Review: “White Dragon” (Amazon Prime)

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One of Amazon Prime’s lesser known shows, “White Dragon,” is a 2018 murder mystery in which a British man, Jonah (John Simm), is informed that his wife, Megan (Dervla Kirwan), who lived and worked in Hong Kong for half the year, died in a car accident. When Jonah arrives in Hong Kong to identify the body, he learns that she had been living a double life and that some of her secrets had finally caught up to her.

Jonah also starts piecing together clues she left behind that lead him on an investigation to uncover the truth behind her death. His investigation involves working with David (Anthony Wong), a disgraced ex-cop with ties to the triads. Yet David’s checkered past and associations with the triads calls his intentions into question. The two men distrust one another but begrudgingly choose to work together, and separately, and together again, in what becomes a somewhat frustratingly inconsistent partnership.

Jonah continues to ally with David when it becomes clear that some of the local police are working to keep things a secret. However, unbeknownst to Jonah, several side characters, including a journalist who has family problems of his own and several people in the British consulate, are conducting their own separate investigations on cases that may just relate Megan’s death. On top of that, David’s daughter Lau (Katie Leung), a political activist, gets wrapped up in the investigation as well.

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Yet that’s where “White Dragon” begins to lose its way. The core of the show is about Jonah’s unending desire to know the truth about Megan, David’s desire to solve the mystery, and Lau’s need for acceptance and self discovery. The show pulls some of these elements off better than others, but it introduces so many additional characters that it often feels unfocused. Some characters get lost in the shuffle. Some take a back seat for way too long, others disappear entirely. Having so many characters to follow hurts the pacing and takes time away from developing some of the characters that matter more. In particular, David feels like the character most hurt by the sheer number of side characters the show is juggling.

Anthony Wong is a fantastic actor best known in the west for his role in the 2002 Hong Kong crime-thriller “Infernal Affairs” – which Martin Scorsese remade in 2006 as “The Departed.” But keeping his character (and others) at arm’s length for so long makes it hard to get invested in his character.  

To the showrunner’s credit, they actually handle many of the side characters well. They’re each given clear motivations and feel like they have a purpose of their own. They don’t merely exist to serve a role in someone else’s journey. Having said that, there’s simply too many of them, and their presence cuts down on the amount of time the show can spend with more important characters.

Nevertheless, the real problem with “White Dragon” is that its central mystery feels about as unfocused as the rest of the show. It starts out as a murder investigation, but the murder case quickly becomes several other things as well. That might have been ok if the characters were likable and their journey produced some sort of fun partnership, be it a friendship or romantic relationship, but none of that end up being the case. Many of the characters also lack the common sense to act in ways that are more likely to achieve their goals while avoiding obvious problems. As a result, it doesn’t take long for this series to start feeling laborious and, at times, frustrating.

It is, however, beautifully shot, thanks in large part to Hong Kong’s neon-lit, nighttime cityscapes. Nevertheless, this twisty whodunnit threatens to crumble under the weight of its own ambition at every turn.

 

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