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Series / The Disguiser

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From left to right, the Ming siblings: Ming Cheng, Ming Tai, Ming Lou, and Ming Jing.

The Disguiser (Chinese: 伪装者; pinyin: Wěi Zhuāng Zhě) is a 2015 Chinese republican spy drama based on the novel Spy War on Shanghai Bond (諜戰上海灘) by Zhang Yong, starring Hu Ge, Jin Dong, Liu Mintao, and Wang Kai. Set in 1940s Shanghai, the series tells the tale of the Ming family and their actions as spies for the anti-Japanese movement as they work to help end the Japanese occupation of China.

On his way to enroll in Hong Kong University, spoiled rich kid Ming Tai, the youngest of the four Ming siblings, is kidnapped by Nationalist government (Kuomingtang/KMT) intelligence leader Wang Tianfeng and taken to a military camp where he is trained to be a KMT agent before being given the code name Scorpion and sent back to Shanghai to lead a team of spies.

Meanwhile, back at home, Ming Tai's oldest brother, Ming Lou, has joined the Japanese-supported New Government as a high-ranking official with Ming Cheng (Ah-Cheng) at his side acting as his assistant, and the oldest Ming sibling, Ming Jing, is secretly using her position as the chairman of the Ming family company to support the Chinese Communist party.

The four of them, not all of whom are aware of each others' full identities and allegiances even as they live in the same house, use their skills and resources to work against the Japanese and the New Government, undertaking various James Bond-esque exploits as they try to free China and bring about an end to the war.

The show, with 48 episodes can be watched on Viki and on Youtube (though Youtube doesn't have English subtitles).

This show contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Auntie Gui to Ah-Cheng, leading to the Mings firing her as their housekeeper and adopting then 10-year-old Ah-Cheng as one of their own. Auntie Gui had adopted Ah-Cheng believing that he was the child she'd had out of wedlock and given up for adoption, only to learn later that he wasn't and subsequently choosing to take her anger out on him, beating him nearly to death.

  • Action Girl: All the female agents, most notably Yu Manli, the KMT agent Ming Tai is assigned as a life-and-death partner, Cheng Jinyun, the communist agent Ming Tai keeps running into on his missions and later marries, and Wang Manchun, the head of the New Government's Section 76 and Ming Lou's ex-lover.

  • Assassination Attempt: Most of Ming Tai's assigned missions.

  • Badass in a Nice Suit: It's the 1940s, so the Suit Porn is a given, and the characters definitely get some badass moments—Special mention to the three Ming brothers, of course.

  • Batman Gambit: Ming Lou is a master of these, as evidenced by the plan to assassinate Yoko Minamida.

  • Big Brother Instinct: Ming Lou, despite everything that he puts Ming Tai through, obviously cares for him (and his other siblings) a lot.

  • Black-Tie Infiltration: Ming Tai does this often, a notable example being his infiltration of the Japanese Embassy during the military ball.

  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Used on Ming Tai by Ming Lou and Ah-Cheng, to throw him off their real identities while also feeding him certain select bits of information. Then used by all three of them together once Ming Tai is let in to their secret, to bluff out Auntie Gui aka Lone Wolf.

  • Camera Sniper: Used occasionally when people are being sniped, an example of which is Ming Tai's first assassination mission, where he has to shoot a man through the window from the house across the street.

  • The Chessmaster: Ming Lou.

  • Corporal Punishment: Used within the famously strict Ming household as a way to keep everyone in line.
    • Ming Jing whips Ming Lou when he first joins the New Government, as a way to see if he's truly become a traitor to China.
    • Ming Lou is ordered by Ming Jing to spank Ming Tai when she receieves a letter announcing his expulsion from Hong Kong university and does, something Ming Tai finds incredibly unfair especially as the letter was cooked up by Ming Lou to give him an excuse to stay in Shanghai and continue his espionage work.

  • Costume Porn: The crisp suits, waistcoats, and ties for the guys, and the beautiful qipaos for the girls make for great visuals.

  • Disappeared Dad: Technically all of the Ming siblings given that they all were orphaned at young ages, but special mention to Ming Tai, who has a subplot relating to finding his missing biological father.
    • Also, Yu Manli, whose foster father sold her into prostitution as a child and then disappeared, leaving her with a burning desire for revenge.

  • Double Agent: Ming Lou and Ah-Cheng, though in this case it's more like Triple Agents.

  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Wang Manchun, given that she works for the Japanese but still is head-over-heels in love with Ming Lou.

  • Excellent Judge of Character: Ming Lou, which helps him a lot with all the chess games and Batman Gambits he plays. Ming Tai isn't shabby at this either.

  • Family Honor: Invoked a lot in Ming Jing's scoldings of her younger brothers.

  • Femme Fatale Spy: Yu Manli, skilled at honeytrap missions with her history as a child prostitute and her background as the killer Black Widow and, fits this.

  • Foster Kid: Ah-Cheng was once one of these, to Auntie Gui. He was not treated well.

  • Happily Adopted: Ah-Cheng and Ming Tai, despite the charade the former plays to convince the enemy otherwise.

  • Honey Trap: Used a couple times, by the female agents and Ming Tai.
    • Ming Tai seduces a clerk at the Japanese Embassy to get an invite to the ball there.
    • Yu Manli gained the nickname "Black Widow" for her history of seducing various men and killing them.

  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Somehow, all the Japanese soldiers that Ming Tai and his team run across in missions seem to be graduates of this.

  • Leave No Witnesses: Frequently employed by agents as a strategy, especially when "being stealthy" fails.

  • Mysterious Employer: Ming Tai really wants to meet Viper, his boss, but no one he knows has even seen his face. (It's Ming Lou.)

  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Ming Tai uses this as part of his cover, acting the part of the spoiled, frivolous rich young master to divert suspicion from his spy work.

  • Promotion to Parent: A big part of Ming Jing's character is that she essentially functions as the parent of their family unit, with her and Ming Lou's own parents having been assassinated when she was seventeen, leaving her to become chairman of the family company while only a teenager.

  • Pull the Thread: Ming Tai does this to Ming Lou in order to try and figure out exactly what "camp" he stands in, though unfortunately for him, Ming Lou has him pretty much all figured out.
    • Minamida, having found Ming Tai's watch left behind at a crime scene, leaves it out and watches it to see who might try and steal it to cover it up. And unfortunately, Ah-Cheng falls for it.

  • Secret Identity: Technically, all of the Ming siblings as they're all spies for one camp or another.

  • Sharp-Dressed Man: See Badass in a Nice Suit.

  • Spotting the Thread: Happens a bunch of times.
    • Ming Tai, knowing that Ming Jing would have thrown Ming Lou and Ah-Cheng out of the house and disowned them if they truly were whole-heartedly working for the Japanese, realizes that there must be more to what they're doing than simply cooperating with the New Government.

  • Training from Hell: Ming Tai's experience in the KMT military camp, which used everything up to psychological torture and threatened execution to "whip him into shape".

  • The Unmasking: When Ming Lou reveals to Ming Tai that he's Viper.

  • When Harry Met Svetlana: Ming Tai and Cheng Jinyun, down to the "falling in love with the female communist agent".