One Child is part of BBC’s China Season and the title is also the policy within China of one child per household. That policy plays a part in this, but it doesn’t dominate the proceedings, so it could’ve had a better title.
The drama begins, and largely takes place in the Ghangzhou where the penniless mother of AJun (Sebastian So) lives in a dilapidated high-rise block with her son, lad who assists a local club DJ, yet his life is about to take a major turn for the worse when he sees a fight break out, leaving one man dead at the hands of the aggressor’s friend. Despite a number of witnesses, he’s taken to the police station on the grounds of giving a statement yet is, instead, fitted up for the crime. Power is everything in China, so it’s a classic case of money talks and bullshit walks. They say you can’t fight City Hall, and for this country, he’ll have an even tougher row to hoe.
Cue Harry Potter star Katie Leung as Mei (right), living in London where, six months later, she gets a call out of the blue from journalist Pan Qianyi (Linh-Dan Pham) inviting her over to meet her birth mother, who now wants to see her again after giving her up for adoption in 1992, and save the brother she never knew about until now, as he’s about to go on trial in a place where justice is notoriously absent and this drama tells of the frustration of that lack of justice against a corrupt system.
Alas, it hangs on the main character and, based on the first episode, Ms Leung appears to show almost zero emotion in this, so it’s difficult to work out whether she’s exhibiting a dispassionate character who’s trying to keep her distance, or just not embodying the role in any form. Either way, it stops you engaging with her plight because she doesn’t appear to have one.
Throw in Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds) and Donald Sumpter (Doctor Who: Heaven Sent) – rather sleepwalking through their adoptive parent roles, and maybe there’s more to be told in parts 2 and 3, but I do hope so because instead of a full Chinese banquet, the opening segment has only offered us meagre rations.
One Child is split over three hour-long episodes although, while I thought this was a premiere, the three-parter over three weeks has already aired in the US over two nights in December 2014. So why has it taken so long to come to us? Chinese New Year happens every year, so why not in February 2015, at the latest?
This is a more pertinent question than whether AJun will be a free man.
Also, it should’ve been presented in 16:9, with nothing benefitting from being shot in a 2.35:1 ratio. While some TV dramas can work in that format, this one doesn’t. Most scenes would be better opened up to 16:9 whereas the director seems to have forgotten that the occasional establishing vista is being viewed on a television and not at your local Odeon.
One Child continues next Wednesday on BBC2 at 9pm, and is not yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD.
If you missed it, you can watch the episode on BBC iPlayer, up until March 18th. Also, click on the above image for the full-size version.
Episode 1 Score: 5/10
Director: John Alexander
Producer: Grainne Marmion
Screenplay: Guy Hibbert
Music: Richard Adrian Johnston
Mei: Katie Leung
Liu Ying: Mardy Ma
Pan Qianyi: Linh-Dan Pham
Katherine Ashley: Elizabeth Perkins
Jim Ashley: Donald Sumpter
AJun: Sebastian So
Chike: Adebayo Bolaji
Chen Jin: Andy Cheung
Peng’s receptionist: Yennis Cheung
Solomon Ibori: Enoch Frost
Dongping: Nicholas Goh
Samuel Abulu: Emmanuel Ighodaro
Mr Lin: Junix Inocian
Mr Anderson: Barnaby Kay
Moonlight Clubber: Dan Lam
Club Goer: Kim-Anh Le-Pham
Chang Hui: Alan Leong
Wu Jian: Lukaz Leong
Cheng hua: Kunjue Li
Xu Liang: Selina Lo
Joseph Ojo: Deobia Oparei
Leading Judge: Yuyu Rau
Tunde Adeola: Seun Shote
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.