In The Name Of The People casts light on the dark underbelly of Chinese politics, while Man To Man is a half-baked spy comedy
The Chinese political thriller In The Name Of The People starts, fascinatingly, not with a bang, but a sputter.
Chen Hai (Huang Junpeng), chief of the anti-corruption bureau in the fictional Jingzhou city, Handong province, gets a call from his best friend and fellow investigator in Beijing, Hou Liangping (Lu Yi), asking him to arrest Jingzhou vice-mayor Ding Yizhen, who is connected to a far-reaching case.
From the instant Chen and his squad step out of the agency, however, they fall spectacularly behind schedule. Chen is waylaid by his superior, who is adamant that they can't touch a vice-mayor before the relevant paperwork comes down from Beijing.
Consequently, in the time Chen is dragged to the provincial general office and caught in an epic meeting with senior Communist Party officials to discuss whether to go ahead with the arrest, Ding receives a call at a banquet for fawning businessmen, disappears from the view of Chen's team and hightails it to the United States.
The crackdown becomes a hilarious farce, but also a complex mystery: Who tipped the vice-mayor off? Was the call made from the general office, when the officials were taking toilet breaks during the discussion of the arrest? How many of the officials were secretly or indirectly involved in Ding's escape and in the case, which later sparks a labour clash?
In The Name Of The People has been called the Chinese House Of Cards, which it isn't.
While American political satires are being outdone by actual events in US President Donald Trump's administration, In The Name Of The People surprises by seeming, in part, to give a truer picture of corruption in China than is usually possible in the tightly controlled country.
It portrays not only the inner workings of officialdom and factional politics, but also the ways in which things don't work in the tangle of bureaucracy (for example, when anti-graft investigators and municipal police officers are engaged in a tug of war over an informant who is in the custody of the provincial police office).
After Chen is run down by a truck, Hou is sent to Jingzhou as the new chief of the anti-corruption bureau and encounters a pack of officials and persons of interest, who are all meatier characters than he is.
There's city boss Li Dakang, the peevish, business-friendly economic reformer who may or may not be trying to shield his estranged wife, a bank official on the take, from Hou's investigation of the Ding case.
Hou's former law professor, Gao Yuliang, is Handong province's vice- secretary and second most powerful man. A shrewd conservative, he is esteemed by his former students, but also suspected of exercising too great an influence over the ones working in the government.
Another of the former students, Qi Tongwei, is a provincial police chief who is obsessed with getting a promotion. He doesn't make a move without calculating whether he will win or lose a senior official's favour.
The show, adapted by author Zhou Meisen from his book of the same name, is most gripping as a tragedy and a reckoning of the characters' follies. Hou and his squad are most effective as a Greek chorus, whose reminiscences, witticisms and findings cast light on the dark underbelly of Chinese politics.
The South Korean action comedy Man To Man sputters, but doesn't quite start. A secret agent (Park Hae Jin) works undercover as an action star's bodyguard in the drama, which nudges you to notice what a riot it is (the agent is the real action hero of the two, isn't it cute, wink wink).
He may have a thing for the star's manager, who is sweet on the actor, who is bitter about a former girlfriend (what could be more thrilling than a romantic conundrum, nudge nudge).
IN THE NAME OF THE PEOPLE
Websites such as iQiyi
MAN TO MAN
Netflix, Any time
But on the whole, the show is a loose assortment of gags, which you are more likely to smile than laugh at.
The writer is Kim Won Suk, who wrote the original script for Descendants Of The Sun (2016), before Kim Eun Sook, the doyenne of K-dramas, sexed up the writing and worked in a high-octane romantic comedy.
She's the action heroine Man To Man needs to rise above its mediocrity.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Uncovering corruption and dark secrets'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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