Drama

Gold Panning: When Greed Turns Monstrous

Warning: Light Spoilers on the characters, No Spoilers on the plot.
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The continuation of what you saw in the feature image:

GOLD PANNING (2022)

Native title: 淘金 (Tao Jin)

Country: China

Genres: Adventure, Mystery, Horror, Crime

Episodes: 12

Aired: Jan 18, 2022 – Jan 27, 2022 

Duration: 45 min. 

Watch here: Trailer | Drama 

Warning tags: Murder, Violence, Death, Suicide


STORY

“Apart from wildness, gold can lead to nowhere.” (Episode 7)

Gold Panning is adapted from the novel “1986 Tao Jin Jing Hun” (1986淘金惊魂) by Lai Er (来耳). The drama’s story setting is slightly different from the novel. To understand the setting, below is the story background based on the drama.

There are many mountains and rivers in Kengma, a fictitious country on the southern border of China. Plenty of river gold deposits are hidden under its lush rainforests. Chinese gold panners came to the region of Muchang River to pan gold, and formed the large Simu Goldfield in Kengma. In the 1980s, the Kengma government lifted restrictions of proprietorship and mining rights of gold mines. Thus Kengma Rare Mineral Sales Co was established. The company has the most gold mines in Kengma. Under the recruitment of the company, many Chinese gold panners obtained licenses of mine exploration and mining. They become the contractors of gold fields and river reaches for the company, but the gold they found can only be sold to the company. Gold smuggling and illegal trade emerge for higher prices. In order to avoid that, the company created the Mine Protection Team to supervise legal transactions of river gold.

In 1986, 20-year-old college drop-out Chen Bao Jin came to Simu Goldfield to find his brother who was missing in the gold rush. He was tangled between life and death in the complicated environment and was also trapped between many forces. At the same time, strange things happened one after another. After layers of uncovering, the clues all point to the mysterious place with huge treasures and no survivors—Twin Ridges. Chen Bao Jin struggled with people and nature, and finally found the truth about the disappearance of his brother.

Gold Panning is the first Light On Series drama released in 2022. The Light On Series are suspense-type short episode dramas, with The Bad Kids (2020) and The Long Night (2020) as the most popular and top rated ones. The upcoming dramas to be released under this series are: Day BreakerBionic, Moses on the Plain, and To Be or Not to Be.


Above is the chart of the main characters and the key supporting characters of this drama. The characters with golden yellow labels belong to the group led by Wu Jian Chao, one of the major contractors of Simu Goldfield, commonly called gold boss. The characters with copper red labels belong to the group led by Peng Shan, another gold boss in Simu Goldfield. The characters with silver grey labels belong to the company’s Mine Protection Team led by Lao Wai. Because of the high degree of mystery of this drama, I cannot tell you the story line, but throw hints here and there in the character’s descriptions.


MAIN CHARACTERS

“Just as the touchstone tests gold, men also face the test of gold.” (Episode 11)

Chen Fei Yu as Chen Bao Jin

Liao Fan as Wu Jian Chao

Chen Bao Jin, our protagonist, how to say it… he is not a hero, more likely a survivor. Everything about him, appearance, attitude, and ambition, screams that he doesn’t belong to the group. Therefore, he is suspected by many, and some even don’t want him to be at Simu Goldfield! Smart, brave, and kind, but Bao Jin also makes mistakes because of his naivete. I was worried that he wouldn’t make it till the end!
Wu Jian Chao is the Chinese gold boss, one of the major contractors at Simu Goldfield. He was once rich, but his gold from years of mining was stolen. Since then he keeps looking for the stolen treasure and the thief. It seems that Wu Jian Chao is a good boss; he is respected by workers and makes wise decisions. However, is he actually the good guy? Many times I tried to figure out if he is Chen Bao Jin’s adversary or not.

Su Ke as Lao Dan or Peng Shan

Lu Xiao Lin as A Qiu or Chow

Peng Shan is the Kengma gold boss, the other major contractor at Simu Goldfield. Although he admires Wu Jian Chao’s leadership, he hates the Chinese foreign workers. He wants to invest money in a dredge boat that extracts gold with less manpower. He has a trusted right-hand man Liu Wu (Li Sheng Ye). Peng Shan seems dramatic, but doesn’t take him lightly. He has a deadly combination of guns, guards, and gold!
Chow is a Kengma who works as the mine leader at Peng Shan’s group. She possesses a natural talent to find gold sources. Chow has a little son, Ba Tu Er or Batur (Li Zhen Zhen), who is watched by her guard named Guo Zi (Liu Xiao Yang). But Ba Tu Er often disappears and runs into the forest. Chow is very protective of her son who doesn’t talk. She saves money to get medical treatment for Ba Tu Er.

Right picture: Liu Wu, Guo Zi, Ba Tu Er, Chow, and Peng Shan on a manhunt.


KEY SUPPORTING CHARACTERS

“As long as it’s shining gold, even only a little, it can change black into white, 
ugly into beautiful, wrong into right, lowly into noble.” (Episode 8)

Fan Shuai Qi as A Lai

Ding  Guan Sen as Zhao Sheng Li

A Lai is a Kengma who has a gruff exterior and doesn’t hesitate to pull a gun or a knife on anyone. Although Chen Bao Jin, A Lai, and Zhao Sheng Li are ‘little halves’ (newbies in gold panning), A Lai is trusted by their boss to be a messenger and a body checker (to make sure workers don’t smuggle gold after the work day is over). Despite the rough beginning, later the three of them become fast friends. 
Zhao Sheng Li and Chen Bao Jin met on the recruitment day. Zhao Sheng Li is a friendly guy and acts tough. But he is actually a scaredy-cat who is afraid of darkness, bad people, and ghosts. That makes Zhao Sheng Li stick with the brave Chen Bao Jin. His goal is once he’s finished working at Simu Goldfield, he will go back to his village and buy a tractor for his farm.

Sun Yan 
as Mao De Bao
Li Cong Xi 
as Wang Tiang Shui
Wang Tong Hui 
as Lao Wai
Mao De Bao is the mine leader at Wu Jian Chao’s group. He is actually a Kengma, but he rather stays with Wu Jian Chao because the latter bailed him out from the prison when he was caught smuggling gold in the past. He also doesn’t get along with Peng Shan and Chow. But gold talks, he will change side if the price is right.
Nicknamed Old Man or Old Sir, he is the oldest and the most wise worker at Simu Goldfield. Old Man used to be Wu Jian Chao’s supervisor when he just started panning. Wu Jian Chao trusted him and employed him as a recruiter and account holder. From decades of mining gold, Old Man has seen a lot and heard a lot. 
Lao Wai is the head of the Mine Protection Team of Kengma Rare Mineral Sales Co. After many years of mining, Lao Wai is very knowledgeable in finding out how gold panners smuggle gold. Lao Wai and the Chen brothers come from the same hometown, therefore Lao Wai doesn’t want Chen Bao Jin to be at Simu Goldfield.

No, we’re not done yet with the character’s introduction! The last three are actually the core causes of the mystery and suspense spreading along the whole drama.

Shang Bai 
as Chen Xiang Dong
“Owl”
“Ghost”
After many years of gold mining, Chen Xiang Dong never returns home. Unsure of his older brother’s whereabouts, Chen Bao Jin lies to their elderly parents that his brother is still alive, and sets on an arduous journey to find him. Is Chen Xiang Dong still alive? Will his little brother find him?
“Owl” is the top gold trafficker at Simu Goldfield. Owl is mysterious and only operates at night. Owl buys gold from the gold panners for four times the company’s price. But if you get in Owl’s way, you’ll pay the price with your life!
“Ghost” obstructs the gold mining operation at Twin Ridges. It seems that Ghost doesn’t want people to find the rumored gold nuggets. Is Ghost a restless spirit of a miner who died in the cave, an actual human, a rumor, or a natural phenomenon?

WHY I RECOMMEND THIS DRAMA

“A scale balances gold and conscience” (Episode 2)

Let me just get to the points why I think this drama is worth to check out:

  • BINGE-WORTHY. With only 12 episodes of 45 minutes each, total duration is 9 hours. You can binge-watch this in a day or two.
  • UNPREDICTABLE. The production team did a great job of tricking the audience with selective editing and plot twists. The story keeps you guessing.
  • GOOD PACE WITH SUSPENSE IN EVERY TURN. There are a lot of events happen, so the story moves at a good pace, and there are no fillers or boring moments.
  • MEANINGFUL PIECES OF SYMBOLS, FORESHADOWING, PROLOGUE AND EPILOGUE SCENES. You will find out there are some scenes or dialogues that look like nothing, but they actually contain symbols or foreshadow what will happen. Don’t skip any scene, you may miss something. In the beginning and end of each episode there is a prologue and an epilogue scenes, that explain what happen in the background.
  • WORDS OF WISDOM. Every episode title follows by a quote connecting to gold and the desire to obtain it. Some characters, especially Old Man, utter some words of wisdom.
  • COMPLEX CHARACTERS. Although the story is not a character-driven but a plot-driven, but almost every character has depth. A lot of them are morally grey characters. At some point you will question their intention or plan. 
  • SOLID ACTING. In connection with above characterization, I think almost every actor did great job showing the depth of their respective characters. Most of the actors are veterans in the acting world. Actor Su Ke is even a professor in acting at the prestigious Beijing Film Academy.
  • HAUNTING OST AND UNSETTLING BACKGROUND MUSIC.The eerie background sound fits with each dark scene. Below are the haunting OST songs:
    • Promotional theme: “A Big Dream” by Ayanga.
    • Opening theme: “The Silent Cry” by Lo Yuen Yee.
    • Ending theme: “Light” by Xian Zi.
    • Insert song “Friendship Last Forever” by this drama actors: Ding Guan Sen, Shang Bai, Liu Xiao Yang, and Li Sheng Ye. Played during Wu Jian Chao, Peng Shan, and Chow’s party.
  • REALISTIC COSTUME/MAKEUP/PROPS. Costume and props befitting the 80s time setting. Everyone looks realistic as characters who have toiled hard under the summer heat and scorching sun, lived modestly with minimum amenities and simple lifestyle. The makeup department did a great job applying realistic looking blood, wound, bruises, burnt, hairstyle, and actors grew their facial hair to look unkept. Below is a believable scar makeup effect applied on Chen Xiang Dong.

  • REAL LOCATION.The filming location is completely outdoors in a dense forest area of the beautiful Yunnan Province in the southern part of China. This scene shows the aerial view when some characters crossing the river heading towards Twin Ridges.

  • DARK AND LIGHT CINEMATOGRAPHY. Because of the mystery nature of the drama, many scenes happen at night, in the middle of the forest, or inside the mining caves. Moreover, with the natural setting, there are also rain and foggy scenes. Despite of the dark story requires dark environments, the setting maintains lights from the moon, sun, fire, flashlight, and other sources. Below are some examples.


CONCLUSION

“Gold still maintains its pure quality after being honed by nature.” (Episode 6) 

I end this article with two warnings. First, this drama is not for everyone. Please consider the warning tags under the spoiler I put in the drama details above. If you want to watch this for Chen Fei You aka Arthur Chen, this is not like the idol drama/movies in which he acted before. I watched him only in Ever Night (2018). When I looked him up and found out that he is the son of famous Chinese director Chen Kai Ge, as a child had been brought to movie sets while his father was working, and was also an assistant director for The Legend of the Demon Cat (2017), I expected more in his acting skills. Chen Fei Yu brought up a tenacious, angry, tormented, regretful, insomniac, and tired Chen Bao Jin very well. 

Second, there are deaths in this drama. I usually wait until a drama ends to know the ending, because I don’t like sad endings. I found that the ending of the story is satisfactory, and some characters are justified. The drama ties all loose ends. There is also a closing narration about what happens to some characters.

As for my article title: when does the characters’ greed turn monstrous? You cannot only watch the end, the process goes throughout the drama when they are exposed to gold and the possibility to get more gold. As one drama quote says: “People want to dig gold from underground, but they don’t know various evil seeds grow from there.” (Episode 9), the evil seed of greed may grow into something monstrous. As the last words of wisdom in the last GIF below. Whether someone becomes a monster or not, it depends on what the person’s heart and mind is made of.

“I only know that someday in the future, you will see the bottom of the river reach. Same as hearts and minds, greedy or stupid, you will finally see them clearly whether they are made of mud or gold.” (Chen Bao Jin, Episode 4)

Thank you for reading and happy watching!


Acknowledgement: Thank you to the editors who edited this article. Credits: Character posters from baike.sogou.com. Other image sources: doubanyopriceville (“Ghost”), creativefabrica (“Owl”), and screenshots. GIFs are self-made from drama scenes. Feature image is from Windchime on MDL.
Edited by: devitto (1st editor)
arthur chen
gold panning
chen fei yu
liao fan
su ke
lu xiao lin

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