Bonus episode of The Ferry Man (灵魂摆渡) has everything I love: Murder mystery, supernatural, reincarnation, and enough creepiness to give me the goose bumps. Our amnesiac ferryman’s obsession with doleful college student Xia Dongqing is a running joke/mystery on the show. The reason is finally revealed in the episode “Magnificent (风华绝代).”
Almost a hundred years ago, our ferryman Zhao Li was experiencing a major case of depression. Since he couldn’t die (being a living dead and all), he decided that blindness was his next best option. The less of the despicable world he had to see the better. Then he met Ajin, a young soldier going off to war. Although the soldier was terrified of dying, he optimistically saw a better future for those he left behind. Our ferryman decided right then and there that the young man was his salvation, the bright spot in his dark, despairing existence. He could not let the soldier die.
While he could keep the man from being dead, it was not the same as being alive. His quest to restore Ajin to his living state brought the ferryman to a supernatural black market where he found a rare object that could show him a way. The object, in the form of a woman, had lost part of her memory. Her owner was dead and, for inexplicable reason, she couldn’t remember how that happened (this is particularly vexing because she is the personification of “wisdom and knowledge”). She asked the ferryman to solve the mystery in exchange for the information he desired.
That led our ferryman to sit in a kitchen listening to a domestic servant gossiping about the state of her employer’s household. Apparently, the master of the house was a renowned Chinese Opera singer. He had committed suicide a year earlier and his spirit had been haunting the house with his performances.
Clearly, that was the source of his housekeeper’s distress. She was trying to sell the estate but no one wanted a house where a person was found dead in. Instead of a buyer, she was surprised by the arrival of the master’s psychiatrist. Things quickly went downhill from there. His apprentice showed up, after long absence, to pay respect to the dead, but more importantly, to take possession of his priceless harp. His illegitimate daughter also made an appearance to stake her claim on the inheritance.
That’s just not going to work for Jiang Lili, the illegitimate daughter. She was only there for the money. She didn’t kill nobody and ain’t interested in finding out who did. Beautiful and gangster was her trademark. She attempted to shoot her way out. Huang Shuixian, the reporter, stopped her. By smashing her head with a solid wood stool. Whaddayaknow? The wicked witch died.
A Xiu, the apprentice, was unaffected by Lili’s sudden demise. She only had the eyes for the priceless harp. She went through incredible hardships, including seducing the master and his housekeeper, in order to get her paws on it.
The confession unhinged Ms. Hua, the housekeeper. She admitted that jealousy drove her to put cyanide in the master’s drink. Because she was a woman, she couldn’t perform on stage even though they both went through the same training. Because she was a woman, she couldn’t openly be with the woman she loved. She shot A Xiu twice in the back then shot herself in the head. Now they can be together forever.
But wait. Mudan didn’t die by poison. His throat was slit, according to the reporter. Shuixian had interviewed Mudan on the day of his death. He felt betrayed by the affair between his apprentice/lover and his housekeeper. He felt disappointed that his daughter only wanted money from him and he had none to give her. He foresaw a hopeless future where he would die in poverty with no one by his side. Which means… His death wasn’t due to foul play?
His future didn’t have to turn out that way. Shuixian adored Mudan, always had. And most importantly, she was his real daughter. Lili was only an imposter. (Maybe killing Lili wasn’t so accidental after all….)
Mama Liu had been with the master since the day he was born and knew everything that happened in the house. The moment she saw him with the sword, she knew exactly what he wanted to do and understood why he had to do it. He was a leading character and he should leave the stage in style. She poured him the cyanide laced drink. He complained it was too bitter but she persuaded him that it was better than the sword.
While Mama Liu did put the poison drink in Mudan’s hand, that wasn’t what killed him. Ms. Hong, the psychiatrist, asked what about the sword? As for our ferryman, he was floored by Mama Liu’s revelation. While on the floor he found a chord under the table. It was the missing harp chord.
The moment the chord was back on the harp, Ms. Hong transformed.
Holy guacamole, Ms. Hong was the harp Banruo! With the missing chord in place, memories flooded back to her. She remembered that her owner tried to destroy her. She lost her mind and killed him. It was her! She was the killer!
Killed by your favorite music instrument. Imagine that.
The answer Banruo gave was not what our ferryman wanted to hear. She killed her owner because she could never see him again if he had destroyed her. But as long as she existed, they would meet again. She had all the time in the world to wait for his next reincarnation. She advised our ferryman to do the same. Let Ajin die so they could meet in another lifetime.
Fast forward a hundred years or so, our amnesiac ferryman woke up from his past life regression. He asked his psychiatrist what happened in his dream. She gave him a cryptic smile and replied that she didn’t find anything troubling. He left the session appearing visibly happier. He called Xia Dongqing to tell him about the dream where he vaguely remembered seeing him in it.