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Best Chinese Dramas of 2017

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the ten best Chinese dramas of 2017!

A Boy Named Flora A
Based on Yang Fu Min's acclaimed novel, A Boy Named Flora A is a traditional family drama with a very strong rural flavor. Despite the lack of popular idols in the cast, it turned into one of the most talked about Taiwanese dramas of 2017 thanks to the meaningful plot and the actors' convincing performances. The story's protagonist Hwa Jia (singer-songwriter Crowd Lu) is the eldest grandson in his family. Already in his late 20s, Hwa Jia fails to graduate from university year after year and doesn't have a clear goal in life. After receiving news of his grandmother's death, he rushes back to his village home in Tainan. Though Hwa Jia's grandmother is still alive, his father and uncles are already arguing about their future inheritances. However, after her death, they come to realize the importance of love in a happy life. Through the story of Hwa Jia and his family, the drama tells audiences to optimistically face their failures and turn their past sorrows into the energy for a new life.

Burning Ice
Many of China's web dramas are low-budget time-passers, but this year online giants Youku and iQiyi channeled their competition into quality self-produced efforts that set new standards for Chinese crime suspense serials. Based on a novel by Zi Jin Chen, iQiyi's Han Sanping-produced Burning Ice presents a serial murder case in which the culprit taunts authorities by leaving a snowman with the sign "Please come catch me" at the crime scene. Film actor Qin Hao plays a shrewd but troublesome demoted detective who gets summoned to help the investigation team led by Deng Jiajia. Burning Ice reveals the killer fairly early in the game to both the viewers and the protagonist. As indicated in the Chinese title of "Crime Without Evidence," the mystery isn't so much who, but how to convict a killer that leaves no evidence behind. The battle of wits gradually peels away the killer's motives and methods as well as the crime hidden behind the crimes. The production notably transplants the novel's Hangzhou setting to cold and icy Harbin and integrates the culture and characteristics of northeastern China into its moody world.

Close Your Eyes Before It's Dark
A group of high school friends who parted on bad terms meet up a decade later for a reunion getaway at a mountain cabin. Due to unforeseen circumstances, they’re suddenly cut off from communication with the outside world while members of their party start turning up dead. Secrets are gradually uncovered as danger and doubts build over the identity of the killer who hides among them. Winner of Best Television Serial at the 52nd Golden Bell Awards, Close Your Eyes Before It's Dark is a triumph in storytelling and ambience. Co-directed by Chen Yu Hsun and Ko Zhen Nian, the suspense series begins each episode in the past, paralleling the protagonists' high school trip with the present trip, and ominously recalling a mafia campfire game in which victims are "killed" when night falls by a culprit that the remaining players have to vote to identify. The calmly foreboding camera also regularly returns to the corpses of the victims, who have voice-over conversations about their demises. Dark yet humanistic, the series offers a thoughtful variation of the cabin survival thriller, situating the murder mystery within a poignant examination of the building and breakdown of trust among friends.

Day & Night
If iQiyi had Burning Ice, then Youku had Day & Night. Pan Yueming pulls double duty as a pair of twin brothers, one a master criminal profiler and the other a murder suspect and fugitive from justice. Guan Hongfeng left the police force because of his brother's case and personal trauma, but he returns as a consultant at the invite of inspector Zhou (Wang Longzheng), who needs brains on the team and an excuse to monitor Hongfeng. Swapping places between day and night, the unreadable Hongfeng and the free-wheeling Hongyu work in tandem to solve cases and unravel conspiracies. Pan Yueming effectively balances the two roles, one of whom spends half his time pretending to be the other. Involving and intriguing, Day & Night moves quickly with an alarmingly high supply of gruesome murder cases while patiently developing the overarching mystery and its enigmatic protagonists.

Eternal Love
This year's pretty and addictive fantasy period romance of choice would have to be the hit adaptation of Tangqi Gongzi's poetically titled novel Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms. Unimaginatively titled Eternal Love in English, the millennia-spanning love story of two immortals through various incarnations and ill fates keeps the love and the heartbreak coming. Mini Yang is lively and lovable as a fox spirit princess, while Mark Chao and his super long hair plays the dual roles of a stoic war god and the crown prince of heaven. Through memory loss episodes and trips into the mortal realm, the two take on different identities, and meet, fall in love and endure painful separations multiple times for your heartrending viewing. The magical notion of time in Eternal Love adds to the melodrama and ethereal atmosphere, as the resetting love stories and recurring battles with evil play out over thousands of immortal years.

In the Name of People
In a year that saw online viewership records refreshed multiple times by hot-topic costume dramas with trending stars, the series that won the traditional television ratings battle was In the Name of the People. In an era of falling ratings, the veteran-led serial about combating corruption in the public sector managed to garner China's highest TV ratings of the decade. Lu Yi stars as a Beijing anti-corruption bureau investigator who gets dispatched to a fictional province to look into a complex tangle of graft and misconduct that is further complicated by the influence and rivalry of local political factions. Besides the satisfaction of a drama acknowledging government corruption and party infighting in China, the cast is superb with the likes of Zhang Fengyi, Zhang Zhijian and Wu Gang. Based on a book by Zhou Meisen, the script-driven series is often dry due to all the names, titles and semantics of party and government officials and their many meetings. However, it also packs in surprisingly exciting moments of suspect tailings, cunning escapes and last-minute airport interceptions.

My Unfair Lady
In 2006, TVB's top-rating drama La Femme Desperado offered a realistic depiction of the intense societal pressure on modern women who struggle with divorce, work and relationships with younger men. Eleven years after La Femme Desperado, screenwriter Chu Kang Ki shows the new challenges in work and love faced by the independent, assertive Hong Kong women of My Unfair Lady. The drama spotlights not just their struggles in the workplace, but also their difficulties in finding a partner in the highly competitive marriage market filled with sweet-voiced rivals from Taiwan and mainland China. Jessica Hsuan brings difficult career woman Molly to life through her threatening and abrupt tone, and her awe-inspiring performance as a harsh, clear-minded company manager. Fifteen years ago, Molly and Gordon (Frankie Lam) were lovers, but Gordon was scared away by her tough and controlling personality and started dating mainland Chinese girls. Believing that her career won't betray her like men, Molly devotes her life to the company. However, Gordon suddenly reappears in her life and becomes the biggest threat to her plan to enter the company's inner circle.

Princess Agents
Zhao Liying leaves men in the dust in another bonafide megahit that demonstrates how everything she touches is ratings gold. Amplifying the Legend of Lu Zhen spunk that first launched her to fame, the petite actress plays a fierce and cunning warrior who claws and fights her way up from slavery. In an unjust world, she draws a line in the sand and dares to dream of a better place while staying true to those who are true to her. Based on a novel by Xiao Xiang Dong Er, the rousing series plays out like a wuxia adventure about that classic mysterious outsider who experiences numerous trials, grows her skills, has fateful encounters and storms into great battles that shake the empire. Notably, her romantic triangle with a revenge-bent insurgent (Shawn Dou) and her solemn loyalist mentor (Lin Gengxin) affects but never defines her, as she defiantly makes the right decisions for herself. Princess Agents has more story than can be fit in one drama, and the heroine's journey into the great unknown is filled with rip-your-heart-out turning and breaking points, including a divisive finale that leaves you clamoring for a sequel.

Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy
Known for his work on the modern dramas Dwelling Narrowness and Naked Wedding, Cao Dun delves into costume drama and Novoland mythology in a big-budget production based on Jinhezhai's novel about three heirs apparent of different backgrounds destined to vie for the world. After much speculation about when and where Storm of Prophecy would air, the epic ended up on Youku instead of a TV broadcaster. Story-wise, it's easy to see why it could be deemed too slow or complicated for television. The drama patiently builds the backstory with child actors for eight episodes before gradually introducing the stars: Huang Xuan as the half-spirit sixth prince of the Duan Dynasty, Shawn Dou as the son of the general sworn to protect the royal family, and Zhou Yiwei as the successor of an exterminated tribe. Sprawling and ambitious, Storm develops at a deliberate and slow-burning pace, and can sometimes feel impregnable to those not familiar with the source material. But no character chart is needed to appreciate how stunning it looks. Storm of Prophecy outpaces all other similar dramas in its world-making, creating the different environs and peoples of Novoland with sweeping cinematography and outstanding art direction, location shooting, set design and costume design. In a rare move for China period dramas, the production opted to keep the original voices of the cast, even Hong Kong actress Janice Man, and allow inconsistent non-standard accents to be a part of this stirring world.

Wake Up 2
Two years ago, PTS's medical mystery thriller Wake Up garnered high praise and top prizes at the Golden Bell Awards, which explains why its sequel got a lot bigger with more than double the episodes, directors, writers and actors. Huang Jian Wei, Tiffany Hsu and Chris Wu all return, but their screentime is shared with the new cast members, including Lego Lee as a strong-willed surgeon, Summer Meng as an investigative journalist, and Kaiser Chuang as a duplicitous lawmaker. What Wake Up 2 loses in intimacy, it gains in ambition, weaving crime, collusion, terrorism, hospital bureaucracy and medical emergencies into a gripping story. Huang Jian Wei still looks like the most tired doctor ever as he heads up the newly formed trauma unit in a contentious hospital environment and struggles with the post-traumatic effects of his stint in the war zone. However, the most anguished award goes to Lego Lee's character, who fights against the system with indie protest rap, terrible facial hair and angry efforts to expose a drug company cover-up.

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Published December 21, 2017

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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