In December 2014, Netflix released its new authoring series, Marco Polo. The series was first bought by the TV company Starz, but after certain problems, it gave up on it. He then bought out Netflix and together with the Weinstein Company invested ninety million dollars in it. With this move, building its place in the world of television series, Netflix wanted to make a kind of counterpart to the HBO series Game of Thrones, i.e. that together with the announced series, it covers all genre areas and has its trump cards in the fight for ratings. In my opinion, they succeeded in this series.
Marco Polo is a world-famous researcher from the thirteenth century. The real information about him is in fact half-information and little can be said with 100% certainty. The story says that Marco is originally from Korcula, that he traveled with his father and uncle, where no one from Europe was then, to the Far East. He spent seventeen years there in the service of Kublai Khan. Upon his return, he wrote the book millions, one of the most translated and read books in history. Many disputed the adventures and events described in the book, accused him of inventing everything, and he said on his deathbed, at least that’s how the story goes, that he hadn’t written half of what he saw.
So the series, as its name suggests, is about Marco Polo and his adventures in the Far East, but they differ from the above-mentioned historical facts. The story goes: Marco Polo (Lorenzo Richelmy) after many years, meets his father Nicola (Pierfrancesco Favino), who spent years on a trip to the Far East, known as the Silk Road. Then he and his father see him for the first time. His father informs him that he is going on the road again and refuses Marco’s request to take him as well. However, Marco secretly boards the ship and thus begins his adventure. After a long journey, Marco arrives in Mongolia with his father Nikola and uncle Mate, at the court of Kublai Khan (Benedict Wong). There, his father begs Kana for permission to trade along the Silk Road. Khan allows, but asks Nikola for certain guarantees.
In order to win over Khan, Nikola leaves Mark at the court of Kublai Khan as a pledge, against Mark’s will. However, Marco, although in an unknown and completely different world from the one he was used to, soon gained the affection of Kublai Khan with his thoughts, who assigned him a mentor (Tom Wu), a blind Taoist priest, a master of martial arts. As time passes, Marco becomes more and more prominent and strengthens his position with Cannes, but with that he acquires numerous enemies. With all that, a furious war between the Mongols and the Chinese.
The first thing that catches your eye is the extremely rich production, as I mentioned, ninety million dollars were invested in the series. Beautiful landscapes change before your eyes, as you follow a beautiful adventure. The sets are phenomenal and a lot of attention has been paid to detail, and they are, to my knowledge, completely made to serve further production, something similar to the completely made sets in the Boardwalk Empire series, which greatly facilitated filming and contributed to production quality. A lot of attention has been paid to costumes and armor, with all the details. An army of extras, horses and other animals has also been hired to make everything look as high quality and credible as possible.
The plot itself is a special story. Very well thought out and elaborated. We have the adventure of one man, through which we observe a fantastic spectacle in the form of a clash of civilizations, rulers, philosophies. Great battles both on the battlefield and inside the court, both Mongolian and Chinese. Everyone is fighting for their goals and dreams, in ways known to them. Court plots, secrets, murders, betrayals, jealousy, envy, love stories, honest and false, all for power or a share in it. Many characters, each with their own demons, play on the stage where every step is followed, where one word distinguishes between life and death. We also watch a game where thousands of soldiers are pawns, which the rulers move in the field, often sacrificing hundreds of them, in order to satisfy their ambitions and ego.
What particularly impressed me were the characters. Namely, there are quite a few of them, and enough attention has been paid to everyone. Of course, it is less for some, more for some, but each is impressive and very important for the whole story. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that the cast is of high quality and absolutely up to the task. So we have Lorenzo Rickelmi playing Marco Polo. At first he didn’t leave me any impression, but as the story progresses, he gets better and better, as his character, from a young and inexperienced boy, develops into an extremely capable strategist, warrior, leader, and even a politician, although still in its infancy.
However, the most impressive role was played by Benedict Wong, who plays Kublai Khan. Although he has a rather successful career behind him, this is his best role in it, he simply broke the role. You believe in his role and have a feeling that Khan was just like that and in no way different. A great leader of the warrior people, strong, powerful, wise. Able to give a second chance, but also to be extremely cruel. An open mind towards novelties, other civilizations and religions, absorbing their knowledge in order to apply it in the best way in his kingdom. A man ahead of his time, but at the same time faithful to his roots, customs and under great pressure, the work of his grandfather Genghis Khan. Despite all the desire to break the wall that has resisted him for decades, it makes him blind for a moment, so to speak, madness, and the price is many lives.
This complex character was not easy to play, and Wong managed to do more than that. Another noteworthy one is Khan’s biggest rival, Chancellor Sidao. The portrayal of his character was no less complicated than Kanov’s. That job was almost as well done by Wing as Chin Han did. Unlike Khan, Chancellor Sidao came from an ordinary family, but he reached the first after the emperor. Quite a complex character, cruel, dangerous, without compassion, extremely smart and capable, but with personal demons who only peek for a moment, revealing much more about Sidau. I will only briefly mention Hundred Eyes, a blind martial arts master and Mark’s mentor, and the great role of Tom Woo.
There are many characters to describe everything now, and one of the qualities of the series is just discovering who is who and what is hiding behind their eyes. That way you are in fact put in the position of Marco Paul, alone in an unknown world, with a bunch of strangers around you, not knowing who to trust and you have to discover it perfectly carefully piece by piece, and every mistake in assessment can cost you your life.
The fights and their choreography are great. In addition to mass fights, there are also those as we are used to seeing in Chinese epic spectacles, where all the splendor of kung fu is shown. There is that here as well and it is done perfectly. The fights are realistically shown, with a lot of blood and careful details (it will not happen that the sword is pierced, and it comes out clean). No, everything was done exactly as it should be and as I like to see.
To sum it all up, in my opinion the perfect performance, where everything has its place and role, and that is to give you the perfect entertainment. The only drawback, if it can be called that, is that the pilot or the first episode is convincingly the worst. So don’t judge a series based on it. They simply needed some kind of introduction to bring Mark to the place where the magic of this series begins, and that is the court of Kublai Khan. After that, everything is perfect and as I have already described.
In the end, I was thrilled with this series. Ten episodes, lasting almost ten hours, nailed me to the screen and provided more than I expected.