Hong Kong is a cinematographer’s dream. Intoxicatingly busy and naturally beholden to beautiful landscapes, there’s always material to work with. It’s just the director’s job to pick out what to focus on. From classic Wong Kar Wai films to more recent Western ones, the city has always been a favored backdrop to moody, evocative stories. Why not try a murder mystery?
In the ITV show, “White Dragon,” (now hosted by Amazon Prime) British university professor Jonah Mulray (John Simm, “Life on Mars”) discovers his wife has been killed in a car accident halfway across the world in Hong Kong. He travels there to identify the body, but quickly figures out that his wife’s real life was more complicated than it seems. A businesswoman who split her time between London and Hong Kong, it seems her life was also split into two vastly different realms.
From then on, it’s a familiar story. Jonah, along with an (extremely) unlikely accomplice, tries to prove that his wife was actually murdered by some unsavory actors. The other mysterious figures that drop in and out of the narrative aren’t quite developed enough to make the mystery itself as intriguing as it should be. However, Simm and his Hong Kong-ese counterpart Anthony Wong (“Internal Affairs”), who plays a Hong Kong ex-cop named David Chen are solid performers, enough to make the show engaging. Both are cerebral, introverted yet emotional characters, convincingly distrusting of each other yet bound by Jonah’s wife’s biggest secret.
There’s also a backdrop of corruption within government and big business that complicate the case and perhaps play a big role in it itself. It isn’t quite explored enough in the early episodes, but there is always a danger of the various factions and storylines becoming too convoluted (which usually happens when the screenwriters get a bit too far up into their own … ). David’s daughter Lau (Katie Leung, “One Child”), a budding activist, is a convincing link between the family drama and the more grandiose aspects of the story. Leung’s performance accurately reflects the particular brand of bitterness that teenagers possess while avoiding the trap of overdoing the “bitter teenager” act.
As I mentioned before, it’s hard to mess up shooting in Hong Kong. To the cinematographers’ credit here, they don’t. While almost a cliché at this point, the neon extravaganzas and vistas the city contains are a perfect backdrop for a story of international intrigue and mystery. Jonah’s stature and plight feel appropriately small in the skyscraper maze, mirroring his desire to know what happened to his wife compared to the larger forces that appear to be at work.
“White Dragon” is probably compelling enough to grab your attention for the span of eight, relatively short episodes. But it treads on relatively well-trodden ground, and does not contain any stand-out elements or performances that make it a must watch.