Actor John Simm recently remarked that many of his roles have an “everyman” quality, where average citizens are thrust into unusual situations (ok excluding Doctor Who‘s Master, obviously).
The latest is White Dragon, an 8 part drama written by newcomers Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood. Known as Strangers in the UK, this production is entrenched in modern Hong Kong.
Simm plays British Professor Jonah Mulray who is hauled out of a lecture only to be told that his wife Megan has been killed in a car accident while working in Hong Kong. Numbed by the news, he takes his first flight to the Asian country full of regret that he never did so earlier.
“She spent half her life out here,” he says. “Every few weeks she’d be gone. I always promised I would come out and visit her, but never did…..”
When he meets with local police, doubts begin to emerge about what really happened. He follows a police interview suspect David Chen (Anthony Chau-Sang Wong) only to discover that he too claims to be Megan’s husband -with evidence to boot. It’s a revelation to Jonah that his wife led a double life…
“I used to ask myself why does my wife like HK so much?” he realises.
As the mystery deepens he leans upon British Consul Sally Porter (Emilia Fox) for assistance. Meanwhile there is an Australian journalist Michael Cohen (Anthony Hayes) digging into the incident, and a young woman Lau Chen (Katie Leung) protesting against a corporate businessman running for government.
The new versus old tug of war, as personified by Lau Chen, is part of the reason this is set in Hong Kong. The colonial past as denoted by the title, is contrasted by the neon clash of Hong Kong’s electric skyline. It’s a bit of a shame the title has been altered for the UK, as if to distance itself from any moral responsibility or guilt attached to British reign in the territory.
Simm is dependable as always, shifting from grieving husband to confused and angry man in the spate of a single episode. One can only hope that his narrative arc is infinitely more satisfying than his last UK drama, Trauma, which descended into stupidity after promising so much.
Aussie Anthony Hayes in a supporting role looks set to mine the truth of his investigation and refusing to cower to emotional pressure.
The Hong Kong locations, from Central to Chungking Mansions, are exotic and colourful if sometimes seemingly cleared of populous crowds.
While it may not pack the punch of the best Asian thrillers, White Dragon works best thanks to Simm, which is reason enough to add to your watch list if you have room.
White Dragon airs 8:30pm Wednesday on BBC First.