Chinese suspense TV dramas experience explosive growth
Unraveling a mystery
Published: Oct 31, 2021 05:08 PM

The promotion material for <em>The Pavilion</em> Photo: Courtesy of iQIYI

The promotion material for The Pavilion Photo: Courtesy of iQIYI

Chinese suspense and murder mystery dramas have been popping up like mushrooms after the rain in 2021 following the huge success of The Bad Kids in 2020. Among these new dramas, the series from iQIYI's Lights On Theater called The Pavilion has captured the attention of Chinese viewers.

The Pavilion debuted on iQIYI, one of China's major streaming platforms, on October 13. The last episode of the 12 episode series aired on October 22.

The series tells the story of two generations in one family. One of the daughters in the family was murdered on one rainy night 19 years ago, but the killer was never found. Her elder brother blames himself for his sister's death. After dozens of years, the family experiences another bizarre tragedy and sets out to seek the truth.

The series' cast has played a huge role in the show's success. All the major characters are played by skilled Chinese actors and actresses, including Duan Yihong, Hao Lei and Zu Feng.

The show's director Wang Xiaoshuai, who also directed So Long, My Son, which won the top two acting awards at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, said that "every shot is movie-level, creating a tense atmosphere in a southern Chinese water town that emphasizes a local vibe."

Water plays a big part in the series. The murders take place on rainy nights and so the footprints of the murderer are washed away. The constant rainy days create a moody atmosphere and the old waterways that run throughout the town give criminals easy access to any location.

As some critics and its director noted, the series is trying to find a style of suspense that shows off Chinese characteristics.

The drama is also trying to integrate other issues such as family into the framework of suspense and murder stories.

However, some audiences have complained that the plot of the show has not lived up to the performances of the actors and actresses.

"Because of The Bad Kids, iQIYI's Lights On Theater has become a guarantee of a suspense dramas' quality in my eyes. But this new one let me down a little. It is more like a family morality play instead of a brilliant suspense series," one viewer surnamed Wan, 26, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Besides The Pavilion, the similarly themed 24-episode Danger Zone and 32-episode The Twelfth Second have both stood out from other TV works, being hailed by many viewers.

"Suspense TV series are a genre that allows the audience to enjoy a suspense and thrilling emotional experience. This type of film and TV drama's conflicts are derived from the split personality and psychological pressure of modern people. However, this is also a problem for the genre," Shi Wenxue, a culture critic based in Beijing, told the Global Times.

He noted that the works in the suspense genre need to remove anxiety and fear, and instead incite a feeling of urgency in audiences in order to be successful.