Netflix’s Marco Polo: The Ascension Of An Outlander

In 13th Century Mongolia, there lived a great emperor, his name, Kublai Khan. At his court, everyone has earned their place yet people will always grasp for more than what they have. They are never content. When they get something, they want something else. Niccolò and Maffeo Polo are merchants and when they arrive at the court of Kublain court empty-handed, the great Khan grows very irritated. Niccolò gives his son Marco to the emperor as his personal manservant in order to stay in his favour and more importantly, to retain his own head. Marco becomes more than just a servant. He reports to the Great Khan on a great deal of things. He reports on what he sees and how he sees it. That’s something that nobody else does in the court. He tells the truth and doesn’t hide from it. An outsider has the ear of the Great Khan and this rattles a lot of cages, a Latin nonetheless. In a world riddled with greed, betrayal, deceit, sexual desire and rivalry, Marco Polo is based on the renowned explorer’s tales in Kublai Khan’s court.

Netflix are killing it with their original programming in a variety of different genres, whether that be comic book (Dardevil/Jessica Jones), drama (Bloodline/House Of Cards), science fiction (Sense8) or even comedy (Orange Is The New Black/Master Of None). There’s something for everyone and now they have dabbled into the period drama genre with the historical series Marco Polo. To put it bluntly, it’s Game Of Thrones in Mongolia without the need for dragons, demon babies and ice zombies. The variety of Netflix shows is astounding and they keep on getting more intense. The second season of Sense8 is coming in December and so is a new series called The Crown (starring Matt Smith) and Baz Luhrmann’s musical drama series “The Get Down”, with Narcos Season 2 coming in September amidst the Marvel entourage of Luke Cage (September 30), Iron Fist (2017), Jessica Jones: Season 2 (2017) and The Punisher (2017). Netflix is the only network where I can honestly say that I have liked every show they have produced. Just like Marco with the Great Khan, I report on what I saw and how I saw it. Netflix television is utterly flawless. Sure, HBO and co. have great shows but they don’t have a 100% satisfaction track-record from me. Netflix are on a role and I don’t see them relinquishing any of that momentum any time soon. Full steam ahead!

The great and powerful Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong)
(Marco Polo, Netflix)

Netflix’s Marco Polo is one of the best shows in the last five years. 2015 was a year of great television, especially on Netflix, and this series is worth every penny of its $90m season budget. The more episodes you watch, the better this show becomes. It takes a couple of episodes to find its legs, but from the get go I felt this show will be something spectacular as the sets are visually stunning in conjuction to epic battle sequences reminding me of The Battle Of Pelennor Fields. We have all this plus the added honour of baring witness to The Great Khan in single combat against his treasonous brother. Many say the show is a drag. I say they’re talking out of their arse. There’s a difference between being a drag and being a slow-burner. Marco Polo is a slow burner but not all that slow since you should be hooked by episode two.

Many of the characters are always brooding and constantly sporting a poker a face but soon develop into human beings, episode-by-episode. It’s good that despite the show being called “Marco Polo”, that other characters become the focus and each character is developed. Critics called it a “snoozer” but that’s because of quality pacing, that many shows lack in my opinion and because there aren’t Game Of Thrones-style battles in every episode. But the main reason why I think many called it a snoozer is because you had to listen to the dialogue and actually pay attention. It’s not one of those shows that you can zone in and out, but still expect to know what’s going on. Shows with backroom conversations like Marco Polo can take some time to get going, but I’m used to shows like that. Take House Of Cards for instance, that’s another slow-burner and on Netflix. All you need is a little patience.These conversations may not matter immediately but have consequences two or three episodes later, which is why you need to always focus on what is being said.

You have to admit that production value is second to none (Marco Polo, Netflix)

You have to admit that production value is second to none
(Marco Polo, Netflix)

Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy) is abandoned by his father in a far-flung country where he makes a rival of brooding Prince Jingim (Remy Hii) whilst also catching the eye of what someone would call forbidden fruit in the form of a fair lady. Without intent, Polo has become the target of both envy and desire by no fault of his own. He just wants to live his life peacefully without drawing attention to himself. He doesn’t find trouble, trouble normally finds him. It’s sent by those who want to see him fail. This outlander comes to the court and is in the favour of The Great Khan, much to the dismay of Prince Jingim. Marco Polo is certainly worth your time. The only way to watch it is the way Netflix shows were made to be watched. They need to be binged. Season 1 is a mere ten episodes in length so I’m sure you’ll make short work of it.

After steamy sexy scenes, battles and some epic examples of martial arts choreography, it’ll leave you wanting more. Much alike Game Of Thrones, the characters names go over your head but by the end your familiarity with them will be second nature. Lies, deception and treason are a big part of the series are a given in historical dramas like this.The Prince is trying to hinder Polo at every turn. He’s quite childish with his jealousy and envious ideologies as well the constant appeasement of his father while maintaining that those meandering locks. He’s always out trying to prove something. He’s not respected by the other characters at all and they aren’t afraid to call his grace “a whiny bitch” but not in so many words. He’s in a constant battle with Polo for his father’s affections. The only reason the Khan loves Polo is that he has no hidden agendas or consistent altering allegiances like every other person court. In the great game, nobody can be trusted. Polo is that character who is happy where he is and can’t be bought or corrupted by things like power, money and political status.

Marco Polo (Richelmy) & Prince (Hii) (Marco Polo, Netflix)

Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy) & Prince Jingim (Remy Hii)
(Marco Polo, Netflix)

From a supervillain point of view, Jia Sidao (Chin Han) is as cruel and demented as it gets. He makes Ramsay Bolton look like an angel. He’s driven, motivated and ambitious. There isn’t anything that he wouldn’t do to get what he wants. And he wants everything. He’s the relentless chancellor of the Song Dynasty as well as being a kung fu badass. He, like many characters becomes more than just a one hit wonder over the course of the season. He had to footbind a young girl before I decided to hate him. If Joffery and Littlefinger had a love child, it would be something like him. He’s cunning and calculating but he’s a complete asshole who seems to have a lust for inflincting pain. Chin Han (The Dark Knight) makes an awesome villain, in addition to the wonderful displays of kung fu that make him a force to be reckoned with. One of his best scenes was when he fights Bayan The Hundred Eyes, another kung fu warrior who happens to be blind. He’s lost his sight but there are other ways to see and he could still knock you on arse quicker than you can say Wing Chun.

The landscapes, costumes and overall set design left me in awe. Polo is made to train with Hundred Eyes (Tom Wu). And there’s lot of Kung Fu training, made more intense by the mystical and supernaturally spiritual elements of the series. Being blind isn’t a disability. It’s a gift. It shows the audience that sight is a distraction and impairs your ability to feel and be in tune with your environment. That’s something Hundred Eyes teaches Polo. The fight scenes make this series. And I’m glad to say that the series stunt coordinator and fight choreographer Brett Chan will be working on the Marvel-Netflix series Iron Fist. It’s safe to say that it’s in good hands. The fight scenes in Daredevil were excellent especially with introduction of “The Hand” in the second season. Marco Polo’s are legendary and cannot be faulted. Furthermore, it does the traditions and culture of Asia and the Mongols justice. It respects the past and hasn’t Americanized it which is what I fear would happen if it were on cable TV. Netflix is constantly breaking conventional boundaries and to be honest, Marco Polo would not be suitable on any other network.

Marco Polo (Lorenzo Rilchemy) & Hundred Eyes (Tom Wu)  (Marco Polo, Netflix)

Marco Polo (Lorenzo Rilchemy) & Hundred Eyes (Tom Wu)
(Marco Polo, Netflix)

This show isn’t just about politics, martial arts and a lust for power. It’s something as simple seeing the East through the eyes of a European. We see its culture and traditions but also its horrors, cruelty and savagery. Some of the punishments for crimes are quite horrific, like being trampled to death by horses for stealing. Medieval Europe at this time was no worse. The time period was harsh in the west and east alike. We have more characters: Kokachin (Zhu Zhu) starts as another pretty face but as the story progresses, she turns into something else entirely despite being the forbidden fruit. Polo takes up a friendship with The Khan Of Khan’s bastard, Byamba (Uli Latukefu). Polo shows his quality when they are sent to track down a clan of ninjas who were sent to kill the Great Khan. That’s another great story arc as we see more to Polo’s character. He’s a pretty boy who’s very perceptive but this arc also shows how resourceful he can be.

Mei Lin (Olivia Cheng) acts as Kublai Khan’s personal mistress. She has her very own interesting story arc and a great scene when she shows off her abilities taking out three armed guards while naked, using her badass kung fu skills. The show has no shortage of powerful female characters like Khutulun (Claudia Kim) for instance. She’s a warrior, and that’s a complete contrast to every other female character in the series, who are either aristocrats, queens or mistresses. What’s more, Khutulun can play warrior and lady, very akin to Vikings’ Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick).

The honorable and formidable warrior Khutulun (Claudia Kim)  (Marco Polo, Netflix)

The honorable and formidable warrior Khutulun (Claudia Kim)
(Marco Polo, Netflix)

Netflix have created something special here. They’re on a role with their original programming and they don’t look to be in any hurry to stop now. It wins with cinematography, character development and great story arcs in addition to hair & costume, fight choreography, acting performances, expansive scenery (battle scenes) and overall gigantic production. All in all a wonderful great series and I can’t wait to binge the heck out season two.

One of the best shows in the last five years; I reported what I saw as I saw it