The first few episodes are set up like an epic historical drama. Characters all have a short introduction, and they’re presented in a seemingly disconnected context. I’ll do my best to organize the different plotlines, because they all converge in a magical moment, which is also usually the moment that you understand/ appreciate Mei Chang Su’s genius.
We begin with a fiery battle scene. On the edge of a cliff, a father hangs onto his son, both of them clad in bloody armor. Before he lets go of the young man’s arm, the father urges: For the Chi Yan army…. Stay alive. The scene fades to a serene residence in a mountainous region. A young man in billowing white robes jerks awake from his nightmare. He clenches a metal ring engraved with “Lin”. It’s implied that many years have passed, and he’s the young son from the previous scene, which was a flashback to the demise of the Chi Yan army and his father’s death.
In an interesting side note, I thought that the introduction to Lang Ya Hall was very understated. For the sake of background information, Lang Ya Hall is a mysterious place in Jiang Hu (where the wild things are – usually a nice juxtaposition against the rigid palace life), led by Lin Chen. Traditionally, it is said that Lang Ya Hall collects and possesses information on anything and everything going on in the world. Visitors can place their question in a small wooden box, and Lang Ya Hall will reply with a price quote. If the price quote is accepted and fulfilled, then the visitor can obtain his answer to whatever he is seeking. There is a short sequence that shows the mechanics behind the boxes, which I thought was pretty cool and otherworldly. Additionally, the reason for the title of the drama, Lang Ya Bang, is that Lang Ya Hall ranks the top ten people in several categories: martial arts, sects, prosperity, beauty, and all-around gentlemen. Lang Ya Bang directly translates into something along the lines of The Rankings of Lang Ya.
Here, we are introduced to the leader of Lang Ya Hall, Lin Chen.
The scene cuts over to the Prince of Yu, Xiao Jing Heng. His conversation with some officials is interrupted by the arrival of an assassin, presumably sent by his rival and brother, the Crown Prince.
Out of all the character designs in this drama, I think these two are the ugliest by far. Victor Huang’s receding hairline is incredibly apparent in his Prince of Yu, and the Crown Prince is sporting a little ugly mustache.
They are both concerned over the following case: one of the Crown Prince’s supporters in the palace (one of the top officials), has been accused of bribery and other greedy acts in his district. The Crown Prince is eager to cover up the case, as it may potentially bring down one of his major supporters in court, and he dispatches a team to prevent the official’s (I vaguely recall Official Lou) servants from reporting the case to the Imperial City. Of course, the Prince of Yu sees this as a perfect opportunity to weaken the power of the Crown Prince, and it is his people who are escorting the elderly servants into the Imperial City.
Here we’ve got Xie Yu, who is a Marquis (?) of sorts and a highly ranked official. Outwardly, he holds that he is neutral in the power struggle between the Prince of Yu and the Crown Prince, but we see that he is actually the top adviser to the Crown Prince. His daughter is conveniently married to the eldest son of the leader of a Jiang Hu sect, Tian Quan Shan Zhuang (along the lines of Heavenly Waters Mountain Villa…I tried). It’s important to note that all parties involved wants to have supporters within the palace walls (i.e. high-ranking officials for power leverage) and Jiang Hu pugilists (i.e. Tian Quan Shan Zhuang for assassination attempts).
In a nice parallel, we are then introduced to the mastermind in camp Yu, the beautiful Qin Ban Ruo. It’s unclear whether or not her relationship with the Prince of Yu is romantic or not, but they do look very pretty together. And they spend a lot of time together. So….
Back to the action: The Crown Prince has sent people to hunt down the servants, who are en route to the Imperial City under the protection of people sent by the Prince of Yu. Unwittingly, the servants have crossed into the territory (unofficially) governed by the Jiangzuo Alliance, which is headed by
Hu Ge Mei Chang Su. It’s implied that he is the shaky figure from the beginning of the episode.
The Crown Prince side has realized that they’re in trouble, especially when one of the dimwits challenges Mei Chang Su’s right to meddle. A young boy, who is later introduced as Fei Liu, Mei Chang Su’s personal bodyguard, throws the poor man into the water, and Camp Crown Prince hastily retreats.
Back in the Jiangzuo Alliance quarters, Mei Chang Su’s first-in-command, Li Gang, is told that Mei Chang Su plans to head into the Imperial City and launch his plan.
As a friend, Lang Ya leader Lin Chen reminds Mei Chang Su that he is too sick for what he’s planning in the Imperial City. Mei Chang Su just laughs and asks his friend to come with him, since Lin Chen has more medical knowledge than a hundred doctors.
Xiao Jing Rui and Yan Yu Jing have come to escort Mei Chang Su to the Imperial City. Jing Rui is the eldest son of Xie Yu, and had befriended Mei Chang Su in his earlier adventures in Jiang Hu. He and Yu Jing are both sons of high-ranking officials in the city. They only know of Mei Chang Su on a rather superficial level (i.e. that he is the leader of the top-ranking pugilist sect). It’s briefly mentioned at some point in the episodes that Xiao Jing Rui is ranked by Lang Ya on the gentlemen’s list (requirements: single, well-versed in the literary arts, strategy, etc.) as number two. Mei Chang Su is ranked number one.
On their way into the city, the group is held momentarily at the gates by the arrival of Princess Ni Huang (niece to the Emperor). She is ranked by Lang Ya on the martial arts list, and recently passed her control of the Nan Yang troops to her younger brother. She spars with the two nobles as a way of greeting, and they both lose handily to her. Mei Chang Su watches with a perplexed expression from his curtained carriage.
Turns out, Ni Huang is on her way into the city to meet with the Emperor, who is planning a martial arts competition in order to find her a husband. Although reluctant, Ni Huang agrees but requests that the rules be modified so that the top ten contenders will have to fight her before he becomes her husband.
The pair are interrupted by the arrival of Xia Dong, who is the leading official of Xuan Jin Department (one of the three law enforcement departments). The Emperor has heard of the case against Official Lou and is sending her to conduct a secret investigation into the facts of the case.
On her way out, Xia Dong bids Ni Huang farewell and good luck in the husband search. It turns out that the two girls used to train together. Xia Dong urges Ni Huang to forget her previous betrothed, Lin Shu, as he is the son of a traitor and presumably dead. Ni Huang sadly notes that Xia Dong will never become true friends with her until she can forget Lin Shu. Xia Dong bitterly remarks that her husband Nie Feng had died under General Lin’s command in the Chi Yan Battle.
I’m throwing a lot of information out, not necessarily in the order that they are being revealed/revealed at all. I think some of the details are nice in order to flesh out the drama, so they’re just things to keep in mind.