This week in Comeback, we scrounged through the seediest parts of Hong Kong looking for Yuanda Zhu and encountered some real brutish characters. Here’s the recap.
The episode opens in Bailu Village just before the break of dawn, focusing on a new character we haven’t seen before. The older man packing his bag is Shenhua’s father. She offers him breakfast but he declines, stating the need to get off to his work early. He is about to undertake his most important project yet as a stonemason and lets her know he won’t be back for many days. She sees him off in the yard and admires the first full blossom on the special tree in front of her house.
At the same time, Ryo Hazuki stands outside the gated Man Mo Temple, giving a bow of respect to the place that showed him kindness before moving on for good. Meeting up with Wong, he’s escorted to Ren, impatient to get the search started for the legend of the underworld, Yuanda Zhu. Ryo produces his warning letter to Iwao after being questioned why a big shot like Zhu would even meet with him. Ren inquires what Ryo will do if Zhu helps him find his father’s killer but receives a cagey response in return. They head out as Ren reminds him that he’s got a ‘big score’ written all over him.
Trouble Finds Them
They travel to Kowloon Walled City, an ungoverned cluster of decaying buildings on the outskirts of Hong Kong to meet Yang, a herbalist who worked for Zhu. The shopkeeper is wary of trusting Ryo’s word but changes his mind when shown the letter sent to Iwao. Yang directs them to another section of Kowloon where they meet a black cladded man, motioning them over to a door adorned with a dragon to meet with Zhu. Ren is suspicious of the situation but Ryo heads in anyway. Yuanda Zhu isn’t there. Instead, a large figure looms in the shadows. This giant ogre of a man steps into the light, revealing himself to also be searching for Zhu, as two Yellow Head gang members surround Ryo from behind. Ren intervenes against the freshly sprung trap by taking down the foot soldiers, revealing the giant man to be Don Niu, leader of the Yellow Head gang and rival to Ren.
Ryo and Ren each deliver a powerful blow to Don Niu’s gut, but find they’ve merely amused the behemoth man with their ineffective attacks. Each is sent flying by the impact of his meaty arms striking them to the ground to knock them out cold. They wake up hours later, handcuffed and in Yellow Head captivity. Here, Ren shares the backstory of the gang. They once merely served as muscle for an organization called White Thai, which ran Hong Kong’s casinos. Eventually, the gang plotted and executed an assassination of the organization’s leadership via car bombing. Don Niu and his gang filled the vacuum and now exist as the largest criminal gang in Hong Kong. Through flashbacks played during Ren’s history lesson, we also learn Joy’s mother was a part of White Thai leadership and killed in the explosion, as her young daughter witnessed helplessly.
The two bicker about how to escape their predicament, with Ren taking harsh exception to Ryo attempts at ordering him around. They eventually settle on tricking the guard into believing Ryo is unwell and will soon die. The guard panics and receives a pair of fists to the face as he opens the door, allowing them to escape their cell but also putting the whole building on alert. They fight through a series of goons and settle on resting overnight on a remote rooftop of the building. There, Ren expresses his dismay that he’s been dragged into a situation that got him penciled onto the Yellow Head naughty list, wondering who is so important Ryo is after to be in the gang’s crosshairs. Ryo tells him he’s after Lan Di, a name Ren recognizes as a Chi You Men leader and seems shocked, fearing the power of the cartel even more than they Yellow Heads.
The scene transitions to Lan Di himself, hearing from a bowing Don Niu and Yuan that they have yet to locate Yuanda Zhu. The Yellow Head gang wishes to join the Chi You Men as an affiliate in charge of Hong Kong, which Lan Di is amenable to on the condition they bring him Zhu. The brown-nosing gang leaders let slip that they have people in custody that serve as a lead to finding Zhu, intriguing Lan Di when he hears one of them is a young Japanese man. Unfortunately for them, their leads are escaping, as the meeting is interrupted to let Don Niu know Ren and Ryo are on the loose.
Yuan is the first to come across the handcuffed duo trying to sneak their way out of the Yellow Head building, opening the elevator doors right in front of them. He lashes out at them with a knife that eventually lands on cold handcuff chain steel, sending it flying before they send Yuan packing with a kick to the gut. Don Niu steps of the elevator and is enraged his “cute little Yuan” has been hurt. He barrels at Ryo and Ren like a bowling ball down hallways, until the two are stuck in front of a broken down outdoor escape path with nowhere to go. They make a desperate jump to a neighboring building and successfully evade Don Niu for now.
Back at their hideout, Wong picks the handcuff lock and Joy remarks that Ryo and Ren are getting on like brothers. Ren lets them know Ryo has roped him into conflict with the Yellow Heads, which causes a scarred Joy to remark at the stupidity of taking them on. They head back to get answers on the double cross from the herbalist. Yang had no choice, as Don Niu has him in a tough spot and doesn’t actually know where Zhu is. He gives them lead in Huang the wiretapper, another man Ren has loose association with.
They visit Huang’s empty apartment and locate a cache of cassette tapes recorded from wiretapper’s info gathering on phone lines across Kowloon. Ryo resolves to listen to each one for clues, while an incredulous Ren provides the cassette player. Back in Hong Kong, Xiuying ruminates on her brother once more, remembering in detail the day he left her. Ziming swore to have revenge on those responsible for the deaths of their parents and set out to join the Chi You Men to find out more, saying he would sell his soul if he had to. Xiuying is troubled once more by these memories, while likely worrying about Ryo now that he has left her care.
Hours later, the tapes eventually yield a valuable conversation of Yuan and Don Niu discussing their successful capture of Shuqin, Zhu’s associate Ryo rescued last episode. They intend to extract the location of Zhu through interrogation and Ryo moves to intervene, despite Ren starting to have concerns about going up against these gangs and cartels. Ryo is unmovable in his determination, saying he’d go to the ends of the Earth if he had to, somewhat mirroring what Ziming said in Xiuying’s memories. They hone in on the talking bird heard in the recordings as a hint on how to find Yuan.
Visiting the local bird supply vendor, they get confirmation that Yuan is a daily regular there, and hide while they wait for him to show up. While they wait, Ryo wants to know why Ren keeps helping him. It’s for money, of course, and the gang leader sees Chi You Men involvement as proof that big stacks of cash will be on the line. They cut a deal for Ren to take the winnings, but Ryo can’t promise there will be any. Yuan shows for his daily birdseed and they tail him back to his apartment, ornate by Kowloon standards.
A knock at the door comes and Ryo delivers a severe gut punch to knock out Don Niu’s best man. They find Shuqin tied up and have to hold off taking him out of there, as the big man himself is on his way. Thinking quickly, Ren repeats “hide in the closet” to the bird, which Don Niu hears when he enters. Believing he’s got them at last, he tears open the empty closet doors and finds himself butt-kicked in and trapped as Ren and Ryo escort Shuqin back to safety.
Catching a Ghost
Zhu’s associate reveals he was able to make contact and discovered his boss is hiding in Kowloon’s Ghost Hall Building. He provides them with four keys, each depicting an animal of Chinese mythology as the tools they’ll need to reach the man they seek. The pair utilize the keys to work their way through an intricate set of locks and hidden doors leading their way to the top of the Ghost Hall Building. Using the last key, the Snake Tortoise, they slide open the door to the office where Yuanda Zhu is hiding. An older man, clad in green with slicked gray hair and round spectacles, looks puzzled to see Ryo standing before him and asks about his identity when trouble appears. The Yellow Heads managed to catch up to Ryo and Ren, returning the favor from earlier by tailing them all the way to Zhu.
Ryo finds himself thrown out the window by the boorish Don Niu, falling several stories to the ground below. Just barely having his fall broken on the way down, Ryo hits the ground hard and is out for the count, with the evil giant following behind to finish him off. A woman in blue appears, placing herself in between Ryo and Don Niu. Xiuying has come to aid our young Hazuki once more and we close out this episode on a cliffhanger, with the stupid Don Niu not comprehending the pain about to be rendered upon him.
Comparison to the Games
Spoilers for Shenmue 2 in this section.
Building out Joy’s Backstory: We finally learned what happened to Joy’s mother in the show, with her assassination at the hands of the Yellow Heads. This is fresh information you won’t get in the games. As I suspected earlier in the season when her relatives, the Chen family, were revealed to be art smugglers, Joy also comes from an underworld family.
Show Ren the Money: Ryo doesn’t really inquire as to why Ren continues to help him in Kowloon, and as I recall only get’s dollar signs in his eyes after the true use of the Phoenix Mirror is revealed at the end of Shenmue 2. Ren is being very upfront about his desire to profit off Ryo’s adventures in the show.
Tailing Yuan: This was simplified heavily to keep the pacing up. The tailing of Yuan in Shenmue 2 is a long segment that helps the player experience a great deal of the Kowloon territory rendered in the game engine.
Ghost Hall Building: No falling off wooden planks until you want to throw the Dreamcast out the window in this episode. The four animal keys were used as a way to traverse hidden paths contained throughout the building, rather than just being utilized inside the Five Stars Corp office at the top of the building.
We raced through Kowloon this week. I hope they slow down a bit next week to focus on the Walled City locale a bit more. I know some may not feel this way, but I liked the changes made to the Ghost Hall building segment. I thought it was clever to use the keys to open secret passages throughout the building and kept the segment feeling kinetic as the Shenmue main theme played in the background.
I’m loving the extra world building that detailed how the Yellow Heads rose to power and revealed Joy’s past. It’s interesting to see how she straight up wants to steer clear of them, though we know she can’t stay on the sidelines forever. Seeing the Yellow Heads grovel before Lan Di as they beg to join his organization is a fun touch that hammers home just how far below him on the totem pole they are.
Xiuying’s scenes remain a high point each episode. She’s such a richly defined character and really makes the Hong Kong arc feel special. Showing up to place herself in front of Don Niu was an epic recreation of that scene in the game and a perfect spot for a cliffhanger. I’m hoping some extra care was put into her fight scenes next week so they can really showcase how gifted she is as a martial artist.
Next week’s episode is titled Entangled. See you next week to recap all the action!