Following the events of The Lost Tomb 2, Wu Xie (Bai Shu), Zhang Qiling (Zhao Dong Ze) and Pang Zi (Zhang Bo Yu) follow the trail of their elders to elucidate the mystery of the Heavenly Palace.
Explore with the Note is a very unlucky drama. Shot sometime in 2018, it got shelved for no less than three years with little to no information, only to be released at the drop of a hat only a few months after Ultimate Note, the most faithful and most successful opus in the The Lost Tomb franchise. The outcome was to be expected: enraged fans tearing apart anyone unfortunate enough to be related to the show, and a disastrous rating on Douban.
What truly happened there, we’ll probably never know. It’s a pity, because I, for one, am insanely curious as to what was going on behind the scenes when Explore with the Note was produced. Why is the scriptwriter different from The Lost Tomb 2‘s? Why does the plot overlap? How come Qiu De Kao isn’t played by the same actor even though both shows were shot around the same time? Why didn’t The Lost Tomb 2 simply cut off at 36 episodes?
Those who do know will probably never tell. But let me say this: this show is nowhere near as disastrous as the internet would have you believe.
A Standard Lost Tomb production
I’ve seen a fair amount of The Lost Tomb productions by now. While I haven’t finished them all, I think I can safely say that I know what to expect when it comes to this franchise. And in many ways, Explore with the Note is a fairly standard The Lost Tomb adaptation, insofar as the CGI ranges from pretty bad to decent and the plot makes absolutely no sense. The characters’ decisions are deprived of any logic, but in the end, well, it’s not all that different from what we’ve seen before, really.
The first eight episodes did feel a bit redudant—boring, even, but I think it’s mostly due to the fact that their entire plotline had already been covered in the last four episodes of the previous instalment. So either don’t watch The Lost Tomb 2 episodes 36-40, or skip straight away to Explore with the Note episode 9, and you should be perfectly fine.
Plot and Characterization
No, the real problem of this particular opus lies with its characterization. The reason I adore Wu Xie is his kindness, and the way this gentle soul of his keeps attracting even the most terrible of people like a magnet. In this dark, dark world, Wu Xie always stays true to his principles, ready to help even the most undeserving. He’s also a very smart person, and while he can’t fight and lacks experience when it comes to tomb-exploring, he’s competent in his own way.
The problem starts there. I didn’t recognize him. While the circumstances did imply some character change for him, it really didn’t feel organic at all, and there were very few hints of the old Wu Xie shining through. Bai Shu is a very good actor, as he showed in Love and Redemption, and he did his best here, but the person he was directed to play… wasn’t Wu Xie.
This applies to everyone else to some extent. I was so excited when I realized that my favorite Pang Zi was returning, but ended up extremely disappointed in him. While The Lost Tomb 2 Pang Zi was hilarious and memorable and felt both solid and reliable, this one was an utter fool, and crass on top of it. He didn’t make me laugh at all, instead I found him annoying.
As for the plot, I’m used to things not really making sense and am usually fine with it, but I left Explore with the Note thoroughly confused. Almost nothing seems to tie into Ultimate Note, which is supposed to happen right after. Nothing fits, nothing matches, and some things are left forever unsolved, unless we get a reboot in the coming years.
Clinging to the PingXie Crumbs
This all amounts to a singular lack of charm for this adaptation. Usually, the Lost Tomb series all have their own brand of charm which endears them to the audience in spite of their (numerous) faults. In this one, however, I found myself pretty much indifferent to everything and everyone. There was… well, there was no heart in this instalment, which makes it quite forgettable, unfortunately. (The long walking scenes in near-identical stone hallways might have something to do with it as well.)
Forgettable, but for one thing. This show seems to believe in rewarding those who’ve worked for it. If you stick it out until episode 18, that’s when you get to the Holy Grail. I’m talking, of course, about PingXie. Because while Explore with the Note gave us very little for those two apart from a few shared, lingering glances, when it did decide to go for it, it went for it. To the point that this scene has become one of my favorite PingXie moments ever. It really made everything worth it.
The Bane of My Existence
Alright, I’ll make one allowance. Except for that one half-episode which centered around Xiao Ge and Wu Xie goodness, there was one thing that certainly didn’t leave me indifferent: Wu San Xing. The Bane of My Existence is back in this one, more present than ever. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate him? Well, my loathing reached new heights with this one. I despise Wu San Xing. He’s a manipulative old jerk, and the sheer amount of gaslighting and manhandling he puts Wu Xie through is nothing short of cruel. His mere presence on my screen was enough to fill me with rage.
All in All…
While nowhere near excellent, Explore with the Note makes for a fairly average early The Lost Tomb adaptation. The general feel of it fits well with The Lost Tomb 2, and even though I was quite disappointed in the lack of excellent Iron Triangle dynamics the previous instalment had blessed up with, the episodes went by fast enough. It was an easy watch, if not a thrilling one.
My advice for this one would be this: if you haven’t seen Ultimate Note just yet, then wait until you’re done with Explore with the Note. And if you’ve seen Ultimate Note already, then don’t hold Explore with the Note to the same standard. This one was shot three years before. A lot can change in three years, especially regarding bromance, CGI, and so on. As it is, this show has been held to frankly unfair standards. It deserved better.
Title: The Lost Tomb 2 – Explore with the Note
Starring: Bai Shu, Zhao Dong Ze, Zhang Bo Yu, Liu Xue Yi
Aired: 07/11/2021 to 07/25/2021
Number of episodes: 24
Genres: Adventure, Mystery, Horror, Bromance
My Grade: ★★☆☆☆