de Cho Na, abril 14, 2021

MILD/MEDIUM SPOILERS. Can be viewed in Dark/Light Mode.

Ultimate Note  (终极笔记) is a 2020 Chinese drama adapted from books 5, 6, 7, and partly 8 of "The Grave Robbers' Chronicles"/Daomu Biji (盗墓笔记) by Kennedy Xu.
Genres: Action, Suspense, Mystery, Crime, Drama
Episodes: 36. Duration: 45 min
Aired: Dec 10, 2020 - Jan  2, 2021
MDL rating: 8.4
Where to watch with English sub: iQiyi
English subbed official trailer:


Have you ever wanted to watch a drama only to find out that it is a part of a series and most likely, you need to watch several parts or even the whole series to understand the story? That was me with Ultimate Note. When this drama came out last year, I was so hesitant to watch it that I put it off until not too long ago. I'm glad I finally did, though!

Before we continue, as someone who never read the books nor watched any other related drama from the Grave Robbers’ Chronicles/Daomu Biji series, I will obviously write this article from that point of view. If you are not Daomu Biji fans, you probably haven't watched Ultimate Note, nor are interested in this riveting drama. Therefore, first, let me entice you with a simple yet intriguing synopsis that is unlike the complicated one written on the drama page.


One day, Wu Xie gets a package of cryptic videotapes that pique his curiosity about his uncle's past. The tapes reunite him with his best friends, Wang Pang Zi and Zhang Qi Ling, among others. Together, they embark on a thrilling but dangerous adventure to find the mysterious location of Tamutuo.

For those who don't know who Wu Xie, Wang Pang Zi, and Zhang Qi Ling (the three guys in the picture above) are, don't worry; I will introduce these fearless boys among other friends in the Friendship section. Regarding the Tamutuo, I will also explain the mystical place in the Actual Filming Locations section.

Let's start with tips on how to be able to enjoy a drama that is part of a series as a stand-alone. I use Ultimate Note as an example; however, these tips can be used on any drama.


1. Do some research

You may think, why the heck do I have to do some research just to watch a drama? It is quite fun, actually. I do that from time to time for dramas with prequels, sequels, seasons, or series that I will have no time for, nor am interested in watching their related dramas. 

How do you do research? It is very simple: online, by typing in the drama title (in English or its native language so that you can Google translate it) and 'story', 'novel', 'synopsis', 'character', 'cast' as keywords.

You should note that doing some research mostly applies when the drama is finished. For currently airing/subbing dramas, you can ask around in the drama comments or discussion forum. But since Ultimate Note has 1600+ comments, looking for the ones you need will be a real pain!

So specifically for this drama, I remember a previous MDL article written about the series: A Guide to the Grave Robbers Chronicles by KimWanHee. I read the article when it first came out and was interested in the series. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I made an attempt to watch the series from the beginning, it chronologically starts with The Mystic NineAfter watching several episodes, I was bored and dropped it. So when Ultimate Note came out, naturally, I was unsure if I could watch it till the end. Especially since it is an adaptation of the books that are in the middle of the entire series. When I was ready to watch Ultimate Note, I read the article again to find some basic information on the clans and the main characters.

Then, as I was watching the drama, the characters become more and more interesting and likable (such as this eccentric guy in the right picture), so I read more about them on the Fandom website. Warning though, somewhere on that site (not the direct link I put here) is a detailed recap that spoils the plot. So don't go too far with your research!

2. Find out the initial drive(s) to start the drama

Everyone has different preferences that drive you to pick a drama, whether that is cast, synopsis, topic, etc. You can also feel compelled to watch it after being recommended or reading reviews/comments. So, let me just tell you what aspects that initially motivated me to watch Ultimate Note.

The first factor that drove me to watch this drama was the actor who played the main protagonist: Joseph Zeng/Zeng Shun Xi. Another drama I watched with him as the main lead is The Journey Across the Night, and I'm impressed with his acting there. He has those big round eyes that can deliver a variety of emotions beyond words. I can't believe I have written two recap articles on his dramas! Looking forward to watching his upcoming romantic period Cdrama, Yan Gui Xi Chuang Yue, pairing with my favorite actress Liang Jie; and Heroes, another friendship theme period Cdrama, where he will meet Liu Yu Ning again (who played Hei Yan Jing in this drama).


The second factor that drove me to watch this drama is the theme of friendship. Commenting on my previous article on friendship, fellow MDLer Summer fouad recommended me Ultimate Note from the point of view of friendship. He also wrote: "I think you will write a hell of an article on [Ultimate Note] alone". What an accurate prediction, lol!

Talking about the friendship formed in this drama won't be complete without introducing the eight characters whom you see in the top banner poster. Although not revealing the plot, there will be mild spoilers in describing them. So if you really don't want to be spoiled, just skip reading about these incredible guys and go straight to the next section: Real Filming Locations.


The Iron Triangle is the strong friendship between Wu Xie, Zhang Qi Ling, and Wang Pang Zi. It simply refers to the formidable bond and friendship that the three have with each other. The term is not in the book but was created by Daomu Biji fans. The author stated that they are more than just friends. They trust each other 100 %, tease and prank each other, care and worry about each other. They are soul brothers.


Wu Xie is nicknamed Xiao San (Little Three) because there are only three members in his family: his second uncle, third uncle (from whom he gets the aspiration in tomb raiding), and Wu Xie. That makes him the sole heir of the Wu Clan of the Mystic Nine that has affluent antique business. Hence he is highly knowledgeable in history and assessing antiques.

In expeditions, Wu Xie is an expert in mystery-solving due to his brilliant mind. Dealing with people in the antique business also makes him understand people well, a skill often useful during exploration as he becomes the peacekeeper in the group. 

Despite all his capabilities, Wu Xie is also the weakest of the three in fighting skills, but his two friends cover for him anytime. He overthinks things, worries about everything. He is highly protective over his friends, especially Qi Ling, as they share a similar background. Wu Xie is an orphan. Qi Ling has no family. So who is Qi Ling?


Qi Ling is as mysterious as his name. His surname Zhang indicates that he is the descendant of the secret Zhang Clan of the Mystic Nine. Wu Xie and Pang Zi call him Xiao Ge (Little Brother), as he looks really young and thin. But don't be deceived; he is actually the strongest despite his look.

Qi Ling is highly skilled in martial arts and a master of using sword and knife. His clan special power is in his index and middle fingers (can't spoil you what the ability is). His other power also lies in the tattoo on his body, which depicts the mythical beast Qilin that only appears with elevated body temperature. He also has Qilin blood run through him.

The facts that Qi Ling doesn't like to talk and maintains a stoic facial expression add more element to his enigma, especially since he also disappears and reappears with no recollection of what happens. This makes Wu Xie always worry about his friend's whereabouts. Though reclusive, Qi Ling is more open to his friends, and they also like to tease and prank him. Although when Qi Ling pranks Pang Zi, it's the epic moment of his life. So next turn is to know about Pang Zi.

When Pang Zi met Wu Xie the first time, they clicked with each other right away, perhaps since they're both orphans. Pang Zi is nicknamed Pang Ye or Fatty by people who know him, but he isn't bothered by it. He is an outgoing person and likes to joke around; he lifts up people's mood even in dire situations. He often teases Wu Xie and Qi Ling, so it's an epic moment if they could get back at him (see clip below).
Pang Zi is self-confident and also likes to take good care of his looks and clothes. Being an experienced mercenary in the past, Pang Zi is very knowledgeable in tomb raiding and appraising valuables, as well as highly skilled in combat and explosives. Once a hired professional by whoever can pay the highest, now Pang Zi mostly accompanies Wu Xie exploring. Though he is not as skillful as Qi Ling in fighting, he's physically strong. He is also sharp-eyed and many times able to detect people in disguise. 

Iron Triangle prank

This is a depressive situation where the group is threatened by ongoing deadly snake attacks. But it doesn't make them feel down; they still tease and prank each other to lift up the spirit. Prior to this scene, Qi Ling throws Wu Xie into the mud so he will be covered to prevent snakes from detecting human scent. Wu Xie gets the idea of pranking Pang Zi and throws him into the mud, too, adding that mud is good for his skin (remember, Pang Zi cares for his looks). I love this scene, cos this is probably the only time I saw Qi Ling smile (correct me if I'm wrong).


They started as enemies, mostly to Yu Chen, since Yan Jing annoys him as he keeps trying to sell items along the journey. Their friendship didn't begin until they got separated from the group. They have to go through many treacherous tunnels and underground chambers with any kind of ancient traps to stay alive and eventually escape. After experiencing life and death together, they become fast friends though still bickering along the way.

The above picture shows their typical scene: Yan Jing shoving his credit card machine to sell an item and Yu Chen pulling out his credit card. They are like the angel (Yu Chen wearing white) and the devil (Yan Jing wearing black). More about this unique duo below.

Xie Yu Chen
Yu Chen is Wu Xie's childhood friend. When they meet again in this drama, Wu Xie is surprised that Yu Chen is a guy! All along, Wu Xie thought Yu Chen was a girl; he was even nicknamed Xiao Hua (Little Flower) when he was little. Yu Chen is indeed a refined young man with high intelligence and art, cultured in Peking opera performance. 
He likes cleanness and always wears white. Although Yu Chen is young, he is the current head of the Xie Clan of Mystic Nine. The reason he becomes the head of the clan is that his uncle disappears during a tomb exploration with Wu Xie's uncle; that's how the childhood friends meet again. As the head of the family, Yu Chen also practices martial arts to keep the family reputation, besides being very knowledgeable in IT. Yu Chen also inherits the family business, so he is a rich businessman. Therefore, many times, he has to bail his friends out of financial troubles, being a guarantor for their debts. Yu Chen is the target of Yan Jing's business to sell whatever is needed during the adventure, lol. We will talk about Yan Jing next.

Hei Yan Jing
Yan Jing is the second mysterious guy in the group after Qi Ling. You will see him only wearing black shades and black clothing. So he is nicknamed Black. He never takes off his shades, even in the dark tunnel. He only takes off his sunglasses once in front of Yu Chen, but we don't get to see what he looks like.
So now comes the question of why he always wears dark shades. Due to a disease that makes his eyes extremely sensitive to light yet at the same time gives him excellent night vision, he is never seen without sunglasses. Besides night vision, Yan Jing also has exceptional hearing and smell senses that make him great at detecting danger. Those strengths, along with combat and finding trap skills, make him work as a skilled mercenary. If not doing tomb raiding jobs, Yan Jing has a blind massage business. He is also a shrewd salesman; he tries to sell many things during their expeditions and seems to have large supplies of items. Yan Jing is like Houdini; he can disappear to investigate something or save someone in life-threatening situations and go back unscathed, carefree.

Suspense, action, and humor along the way

Watching Yu Chen and Yan Jing's underground journey when they get separated from the group is like watching an adventure game in which the higher level the player is in the game, the more dangerous the level is. In this 'level', the duo not only face traps shooting sharp boomerang-like darts but also bright gems that can blind eyes. In this tense situation, Yan Jing still offers to sell shades to Yu Chen, lol. Eventually, the duo has to battle flying darts in a wonderfully choreographed martial arts scene.


These are the three supporting characters who are, at some point in the drama, accompanying the main characters with their missions. I will not talk much about them as too much disclosure is considered spoilery.

Ah Ning
A mercenary with excellent survival skills. Friend of Wu Xie and Fatty. Leads the first expedition.
Pan Zi
A former soldier. He is Wu Xie's uncle's friend and assistant who has excellent survival skills due to war experience.
Huo Xi Xi
The sole heir of the Huo family of the Mystic Nine. A childhood friend of Wu Xie and Yu Chen. Helps with research.


The last factor that drove me to watch this drama is the location setting with amazing nature backgrounds. I give extra points for dramas that were filmed in real locations (not studios), so I was happy when I watched the review video on Ultimate Note from AvenueX, who stated that since the production company didn't have to (over)pay top actors/actresses for this drama, they were able to actually use the budget for production, including filming a huge part of the drama outdoor in various natural settings.

Below are pictures from the Tamutuo location setting that covers about the first third of the drama. The rest of the drama covers mostly indoor (studio), with some outdoor setting, for example, by the lake and forest (second arc setting) and mountain (last arc setting). For Tamutuo, there is a variety of natural settings that represent the vast and diverse landscape of that treacherous place. From harsh desert and rocky mountains, dark caves and tunnels, savage rain forest and rivers, underground shrines with numerous traps, shrouded with legends and mysteries, full of dangerous creatures and devious nature. It's inexplicable; you just have to watch it!

3. Notice additional features that make you stay until the end

If the second tip suggests finding aspects that motivate you before starting a drama, this last tip is figuring out additional features that make you stay watching until the end. For some people, maybe plot twist, ending, supporting cast, chemistry, etc. For me, with Ultimate Note, there are three features:

      Blend of Suspense, Action, and Comedy    

For the first feature, I noticed a blend of three elements that keep Ultimate Note entertaining throughout the drama: suspense - action - humor. Almost in every step they make, and every time they turn their head, danger awaits! There are a lot of enemies in the form of humans, mystical beasts, big or small, ghosts, even 'things'. Almost all characters, both main and important supporting characters, have to know how to fight back or escape. A lot of running, jumping, hiding, fighting, and other exciting action scenes to watch. And even in frightful situations, there is always humor thrown here and there to ease the tension.

Suspense: Prior to this scene, Wu Xie has to stay on the restaurant's second floor sitting on a chair for a specific reason until a definite time ends. Obviously, there are parties who don't want that to happen, so Pang Zi protects him to be pulled away from the chair.
Action: Meanwhile, Qi Ling single-handedly fighting thugs downstairs. Then when the time comes, Wu Xie and Pang Zi join him, facing the enemies in a big brawl of fighting scene you about to see in the above picture.

Comedy: The humor? Later, the restaurant's owner sends them an enormous bill to pay for the damage caused, lol!

      Scientific Explanations and Survival Techniques    

I also found that despite the supernatural nature of the story, the characters enlighten the audience with a lot of scientific explanations that defy the superstition and lessen the horror during a frightening situation. Besides logical clarifications, the drama also teaches us many survival skills during the adventure. This knowledge is especially prolific during their outdoor missions in the beginning and end parts of the drama. For me specifically, their escapes of many life-threatening situations using survival techniques during the first part of the drama made me keep watching despite not knowing what exactly is going on.

This is something new I have never seen before until watching this drama: hanging tent, also called portaledge or cliff cabana. In this scene, Wu Xie, Yu Chen, and Yan Jing are in one mission team that takes them to the steep cliff side of a high mountain. They spend the night in hanging tents. Yu Chen actually explains to Wu Xie (and the audience) about hanging tent technology.

Despite that, probably, in reality, the filming location is not in a real mountain, but a studio setting, the fact that the production team made efforts in showing the characters camping with a hanging tent instead of just climbing the mountain is very commendable. The suspenseful scene during the cliff camping is a bonus!

      Realistic Looking Sets and Props      

Besides the real filming locations, the production team built a heck of studio sets. The props used and the scenery built in this drama look real and amazing on-screen.

Golmud Sanatorium film set where frightening scenes are shot is as daunting as horror movie sets.
Tamutuo film set with lots of ancient-looking props to construct ruins, tombs, chambers, etc., with nature background.
Xin Yue Restaurant film set, for shooting secret tradings scenes conducted by tomb raiders and antique dealers, looks grand with luxurious props.

Wushanju film set, used as Wu Xie's home and family antique business, adorned with various collector's treasures showing Wu Clan's prosperity.


In conclusion, I think we can watch a drama that is a part of a series, sequels, or seasons without having to watch the rest. By taking a little time to do some research, figuring out what features initially attract you to pick the drama, and observing the strong points that make you keep watching it until the end, I believe you can enjoy a drama separately. I did with this outstanding drama!

And if any of my explanation above does not allure you to watch Ultimate Note,
the clip below might do. (◔◡ <)✿

Acknowledgements: Thank you to the editors who edited this article, KimWanHee for the article about the series, and Summer fouad for recommending me this drama.

Credits: I do not own any of the images used. Credits go to the respective owners. Images are from the official posters, screenshots, and Google search. GIFs are self-made taken from the drama scenes.


Editors: YW (1st editor)

adventure zeng shun xi liu yu ning ultimate note daomu biji grave robbers chronicles kennedy xu joseph zheng xiao yu liang cheng fang xu liu yu han