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Best Chinese Dramas of 2020

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the ten best Chinese dramas of 2020!

Bad Kids
The Bad Kids
The Bad Kids cold-opens with a scene of Qin Hao taking pictures of his in-laws on a mountain... and then suddenly pushing them over the edge. The shocking turn from warm family trip to cold-blooded murder in the first two minutes sets the tone for this outstanding human drama. Following the acclaim for 2017's Burning Ice, iQiyi launched the "Light On" series of suspense dramas this year, and the breakout of the lineup repeats the winning formula of star Qin Hao, producer Han Sanping and novelist Zi Jin Chen. Where Burning Ice features a classic police vs. criminal setup, Bad Kids pits the culprit against a trio of troubled kids who accidentally record the murder and then proceed to blackmail him. With the killer and motives revealed from the beginning, the mystery lies not in the crime but in the ever-present, unpredictable darkness within each person, including the kids whose decisions exacerbate a devastating series of events. Wonderfully paced, acted and directed from beginning to end, The Bad Kids upends expectations with a serial killer whom you can't help but pity, and precocious kids who elicit worry and sympathy while planting unsettling doubts in your mind.

Cross Fire
Cross Fire
The e-sports theme has been done to death in the last few years, but Cross Fire gives it a surprisingly fresh spin with an original storyline inspired by the tactical shooter game. In the present day, Leo Wu is stubborn high schooler Lu Xiaobei who wants to go pro to fulfill his late brother's dream. In 2008, Lu Han is sloppy OG gamer Xiao Feng whose achievements will soon go down in history. The two meet across time in the game and support each other on their respective journeys towards building championship teams, as well as solving the hit-and-run that killed Xiaobei's brother. With This is Not What I Expected director Derek Hui at the helm, Cross Fire benefits from taut pacing and dynamic direction that capture the tension and excitement of the gaming sequences, whether the players are in front of the computer or inside the game in live-action depictions of the shootouts. Most of all, the coming-of-age sports drama nails the down-to-earth, hot-blooded spirit of friendship, teamwork and striving for your dreams.

Go Ahead
Go Ahead
Go Ahead almost didn't make this list because its flaws are so apparent – but so are its strengths. The series starts out as a heart-tugging yet spit-take funny story about two single fathers who form a makeshift family to raise their three children together. Those first few episodes of the kids' heartrending childhood and their hilarious teenage bond are the best thing ever. Adulthood brings typical melodramatic conflicts of a romantic triangle and a batcrazy mother. However, once you get past the letdown of what could have been, it's hard to name any other drama this year that made us laugh out loud and cry inside over the most ordinary, everyday interactions of family like Go Ahead did. Whether as siblings or as lovers, the trio of Song Weilong, Seven Tan and Steven Zhang provide many sweet and uproarious moments that warm the heart, while Tu Songyan and Zhang Xilin are the true stars of the show as the caring fathers who make you believe in family. Also that theme song by Ma Di makes us teary-eyed every time we hear it.

The Long Night
The Long Night
If The Bad Kids is the mainstream hit of the "Light On" imprint, then The Long Night is the critical dark horse. Based on another novel by Zi Jinchen, this is essentially a sequel to Burning Ice, with Liao Fan as lone-wolf detective Yan Liang. He takes on the confounding case of a lawyer who gets caught with a corpse in his luggage at the subway security check. The lawyer retracts his confession in court, forcing a new investigation into the murder as well as terrorist threats that seem to be linked to the case. What follows is the gradual unraveling of a case within a case within a case, and a long trail of injustice and apathy that destroyed the lives of many. The social drama elements that underline The Bad Kids and Burning Ice rise to the forefront in The Long Night, whose multiple timelines parallel the footsteps of three men who risk their all to go against the system. Liao Fan is excellently understated as the detective, while Bai Yu grabs your heart and puts it through the wringer with his heartbreaking performance as the prosecutor who loses everything in his quest to do what's right.

The Mirror
The Mirror
Split into three consecutively aired ten-episode seasons helmed by different directors, The Mirror deftly tackles the professional, personal and ethical challenges of journalism. The Taiwan series follows the intrepid investigative team of Firing News as they struggle to provide accurate, in-depth coverage of explosive topics while navigating pressure from all sides. From disaster relief in remote areas to an urban redevelopment plan that harbors shady interests, their stories focus on what falls between the cracks and expose collusion among the media, government, organized crime and corporations. Under the supervision of main director Cheng Wen Tang, The Mirror maintains a consistent pace and involving storyline across seasons. The series quietly rolls out one of the best casts that Taiwan television could offer, with Cheryl Yang playing the tenacious leader of the team and Jack Yao putting in a Golden Bell-winning performance as the jaded, street-smart veteran. Also in the midst are the likes of Cheng Jen Shuo, You An Shun, Alex Ko, Austin Lin, Chen Yi Wen and Lan Wei Hua. In the age of fake news and eroding journalistic autonomy, The Mirror drills in the great importance of independent media for a just and functioning society.

The Romance of Tiger and Rose
The Romance of Tiger and Rose
Zhao Lusi, the queen of cutesy web dramas, gets her mainstream breakthrough in this fun period romcom about a screenwriter who is transported into her drama world of an ancient matriarchal state. Instead of being the heroine, she's the notorious third princess Chen Qianqian who will soon get poisoned to death on wedding night by her groom (Ryan Ding), the scheming prince of a rival kingdom. To save her own skin, Qianqian makes impromptu decisions that undo her original script – and also hilariously subvert well-worn drama cliches. In this new plot, the MacGuffin is just handed over without a second thought, and the not-so-broody hero actually notices that waging war will probably not win the girl. Though The Romance of Tiger and Rose doesn't capitalize on the great story potential of its matriarchal kingdom as much as one would hope, the drama is an undeniably sweet, funny and fast-paced watch, with a self-aware script that's smarter than it has any business being.

Run For Young
Run for Young
Who would have thought that Peng Yuchang's best work after An Elephant Sitting Still would be a Bilibili teen series? Run for Young opens in Chongqing in 2004 with a group of high school friends who share exactly one brain cell. The youth drama doesn't inspire high expectations at first with its juvenile tone – these childhood buddies are loud and annoying, and like to break the fourth wall. The rat pack thankfully gains some smarts with the arrival of two sensible transfer students who add puppy love to the mix. The lively atmosphere, Sichuan dialect and immature antics naturally grow on the audience as a raucous yet realistic portrait of schoolyard days filled with running, screaming, joking and fighting against the world. Run for Young simply overflows with the earnest, impulsive and racing feeling of youth, and sneaks up on you with its stirring moments of loss, growth and friendship. With Zhang Yibai as one of its three directors, the series looks beautiful in a subtly stunning way, capturing the colorful vibrancy of youth and nostalgic glow of old neighborhoods and bygone days.

Someday or One Day
Someday or One Day
If there's any Chinese-language drama this year that achieved the triple crown of critical, commercial and idol success, it'd have to be Someday or One Day. The romantic suspense drama begins unassumingly in the present day with Alice Ko as a strong-willed woman coping with the death of her fiancé. After listening to a certain cassette tape, she time-slips to 1998 and wakes up as a different person. In this timeline, she's an introverted schoolgirl with a classmate who looks exactly like her late boyfriend, and she herself will soon die. From there, the story continuously expands its mystery with different perspectives, twists and time jumps, all while building an unforgettable romance that transcends time and tide. Even up until the very last minute of the series, Someday or One Day is still redefining the meaning of its story in a way that challenges the mind and stirs the heart. Alice Ko excels in her dual roles, as does Greg Han in a breakout performance that places his shiningly youthful and devoted character among the paragon of idol drama heartthrobs. Someday or One Day made all of us want a Li Zi Wei in our lives, and also a working cassette player to play Wu Bai's Last Dance.

Under the Power
Under the Power has glaringly bad green-screen effects. Seriously, they're very bad. But you'll easily forgive how laughably fake the CG backdrops are because the feels are so very real. Based on Lan Se Shi's novel, this highly rewatchable period romance has launched the careers of Allen Ren and Seven Tan to new heights for good reason. Making up for the drama's every technical shortcoming with their likable presences and on-point acting, the two put on a master class in onscreen chemistry as a commanding imperial secret police and a sassy small-time constable who fall surely in love while bickering endlessly, battling dangers and exchanging long looks. Allen Ren, in particular, invites much praise and swooning with his ability to make his expressive eyes go from cold disdain to uwu in a blink.

The Victims' Game
Following last year's gangster drama Nowhere Man, Netflix and Joseph Chang team up again for the platform's second original Taiwan series. The actor lets a world of emotions brew under the surface in the role of a forensic scientist with Asperger syndrome. When he notices a series of strange homicide cases seems to be connected to his estranged teenage daughter, he hides the clues and desperately races to find her while trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. And what a mystery it is. Over eight intriguing and harrowing episodes, The Victims' Game gradually reveals the social ills and personal demons behind the attention-grabbing murders that link together seemingly unrelated victims and send the authorities on a wild goose chase. The dark trail of deaths illuminates issues involving discrimination, mental health, gender identity and labor rights, as well as a flawed father's struggle for understanding and redemption.

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Published December 15, 2020

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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