Roy Chiu (“Office Girls”, Dear Ex) is the reason why I started watching Asian dramas. I saw him in Easy Fortune Happy Life as the loan shark with a heart of gold, loved his character and started watching as many of his shows and movies as I could find. So it was nice to start 2020 by watching his new web drama, Detective Chinatown (唐人街探案) and finally be inspired to write a new review after such a long time.
I enjoyed the first two Detective Chinatown movies, but when I first heard they were making a series, I was a little hesitant and thought they were just going to repeat the movies in a series format. Fortunately, the drama is more of a spinoff of the movies with interesting mysteries that suck you in right in.
I was only able to watch the first eight of all twelve episodes, but have enjoyed them so far. The first episode was so good that I ended up binge watching all the episodes that were available. Thankfully iQIYI included English subtitles on their app so I didn’t have to rely on my limited Mandarin. (This may partly be due to the series dialogue being in both Chinese and Thai, but also due to iQIYI starting to expand into the overseas markets and making content more accessible to non-Chinese speakers.)
Roy Chiu stars as Lin Mo, a former chemistry teacher turned detective in Bangkok, Thailand. He is an apprentice of Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang, Detective Chinatown & Detective Chinatown 2) with a troubled past and a hypersensitive sense of smell that helps him solve cases. (The characters used to write his name “Mo” mean “black dog” that leads to jokes about how he has the same sense of smell as a dog.)
The series is broken up into three mysteries with four episodes per mystery. In the first story, Lin Mo is recruited by the police to help solve the mystery of why four former classmates seem to be haunted by some supernatural power. One of the women has died already and something seems determined to kill the rest. Lin Mo is paired up with Detective Sasha (Zhang Yi, Railway Tigers) with whom he is hinted at sharing a history, while having to deal with bumbling cops, some less than forthcoming victims, video evidence that can’t be explained and an empty belly.
In the second mystery, we find out more about Lin Mo’s past, how he became a detective and met Sasha and Tang Ren. In that story, he is framed for a murder done by a mysterious serial killer named Smiley whom Lin Mo is hunting down. He ends up partnering up with the victim’s widow, Ivy (Zhang Junning, Detective Chinatown 3), who has some secrets of her own, to help locate her husband’s murderer and prove his innocence before the police or another assassin can get him.
Though I haven’t seen any of the third mystery yet, I’ve read that another detective, Noda Haoji (Chen Zheyuan, “Handsome Siblings”) will join the series for the final case.
Tang Ren is not the only character from the past movies to appear in the series so far. Kiko (Shang Yuxian), a hacker and detective from Detective Chinatown 2, appears to help out both Lin Mo and Noda Haoji. Even the infamous Crimaster app makes an appearance as we find out Lin Mo is also one of the top rated detectives. So far the creators have done a good job of tying the series with the movies, but making the episodes easy to follow even if you haven’t watched the films. (I would suggest watching the series before going to see Detective Chinatown 3 as I have a feeling some of the things that take place in the drama will carry over to the movie.)
It’s been an entertaining series and, with just 12 episodes, it’s something fun to either binge over the weekend or just one mystery at a time. The other police officers are a bit over the top with how inept they are to provide comic relief, but Roy Chiu is adept at delivering serious dialogue with comedic timing and I enjoyed his more subtle humor. I also liked the theme song by NZBZ called “Dedication” 《执念》. The music director for this series makes some good musical choices for the soundscore, though they also really love dropping the bass which, at first, made some of the really suspenseful scenes more thrilling, but then later felt overused in other less intense scenes.
For a fun mystery series, I recommend checking out this webdrama. Hopefully they will do another season with Roy Chiu as I’d like to see more of this character and his stories hint at more to come.