Skip to main content

Such a fuss: It's Canada's first trilingual (English, Cantonese, Mandarin) crime drama.

"We are so proud to be the first Canadian broadcaster to bring a home-grown mainstream Chinese crime drama series to our audiences," said Colette Watson, vice-president of television and broadcast operations at Rogers.

"We are thrilled by the support of OMNI Television for this gritty and unique series," said Diane Boehme, senior development executive at Breakthrough Entertainment.

It's a TV show with Chinese characters and some subtitles. It's not revolutionary. It's not a major public-service endeavour.

Blood and Water (Sunday, Omni at 10 p.m.) is it and it's a half-hour, eight-part thriller. Simple as that. There is nothing in it to alienate any viewer of contemporary TV thrillers.

Put aside the fuss, and is it any good? Well, it's a mess, though sometimes a brilliant one. It's part soap opera and part high-grade police procedural, compelling enough to keep you glued, and it looks stunning.

The gist is this – in Vancouver, Charlie Xie (Osric Chau), the rogue son of a billionaire Chinese-Canadian developer, goes missing. He's got a history of drug problems and a lot of low-life friends. His pregnant wife, Teresa (Loretta Yu), is anxious and goes to the cops. Then Charlie is found murdered. What unfolds is a mystery. Who killed him and why?

And this mystery plays out inside a complex family dynamic. Charlie's mother despises Teresa, and Charlie's sister Anna (Elfina Luk, who is terrific) intends to take over the business empire and has her own agenda and secrets.

The drama is, however, truly anchored by Jo Bradley (Steph Song), a young detective who wants to control the case while dealing, secretly, with a grave medical problem of her own. The Jo character is finely drawn, a fiercely ambitious woman who won't let any sign of her fragility be exposed. Her office spats with a competing detective (Peter Outerbridge) are cutthroat. Meanwhile, she's in a very delicate physical state.

The weaving together of Jo's story with the internal machinations of the Xie family isn't always elegant. The can of worms that is the Xie family is the soap opera part. These people don't, it seems, really know each other that well, and the children have kept many secrets from their tyrannical mom and dad.

The half-hour format (two episodes are aired consecutively) also gives Blood and Water the feel of a soap-ish drama. An hour-long format would have allowed for a different pace, some story expansion and a slow-burning narrative.

At the same time, the series is gorgeously made. Director John L'Ecuyer gives us a visual panache that's startling, at times breathtaking. This is particularly true of the manner in which Jo's private troubles unfold, set apart from the main crime-mystery storyline. Her aloneness and separateness from the culture embodied by the Xie family (she was born in China, adopted and raised by a professor of sinology) is starkly there, as much through visual presentation as head-to-head battles with the Xies.

It's splendid entertainment, this messy crime drama. The fuss should be about its merits as compelling TV – which are many – not its existence as an alleged multicultural marvel.

Also airing this weekend

Flesh and Bone (Sunday, SuperChannel at 9 p.m.) is a new, subtly brilliant drama from the Starz channel, and created by Breaking Bad writer Moira Walley-Beckett. Set in the world of ballet in New York City, it's a tense drama often soaked in a sort of gloom. Mainly it's about dancer Claire Robbins (Sarah Hay, who is magnificent), who seems to appear out of nowhere, a fully realized, gifted dancer. Obviously there's something hidden in her past but it takes a while to learn about it. This is one of those wonderful dramas that's definitely for adults – it doesn't pander to any clichés about ballet and depicts the performing arts world with a grave seriousness. The vast majority of the actors are actually experienced dancers, and the scenes of performance and rehearsals are often stunning. Flesh and Bone is a must-see for anyone interested in dance or any of the performing arts.

Interact with The Globe