When Wu Xie (Zeng Shun Xi) receives a mysterious videotape, he, Xiao Ge (Xiao Yu Liang) and Pang Zi (Cheng Fang Xu) must embark on another quest, at the end of which may well lie the truth of Xiao Ge’s missing memory.
I’ll be honest, I want to scream a little. What a ride Ultimate Note was, what a ride. Before it came out, I really wasn’t convinced by the cast and stills, but I’ll freely admit that it hardly took a few episodes for me to get on board this adaptation, which I now rank as my absolute favorite amongst all the Lost Tomb series.
(If you’re not sure what this series is about, check out my introductory guide right here!)
First and foremost, I still feel like this entire cast looks too young, but it’s especially true for a few actors in particular. (Before I start, I’d like to make it clear that this section is nothing against the actors themselves, or their skills. I actually think they did a very good job, but they just look too young.)
Zeng Shun Xi
First, Zeng Shun Xi, who looks a smidge on the young side for 27-year-old Wu Xie. I think he lacks that maturity in his looks that Hou Ming Hao brought to the character in The Lost Tomb 2, but I ended up not minding too much simply because his acting was pretty good, especially in emotional scenes. And since Ultimate Note is the most emotional of the Lost Tomb installments, I’m convinced that he was a perfect fit for the role, so congratulations on (almost) making me change my mind.
He also had great chemistry with Xiao Yu Liang’s Xiao Ge, who works perfectly as a follow-up to Cheng Yi’s portrayal of the character. In The Lost Tomb 2, Xiao Ge was starting to be more human, to open himself up to his feelings, but he wasn’t yet very good at expressing them, relying mostly on his eyes to convey his emotions. Cheng Yi, as we all know, excels at that sort of silent emoting, and didn’t disappoint. In Ultimate Note, however, Xiao Ge grows to express himself a bit more, but also to participate in the Iron Triangle’s shenanigans. Xiao Yu Liang, although a bit green at first, grew into the role quite well.
Liu Yu Han
Liu Yu Han as Xiao Hua didn’t work for me either, because he looks far too boyish for a young man who’s known to be ruthless and particularly brutal when it comes to protecting his family’s interests. In The Lost Tomb 2, Liu Xue Yi was perfect for the role because he had this charismatic, imposing aura and arctic stare which did justify him having to wear soft colors so as not to look too intimidating.
If you tell me the guy on the left can and will murder me, I’ll believe you. Say the same about the one on the right, and I’ll laugh in your face.
Another casting choice I had misgivings about is Hankiz Omar as A-Ning. It’s nothing against her personally, really. She did a fine job acting, but she just looks far too small and delicate for a tough explorer. At one point, she said to Wu Xie “I’ll pull you up”, and I laughed to myself because there’s just no way a slip of a girl like her can ever accomplish that, muscular or no.
I mentioned it above, Ultimate Note is the season which brings us the most emotion, and for good reason. For once, those relationships all felt real. Some characters, such as Wu San Xing, Wu Er Bai or Pan Zi, whom I used to hate with a passion for the very valid reason that they were absolute jerks to Wu Xie, whom they’re supposed to care for, suddenly became much more than one-dimensional cryptic manipulators.
The human heart is more scary than god and ghost.Ultimate Note
For once, I actually managed to feel their love for Wu Xie, instead of constant condescension, coercion and manipulation. It was quite a feat, because while I was indifferent to Wu San Xing in the Reboot, I positively hated him and his brother in all the others.
On a completely different note, the show also managed to establish HeiHua more firmly than all the other seasons combined. Where Xiao Hua and Hei Xiazi barely interacted at all before, we suddenly got a duo of competent men who banter and trust each other, equals in fighting prowess and strength of will. It was so much fun to see them interact throughout the show, to see their mutual respect build up and grow into a solid friendship.
All the Friendship
And speaking of, Ultimate Note also provided me with something I never knew I needed: all the friendship in the world. Between Wu Xie and Xiao Hua, Wu Xie and Pang Zi, the Mystic Nine heirs (Ultimate Note is actually the only installment which manages to make Huo Xiu Xiu somewhat interesting),… But the pair I loved especially was none other than Xiao Ge and Pang Zi. Most of the time, when the Iron Triangle are together, Xiao Ge stays focused on Wu Xie, who stares back in his usual lovestruck way. Which is fantastic, but ultimately leaves Pang Zi a bit on the sidelines.
But Ultimate Note corrected that, and it was glorious. For once, we were shown that their friendship and mutual understanding runs very deep as well, and that Xiao Ge does actually care a lot about Pang Zi (and vice versa).
Production-wise, Ultimate Note was nothing to write home about, either in good or bad terms. There were some really good instrumental tracks in the second part of the show, and the CGI was decent. I’m just not quite sure why they decided to have the story take place in 2004 when The Lost Tomb 2 clearly happens in 2019, but sure, why not. It wouldn’t be The Lost Tomb if it made sense anyway.
From what I hear, the team was also very aware of what they could and could not do with the budget at their disposal, and elected to change creatures they knew they wouldn’t be able to generate properly for more affordable ones. A strategy which worked perfectly: none of the monsters looked fake or horrible, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for this excellent choice.
Another asset to the show were the beautiful illustrated vignettes which Ultimate Note used to portray their historical scenes instead of flashbacks.
All in All…
What I get from Ultimate Note is love and respect for not only the story, but also the audience. This season is so carefully put together, faithful to the books (from what I understand), and does a fantastic job at laying the groundwork for the future of the Iron Triangle as seen in Tomb of the Sea and The Lost Tomb Reboot.
I didn’t think anything could top The Lost Tomb 2 for me (mainly because I love Cheng Yi, the PingXie was out of this world, and the cast was my favorite), but Ultimate Note proved me wrong. It made up for a cast I didn’t necessary like through good acting and stellar pacing, which the others dreadfully lacked. The screenwriters managed to pack three books in 36 episodes, refused to commit the sin of “the Xiao Ge waiting game”, in one of my friends’ words, and offered copious amounts of PingXie, HeiHua, and Iron Triangle feels on a silver platter.
Basically, they managed to give the fans what they wanted and what they needed, all in one fell swoop.
Some Xiao Ge screenshots, because I’m weak and we should promote Xiao Yu Liang.
Title: Ultimate Note
Aired: 12/10/2020 to 01/02/2021
Starring: Zeng Shun Xi, Xiao Yu Liang, Cheng Fang Xu, Hankiz Omar
Number of episodes: 36 + 1 special
Genres: Action & Adventure, Mystery, Bromance, Supernatural, Friendship
My Grade: ★★★★★