In the year of 2015, China's TV screen was graced with two brilliant works. Aired back to back, both produced by the exact same company and crew, including directors and the main actors. When they came on air, it felt like these people had way too much fun making the first drama, so they just decided to do another one right after.
The first one was Nirvana in Fire; the second The Disguiser. Although by the time they aired, the second drama was shown first.
To the international audience, Nirvana was better known and more popular; to the domestic Chinese audience, both drama were received with almost equal enthusiasm. 2015 was truly a year when TV viewers were spoiled beyond their wildest dream (not to mention that was also the year when Jon Snow "died").
The Disguiser 伪装者 is set in Shanghai during the Japanese-Sino war, roughly around late 1930s to early 1940s. The story revolves around three brothers of the Ming family. Strictly speaking only the eldest brother is a true Ming family member, as the second brother/eldest brothers' personal servant and the third brother are both adopted. Each brother is later revealed to be an agent serving a complex net of political powers at the time, and the drama is as much about the exciting spy stuff as the emotional bond between these brothers (plus their eldest sister that they respect as their mother).
If you've watched Nirvana in Fire, you would feel you're watching a modern day version of NIF when you go into The Disguiser's world. As I've mentioned before, these two dramas were filmed back to back, aired back to back by the same group of creators. NIF was filmed first, so by the time they were filming The Disguiser, the main leads have already become good friends, and that kind of ease and familiarity really shows through in those scenes where the three brothers, Ming Lou, played by Jin Dong 靳东, Ming Cheng played by Wang Kai 王凯, and Ming Tai played by Hu Ge 胡歌, are interacting with each other.
The funny thing is, most of the characters these actors play in The Disguiser are opposite of their roles in Nirvana in Fire. Hu Ge is the mastermind in NIF, but he becomes the youngest, clever but far too naive brother that literally gets played by the other two older brothers like a fiddle in The Disguiser. Prince Jing played by Wang Kai was stiff, slow to catch up in NIF, yet Ming Cheng in The Disguiser is smooth and sleek, quick and clever as a whip. Consort Jing played by Liu Mintao was probably the next most intelligent person to Mei Changsu in NIF, yet in The Disguiser you really get so agitated by her kind heart but slow mind. Liu Yijun who played Xie Yu in NIF, changes from Mei Changsu's sworn enemy to Ming Tai's super spy mentor. It really shows that these actors can play anything the script throws at them, and the production company really knows their "shit" when it comes to dramatic storytelling.
The only drawback that may potentially hinder international viewership is that the historical background is too complex for people who aren't familiar with that period. You have KMT's subdivision Jun Tong, The National Bureau of Investigation and Statistics (Military Commission), which is the organization Hu Ge's character initially serves. You have Wangjingwei Reorganized National Government which serves the Japanese invaders' interest that Ming Lou and Ming Tai appear to serve. Then there's the communist party they actually serve, and to which Ming Tai eventually switches allegiance to. If you have no idea of what each political power is all about, you can get super lost in the maze of plot.
But if you are confident in your ability to navigate this kind of entangled historical background, and you LOVE spy stories, this drama will not disappoint and you WILL go on a wild ride.
Personal I probably still love NIF a tad bit more. It does have a higher production value, and the cinematography is more refined. But if you really loved the acting and plot of NIF, then you almost for sure would love The Disguiser as well.
It will be thirty some hours well spent, I promise.