As idol actors try to prove their worth, many of them are looking toward espionage dramas. Li Yifeng, Zhao Liying, Liu Shishi, Hawick Lau, Zhou Dongyu, Zhang Ruoyun, Chen Xuedong, Lu Yi, Qiao Zhenyu, and Ady An Yixuan are just some of the latest spies in the drama world.
Espionage dramas have long been turning points for many actors, most recently Jin Dong and Wang Kai in The Disguiser. While usually more reserved for veteran actors, the specialty is now in vogue for the young and beautiful. Set mostly during the Sino-Japanese war, a period is known for their classy outfits and intrigue-filled politics, espionage dramas are perfect for multi-layered characters and acting if one can handle it.
A round-up of some upcoming espionage dramas, in historical chronological order. Which ones are you looking forward to the most?
Japan takes Beijing and Tianjing following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, beginning the second Sino-Japanese War.
The Hummingbird Attack 蜂鸟出击
Cast: Hawick Lau, Zhang Jianing, Li Xirui
Setting: 1937-, Tianjin
After her parents are both killed , our female lead (Zhang Jianing)becomes a vigilante and goes on a two-women killing spree with her best friend (Li Xirui). She eventually realizes that her personal vendetta is misguided, and is on converted by a fellow physician to work as a communist agent (Hawick Lau).
What I liked the most about the synopsis is that her best friend eventually joins the nationalists, and the two actually work together when they have the same goal, but also hate each other and try to ruin each other’s lives at other times. This is probably one of the more complicated female-female relationships in a drama recently, so I hope it turns out to be well-developed. If done well, it could be even a caricature of the communist-nationalist relationship at the time, but that would be getting my hopes up too much.
Trailer here, although a low-qualitied land channel version is already available on YouTube.
Japanese forces take control of Shanghai following the Battle of Shanghai
Blood and Bodyguards 铁血保镖
Cast: Song Yi, Li Jiahang
Setting: 1932-1937, Shanghai/Dongbei (Japanese-controlled Manchuria)
The protagonist is kidnapped to join a nationalist training camp (sounds familiar?). He uncovers plans to fuel the then nationalist-communist war and helps to build the reunited front against the Japanese come the Battle of Shanghai.
Japan takes Nanking following the Nanking Massacre.
Rookie Agent Rouge 胭脂
Cast: Zhao Liying, Lu Yi, Yuan Wenkang
Setting: 1937(?) Nanjing
Our klutzy but clever protagonist spied on and killed her best friend’s father not because he’s evil (which he supposedly is), but to prove to her object of admiration (Yuan Wenkang) her loyalty. Eventually she joins to become an agent to follow her pursuit of this guy, then finally gets converted by some communist spy (Lu Yi) in the nationalist government. Fun fact: The head of the Nanjing secret police and the intelligence team both at one time communists, as were the heads of the Tianjin secret police.
Based on the synopsis, the female lead actually sounds like a horrible person, so I’m just going to count on Zhao Liying’s cuteness to carry the drama.
Wang puppet government
A Nationalist puppet government (汪伪政府） is set up under Japanese guidance in Nanjing. Meanwhile, the real nationalists (who have retreated to Chongqing) and communists (who have retreated to Yan’an) have formed the second KMT-CCP alliance against the Japanese invasion.
In Shanghai, the then and now financial center of China, the situation is further complicated by powerful gangs and foreign claims on the Bond. Reflected in the fight to define and control modern China are in its fashions, where a woman might be dressed in a flapper dress, a qipao, a kimono, or even a suit. Here is an espionage writer’s dream setting and a civilian’s nightmare.
Cast: Li Yifeng,Zhou Dongyu, Zhang Luyi, Zhang Ruoyun, Kan Qingzi, Li Xiaoran, Yin Zheng
Time period: early 1940’s, Shanghai
Li Yifeng and Kan Qingzi are communist agents, Zhou Dongyu and Zhang Ruoyun nationalist agents. They’re all working for the puppet government. I almost feel bad for Wang Jingwei since everyone in his government is a spy both on TV and in real life, but then I remember what a horrible person he is.
The Stalker 潜行者: 浮出水面
Cast: Zhai Tianlin, Jiang Kaitong, He Minghan
Setting: early 1940’s, Shanghai
An economics spy is charged with secretly ruining the puppet government’s economy.
The title, the subtitle, and the tagline are Daylight Entertainment / Shandong TV rip-offs (伪装者＋浮出水面 ＋ 前方的道路越是黑暗，我们就越渴望光明。）.
1945 – ?
With the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, civil war ensues as the communists and nationalists battle it out.
Despite what’s been passing around the web after the JYP scandal, I can tell you that during the Civil War era, both Western and Chinese scholars agree that the nationalists were filled corruption and nepotism and widely hated. All the opium smuggling in the Disguiser? True. Many of the children of its leaders as well as many of its leaders themselves turned out to be either moles or defected.
Battle at Dawn 黎明决战
Time: 1946, Harbin
Cast: Wang Qianyuan, Liu Shishi, Cao Bingkun
In April 1946, Harbin became the first major city to be controlled by the communists. Liu Shishi and Wang Qianyuan try to snoop out nationalist agents still remaining in the now communist-controlled Harbin.
Starting from Yan’an, the communists first took Northeastern China after the Japanese surrender, then went South and Westward until finally proclaiming independence in October 1949. The nationalist government retreated to the island of Taiwan in December of the same year.
Cast: Qiao Zhenyu, Ady An Yixuan, Guo Xiaoting
Setting: 1945, Shanghai
This is more of a detective drama, but it has moles and biological warfare and Qiao Zhenyu’s pretty face, so whatever. Our two detective leads try to uncover the secrets behind Japanese biological weapons while discovering the mole in their own police force. Trailer here.
Cast: Chen Xuedong, Ying’er, Guo Jingfei, Zhang Zhehan, Yin Xiaotian, Liu Tao.
Setting: 1959, place unknown
Decoded the book is available in English, buy it on Amazon here.
“Readers skate the line separating insanity from genius in Mai Jia’s riveting tale of cryptographic warfare. At the center of Mai Jia’s taut novel, the mathematical genius Rong Jinzhen is spirited away as a young man to China’s secretive Unit 701, an elite cadre of code masters. There Jinzhen encounters the hero who broke WWII Japanese ciphers, now a helpless, chess-playing lunatic. Such is the peril Jinzhen faces as he launches his own lonely assault on PURPLE, the fiendish brainchild of his own former professor. In a narrative challenging readers to do their own decoding of its ruptures and inversions, readers see the brilliant protagonist survive daunting psychological dangers as he unravels PURPLE, inspired by a dream about the Russian chemist Mendeleyev. But when PURPLE’s sinister sibling, BLACK, emerges as the new foe, Jinzhen ventures forth again, veering toward mental breakdown when he loses a research notebook. A denouement at once heartbreaking and thought-provoking leaves readers pondering the collective sanity of a world shrouding knowledge in enigmas. ”
Head Above Water 浮出水面
Cast: Jin Dong, Han Yuqin
Setting: Modern Qingdao
This rare modern espionage series follows the rebellious Hong Shaoqiu (Jin Dong) as he heads an National Defense investigation into the repeated leak of research on a new new deep-sea submersible.