Note: Page contains spoilers through to the end of the series.
Actor Bai Yu, who portrays Zhao Yunlan in the drama, summarised the character as 'unconventional and unrestrained [...] he looks like a man of pleasure, but deep down inside his heart there’s something delicate [Sina Interview].' He also noted that 'part of his personality is similar to mine'.
Bai Yu notes that Zhao Yunlan is 'good at being a leader.'
Zhao Yunlan is described by The Black Cloaked Envoy as ‘a smart person’ (ep02).
Zhao Yunlan’s intelligence is often represented through his ability to read others; in episode 2, Zhao Yunlan is able to read through Shen Wei’s attempts to avoid being questioned, noting that Shen Wei ‘conceded in order to gain advantage’, and that no matter what Yunlan asks later, it will be as if he is treating Shen Wei like a criminal (ep02).
In episode 4, he meets Zhang Ruonan and surmises that she is someone who ‘apologises a lot, has low self-esteem… or has possibly been traumatised’ (ep03). Though Shen Wei admonishes him for making assumptions, it is later revealed that Zhang Ruonan had been raped, and Zhao Yunlan had been correct.
Zhao Yunlan is also able to spot the inconsistencies in Zhang Danni’s story when she recounts her encounter with the face-stealing serial killer (ep04).
Chu notes similarities between the Black Cloaked Envoy and Zhao Yunlan, specifically in how they wait for others to make a move in order to gain advantage - ‘bait fish’ (ep02). In a later episode, he credits Yunlan with teaching him the method of ‘casting a long line to catch big fish’ (ep04).
In episode 5, Zhao Yunlan also begs The Black Cloaked Envoy to save Wu Tian'en, a Dixingren with speeding abilities, saying that ‘no matter if it’s a regular person or Dixingren, a person is a person’ (ep05).
Zhao Yunlan is labeled by Zhang Shi as 'progressive' (ep39); within the series, Zhao Yunlan has several clashes with the Department of Supervision, specifically on transparency.
In episode 18, Yunlan tells Shen Wei that he will help him convince the council to set up schools in Dixing, while telling the young men under Fire's protection about the importance of education (ep18). In an alternate ending for the series, Yunlan is shown as having succeeded in this endeavour, and runs a school in Dixing.
When asked by Ye Zun why he struggles for humans, Zhao Yunlan states that ‘he enjoys it’ (ep20).
According to the Zhu Hong and Da Qing, Zhao Yunlan is someone ‘who looks passionate and friendly, but has a cold heart’ (ep09), who ‘has a thick skin and a black heart’ (ep08) - specifically in the context of his interactions with others, though Guo Changcheng views Zhao Yunlan as someone who is ‘nice to people’ (ep 09). The SID once agreed that Zhao Yunlan is the kind of person that makes even ghosts apprehensive, and this is why the Black Cloaked Envoy is lenient with him (ep02).
Later in the series, Ye Zun tells Yunlan that while he had initially wondered why The Black Cloaked Envoy had shown interest in him, he grew to admire him. He described Zhao Yunlan as someone with guts and a brave heart, who is willing to do anything to achieve their target. He notes that he and Yunlan are very similar people. He also calls Yunlan an interesting person who has achieved many things despite being a mortal (ep39).
As a child, Zhao Yunlan watched his mother Shen Xi die at the hands of a criminal from Dixing. Though the scene is played out in flashbacks and never fully explained, it showed Yunlan’s father, Zhao Xinci, choosing to shoot the criminal holding his wife hostage, believing that she would 'understand the choice he made'. Shen Xi died when the criminal used his powers to cause an explosion in order to evade capture, with the only thing left behind being her tan overcoat (ep17).
This event caused Zhao Yunlan immense trauma. During the series, he is shown to struggle with using his gun (ep09); the same gun his father had used to fire at the criminal holding his mother hostage. Despite this trauma, a young Zhao Yunlan still showed empathy for the people of Dixing, and swore to his father that ‘with his tolerance, his brain and his life’, he could find a ‘win-win’ situation where Dixingren and Haixingren lived peacefully (ep39).
Zhao Yunlan is shown as having a fraught relationship with his father, both in the present day and in his early life. This is due to Zhao Xinci’s role in the death of Yunlan’s mother (ep17), his strict nature, and his tendency to put his work before his family. Flashbacks to Yunlan’s childhood featured this fraught relationship. In one scene before her death, Shen Xi argued with Zhao Xinci about never seeing his son while Yunlan watched on (ep17).
Another scene showed Zhao Xinci viciously reprimanding Yunlan after his dog goes missing, asking him if Yunlan expected Zhao Xinci to pity or comfort him. He criticised Yunlan's methods of searching, calling it 'inefficient and a total waste of time' (ep29). He then urged young Yunlan to act like a detective, to consider the dog's character and the events prior to the dog going missing. Present day Yunlan used this advice in order to find and rescue Zhao Xinci's colleagues.
Outside of flashbacks, not much is seen or discussed about Zhao Yunlan’s early life prior to the series, though it is mentioned that he’s been the chief of the SID for three years.
Longevity Dial Arc
Zhao Yunlan is initially introduced as an imposing figure in a black motorcycle, immediately followed by a scene where he demands the new recruit unwrap his lollipop as he proudly introduces him to their team of misfits made of mad scientists, snakes, ghosts and talking cats. The swing from imposing to friendly is rounded off as he reveals that Guo Changcheng has joined their team at the behest of his uncle, who is in a high government position.
Later, Zhao Yunlan arrives at Dragon City University and attempts to enter the crime scene. He is stopped by an officer who does not accept his SID ID card. Another officer runs forward and apologises, though Yunlan is unoffended and instead asks to be referred to as ‘Xiao Zhao’. While Yunlan walks into the crime scene, the officer explains to his colleague that the SID deals with ‘mysterious and unsolved cases’ that always comes with notice from higher-ups.
While looking at the body of the deceased, he concludes it’s the work of someone from “over there” - referring to Dixing.
Zhao Yunlan meets Shen Wei after the professor mistakes Guo for a student. He sees Shen Wei petting Da Qing in his cat form, and comments that he has never seen him so well-behaved. He tells Shen Wei that he’s handling the case of the murdered university student, then comments that Shen Wei has a good name before giving him his business card, offering to chat when they’re free.
The next time they meet, Zhao Yunlan observes that though the victim was Shen Wei’s student, he seemed to have no reaction to seeing her body. After a brief exchange, he tells Shen Wei that they will find the culprit as maintaining security and peace is their duty.
In his office, Shen Wei is looking at Zhao Yunlan’s file, which indicates his age to be 28 years old.
While walking around the campus, Zhao Yunlan spots Li Qian on the roof, about to jump, and rushes to save her. He tells Li Qian that he is just like her, a person with two eyes and a mouth, and that it is better to be alive than anything else. Yunlan injures his arm as he attempts to pull her up, then slips on some metal pipes; Shen Wei arrives in order to help Yunlan in pulling up Li Qian.
In the hospital, Yunlan tells Shen Wei that due to his talent and consideration, he believes many people ‘must be chasing after him’. Shen Wei wonders if Zhao Yunlan is ‘trying to figure him out’, then starts giving him information about his life: that he’s turning 32, born in the east side of Dragon City, and holds a PhD. They continue to have a tense exchange about Dixingren while Yunlan attempts to gather more information about Shen Wei’s connection with their case, which ends with a promise to have lunch in the future.
Guo speaks to Shen Wei about Yunlan acting ‘on edge’, and Shen Wei points out that Yunlan is young and leading his team through countless dangers, and should show Yunlan some consideration. Da Qing decides to warn Yunlan about the professor’s focus on him.
Shen Wei and Yunlan confront Li Qian about her grandmother. She asks Shen Wei what the strongest thought in his mind would be if the person he held most dear was dying in front of him, too which he responds ‘I’m willing to exchange my life for his’. She then reveals the workings of the Longevity Dial, and the sacrifice she’d made in order to save her grandmother.
The case is eventually resolved, and the SID obtains the Longevity Dial after Zhao Yunlan uses it in order to save Li Qian. Yunlan tells Shen Wei that he thinks the issue goes beyond their current case.
Zhao Yunlan falls ill with a cold at the same time that another student is found dead at Dragon City University - this time due to spontaneous aging. He arrives in Professor Shen’s office in order to ask about the student, who was also in Shen Wei’s class. He notes that ‘in this world, there are three things that can’t be believed: The belly-band on a best-seller, texts about winning the lottery, and coincidences in a case’ - implying that he is once again suspicious of Shen Wei.
Zhang Ruonan enters the office, and Zhao Yunlan notes she is possibly traumatised. Yunlan heads to the hospital with Guo in order to obtain medicine.
As the case is solved, Wang Yike accidentally touches Zhang Ruonan, whose life force is sucked away. As she Wang Yike cries, Zhao Yunlan becomes increasingly more desperate to save her, at one point turning away as he is overcome with emotion.
The next case brings the height of the SID’s suspicion towards Shen Wei, who is found at the scene of the crime. Though they attempt to interrogate him, Zhao Yunlan eventually lets him go when Shen Wei manages to out-maneuver both Zhu Hong and Chu Shuhzi.
During this case, Zhao Yunlan becomes visibly upset at The Black cloaked Envoy for his late arrival, which resulted in the death of Lin Yusen, telling him he may as well not have come. He is further angered by The Black Cloaked Envoy’s announcement that he will take Lin Yusen’s body with him to Dixing. Later, The Black Claoked Envoy tells Chu Shuhzi that Lin Yusen has been corrupted by dark energy (ep04).
It is revealed that the butler for the SID’s recent case is secretly a Dixingren who worked for The Black Cloaked Envoy twenty years ago; Shen Wei reveals himself to his subordinate and firmly states that no matter what Wu Tian'en plans for the future, he must not touch Zhao Yunlan.
Mountain River Awl Arc
After Zhao Yunlan’s attempt to win Shen Wei over fails, Shen Wei finds Yunlan sitting on a sidewalk. Zhao Yunlan assures him that he is suffering from ‘an old stomach ache’ which he has medicine for at home.
When Zhao Yunlan wakes the next day, he is surprised to find that Shen Wei had not only brought him home, but stayed with him the entire night. As they talk, Shen Wei tries to make Yunlan promise not to leave Dragon City, but Zhao Yunlan tells him it will depend on what information he receives in the future. Da Qing arrives and after a brief discussion about Zhao Yunlan’s illness, tells Yunlan that Wang Zheng had collapsed.
As Da Qing and Zhao Yunlan drive to the SID, they find that their query about Shen Wei’s identity has come back with no results, courtesy of Shen Wei wiping the answer while Zhao Yunlan had been asleep.
Wang Zheng’s memories of her past life have returned, and Zhao Yunlan and the SID decide to help Wang Zheng return to her hometown, where the Longevity Dial is reacting to what they believe is another Hallow.
On their way to the mountains, the SID run into Shen Wei’s research team. Zhao Yunlan suggests arriving to their destination together before lying on Shen Wei in the backseat, having fallen ill with a cold once again.
When they realise that they’ve lost the other group, Shen Wei leaves the car to check out their surroundings, and Zhao Yunlan follows. Shen Wei orders Yunlan to go back to the vehicle as he is ill, but Yunlan stays, noting that Shen Wei is the first person to order him around. Yunlan also gives Shen Wei his Northface jacket in order to keep him warm.
When they arrive at the village, the SID are attacked by energy beings wearing masks. Wang Zheng insists they are after her. Yunlan attempts to use his gun, but experiences a flashback to his mother’s death, and Zhu Hong takes it and shoots one of the energy beings, causing all of them to disappear. She admonishes him over losing his courage, and he promises that it won’t happen again.
As Zhao Yunlan goes to look for Wang Zheng, Shen Wei transforms into The Black Cloaked Envoy - though not before killing one of the monsters, spraying blood on Zhao Yunlan’s jacket. He sends a message to Yunlan for him to turn back, though Yunlan is immediately attacked by another monster as he received the message. As he aims his gun, the Black Cloaked Envoy arrives in time to save him. Zhao Yunlan notes that the monster’s blood smells distinctly awful.
They talk about the Mount River Awl’s presence under the mountain, and Shen Wei warns Yunlan about using the Hallows. Yunlan notes he sounds ‘especially like a friend of mine’, but continues to use the Longevity Dial as it is their only way to find Wang Zheng and the Mount River Awl.
As Wang Zheng and Sang Zan’s history is revealed, Zhao Yunlan notes that ‘the most basic dignity of man is to let their loved ones be safe’, a statement that seems to affect The Black Cloaked Envoy. They manage to obtain the Mount River Awl, though Zhu Jiu, who had planned the attack against them, manages to escape.
During Zhao Yunlan’s reluctant drinking session with one of his connections in the village, Shen Wei drinks some alcohol and passes out. As Yunlan tends to him, he smells the Northface jacket he had given Shen Wei and catches the scent of the monster Shen Wei had slain before transforming into the Envoy. Yunlan realises that Shen Wei is the Black Cloaked Envoy.
Later, as Zhao Yunlan wonders about why the Black Cloaked Envoy would have a civilian identity, the SID are handed a new case.