Discover more from The Urban Lily Talks Tropes
Reborn (2020) A Review
After narrowly escaping death a few months earlier, seasoned criminal investigator Qin Chi (Zhang Yi) returns to work with almost no memory of a furious gun battle that saw his colleagues and members of a gang perish senselessly. A cloud of suspicion hangs over his part in this incident with no case file logged and stray bullets that don’t make sense to the show’s equivalent of internal affairs head investigator. As the sole survivor, a mixture of overwhelming guilt and uncertainty haunts Qin Chi as he struggles with injuries to the brain and leg. In effect, our protagonist is a broken man in search of the truth. Looking on from the sidelines is ex-wife Feng Xiao (also in internal affairs) who is torn between wanting to believe in his innocence and living with lingering doubts about his personality issues that brought their marriage to ruination. Assisting him is garrulous sidekick, Lu Mingjia (Zhang Haowei) the son of one of the police’s brass. Xiao Lu as he’s often called, is eager to please and is a decent detective in his own right but feels the weight of special treatment being his father’s son. He wants to be taken seriously for his own abilities but feels that his colleagues upstairs and downstairs walk on eggshells around him because of his heritage. The dynamic between Qin Chi and Xiao Lu as mentor and apprentice is one of the highlights of the drama. They are veritable opposites. But there’s little doubt that Qin Chi’s relationship with the three most important women in the show is what gives depth to an otherwise taciturn loner who doesn’t know what to believe about himself and his part in the death of his colleagues. Aside from the ex, there is Qin Chi’s therapist, Xia Yutong and the 18-year-old vengeful Chen Rui, the waifish sister of a deceased gangster, who is out for blood.
A new addition to Xiguan branch where Qin Chi is based is Hu Yibiao, a former undercover cop that successfully penetrated a notorious gang. He brings his own baggage and is persistently seen munching on snacks and devouring meals all throughout the series. His role in the team seems dubious and for the longest time, it’s uncertain what his mission is as he plays the devil-may-care member who is loath to lift a finger, leaving Qin Chi and Xiao Lu to do all the real detective work.
I don’t think that it is any kind of hyperbole to say that this moody, bleak police procedural is one of the best C dramas ever written and produced. Every frame and shot shouts quality. Tonally it hits the right notes as it explores dysfunctional family dynamics, human greed and loneliness in all their abject misery through the individual homicide arcs and the persistent question of what happened on July 14 in that warehouse where cops and gangsters died tragically. And no one knows why they were there. While Reborn positions itself as a crime show, it is also a moving portrait of a working man in search of himself while wandering in the proverbial wilderness with a growing hand of pieces from a puzzle that he’s been dealt with. A formerly successful police officer who prior to his amnesia got lost in his job, who lost his marriage and almost lost himself. It’s as if the hand of fate has given him a second chance, not only to get to the truth of July 14 but also to make amends with his nearest and dearest.
It is one of the drama’s strengths that the characters aren’t unidimensional creatures inhabiting this world just as mouthpieces for writer or director’s agenda. Clearly there are agendas at play and lessons that have to be learnt. Nonetheless characters are generally fleshed out with nuance and from their individual perspectives it makes sense to do what they do although audience members are bound to question the wisdom of individual actions. Fortunately the show makes no attempt to sidestep consequences or handwave complex issues that result from poor choices. As someone who is an avid reader and watcher of crime shows, those are the sorts of things that separate the good from the mediocre. Human beings are paradoxically simple and complex. People do all kinds of things motivated by all kinds of concerns. A good writer is able to demonstrate with a great deal of clarity a character’s trajectory — where they begin and where they end up with a sense of purpose. Qin Chi and his fellow travellers aren’t perfect, Their perspectives aren’t necessarily reliable either but they are, for the most part, relatable in their attempts to penetrate through the fog. The individual homicides serve to remind us that though professional, cops are not immune from everyday human foibles. They too have to navigate the depravity of their society’s ills and their place in it not only as law enforcers but as sons, fathers, spouses and mentors.
There’s a frankness about the show’s protagonists that I find attractive. They are as much as product of an imperfect system as they are progenies of imperfect parental influences. In fact the show seems almost obsessed with the unequivocal importance of parents in the nurture of their children. Not surprisingly in a mainland Chinese drama perhaps. Still ultimately individuals are held to be responsible for their own mistakes. No one is so beholden to his/her environment that he or she is not accountable for their choices.
It’s unfortunate, I think that this show hasn’t been better received locally or overseas. Sad to say I doubt that will change any time in the future because it is a slow burn, talky psychological thriller that takes an unabashedly gritty view of the worst that humanity has to offer. That said the drama isn’t a nihilistic tract. Traditional beliefs about right and wrong are strongly embedded in the narrative as if to say that solving crime isn’t just being about who’s being the cleverest in the room. It’s about being on the side of right. The story also celebrates the heroic archetype even while it penetrates deeply into the heart of men and women whose oscillating motives are persistently scrutinized under the microscope.
This is a show I highly recommend especially if you’re someone like me who will drop everything for a well-made serious crime series.