While watching The Fatal Mission, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching two different shows: The captivating secret mission into the Savage Mountain; And, the regular old WWII drama. I decided to read the book to find out why.
Turned out, everything that was great about the drama came from the book. Everything that bored me to tears were actually new materials added to stretch out the episodes. Not to be all negative, I did find some of the changes improved the story flow. The team members were given a backstory that explained why they didn’t get along. I especially appreciated that the captain was changed to a woman. I had problem understanding how political factions affect team cohesion as described in the book. Sexism and resentment toward a female leader was much easier to comprehend. The Japanese was also given a face so there was a real enemy the team could fight against (and sometimes, run away from.)
The team is made up of 10 members: The captain Liao Yinfang, the scout Dao Zi, the weapons specialist Zhao Bankuo, the communication specialist Wang Simao, the bomb specialist Chang Mao, the medics Lao Cao Bao, the sniper Cao Guo Jiu, the strongman Da Niu, the high ranking officer Cao San, and the local guide Gusika.
It’s not easy to be a female leader. The job is even harder when she demands absolute conformity but can’t tell her team what they are risking their lives for. If they trust her implicitly like Dao Zi does, it wouldn’t be so much a problem. Except some of the team members are drafted unwillingly, so distrust is already causing a rift between them. As they move deeper into dangerous zones, the bubbling resentment moves to the surface.
Zhao Bankuo is a leading member of the anti-captain faction. Angry at being kidnapped on his wedding day to join the team, he challenges her authority at every turn. Intelligent, strong-willed, and inquisitive. He often speaks out against unreasonable orders. When he questions the captain’s decision for the Nth time, she finally snaps and puts him in his place, and thereby rest of the team.
The conversation between Chang Mao and Bankuo after the beat down shows a glimmer of the team coming together. Although those two are still making sexist commentaries, they also reveal a grudging respect for the captain’s capability.
Bankuo: No wonder you thought the captain isn’t a woman.
Chang: Not only isn’t she a woman, I say she is not even human. The way she killed the Japanese was fiercer than any guy! And the hiking we did would tire out even strongest man. Our captain didn’t even need a breather. Does that sound like a human to you?
There is another reason for Bankuo’s antagonistic behavior. His most hated enemy Cao San is on the same team. Bankuo alternates between giving him the death stare and ignoring him. Cao San, other than being a self-important, condescending, metrosexual, he follows the captain’s order like a good soldier.
If Cao San is the model soldier who obeys without question, then the medic is the soldier who whines everytime an order is given. Resourceful. Talkative. Humorous. He is the peace keeper of the group and the designated freak out person. He will never be the first one to willingly walk into danger.
Contrast to the medic, Cao Guo Jiu is silent and brooding. He observes like an outsider. He kills without fuss. The enigma of the group.
If the members’ allegiance shifts over time, Wang Simao is firmly Team Captain. The baby of the group. Calm. Highly educated. Part-time translator. Belies his scholarly appearance, he has the skill and the mentality of a disciplined soldier.
Gusika is one of the ten members in the book, but in the drama she becomes a Burmese native woman who follows the team around because she wants Bankuo to be her husband. She doesn’t speak Chinese and he doesn’t speak Burmese. But that’s okay. Because body language is universal.
I approved the changes the production made to the 10-member team. Such as swapping out the veiled power struggle for the open animosity between Zhao Bankuo and the captain. Making Cao San a man with guilty conscience knowing that he had framed Bankuo as a deserter to get ahead. Adding a dark history between the Medics and Chang Mao. Providing Wang Simao, a man better suited as a teacher than a soldier, a strong reason to join the military. And, giving Cao Guo Jiu a motive to betray his team other than greed.
The changes I didn’t like? Everything else. Especially the romantic entanglement between Bankuo, the captain, his fiancée, and Gusika. It was so cringe inducing I wanted to vomit. The other change was killing Dao Zi midway through the show. It didn’t make any sense when I watched it. Why would they make us think he was dead, then alive but locked up in a Japanese camp, sent the team to rescue him only to kill him again an episode later in a shoot out? Because he didn’t die at that point in the book, of course. Chang Mao did. As much as I loved to continue to see Chang Mao’s gorgeousness face, his character kind of lost his spark after the TV resurrection. If Dao Zi had survived, there would’ve been a much more emotionally intense 2nd mission. He would be a man needing to prove that he didn’t live to drag the team down.