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Best Chinese Dramas of 2015

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A staggering number of Chinese-language dramas are produced every year across multiple regions, but only ten can make our list. Here are our picks for the best Chinese dramas of 2015!

The Disguiser
With acclaimed works like All Quiet in Peking and Battle of Changsha under the belt, Hou Hongliang's production team is no stranger to the wartime period, and their latest espionage series surpasses those two dramas combined when it comes to buzz. Though aired before Nirvana in Fire, The Disguiser was actually shot after with much of the same cast and crew, and the well-oiled chemistry and production values show readily onscreen. Based on a novel by Zhang Yong, the series follows the three brothers (Hu Ge, Jin Dong and Wang Kai) of the prestigious Ming family and how their fates intertwine with the anti-Japanese resistance movement. The bustling Shanghai setting, plentiful action and gunfights, and unpredictable tangle of intersecting wires and competing agents generate more tension and thrills than most other genre counterparts. Perhaps even more importantly, the appealing cast and strong brotherhood themes struck an emphatic chord with audiences, elevating the series' popularity far beyond the usual patriotic drama.

The Journey of Flower
Based on a popular online novel, The Journey of Flower might well be the apex of Chinese period fantasy love stories. The phenomenally popular series collected over 20 billion online views with its heartwrenching tale of ambiguous love between a semi-divine Taoist master (Wallace Huo) who transcends worldly desires and the pure-hearted girl (Zhao Liying) born with dark powers whom he takes on as disciple, despite knowing that she is destined to be his undoing. Some much-maligned editing issues aside, the addictive series pretty much defines its genre with its tortured tale of fated forbidden love, fantastical struggle between good and temptation, and attractive casting and visuals that all other fusion period fantasies will be measured against.

Lady & Liar
A glamorous 1930s setting. Romance. Gang warfare. Amnesia. Betrayal. Stolen identity. More romance. Can a soap opera get any better than this? The makers of Lady & Liar don't think so. Set in a Shanghai that's equal parts glitzy and dangerous, the juicy drama stars the sterling quartet of Tiffany Tang, Hawick Lau, Yang Rong and Tony Yang in a story about a girl from a wealthy family whose identity is stolen by a thief when she loses her memory in a train accident. To add to the intrigue, a mob boss who secretly loves her claims to be her fiance when he discovers that she’s amnesiac, leaving her former lover at a loss. With a reliably capable cast, good performances are a given, but Hawick Lau and Yang Rong are particularly notable, he for his romantic, principled mob boss, and she for her desperate, cunning thief.

Long Day's Journey into the Light
Five years after the acclaimed The Kite Soaring, director Hsu Chao Jen and writer Lu Shi Yuan reteam for another meaningful Hakka TV series, this time revolving around a funeral parlor. Long Day's Journey into the Light begins with the workplace drama formula of a ragtag group of bumbling rookies learning the ropes of the job under the guidance of a stern supervisor, with Huang Pei Chia as the hardheaded heroine and Chris Wu as the experienced partner with whom she constantly clashes. Though not exactly original, the series strikes the right balance of professionalism and sentimentality in depicting the different stories of the clients and the struggles of the staff, who must also deal with losses of their own. Long Day covers universal themes of coping with loss and understanding the value of life through the rituals of death while also highlighting interesting funeral traditions and services unique to Eastern beliefs and Taiwan culture.

Lord of Shanghai
TVB pulls out all the stops for the jewel of this year’s anniversary drama roster, Lord of Shanghai. A star-studded affair featuring one acting powerhouse after another, hitmaking producer Amy Wong's series follows the tumultuous ups and downs of Republican-era Shanghai as powerful gang leaders vie for influence in a divided city that's soon to face an onslaught by Imperial Japan. With a sprawling, decades-spanning story that verges on epic and stellar performances from multiple award-winners Anthony Wong, Wayne Lai and Kent Tong as three of Shanghai's top mob bosses, Lord of Shanghai keeps you on the edge of your seat through every nail-bitingly tense development.

My Amazing Bride
Partnered with the vivacious Li Qin, Jin Shijia continues his winning streak from last year with the charming My Amazing Bride. The period romantic comedy has Li playing feisty tofu pudding vendor Tang Dou Dou, who's duped into marrying Shen Bo Nan, the developmentally challenged eldest son of a wealthy family. Though he's kind, innocent and forms an instant attachment to Dou Dou, she's initially unwilling to accept her new husband. As they spend more time together, the pair grow closer and Dou Dou discovers the truth behind how a once-genius child became today's Bo Nan. Although prone to taking a few leaps and liberties with the plot, the drama and its stars are nonetheless commendable for the endearing portrayal of its central relationship.

Nirvana in Fire
Based on a novel dubbed the Chinese version of The Count of Monte Cristo by netizens, Nirvana in Fire is as flawless as Chinese dramas get. The period epic patiently unfolds a thrilling plan to restore the honor of a fallen clan and elevate an unfavored prince to the throne. Twelve years ago, a prince, a general and his entire army were executed for treason over a false accusation. The story is set in motion when the late general's son (Hu Ge) returns to the Southern Liang capital with a different identity as martial sect leader Mei, whose intellect and influence are desired by the feuding princes. Mei forges an alliance with his old friend, the stubbornly upright Prince Xiao Jingyan (breakout actor Wang Kai), who is a political outsider and in the dark about Mei's true identity. Orchestrating from behind the scenes, Mei gradually brings down corrupt adversaries and realigns the power balance of the court as they advance towards the dangerous goal of making the suspicious king overturn his errant ruling. With an immersive script penned by original novelist Hai Yan, taut direction by Kong Sheng and Li Xue, and strong performances from the cast, Nirvana in Fire's rousing blend of action, strategy and camaraderie engrosses every step of the way.

Tiger Mom
Vicki Zhao made a rare return to television this year for a charming family drama tackling the very relevant topics of child-rearing and education in urban China. Despite the title, Zhao's Bi Sheng Nan is not so much a tiger mom, but rather a normal working mom who makes both sacrifices and mistakes while trying to balance family and career. When she realizes her bratty five-year-old princess has fallen behind in comparison to other kids, she buckles down on the home-schooling to prepare for primary school entrance exams, but her strict, ambitious approach creates strains with her daughter and her "cat dad" husband, played by the always likeable Tong Dawei. Though muddled down a bit along the way by melodrama elements like an intrusive ex-girlfriend (Dong Jie, in a thankless role), Tiger Mom does a great job overall of maintaining a light and empathetic tone while conveying the pressures faced by parents and children in a competitive school system, and how schooling decisions can consume and affect familial relationships and a child's well-being.

Wake Up
Winner of Best Mini-Series at this year's Golden Bell Awards, PTS's medical suspense Wake Up continues the Taiwan broadcaster's tradition of quality human dramas, this time within the tense environment of a hospital suddenly faced with a dangerous scandal. The underrated Huang Jian Wei is the picture of weary integrity as an anesthesiologist who gets blamed by the hospital top brass for a surgical death. As he digs deeper into the cause of death, he learns that the avoidable tragedy was the result of systemic fraudulent practices at the hospital and a malicious revenge plan. Combining empathetic character studies with medical mystery thrills, Wake Up sheds light into the personal and professional sufferings of medical professionals, while also keeping audiences on edge with myriad menacing plot twists.

Wu Xin: The Monster Killer
In the West, traditional broadcast networks have had to seriously up their game in the past few years, thanks to the large amounts of high-quality programming being put out by online video platforms. With its fantastic fantasy series Wu Xin: The Monster Killer, Chinese internet giant Sohu shows that this trend is likewise at work in the East. Starring a group of fresh-faced stars of tomorrow (Elvis Han, Gina Jin, Wang Yanlin, Chen Yao and Zhang Ruoyun), the drama follows an immortal being with the face of a young man who wanders the earth without memory or purpose. The only thing he knows is that his blood can kill monsters. Free of the rules and constraints of broadcast television, Wu Xin runs briskly at 20 episodes; combined with its engaging performances and funny, moving, thrilling script, Wu Xin is a contender for one of the best Chinese dramas in recent years.

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Published December 22, 2015

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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