This week, our hero inched ever closer to finding the man holding the keys to understanding his father’s untimely death. The hunt for Yuanda Zhu continued in Episode 9: Distinct. Here’s the recap.
Symbols and Codes
Continuing the conclusion of last week’s episode, Ryo stands in the library of Man Mo Temple with the Wulishu in hand. Paging through the book authored by Yuanda Zhu, he finds the name Sunming Zhao on a heritage tree of martial artists. This is the very man Lan Di accused his father of killing just before the end of their fatal encounter. A paper slips out that contains a coded symbol Ryo does not recognize, but seems to be a clue to help find Zhu.
As Ryo returns to Xiuying’s apartment for the night, he spies her looking upon a photo of herself as a child with her brother, Ziming. A lone tear rolls down her face as she continues to be haunted by the dark path her sibling took. This is the very path she is desperate to keep Ryo from heading down, with the young man’s stubborn commitment to his cause continually dredging up painful memories for her.
The next morning, the pair of Fangmei and Ryo have completed a drama-free airing out of the books. She asks him if he found the Wulishu the previous evening, which prompts Ryo to show her the slip of paper to find out if she knows anything about it. The young assistant directs him to visit the owner of the tea shop he visited last week as a local familiar a number of symbols. At the shop, the paper is recognized as a Chawan sign, a messaging system used by martial artists to communicate with their affiliates in the same school. The owner directs Ryo to visit Guixiang, the elderly master he learned the Wude YI from in last week’s episode for more information on using Chawan signs.
At Yan Tin apartments, Guixiang seems mildly annoyed the young man is seeking her wisdom again so soon, but invites him in to help all the same when shown the paper. Arranging four tea cups on her table, she informs him the position of each corresponds to the words printed on the cipher and shows him how to arrange the cups to signal others he’s an ally of Yuanda Zhu.
An Easy Target
Now armed with this messaging system, Ryo tries his luck at a local eatery. After a couple hours waiting next to his Chawan sign, he’s given a note from another customer by the waiter for a meeting at Man Mo Park that night. Arriving at the dimly lit park, Ryo finds himself clubbed from behind with a steel rod by a shadowy figure, knocking him out cold.
Ryo awakens in a cold sweat from nightmares of Lan Di, to find himself bandaged and alone in Xiuying’s apartment. He takes this opportunity to examine the childhood picture of Xiuying with Ziming. Fangmei visits later to check on him and imparts that he’s causing her master great deal concern, as she pleads with him take better care of himself. Ryo seems to not realize that it was Xiuying that presumably saved him from his ambush. The two talk about Ziming, allowing Ryo to finally learn that he is Xiuying’s brother and left her at the orphanage they lived in when she was still a child, for reasons unknown. As Fangmei concerns herself over his injuries, she tells the appreciative Ryo to let her handle the book carrying chores while he heals. The following day Ryo heads back out to try the Chawan sign at another dining hall.
A middle aged man approaches Ryo at the restaurant, observing by the Chawan sign that he must be a martial artist and informing him he saw a similar sign at another establishment, the Dou Jiang Diner. The cup placement of his Chawan sign, Ryo learns from this man, is slightly off and drawing needless danger toward himself. Sensing an opportunity to learn the last of the Wude from this retired martial artist, Ryo asks about them and is brought back to the man’s barber shop.
In the barber’s chair the man places his shaving knife at Ryo’s throat, causing him to jerk back in fear. This was a test and Ryo failed with his reaction to the blade. The barber declines to teach him the Wude, hitting him with the recurrent criticism that he is fundamentally lacking as a martial artist and sends Ryo on his way. Deciding to try his luck, he visits the Dou Jiang Diner mentioned by the barber and carefully sets his tea cups to the correct Chawan sign.
Grasping at Shadows
A note comes to meet at the diner that night, bringing with it a diminutive man in a business suit claiming to be an business partner of Yuanda Zhu. A posse of thugs on the hunt for him follows just behind. Seeing them, the suited man tries to run away, but finds himself easily captured and brought to their leader, an effeminately dressed man Shenmue fans will recognize as Yuan. The Yellow Head gang’s second in command has Ryo’s only lead and he isn’t about to let this opportunity slip through his grasp. He starts fight through the gang members, working his way toward Yuan and Zhu’s associate.
Meanwhile a figure moves in the shadows, taking down Yuan’s men with silent and precise strikes. That figure is Xiuying, coming to help Ryo out of this predicament in secret. Xiuying learned earlier from Fangmei that Ryo resumed his activities in the tea shops and was troubled that his mind remains unpolished and lacking the serene focus she wishes him to obtain. Yuan realizes his thugs have all dropped around him and has to retreat, allowing Ryo to get Zhu’s associate back to safety, as Xiuying slinks away unseen.
Ryo introduces himself to Zhu’s associate, Shuqin and explains his reasons for seeking Yuanda Zhu. Upon hearing that Iwao was killed by Lan Di, the man is troubled the Chi You Men have extended their reach past China. Unfortunately, Zhu’s business partner doesn’t know his boss’s whereabouts, stating he went into hiding when the Chi You Men started hunting him. Shuqin believes that Ren of the Heavens gang, the same delinquent searching around town for Ryo knows where Yuanda Zhu is, but an encounter with this man is a dangerous proposition.
May the Gods Be With You
Ryo barges into Heavens gang territory and demands to see Ren. Instead he gets a fight with some goons that are no match, so they take a different approach and have him follow them further into their territory. Down an alley, Ryo yet again takes metal pipe to the back, causing him to black out and wake up later in the Wong’s boat. The orphan was watching from afar and dragged him to safety. Wong knows the key to Ren’s heart is dangling the prospect of profit in front of him. He advises Ryo to tell the gang members he’s got cash for their leader, and gives him a lighter adorned with a Heavens gang symbol they use as a credential. With some parting wisdom, Wong tells Ryo he must stand firm while meeting Ren to gain his respect.
Following Wong’s instructions, Ryo is brought to Ren with little drama. Face to face with the gang leader, he asks about Yuanda Zhu’s location, to which Ren says no problem before unsheathing his knife, bringing it to Ryo’s throat. This time, he doesn’t flinch and Ren is seemingly impressed enough to take them to Zhu. They sneak into a warehouse, but instead of Zhu, it’s Yuan of the Yellow Heads again, in the progress of making an illicit deal. The lights suddenly go out. Ren disappears with the bag of cash they were exchanging, leaving Ryo to deal with the angry Yellow Heads.
Ren emerges at Pigeon Park, satisfied he was able to get one over on the easy mark he took Ryo for when the young martial artist suddenly appears. A chase through the streets of Hong Kong takes place, as Ryo has to react quickly, avoiding people and obstacles to catch up to the fleeing Ren. They end up at a construction site, with Ren climbing the half built structures to lose Ryo. At the top of the site, Ryo dives for Ren and accidentally breaks the bamboo supports of the building, causing them to plummet several stories before the fall is broken by a covered truck. Smarting from the crash landing, the pair gather their bearings as the gang leader notices the Phoenix Mirror laying next them.
Seeing the treasure prompts Ren to ask the reason behind the search for Yuanda Zhu. Ren doesn’t seem to care much for Ryo’s revenge quest but decides to help him for real, sensing there’ll be money in it for him. Comparing himself with Ryo to highlight their differences, Ren only cares about making money, which he needs to stay alive to actually enjoy. On the flip side, Ryo’s revenge motivations have made him behave gutsily in all situations, whether the danger his real or not. With the observation, Ryo finally realizes what he was lacking to understand the final Wude.
As You Wish
The next morning, Ryo returns to the barber shop. The owner, Zhangyu, again places the razor to his throat, but Ryo gives no motion to pull away. The sharp blade posed no threat, because there was no intent to harm him with it. Zhangyu is pleased and imparts the fourth and final Wude to Ryo: DAN. This Wude teaches to never be shaken, and always remain calm and resolute to make the proper decision.
Zhangyu leaves Ryo with a final piece of wisdom that simply having courage without thought behind it will lead to unnecessary danger and bad outcomes, such as his improper placement of the Chawan signs earlier in the episode. Now understanding that this is what Xiuying sees him to be doing, he returns to her one final time. They speak of his brother and the path he’s taken that she doesn’t approve of. Xiuying believes that learning the truth of his father’s death will plant the seeds of revenge firmly in his heart, a charge Ryo is not able to refute. She finds herself frustrated that even after learning the Wude, he remains committed to this folly of a quest. Revenge goes against her core belief martial arts should only be used to preserve life, rather than destroy it.
Accepting the two will not be able to see eye to eye, Ryo announces he is leaving as he doesn’t want to place further burden on Xiuying. She somberly looks on as the stubborn young man walks away, mirroring the actions of her brother many years prior.
Comparison to the Games
Spoiler for Shenmue 2 in this section.
Man Mo Park: Ryo gets knocked out immediately here and lands back at Xiuying’s place. In the game, he can counter the ambush and end up getting the information about Yuanda Zhu and the Dou Jiang Diner from his attackers.
Yuan’s Debut: Some in the community have wondered how Yuan would be portrayed. Canonically, Yuan is male transvestite, but that aspect of his character was censored in the western localization of Shenmue 2, where Yuan was instead presented as a woman. Thankfully, the show chose to stick with the source material so Yuan is portrayed as originally intended.
Extending the last Wude hunt: In Shenmue 2, Ryo only needs to visit Zhangyu once to learn DAN. He’s told not to move under any circumstances, and it’s up the the player to sense the danger isn’t real and not react when the QTE button pops up. In the show they elected to have Ryo fail the test and learn from his encounter with Ren how to understand when the percieved danger real.
QTE Goodness: The chase scene with Ren was the best of the season at recreating the feeling of the QTE sequences from games. This chase looked very familiar to the one featured in Shenmue 2, ending with the crash landing off the building onto the truck below.
This was a nice way to close out the Hong Kong portion and get Ryo all four Wude before heading to Kowloon, despite a bitter end with Xiuying. I appreciate how her deep concern for Ryo ending up like Ziming has been featured throughout the Hong Kong arc, as I feel it adds additional emotional weight to the story. The Wude of the week format utilized these last four episodes was a smart way to extend that plot line, while working elements of it into other events taking place in the search for Yuanda Zhu.
That scoundrel Ren is entertaining already and it should be fun to see him and Ryo struggle to build a rapport of the next couple of episodes. Sad not to see Joy in the episode but something tells me she’ll be showing up again soon.
Next week’s episode is title Comeback. Like every week, I expect the next episode will be fun to come back to. See you next week for the recap.