hand, it reenacts the process of the constable Leng's murder.
What is the purpose of this? The understanding is that when the audience knows more than the characters in the drama, their curiosity and immersion will undoubtedly be enhanced, leading to a greater focus on Qu San Geng's pursuit of the murderer.
In the process of solving the case, "Ripe Town" does not employ various complex techniques for its characters, but rather follows the basic methods of that era, clearly presenting various clues and details, making them solid. For example, speculations. The words from ancient texts represent qualities or pursuits that people aspire to, while the use of classical Chinese by the killer is likely an allusion.
Another example is investigation. Qu Sangeng, Gao Shicong, and Feng Kezhui rely on the most basic methods, such as interviews and surveys. Qu Sangeng discovered numerous pieces of evidence in the underground coffin of the constable Leng, such as ten thousand taels of gold, testimonies from neighbors after the Lu family's fire, and a prescription from a local physician.
The constable Leng had hidden these pieces of evidence, presumably for the sake of balance and self-preservation. On the other hand, Feng Kezhui uncovered information about the four survivors of the Lu family fire: the young servant Lu Zhi, the housekeeper Chen Wang, the guard Zhang Gui, and the chef You Er. Chen Wang, in particular, is the third victim. Furthermore, Qu Sangeng deduced the entire process of his master's murder from these details.
Chen Wang's old house has long been abandoned, but some of the courtyard walls are newly mended, the stone mill is clean and has not been ground, but there are hoofprints of donkeys around the mill, and the Cui Hua House, where the constable Leng often goes, is in the vicinity of this Rouge Lane. Based on all the information, Qu Sangeng deduced the whole process of the master's murder.
As a result, he gained the recognition of historian Song, received a Huo Piao (equivalent to a search warrant), and can continue the investigation. From the preview, it is evident that the subsequent plot remains shrouded in mystery. People continue to die, and the circumstances of their deaths are equally perplexing. Seeking justice is a convoluted and arduous journey. Yet, the more difficult the road, the more captivating the process becomes.
It is worth mentioning that as a costume drama, "Ripe Town" has its own aesthetic pursuit. The art and costume design are based on historical research. The visuals draw inspiration from the paintings of Wang Meng and Xu Wei, exuding both grandeur and a poetic elegance.
The composition, with its well-placed negative space, carries a sense of antiquity. When combined with the cinematography, it often gives the audience the pleasure of watching a painting while following the drama. The juxtaposition of visuals and content creates a stark contrast, constructing a world of prosperity on the brink of collapse.
Equally anticipated is the enigmatic historian Song. In the eyes of many, he is a ruthless and righteous villain. When he first appears, he is torturing someone and pulling their teeth, all while wearing a smile. This scene reminds the psychopathic killer Li Fengtian from "Burning Ice". In another scene, he reveals a severed finger and extinguishes a candle with his bare hands, reminiscent of Li Fengtian's iconic scene of using sulfuric acid to remove fingerprints.
If historian Song and Qu Sangeng can join forces to solve the case, the story is bound to become even more thrilling. Based on the current setup, Qu Sangeng will walk the line between black and white, and with guidance from Song Dian Shi, he will investigate the true culprit in a convoluted manner, defending his own sense of justice. Ultimately, this is a battle launched by ordinary individuals against their fate. But how much power can a firefly's light possess?
Even in the darkness of the night, a lantern in the hands of an ordinary person can still illuminate a corner of the world. Similarly, if born into a turbid world, only by raising the torch in one's hand can one hope to see each other and safeguard justice and righteousness. In the threads of clues and details, finding traces and solving puzzles brings a sense of gratification. At the same time, one can also deeply feel the belief that this drama seeks to convey. The path to justice may be circuitous, but only through justice can one find the true path.